The Best Malware Removal Software for 2021

Last updated on May 9, 2021

Trojans. Worms. Spyware. Adware. Ransomware. New types of malicious programs crop up all the time, whether they’re designed to mess up your device or system, steal your data or destroy your files. These come in many forms, but collectively they’re called malware. Ideally, you will have powerful protection set up to stop these from getting into your system at all, but if you do find that your device has been infected, you’ll need a way to remove it, fast.

If you’re short on time, here is the list of our top recommendations:

Overview of the Best Anti-Malware Software

BrandBest ForPriceVisit
McAfeeAll around malware protectionStarting from $27.49Visit McAfee
BitDefenderHighly vulnerable partiesStarting from $19.08Visit BitDefender
NortonWindows usersStarting from $14.99Visit Norton
Malware BytesDeep scanningStarting from $39.99Visit Malware Bytes
Bytefence ProBudget malware removalStarting from $20.04Visit Bytefence

Why You Need Malware Protection

The consequences of malware range from an annoyance that takes time and hassle to remove to serious theft that could clear out your bank account or destroy years of work. That isn’t worth the risk. Especially when there are so many excellent internet security suites out there that combine antivirus and anti-malware – including several top-notch free options.

But another benefit of getting a malware protection tool that spans anti-malware and malware removal is that you can also use it to rid your machine of anything that falls into a gray area, too. As in, programs that aren’t doing you serious harm, but are a pain nonetheless.

These are called “Potentially Unwanted Programs” (PUPs). For example, you may have inadvertently downloaded a whole bundle of extra programs while installing something you did want. You may have downloaded something that runs on ads, without realizing how irritating these would be. You may have downloaded actual adware, creating an endless stream of popups, or diverting your browser to some niche search engine you really don’t want. These kinds of programs aren’t usually a major danger, but they might be disrupting your day or slowing down your device. A malware removal program will be trained to pinpoint these kinds of programs and guide you through the removal process, checking in with you to make sure you really do want them gone.

Best Malware Removal and Protection Software

Let’s take a look at the best malware removal software out there. These will both protect you against malware or if your system is already infected with malware, remove it effectively.

#1 McAfee – Malware detection and removal for all kinds of operating systems

Top Features & Benefits: Vulnerability Scanning, Phishing Protection, Firewall, On-Demand Malware Scanning, VPN, Parental Controls

When it comes to tackling antivirus and antimalware together, McAfee is an excellent all-rounder. First of all, it works on pretty much all operating systems, including those for Windows, Macs, and various mobile devices. Secondly, it scores high on malicious URL blocking and malware detection tests, and does a stellar job of locating and removing malware on systems that are already infected. But a lot of AV and anti-malware programs do this. The great thing about McAfee is that it offers so many extra perks. For example, privacy protection features like file encryption and a file shredder, VPN, safe browsing tools, password manager, identity theft protection, and performance-boosting tools, for example, auto-play video blockers.

Price: Starting from $27.49 per year

Visit McAfee

#2 Bitdefender – Blocks even the most pernicious ransomware

Top Features & Benefits: Vulnerability Scanning, 24/7 Support, Phishing Protection, Safe Shopping Tools, Password Manager, Ransomware Protection

Bitdefender is unbeatable when it comes to antivirus protection as well as blocking and removing malware. It will filter malicious URLs, flag phishing attempts, and protect your privacy when you’re shopping or banking online. There’s a password manager for extra security.

However, the thing that really makes Bitdefender stand out is its amazing anti-ransomware technology. Ransomware is pretty much the worst type of malware you could ever be unlucky enough to get – and Bitdefender offers a double layer of protection. Should an unauthorized program make it through the machine-learning-driven, behavior-based malware and ransomware scanning, it won’t do much damage. It’s prevented from modifying any files in your Documents, Dropbox, and other protected folders, giving you time to track it down and remove it safely.

Price: Starting from $23.99 per year

Visit Bitdefender

#3 Norton – State-of-the-art malware detection for Windows

Top Features & Benefits: Firewall, On-Demand Malware Scanning, Website Rating, Spam Protection, WiFi Protection, Cloud Backups, Webcam Protection, VPN

Norton offers spectacular protection both against viruses and malware. On the remote chance that anything slips through the net, the system will guide you through the process of removing the malicious software quickly and easily. In fact, Norton is so confident of the software’s success that they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not entirely happy.

The extra security and privacy features are pretty impressive, too: you have a decent, two-way firewall, dark web monitoring, anti-spam, phishing and intrusion protection, WiFi protection, a VPN, identity theft protection, parental controls, and cloud backups for PC. It works on both Windows and Mac, although several of the features are only available for the former.

Price: Starting from $19.99 per year

Visit Norton

#4 MalwareBytes – Easy to use with add-on anti-adware

Top Features & Benefits: Real-Time Scanning, Ransomware Protection, Additional Anti-Adware Tool, 14 Day Free Trial.

Malwarebytes doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of its rivals, but it does do an excellent job of scanning your system to stave off malware, removing anything that’s already there, and protecting you against ransomware. The company updates its library daily to reflect any new threats that have emerged, increasing the chances that the software will spot any malware.

One thing that stands out about MalwareBytes is that it works well in tandem with its sister product, Adwcleaner, which is a specialist removal tool for adware. Adware is a supremely irritating form of malware that uninstalls toolbars, resetting your search engine, and hijacking your browser. It’s well worth purchasing both of these together. You get a 14 day free trial of Malwarebytes anti-malware anyway, so you might as well try it out – especially since it doesn’t ask for your payment details until the trial period is up.

Price: Starting from $23.99 per year 

Visit MalwareBytes

#5 ByteFence Pro – Best Malware removal on a budget

Top Features & Benefits: 24/7 Protection and Malware Removal, Real-time Scanning, Free Trial Available

Don’t really care about all the extras? Just want a simple program that will get rid of malware on your device quickly, reliably, right now, and prevent it from coming back? Well, in that case, you might want to try ByteFence Pro. ByteFence Pro only does two things: it scans for malware and “crapware” and it helps you remove them. This means it’s also a really cheap and cheerful option – we’re talking under $2 per month for a 3-year subscription, and under $5 per month even at a 6-month subscription. That’s a lot less than any of its major (paid) competitors.

Ironically, though, ByteFence Pro got off to a rough start by using sneaky, adware-style tactics to get itself installed on many people’s devices, leading many people to think it was actually malware. While it is a legitimate anti-malware tool, the company didn’t do itself any favors with this approach!

Price: Starting from $29.95 per year

Visit ByteFence Pro

Best Free Malware Removal Software

You need to be really careful about downloading programs that advertise themselves as “free malware removal”. Very often, these are actually malware themselves, i.e. the problem masquerading as the solution. Choose the wrong one and you could end up infecting your computer and having to splash out on more expensive anti-malware software to help you get rid of it.

Many types of top anti-malware software offer a free version, which you can also use to detect and remove malicious programs. This is usually the best option because these are trusted brands that are independently tested to check their efficacy in removing malware. Also, you can (and should) download the software from their official websites.

Note that these free versions usually lack all the great features of the full, paid versions, meaning you might end up having to upgrade anyway to reap the benefits. Others advertise themselves as free when really they mean they offer a short-term free trial or money-back guarantee. Don’t get caught out!

There are, though, some excellent exceptions out there that are actually free and offer decent protection, removal tools, and even additional features.

Here are some that stand out:

#1 Kaspersky – Real-time scanning with extra perks

Top features & Benefits: Real-time Threat Detection, Password Manager, Real-time Security Updates, VPN.

Kaspersky is a well-respected anti-malware and antivirus brand that offers a great free version, too. This combines high-quality antivirus scanning with system cleanup tools to help you catch and remove any malware already on your system or device. To keep you safe going forward, it also performs real-time scanning in the background. This is fairly unusual for free antimalware, which typically makes you do this manually.

Additional features include a password manager (limited to 15 logins), a dark web scanning feature, and a lightweight VPN (limited to 200MB per day). Kaspersky scores exceptionally well in independent malware detection tests and is really easy to use.

#2 Avira – Powerful anti-malware that won’t slow down your PC

Top features & Benefits: Real-time Threat Detection, Password Manager, Real-Time Security Updates, Safe Shopping Tool

Another anti-malware and malware removal program that hits perfect scores in independent testing is Avira. One of the main benefits of this brand is that even the free version is designed to limit the impact on your machine while you’re running scans, so you can hunt down and remove malware without it slowing you down. You don’t get the full range of features included in the paid version, but there’s still a password manager, anti-phishing safe shopping browser extension, password manager, and a very limited VPN (500 MB monthly limit).

#3 AVG – Reliable malware removal that doesn’t interfere with other antivirus programs

Top features & Benefits: Real-Time Threat Detection, Firewall, Real-time security updates, File Shredder

AVG gets excellent scores in independent testing for its ability to detect, locate, and quarantine malware. One handy thing about the free version is that you can set it up to work in passive mode. This means it won’t interfere with any other antivirus programs you have pre-installed, such as Windows Defender. This improves your level of protection without creating more headaches.

Plus, there’s a file shredder, a USB scanning option, and sophisticated scan controls, allowing you to schedule scans or adjust their intensity to minimize the hit to your computer’s performance. If you want the full range of great features that AVG offers, like protection against webcam hacking and ransomware, you will need to upgrade to the paid version, though.

The Difference Between Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware

Once upon a time, the main malware threat you needed to worry about was a virus. Viruses infect legitimate files on your device; when you launch that file, you inadvertently launch the virus, causing it to spread through your system or network. They’re really hard to get rid of (especially without deleting the infected files), so the focus tends to be on using antivirus software to prevent them from getting into your system, rather than removing the virus.

But viruses aren’t actually that common anymore. Today, you’re far more likely to be targeted by other types of malware, like spyware and adware. These new malware programs operate in very different ways to viruses. That means that to counter them, you need powerful anti-malware software in place, designed to detect and block all kinds of malware threats.

On a positive note, it also means that if you do get hit with a malicious program, it’s far more likely that you’ll be able to remove it. For this reason, anti-malware software doesn’t just try and block the offending program, it also helps you to isolate, quarantine, and remove it from your system. This is great news if you’ve realized that your unprotected device has picked up some malware. It’s (probably) not too late to tackle it.

Final Thoughts: You Need An Anti-Malware Tool Now

Not all malware announces itself. If you don’t have reliable anti-malware installed on your device, it’s very possible that malicious programs have already infected it.

Maybe spyware is ticking along in the background, watching what you do online or tracking your keystrokes and feeding information to an external website, waiting to collect valuable information to steal your money or identity.

Perhaps you’ve been cryptojacked, meaning you’ve been tricked into downloading crypto-mining malware. Your computer is being used remotely by Bitcoin miners, slowing down your operations, draining memory, and potentially exhausting your hardware.

Or possibly you keep running out of space because your laptop is littered with weird programs you don’t recognize – but you have no idea how to track them all down and remove them for good. Perhaps you do see some clues that things are amiss – like strange ads popping up, or your homepage defaulting to an annoying search engine whenever you open an internet browser – but you hadn’t realized this was a form of malware.

In any case, these problems will only get worse over time. They’ll wreck your device’s performance, cause your computer to keep crashing, and potentially mean you need to replace expensive hardware sooner. Or, worse, one day you’ll turn on your device to find it locked down by ransomware. Or that cybercriminals have finally got hold of the information they needed to rob you blind.

All of which makes it absolutely vital that you address the problem sooner rather than later. If you don’t yet have anti-malware software installed, do it now. Run scans to clean up your system and use the best malware removal you can to get rid of anything that shouldn’t be there. Then you’ll have peace of mind that the software is doing its thing, protecting you against anything worse that comes along in the future.

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