How to boot Windows 11 in Safe Mode

Unless you’re a complete Windows novice, you’ll have come across Safe Mode before - but what exactly is it, and how do you access it in Windows 11?

Screenshot of Windows 11's recovery settings menu

Booting Windows 11 in Safe Mode is a useful tool for users who are encountering regular problems with their machine and can help to diagnose the issues causing the machine to malfunction, throw error messages, or otherwise work in an atypical way.

Safe Mode allows users to boot their machines with a stripped-back experience, disabling some programmes and drivers, and essentially offers a better experience for those looking to find out what's gone wrong with their computer.

There are three different Safe Modes. One has all the stripped-back features but enables networking for when users still need to access the web. It's not ideal as it can still let hackers see into and in some cases control a user's PC over a network connection. There is also a Safe Mode which relies more heavily on Command Prompt, Windows 11's most bare-bones version which disables the user interface (UI) and the computer is navigated using lines of commands - not for the uninitiated.

There is also the standard Safe Mode which retains the UI and blocks network connections which makes it the most user-friendly, secure Safe Mode available and it's the one most people are going to want to use for everyday problem-solving. This guide details everything you need to know about Safe Mode in Windows 11 and how to use it to bring a PC back to full working order.

Why boot into Safe Mode in Windows 11?

If you're having trouble booting your Windows machine, or you are able to boot but are encountering issues of some sort, rebooting in Safe Mode can help isolate the issue. It's not uncommon for users to download things like drivers for new pieces of hardware like printers, mice, or keyboards. These types of equipment typically require a driver download in order to work properly on machine, or if you're using an older piece of equipment, perhaps even a driver install via CD-ROM.

Because of its deliberate limitations, you won’t want to spend more time in Safe Mode than absolutely necessary, but it can be a lifesaver if your machine throws a wobbler.

Safe Mode is also known for speeding up a system and some users opt to boot in Safe Mode even when they're not diagnosing any issues because of this speed boost. However, booting in Safe Mode is not recommended as users lose access to critical features like antimalware protection which are disabled by Safe Mode.

How do I know if Windows 11 is in Safe Mode?

Image showing the safe mode notification on Windows 11

Quite simply, look at your desktop wallpaper. When you are in Safe Mode, the words ‘Safe Mode’ and sometimes the Windows build number is overlaid in the bottom right-hand corner, just above the clock.

Beyond that, you’ll notice that all of the tweaks you’ve made to personalise Windows, such as colour schemes or themes, will be disabled, and everything will look fairly basic as a result.

How do I boot into Safe Mode in Windows 11?

There are several methods for booting into Safe Mode. The good news for users of previous Windows iterations is that the various methods are almost exactly the same in Windows 11, as are the menus you will be faced with.

In order to get into Safe Mode, you need to first access the Recovery Menu. Let’s look at the different methods for accessing this one at a time.

Safe Mode in Windows 11: Method One - The Start Menu method

The first, and easiest way is using the Start Menu inside Windows 11's desktop.

  1. Click on the ‘Start’ Menu
  2. Click on the ‘Power’ button in the bottom right of the menu
  3. Hold down the ‘Shift’ key
  4. While holding down ‘Shift’, click on ‘Restart
  5. Wait for the reboot

Safe Mode in Windows 11: Method Two - The Advanced Start Method

Screenshot of Windows 11's advanced settings menu
  1. Click on the Windows key + i (or open Settings from the Start Menu)
  2. Click on System from the sidebar menu (you should already be in this menu)
  3. In the main window, look for Recovery and click it
  4. Click on ‘Advanced Startup’
  5. A pop up will tell you ‘We will reboot your device, so save your work’
  6. Click on ‘Restart Now’
  7. Wait for the reboot
A screenshot showing Windows 11's advanced startup option

Safe Mode in Windows 11: Method Three - The Function Key method

This is great if you can’t boot into Windows 11 at all

  1. Start with the computer completely shut down.
  2. Hold down the power key for at least ten seconds so the machine doesn’t try and ‘Quick Start’
  3. Press the power key again to turn on the machine whilst holding down F11*

*On some machines this will be F8 instead of F11 and on others won’t work at all without a registry hack. Check your manufacturer for more information

Safe Mode in Windows 11: Method Four - The ‘When all else fails’ method

If you’ve tried everything else and still can’t trigger safe mode, there’s a workaround.

  1. Start with the computer completely shut down
  2. Turn on the computer
  3. Immediately hold down the power button until the boot is interrupted and the computer shuts down again
  4. Repeat steps 2&3 twice more
  5. After the third interrupted reboot, you’ll get a popup offering ‘Startup Repair’
  6. Select Advanced Options

Navigating the Recovery Menu

Screenshot showing Windows 11's recovery menu

Once you’ve completed the steps in any of the above methods, the computer will reboot into a recovery menu.

  1. Click on ‘Troubleshoot’
  2. Click on ‘Advanced Options’
  3. Click on ‘Start Up Settings’
  4. Click on ‘Restart’
Screenshot of Windows 11's recovery settings menu

You’ll then be given a variety of Safe Mode options to pick from. Option 4 is typically the default for most people, providing Safe Mode with all networking options disabled, including Internet connectivity. This will let you diagnose any issues inside an isolated environment.

Option 5 - Safe Mode with Internet connectivity - is for those instances where access to the Internet is needed in order to diagnose a problem. However, it’s critical to understand that your system’s security protections will be disabled in Safe Mode, so it’s advised you only choose Option 5 if absolutely necessary.

Option 6 - Safe Mode with Command Prompt - will take you to a Command Line window instead of the desktop when selected. This is meant for experienced users and those that find it easier to navigate through Windows using commands.

Whichever option you choose, your machine should then boot in Safe Mode.

Leaving Safe Mode

The good news is that once you’re done, a simple reboot will put you back into regular Windows 11.

 If you need to reboot and then go back into Safe Mode, you’ll need to follow one of the above methods each time.

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