Safe Mode: Your Windows 10 Bomb Shelter

Category: Windows-10

Safe Mode has been an important troubleshooting tool for Windows since the operating system’s debut. With Windows 10, Safe Mode got a major upgrade, with new features that make it more powerful than ever. Read on to learn about them and new ways to access Safe Mode in Win 10…

New Features of Windows 10 Safe Mode

When you have a problem with Windows, starting up your computer in Safe Mode can help you get back to good. You might want to print a copy of this article and stick it in your “computer emergency" folder, just in case you encounter a "blue screen of death" or other startup problem.

Safe Mode loads Windows with the bare amount of components necessary, with or without network (Internet) access. I read somewhere that Safe Mode is like a bomb shelter when Windows explodes. That may not be a perfect analogy, but this bare-bones Windows configuration makes troubleshooting simpler. You can tweak your auto-start programs one by one until something triggers the problem you’re having. You can also run a virus scan, access System Restore and other repair options in Safe Mode.

Since the invention of the stone tablet, Safe Mode has been invoked by restarting your system and holding down the F8 key until the Windows recovery menu appears. However… this is not how you access Safe Mode in Windows 10. For the first time, you can switch to Safe Mode while you are in Windows! Here are two ways to invoke Safe Mode:

Windows 10 Safe Mode

Method 1: From the Start menu

  • From the Start menu, choose Settings.
  • Click on "Update and Security"
  • Select "Recovery" from the left-hand column, then click on Restart Now.
  • Wait a bit until the menu appears
  • Click on Troubleshoot, then Advanced Options, then Startup Settings
  • Click on Restart

Method 2: From the Sign-In screen:

  • Restart your PC.
  • When the Sign-In screen appears, select the Power icon and click on Restart.
  • When the “Startup Settings” menu appears:
  • Click on Troubleshoot, then Advanced Options, then Startup Settings
  • Click on Restart

In either Method 1 or 2, when the system restarts, you will see a menu of options; you can choose to start Safe Mode without networking, or start Safe Mode with networking. If you anticipate needing the Internet while in Safe Mode, choose the latter option.

Since the "press F8 while the computer is starting" trick no longer works, and both of the above methods require that Windows be at least partially up and running, you might be wondering how to get into Safe Mode when you can't boot up at all. I've not personally experienced this, but Microsoft says that if Windows tries to start and is unsuccessful twice, it will automatically start in Windows Recovery mode. From there, you select Troubleshoot, and follow the steps outlined above.

For completeness, I should mention that there is a way to restore the “legacy” F8 method of entering into Safe Mode during the startup process. It requires just a bit of minor geekery. First, you must open a Command Prompt window in administrator mode. To do so, type cmd in the Windows search box, right-click the top result, and select Run as administrator. Click Yes to allow the app to make changes to your device. Next, type (or copy/paste) the following command and press Enter.

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy

Close the command prompt window. You can now enter Safe Mode by pressing F8 when restarting Windows 10.

Once you're in Safe Mode, you can run your anti-virus program, try System Restore to roll back recent system changes, or uninstall recently added software. If a printer, scanner or other device isn't working correctly, you can visit the manufacturer's website and download a new driver for it.

New Features on the Startup Settings Menu

Note that the Startup Settings Menu includes options never seen before in Windows (see image above).

Disable Driver signature enforcement: Windows 10 normally requires digitally signed driver software that has been tested and certified to work with Windows 10. But you may need to load an uncertified driver to get your old printer or other peripheral device working. This option disables driver signature checks so you can load the old driver and see if it is causing your problem.

Disable early launch anti-malware protection: Anti-malware software includes components that load early in the startup process to guard against suspicious activity of software that loads later. Sometimes anti-malware software blocks the loading of other software when it shouldn’t, which can cause problems. This option lets you disable these early-loading components to see if they are causing your problem. Your anti-malware software will load completely later in the startup process.

Disable automatic restart after failure: As mentioned above, this kicks in if Windows thinks it failed to start successfully twice in a row. You wouldn’t want to change this option unless Windows gets confused and mistakenly thinks something went wrong during startup.

I am pleased to see options 7 and 8. I am not so pleased to see the new, somewhat tedious process of invoking Safe Mode. It would have been even better if the folks in Redmond had not hidden the "F8 during startup" option, and added these new ways to access Safe Mode. But overall, I give the new Safe Mode and Startup Settings a thumbs-up.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Safe Mode: Your Windows 10 Bomb Shelter"

Posted by:

20 Oct 2020

For the life of me, I do not understand why folks still tolerate Windows. Over a dozen years ago our family switched to Apple everything. Since then I have never had to go to a command line. I cut my teeth on MS-DOS 5.0, used Windows Workgroups 3.1and dabbled with OS2 Warp for my BBS. Can't believe in the above article you are going back to a command line.

Posted by:

20 Oct 2020

Thanks Bob. I didn't know about
bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy
to restore F8 functionality in Windows 10.

It is also useful to have a bootable Windows 10 recovery drive (a USB stick for emergencies or Windows install disk). You can create one with

And finally it is good to have a bootable restore program for the backup software you use. I have one for my Acronis True Image and I have used it on more than one occasion to restore a disk when Windows doesn't boot.

Posted by:

20 Oct 2020

If I have good backups, why do I even need safe mode?

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
20 Oct 2020

"Since the system début" ?

I know that it was a long time ago, but I seem to remember that Safe Mode did not exist in Windows 2, 3, 3.1, or NT, was introduced in Windows 95...

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
20 Oct 2020

This article shows you "How to Add Safe Mode to Boot Options in Windows 10". I like it because it gives you 5 seconds (or more, your choice) to choose Safe Mode BEFORE Windows loads:

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
20 Oct 2020

Stuart Berg,

Thank you for that link. I now have the F8 option as well as the choice between a regular boot, boot to safe mode, or boot to safe mode with network.

The article you linked is very easy to follow.


Posted by:

Dave Leippe
20 Oct 2020

There are two other methods to get into the Safe Mode. One is old school and the other is Windows 10.
Method 3. Win+R => Run => type msconfig, enter
Choose the boot tab and safe boot, Restart into the Safe Mode. Repeat to uncheck Safe boot when you are done.
Method 4. While Windows 10 is running select Start>Shift+Restart this gets you to the Advanced Start Options menus, where all options are available.

Posted by:

20 Oct 2020

On Pablo's comment -- yes good backups means you can recover. But you will still lose whatever you have changed since your last backup and the time you restore (unless you have continuous online backups or something like that). But many times it is a lot easier to just go to safe mode and fix what's broken. And if you do need to restore from a backup, it will take hours, at least on my computer.

Posted by:

21 Oct 2020

Thank you for the heads-up on the F8 legacy tip - I was planning to use safe mode later today and would have been perplexed if it didn't work.
Thanks also for the hint to run cmd as administrator by the search route - I misread your post and wasted two efforts going direct into cmd.
I have never understood why windows doesn't understand that my identity has admin rights, and refuses so many operations that need admin rights as I am the sole owner, user and installer of windows on my PC. Maybe a topic for a future newsletter?

Posted by:

Kenneth Gash
21 Oct 2020

I could never understand why they have to "disappear" a tried and true feature (F8) when they update to new methods of doing things.
I have a new build with fastboot enabled so I only have about 1 second in the boot cycle for F8 to work so I have to keep rapidly tapping the key during the cycle.
Finally, I discovered that my Microsoft Office 2016 programs won't load in safe mode because the activation key is tied to the Windows system part that is not loaded in safe mode.

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