Two Ways To Reformat Your Chromebook: Powerwash & Full Recovery

Dan Price 22-03-2014

One of a Chromebook’s main selling points is its stateless drive’s provision of security and stability – but what are your choices when something goes wrong? You have two options.


While you won’t get anything like Window’s famous ‘Blue Screen of Death’, it’s not entirely true that Chromebook’s are 100 percent hacker-proof. If you operate in Developer Mode you will disable the device’s inbuilt Verified Boot and a kernel could become compromised without your knowledge, and if you run an alternative Linux operating system How to Install Linux on a Chromebook Here's how to install Linux on your Chromebook so you can start using other apps like Skype, VLC Media Player, and more! Read More a bad file or malicious code could potentially infiltrate your machine.


In fact, nothing necessarily has to go wrong for you to want to reformat your machine. If you used ChrUbuntu to load an alternative Linux operating system then the only way to re-partition the drives is by using one of these two methods. Similarly, if you want to sell your machine you’ll want to ensure all traces of your personal details, documents, and passwords have been thoroughly removed. Or, perhaps you followed our instructions on how to try different release channels Chromebooks – Which Release Channel is Right for You? If you want early access to the exciting new features that Google have planned for future updates, why not change your release channel? Read More , and now your device is unusable?

Whatever the cause, the situation is fixable. What are your options? Let’s look in detail.

Note: Remember, both these methods will wipe your locally saved data, so ensure you back up anything important. All cloud-based data, included apps and files in Google Drive, will automatically re-sync with your device.


1. Powerwash

Powerwashing your Chromebook is the simplest and fastest of the two recovery options. The process can be considered akin to resetting your device – it will delete all locally stored user data in the stateful partition, but it will not install a new version of the Chromebook’s operating system. This differs from recovering a Windows installation How To Restore, Refresh, or Reset Your Windows 8 Installation In addition to the standard System Restore feature, Windows 8 has features for "refreshing" and "resetting" your PC. Think of these as ways of quickly re-installing Windows -- either keeping your personal files or deleting... Read More , which will always install a new version of the OS.

The process will remove all associated Google Accounts, and erase saved files, saved networks, and owner account permissions. If you used the Crouton method of installing Linux, this will remove it.

There are two ways to Powerwash your device, one of which is done through a user profile, and one which is done prior to login. We will go through both step-by-step.

Method 1:

The first method is done through a user account. This is the method you are most likely to use, though both work equally well.


1. Enter your ‘Settings’ menu through the status area
2. Click on ‘Show Advanced Settings’
3. Find the Powerwash section, and click on ‘Powerwash’


4. You will be presented with a new dialogue box. Click Restart



Method 2:

This method enables you to Powerwash a Chromebook from outside a user account. It can be useful if you have forgotten your password, or bought a second-hand machine where the previous owner has not wiped their own data before the sale.

1. Turn on the device and wait to be presented with the sign-in screen. Do not login
2. Press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+R
3. You will be presented with a large onscreen warning. Click ‘Restart’ to initiate the process

Note: Do not Powerwash your machine if you are using a managed Chrome device, as you will not be able to re-enrol your machine afterwards. Instead, follow Google’s instructions on how to wipe device data and re-enrol the device.

2. Full Recovery

This is the most time consuming of the two approaches, but also the most complete. If you are having problems with updating your Chromebook, or if it entirely stops working, this is the process you should follow.


Instigating a full recovery on your Chromebook will not only delete all your locally saved data, but it will also install an entirely new version of the Chrome operating system on your machine. This is also the only way to re-partition your hard drive back to its factory state, meaning if you installed Linux using ChrUbuntu this is the best method to follow.

Before starting, first try to perform a ‘hard reset’ on your Chromebook to see if it solves your problem. On newer models you simply press Power+Refresh, though on older models you may need to push the reset button with a pin. A hard reset will not re-partition your drive.

To undertake a full recovery, follow these steps:

  1. Reformat either a USB stick or an SD card that has at least 4 GB capacity
  2. On your Chromebook, type chrome://imageburner into the address bar and follow the onscreen instructions to create the recovery drive
  3. Enter recovery mode by pressing Esc+Refresh+Power
  4. Enter the USB stick or SD card on which you created the recovery drive
  5. Follow the onscreen instructions and your device will install a new version on the Chrome OS
  6. Remove the recovery drive when instructed to do so


Note: It is also possible to create a recovery drive from Windows, Apple, and Linux machines. You can find detailed instructions on Google’s website.

Getting a Fresh Start

It’s a sad reality of modern technology that things go wrong. Whether it’s a user error or a software fault, there will always come a day when you need to reset something and start anew.

Chromebooks are arguably the best laptops on the market for being error free and virus free, but when that day comes and something does fail, you can be sure that Google has you covered and the road back to functionality is fast and hassle-free.

For more, check out our basic overview of Chromebooks What Is a Chromebook? What is a Chromebook? What's a Chromebook good for? How does a Chromebook compare to a laptop? We answer these and more. Read More . And keep in mind that you can use your Chromebook’s terminal for commands 18 Crosh Terminal Commands All Chromebook Users Should Know Your Chromebook has its own terminal, the Crosh. We show you the essential Chromebook terminal commands you should know. Read More that change settings, open the task manager, and more.

Image Credits: TechnologyGuide TestLab Via Flickr

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  1. nobody
    August 22, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Dronebooks are turning society into lemmings. And whomever is in charge of the marketing/data sucking, they should be commended. Their rewriting the books on analytics. Skynet is Google.

  2. David Wilson
    April 12, 2017 at 11:37 pm

    Hard refresh (power + refresh) did "something" right. I can at least type without lagging. That's better than all the other tricks I've tried.

  3. Pssst3
    January 28, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Assuming that the Downloads folder isn't on it, how does powerwashing affect data stored on an SD card?

  4. Loretta D'Onofrio
    June 13, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    100 % all my stuff on Drive will be safe??

  5. April
    March 26, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    So does that mean even if you powerwash the laptop, you can still retrieve someone information?

  6. Eric
    April 16, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Go On chrome web store and download the recovery utility :) that Google provides you, then remember to have your USB in and download it to that .

  7. paul
    December 14, 2014 at 11:15 am

    I note with great interest your advice:
    "Note: Remember, both these methods will wipe your locally saved data, so ensure you back up anything important."
    However, I've been unable to find any advice on how to do that.
    Is there a way to automate the backup of local user data?
    Many thanks,

  8. Paleoltih
    March 25, 2014 at 1:44 am

    While using a Chromebook, I was unable to create a Chromebook recovery stick drive using chrome://imageburner. The Chromebook forum boards indicated that I am not alone. I had to create the recovery stick using Windows.

    Odd isn't it, that one has to use Windows to create a Chromebook recovery drive?

    • Leah Foley
      March 25, 2014 at 8:31 am

      You just made me go, "EEWWWW".

    • Ed
      March 25, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      Since most users likely have a Windows machine, this seems like a logical plan B.

      If a user had a second Chromebook, could they create a recovery stick on that one and be able to use it on the malfunctioning Chromebook?

      Is there a plan C for creating the recovery stick on Linux or Mac OS?

  9. dragonmouth
    March 23, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    "you can be sure that Google has you covered "
    And that is what worries me. While you may infact own the hardware, Google is in control of it. As the intro to the 1963 sci-fi show Outer Limits proclaimed:
    "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. "

    Substitute "Chromebook" for "television set" and the words are strangely prophetic in regards to a Chromebook.