How to Format a Windows Phone

By Andrew Tennyson

Updated February 10, 2017

Format your phone if it's been temporarily stolen by a hipster.
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Whether you've locked yourself out of your phone or just want to start over fresh, the cure to what ails you lies in formatting your device. Formatting your Windows smartphone or tablet returns it to its factory settings. You format the device either by performing a Software Reset or a Hardware Reset. Use a Software Reset to format your Windows phone if you have access to its menu system and settings screen. If you're locked out of the phone or can't turn it on, format the phone by performing a Hardware Reset.

Software Reset

Connect the phone's charging cable, so that you have full power throughout the reset process. You risk rendering the phone inoperable if you initiate the formatting process and run out of battery power midway through.

Back up to the cloud any data you want to save before formatting the phone. To do this, start by swiping through the list of apps until you see the Settings icon. The Settings icon resembles a small gear or cog.

Touch the "Settings" icon and then touch "Backup" to load the Backup screen. Touch "App list + settings" and then touch "Back up now." Once the backup is complete, proceed to the next step.

Touch "About" on the Settings screen to load the About screen, and then touch "Reset your phone." When you touch this, a warning appears reminding you that resetting your phone will delete all of your personal data, apps, music, video and pictures.

Place a check mark in the "Erase SD card too" check box if you want to format an SD card currently inserted into your Windows phone.

Touch "Yes" to acknowledge that you will be erasing all of your data, and then touch "Yes" again. The phone will then format itself and return to its factory settings. This automated process may take several minutes.

Hardware Reset

Press and hold down the "-" volume button and the "Power" button for 10 to 15 seconds or until the phone begins to vibrate.

Release both buttons, and then immediately press and hold the "-" volume button again until a large exclamation mark appears on the phone's screen.

Press and release the "+" volume button, "-" volume button, "Power" button and then the volume "-" button again to format the device. You must press and release the buttons in this exact order for the hardware reset to initiate.


If you lose your Windows Phone device, Microsoft can reset it remotely so that no one else has access to your data. To initiate this process, visit the Find a Lost Phone site (link in Resources).