How to Get Rid of an Android Virus From Your Phone

Learn how to tell if your phone has a virus - and what you can do about it

Smartphone security, conceptual illustration
Your phone won't look like this if it has a virus.

Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

While an Android virus is relatively rare, malicious apps occasionally make their way onto the Google Play store. More commonly, apps not available in the Play store pose a security risk; apps on third-party sites are much more likely to be problematic since Google can't vet them. At best, malicious apps will affect the performance of your phone; at worst, your private data, such as passwords or payment information, could be exposed. Here's how to smoke an Android virus out and remove it.

Note: The information below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

Does My Phone Have a Virus?

Typically, if your phone has a virus, it'll start acting weird. It might suddenly become very slow, or you might notice unusual amounts of data usage. Worse, you could discover unauthorized in-app purchases. If your phone has a virus, you likely won't see a pop-up alerting you to the situation and offering help.

Important: There are ads floating around the web that look like error messages and prompt you to click through or download something to fix your phone. Don’t fall for it, as this will instead lead you to a malicious website or app, and cause the very problem you thought you were solving.

The good news is, however you ended up with the virus, it should be relatively easy to remove, and in most cases, you won't even lose any data. Now is as good a time as any to remind you to back up your smartphone regularly.

How to Get Rid of a Virus On Your Phone

The first thing you need to do to remove a virus is to reboot your smartphone in safe mode. Depending on the version of Android your smartphone is running, you'll do one of two things to enable safe mode.

Android screenshot showing Reboot to safe mode popup window
Remove a bad app by rebooting to safe mode.
  1. First, try holding down the power button on your smartphone, then tap and hold power off.
  2. Tap OK on the Reboot to safe mode pop-up screen.
    1. Note: If that doesn't work, press and hold the power button, then tap power off. Next, hold the power button again until the manufacturer's logo appears, then hold the volume down button until your device is powered up and you see Safe mode on the bottom of the screen.
  3. Once you're in safe mode, go to Settings > Apps > Downloaded.
  4. Look through the list for any apps you don't remember downloading or look suspect. Tap the app you want to remove, then uninstall.
    1. Note: If the uninstall button is greyed out, this means you might have unknowingly given the app admin access. Find out by going to Settings > Security > Device admin apps. Move the toggle into the off position for any apps that shouldn't have access, then tap Deactivate on the next screen. You should then be able to uninstall those apps.

Exiting safe mode is easy. Simply restart your phone by holding the power button and tap restart.

If all else fails, you can do a factory reset, but you'll have to re-download most of your apps, and you'll lose any data that's not backed up.

Go to Settings > System > Reset options > Erase all data (factory reset). Depending on your Android version, the factory reset option may be under Backup & reset > Factory data reset and Reset phone. Search for "reset" in the settings app if you have trouble finding it. You'll need to enter your passcode to complete the process.

Avoid Viruses on Your Android

There are a few ways you can avoid getting a virus on your Android in the first place.

Android screenshot of Google Play protect settings page.
Enable Google Play Protect to keep bad apps away.
  • Make sure your phone is up to date: you can see the most recent security update under Security in your Settings.
  • Google Play Protect: this regularly scans your phone for malware, and should be enabled by default if your phone is up to date. Check by going to Settings > Google > Security > Google Play Protect. If the toggle next to Scan device for security threats is off, turn it on. Above that, you'll see if there are any harmful apps on your phone. If not, it will say "Looks good."
  • Avoid installing apps outside of the Google Play store:
    • On phones running Android 7.0 Nougat and earlier you could easily download apps not in the Google Play store by going to Settings > Security > Unknown Sources and checking the box next to it.
    • For Android 8.0 Oreo and later, that setting is no longer available, and downloading non-Google Play apps is more difficult. You'll need to download an APK file; opening it will install the app. Doing this is usually asking to get a virus, though. However, with companies like Netflix and Fortnite revolting against app stores, the practice could become more common. 
  • Avoid app clones: watch out for app clones resembling legitimate apps, but have a different developer's name on it. Sometimes these clones are just trying to earn ad revenue until you figure out your mistake, or worse, trying to steal your identity. In any case, be sure to verify the app maker before downloading any app.
  • Use Android virus scan apps: for extra security, consider downloading an additional antivirus app in case anything slips through Google Play Protect. There are many free antivirus apps for Android from top-rated security companies.