17 Best Free Bootable Antivirus Tools

Free Virus Scanners That Work Without Access to Windows

What are you to do when you have a computer problem so bad that your computer won't start at all and you're pretty sure a virus or some other malware is to blame? How do you scan for viruses when you can't start Windows to do a virus scan?

This is where a bootable antivirus program becomes the hero of the day. With a bootable virus scanner, you create a special flash drive or CD/DVD disc from a working computer and then use it on the infected machine to scan the hard drive for viruses—all without needing to start Windows!

Since the most serious of viruses cause damage to the parts of your computer that allow it to start, a bootable antivirus tool can often be a powerful weapon at your disposal for getting the virus removed and your computer back up and running.

An illustration of a laptop that is ill with a doctor and nurse trying to heal it with a virus scan on a USB drive.

In general, getting a bootable antivirus program up and running requires that you take the ISO image provided and then, from a working computer, burn it to a disc or burn it to a USB drive. Next, you'll need to boot from the disc or boot from the flash drive on the infected PC. More details are available in our reviews and on the bootable AV program websites.

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Adaware Live CD

Adaware Live CD quick scan screen
What We Like
  • Multiple scan types.

  • Update definitions before scans.

What We Don't Like
  • The OS has to be Windows 7 or newer.

  • Only as specific as folders (i.e., you can't scan individual files only).

Adaware has this free bootable antivirus scanner that's a breeze to use. You can update it before starting scans and it has a full user interface just like desktop-based programs.

There are multiple types of scans you can run, so whether it's a quick check for a boot sector virus or you want to find malware in specific folders or the whole computer, you can do it all with this program.

Despite the Rescue USB name on the download page, this bootable antivirus tool from Adaware can be put on a disc or a flash drive. Download the amd64 ISO file for 64-bit computers; the other link is for 32-bit machines.

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Anvi Rescue Disk

Anvi Rescue Disk
© Anvisoft Corporation
What We Like
  • Really easy to use

  • Lets you scan the whole drive or certain folders only

  • Can run a quick or full scan

  • Able to repair malicious changes made to the registry

  • Relatively small download size

What We Don't Like
  • Can't scan specific files only

  • No longer gets updated.

Anvi Rescue Disk is a really simple bootable virus scanner. There are only three main scan buttons, two sections to the program, and no custom settings.

You can run a quick smart scan, a full system scan, or a custom scan to search for malware inside one or more specific folders.

There's also a section for finding and correcting corrupt registry issues that may have been altered by a virus.

The only thing I don't like about Anvi Rescue Disk is that you must scan the whole drive at once—you can not choose to scan single, specific files like you can with regular antivirus software.

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AVG Rescue CD

AVG Rescue CD bootable antivirus tool
What We Like
  • Scans things most bootable AV programs do not

  • Lets you check for viruses on any attached hard drive

  • Includes other tools like a hard drive tester

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't have a graphical interface like most programs, so it might be hard to use if you're not used to that type of UI

  • Doesn't offer definition updates

AVG Rescue CD is a text-only free bootable antivirus program. It can check for potentially unwanted programs, scan cookies, find hidden file extensions, and even scan inside archives.

Before you start a scan with AVG Rescue CD, you have the option to just scan a folder of your choice, just the boot sector, only the registry, or any locally attached hard drive.

Unfortunately, because AVG Rescue CD doesn't provide a graphical interface, navigating the menus can become difficult.

AVG no longer updates or maintains this program, so the virus definitions will forever be outdated. You can still scan normally, but it won't catch brand new threats.

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Comodo Rescue Disk

Comodo Rescue Disk
What We Like
  • You can scan specific files/folders or the whole drive

  • Includes an option to skip scanning certain files

  • Supports multiple scan types based on what you want to scan

  • Lets you pick between a graphical UI and one that's text only

  • Checks for updates automatically

  • Relatively small download size

What We Don't Like
  • It's difficult to use the file/folder-level scan option

In addition to the regular, installable Comodo Antivirus software, Comodo also has a free bootable antivirus program.

Comodo Rescue Disk can be launched from a USB device or disc in either text-only mode or with a full graphical user interface (GUI). The GUI version has a familiar program interface which is much easier to use.

There are three different scan types you can start with Comodo Rescue Disk: smart scan, full scan, or custom scan.

Smart scan checks for viruses and rootkits in the memory, boot sectors, autorun entries, and other areas like the registry and system folder. A custom scan lets you choose individual files and folders to scan instead of an entire drive.

You can also scan archives, enable heuristics scanning, and skip files over a specified size.

I love that Comodo Rescue Disk includes a familiar Desktop-like interface because it makes it easier to use than some of these other text-based scanning tools.

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Dr.Web LiveDisk

Dr.Web LiveDisk
What We Like
  • Custom options not found in some of these other bootable AV programs

  • Lets you define the types of files it should scan

  • Checks for virus definition updates from within the software

  • Runs from a disc or flash drive

What We Don't Like
  • The large setup file might take a while to download for some

Dr.Web LiveDisk is a feature-filled free bootable virus scanner for Windows and Linux.

There are plenty of configurable settings, like choosing the actions Dr.Web should take when finding infected, suspicious, or incurable files. Also, you can set what should occur in the event it detects specific issues like adware, dialers, jokes, hacktools, and riskware.

You can also exclude directories from being scanned, set how large a file can be before it's excluded from a scan, and define a maximum duration Dr.Web is allowed to spend scanning a single file.

I like that Dr.Web can check for virus definition updates directly from the program. This means you can reuse the program in the future and all you have to do is update it before you do a scan.

You can install Dr.Web LiveDisk to a USB device or a disc, but either method is still a rather large download, at over 700 MB in size.

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Kaspersky Rescue Disk

Kaspersky Rescue Disk
What We Like
  • Lets you scan specific folders, the whole drive, and other areas

  • Scans for many types of malware

  • You get to choose which interface to use: graphical or text

  • Includes other tools

What We Don't Like
  • Large download at around 600 MB

Kaspersky has what's called a Rescue Disk, which can scan for viruses, worms, Trojans, malicious tools, adware, dialers, and other malicious items.

You can pick between using the graphical mode (recommended) or the text-only mode.

Your scan options include Fileless objects, Startup objects, and System drive. You can also scan boot sectors and specific folders.

You can also use Kaspersky's tool to browse through the file system to copy or delete files. The Firefox browser is also built in to Kaspersky Rescue Disk, among many other tools.

The only downfall I can find with Kaspersky Rescue Disk is that the download file is rather large, and may, therefore, take some time to download.

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Panda Cloud Cleaner Rescue ISO

Panda Cloud Cleaner v1.1.10 in Windows XP
What We Like
  • Works in Windows 10 and older Windows OSs

  • Updates automatically

  • Can scan specific files, folders, and hard drives

  • Small download size (under 200 MB)

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't function as a true bootable AV program

  • Doesn't work if the virus is blocking access to your computer

  • Isn't as easy to use as similar tools

Panda Rescue ISO is a program that allows the free Panda Cloud Cleaner program to scan a computer without any other running processes that could potentially shut it down and prevent a virus scan.

First, you must boot to the Panda Rescue ISO disc to prepare your computer for running Panda Cloud Cleaner. Next, your computer will reboot into Windows but launch the cleaner before any other applications start. All other processes are shut down so that Panda Cloud Cleaner is less likely to be terminated by a virus.

The problem I have with this tool is that it may not work properly if a virus has infected your computer so deeply that you can't even boot into Windows. If this is the case, you'll want to try any of the other tools in this list that don't require Windows to boot.

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Sophos Bootable Anti-Virus

Sophos Bootable Anti-Virus
What We Like
  • Supports two scan types

  • Includes an option that lets you delete specific files

What We Don't Like
  • Runs in a text-only mode

  • Lacks custom scan options

  • Takes a while to reach the actual download link on the download page

Not many custom settings or options are available in Sophos Bootable Anti-Virus except choosing one of two different scan types.

Recommended Scan can either rename infected files or just display a log of the malicious items that were found. An Advanced Scan will actually remove any infected files it detects.

There's also a Bash Shell menu option for manually removing viruses. This option is only useful if you know where the malicious items are, which isn't very likely.

You must answer several questions before you can get to the download link.

Advanced steps are necessary to get the Sophos Bootable Anti-Virus ISO file. You must read the instructions carefully in order to download the program. It ends up requiring around 360 MB of free space.

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Trend Micro Rescue Disk

Trend Micro Rescue Disk
© Trend Micro Incorporated
What We Like
  • There are two scan types you can run

  • Fairly easy to use considering the lack of advanced options

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't have a graphical interface

Trend Micro Rescue Disk is another free bootable antivirus tool that doesn't have a graphical interface, meaning you'll need to navigate entirely in text mode with the arrow keys.

You can run a quick scan or a full scan depending on what areas you'd like checked.

Trend Micro Rescue Disk is first downloaded as a regular program file that includes the bootable software. Just choose to install it on a USB device or CD.

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Windows Defender Offline

Windows Defender Offline
What We Like
  • Several exclusion settings to customize the scan

  • Virus definition updates are supported directly from the disc

  • Has a graphical UI instead of text

What We Don't Like
  • Downloads as an EXE file instead of directly as an ISO

From Microsoft, Windows Defender Offline is a bootable virus scanner that sports a full user interface.

You can update the virus definitions directly from the disc, view quarantined files, and exclude files, folders, and extension types from scans.

Windows Defender Offline supports quick virus scans, full scans, and custom scans so you can choose your own folders and drives to scan.

The Windows Defender Offline tool from the download link can burn the software to a disc or USB device for you, so no image burning software is necessary. See Am I Running a 32-bit or 64-bit Version of Windows? to know which download file to select.

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Zillya! LiveCD

Zillya! LiveCD
What We Like
  • Runs with a full desktop interface

  • Lets you scan a whole drive or specific folders only

  • Includes a tool to fix corrupt MBR problems

  • Easier to use than some bootable AV programs

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks really advanced scan settings found in similar programs

  • Can't scan specific files only

Zillya! LiveCD can scan entire drives or whole folders only, so it won't scan just single files.

There's an option to check for viruses in potentially dangerous file types like executables so you're not scanning every single file type, which could take a long time.

A utility called Zillya! MBR Recovery is available from this bootable disc, which can scan the MBR for viruses and attempt to fix boot issues caused by a corrupt MBR.

I like all the settings that are included in Zillya! LiveCD as well as the fact that it provides a very easy to use interface.

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ESET SysRescue Live

ESET SysRescue Live
What We Like
  • Super easy to use.

  • Advanced settings if you want to use them.

  • Complete desktop environment.

What We Don't Like
  • Large, 570 MB download.

ESET SysRescue is another bootable virus scanner that you can use for free from a CD, DVD, or USB device. It comes from the company ESET, which also sells security software for home users and businesses.

This tool provides a full desktop environment, so if you're uncomfortable with text-only user interfaces, you should be okay with how this one works. There's a start menu, desktop items for other tools like TeamViewer and GParted, a file browser, and of course a shortcut to ESET SysRescue.

The virus scanner itself is very easy to use and can be used quickly without any customizations. From the On-demand scan page, just choose the option you want to use: Smart scan to check only some areas for malware—specifically, common locations malware is found; or choose Custom scan to run an in-depth, full scan of any area of the drive, including the whole thing.

However, you can change advanced settings if you want. Some of the scan settings include choosing which object types to scan—such as files, symbolic links, email files, archives, self-extracting archives, boot sectors, and others. You can also enable heuristics, detect PuPs, exclude specific file extensions, and set scan limits on files of a certain size.

When you first run the program, you're given the option to not only run SysRescue but also check for errors on the disc or in the memory.

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Avira Rescue System

Avira Rescue System
© Avira Operations GmbH & Co.
What We Like
  • Uses a regular, graphical interface instead of text only

  • Easier to install than some bootable antivirus programs

  • Includes other tools you might like

What We Don't Like
  • Scans a whole partition at once without the option to check particular files only

  • Large download size

  • Doesn't update with newer definitions.

Avira Rescue System is a free bootable antivirus program that also functions as a registry editor, web browser, and more, all under a standard graphical interface.

During a virus scan, compressed files are unpacked and scanned for added protection.

Avira Rescue System doesn't let you scan individual files, but only a whole partition at once, which is too bad. Also, the download is rather large at over 650 MB.

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VBA32 Rescue

VBA32 Rescue
What We Like
  • Has lots of scan options you can tweak

What We Don't Like
  • Might be hard to use because of the text-only interface

  • Download is around 200 MB

VBA32 doesn't support a graphical interface but it makes up for it in its detailed settings.

There are plenty of options in this program, like choosing which drives to scan, defining a set of file types to scan, choosing to scan inside archives, and deciding a default action when a malicious file is detected.

You can also adjust the heuristic scan settings and update virus definitions directly from the CD or USB drive.

The obvious downfall to VBA32 Rescue is that you must use it in a text-only mode, unlike most of these other tools that have a regular, graphical interface.

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Bitdefender Rescue CD

Bitdefender Rescue CD v2
What We Like
  • Provides a full desktop experience

  • Has multiple scan options

  • Supports scanning particular folders apart from the whole drive

What We Don't Like
  • Large download at over 800 MB

  • Start time is slow compared to similar tools

  • Outdated virus signatures

  • Program no longer updates

Bitdefender Rescue CD is a free bootable virus scanner program that can exclude certain file extensions from a scan, lets you choose the maximum file size Bitdefender Rescue CD should scan, and optionally include archives with a scan.

Bitdefender Rescue CD lets you search in individual folders if you wish to target a specific directory and not the whole drive.

The most important downfall with this program is that it's no longer supported, so you won't get any new updates, virus signatures, features, etc. Another thing we don't like about Bitdefender Rescue CD is that it takes quite a long time to start up when you boot into the program.

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PC Tools' Alternate Operating System Scanner

PC Tools' Alternate Operating System Scanner
What We Like
  • Very simple and easy to use

  • You can start running a scan in seconds

  • Includes other helpful tools that work best when run outside of the OS

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks custom scan settings

  • Download is large at over 350 MB

  • Doesn't get updated anymore

This utility is a bit different than the others in this list because PC Tools' Alternate Operating System Scanner is a portion of a larger suite.

The whole suite includes not only a virus scanner but also a system shell, file manager, data destruction utility, and file recovery tool.

If malicious files are found, PC Tools' Alternate Operating System Scanner will show a results page where you can disable them so they can't do any harm to your other files.

The main thing I like about this tool is that there aren't any custom settings (which could be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective). It works as quickly as choosing the drive to scan and then waiting for the results.

The official website that used to host AOSS is no longer operational and now redirects to a different website, so the link above is hosted on the Wayback Machine.

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F-Secure Rescue CD

F-Secure Rescue CD
What We Like
  • Easy to use because there aren't lots of options to get confused about

  • Not as large of a download as some similar programs

What We Don't Like
  • Updates are no longer performed

  • Doesn't have advanced scan options

  • Missing the familiar graphical UI, so it could be hard to use

F-Secure Rescue CD is a simple bootable antivirus program. It works without any graphical user interface, so it might be a bit confusing.

There are hardly any options or user input except pressing the Enter key to confirm the start of a scan.