Spyware is a form of malware that tries to steal information from you without you knowing or approving. It could be disguised as a legitimate program or work behind the scenes to do things like track web browsing data or monitor keystrokes to collect passwords.
You might have a spyware infection if your computer’s performance has recently started to suffer, and especially if strange pop-ups are showing up, websites are redirecting to places you don’t want to go, email contacts are getting odd spam messages that appear to be from you, or you’re a victim of identify theft.
Below are several free anti-spyware tools that can scan your hard drive, flash drive, external hard drive, etc. to remove spyware. Some of them only work when you manually start the scan but others will monitor your computer all the time to make sure spyware can’t modify your computer or monitor your information.
Note: All the programs mentioned below are known to scan for spyware but they might not scan for other things like viruses. Other scanners remove some kinds of malware but not spyware, so we’ve omitted those from this list.
Important: Spyware is often bundled with a normal program’s installer. See How to Safely Download & Install Software for some tips on avoiding spyware in the first place.
SUPERAntiSpyware should be your very first pick if you want to get rid spyware that’s already on your computer. It updates often, installs and scans quickly, and gives you complete control over what gets scanned.
It’s able to check inside ZIP files, skip unknown file types (for a quicker scan), ignore files bigger than 4 MB, and skip over non-executable files (so that only EXEs and similar file types are scanned).
What really makes SUPERAntiSpyware stand out among the others in this list is that it can also be set up to only scan files that have been changed within the last so-many days (1 day, 5 days, etc.), ignore System Restore and Volume Information data, use more of the CPU for a faster scan (called Scan Boost), and even scan the files that shortcuts point to.
SUPERAntiSpyware can scan the whole computer or just parts of it where spyware normally exists. You can also run a Critical Point Scan to delete spyware that’s currently running in memory or use the Custom Scan option to pick what gets scanned and where to check (flash drives, internal/external hard drives, select folders, etc.).
This anti-spyware tool can also delete temporary Windows files before the scan is started, exclude folders from scans, scan from the right-click context menu, and close down any open web browsers before scanning.
The free version is 100% free but you do have to manually run scans and definition updates (they don’t happen automatically). However, these limitations are lifted with the professional version.
Tip: If you want to try the professional edition, you can enable the trial during installation of the free version. More »
Malwarebytes is another big-hitter when it comes to cleaning up spyware. It’s easy to use and tends to find a lot more malicious items than similar programs.
When the scan is complete, it’s really easy to tell where the spyware was found, and selecting the ones to quarantine is just a click or two away.
Malwarebytes can also scan individual files and folders as well as whole hard drives, with the right-click context menu in Windows Explorer. There’s an option to scan within archives, ignore certain files/folders, and to scan for rootkits too.
Automatic updates, a more detailed scanning schedule, and automatic quarantine is only available in the premium version. You can start a trial from the top of the free version. More »
Avast Free Antivirus
Avast can detect and remove spyware before you even know it’s on your computer. What makes it different than the two from above is that it’s always on and always watching for new threats.
There are lots of settings you can adjust in Avast, like to enable CyberCapture to block unrecognized files, use Hardened Mode to really lock down on security, scan for potentially unwanted programs, scan from Windows Explorer, exclude files/folders/URLs from scans, and lots more.
Avast sells paid antivirus programs but also offers this free one, all of which provide anti-spyware protection. More »
AVG AntiVirus Free
AVG is another popular antivirus program that serves as a full malware scanner, checking for and removing not only spyware but also ransomware, viruses, and more… all automatically and for free.
AVG provides not only protection for your computer but also for your web activity and email. You can perform a full system scan, a boot-time scan, or a custom scan, but there’s also a dedicated button that instantly starts a check for spyware on all your removable devices.
Another unique feature in AVG is its Deep Scan option that runs a much slower but also more thorough scan, a good option if nothing else seems to get rid of the spyware. You can configure it to recognize files by their content and not their extension, which is ideal if the spyware is using a hidden/false file extension.
The Deep Scan option can also open and scan through over 20 archive file types, much more than most other spyware scanners that usually just support the popular ones (ZIP and RAR).
Something else worth mentioning about AVG is its ability to scan through files in the order that they exist on the hard drive, which can speed up scanning since it’s not performing an unnecessary number of HDD seeks. More »
Adware is another anti-spyware program that actively blocks new threats as well as scans the computer for existing ones. It has a clean, new design and isn’t hard to use.
This program is unlike some anti-spyware tools because it does update on its own and can even run a full system scan on a schedule.
While it doesn’t provide an active web, email, or network protection, when it comes to spyware, you can be confident that it will do everything it can to stop and remove those threats.
Trend Micro HouseCall
HouseCall is a simple and portable spyware cleaner that doesn’t use up a lot of system resources or disk space but still provides a full scanner against malware.
Just hit the scan button to start the default quick scan, or go into the settings to change where to check for spyware; you can choose everything or custom areas like certain folders or hard drives only. More »
SpywareBlaster is different from the rest of these programs since it doesn’t scan for existing spyware, though true to its name, it does “blast” new threats before they can reach your system.
The way it works is that you can enable protection for your web browsers to protect against malicious scripts, exploits, and cookies that track your web behavior. It does this by enabling a pre-made list of blockades (which you can update manually at any time) against certain websites, cookies, and scripts.
The System Snapshot option provides a way to create a backup of various system settings so that if spyware does happen to make changes, you can restore the backup to get your settings back to normal.
There are also some very specific spyware protection tools included in SpywareBlaster, like Hosts Safe to back up and encrypt the hosts file (which is one target for spyware), an Adobe Flash blocker for Internet Explorer, and even a list of your own custom ActiveX blocking rules. More »
Emsisoft Emergency Kit (EEK)
Emsisoft Emergency Kit is a portable anti-spyware tool (around 700 MB) that you can run from anywhere to scan and delete all types of malware in addition to spyware, like worms, adware, keyloggers, etc.
The reason it’s on this list is because it’s completely portable (doesn’t need to be installed) and is capable of scanning for actively running spyware that’s currently loaded into memory.
EEK can also check for spyware traces that exist in the registry and elsewhere that could indicate an infection. There are also some options for finding potentially unwanted programs and rootkits.
This anti-spyware utility supports some other features too, like scanning email data files, finding spyware in archives like CAB and ZIP, and excluding or including only certain file types in the scan.
There are two versions of this tool – one is a regular application with a user interface and the other is a command line utility that’s useful for automated or batch scanning. They are both included in this one download. More »
Spybot – Search & Destroy
Spybot is great for advanced users who want total control of how the program scans and protects against spyware, but it’s not ideal for novice users who just want to delete spyware. For that, use one of the other programs mentioned above.
One of Spybot’s most notable features is its immunization option, which blocks common threats in various web browsers. It’s as easy as scanning for the vulnerabilities and then hitting Apply immunization.
Another benefit of Spybot is that it makes it a breeze to disable tracking cookies that could compromise your privacy, again with just one click.
Of course, Spybot can also “search and destroy” spyware too, using its system scanner. If you have particular files to scan, you can do that too.
Among the many options you can enable is one to scan and immunize not only the current user’s files and settings but also those of any other user on the computer.
You can also add a spyware scan option to autoplay devices like flash drives, tell the program which folder holds your internet downloads so that it will do deep spyware scans there, and run rootkit scans. More »
TheCureIt! anti-spyware scanner is completely portable, which means you don’t have to install it and can even keep it on a flash drive or other portable device.
You can scan the whole computer or check for spyware in particular places only, like in the Windows system folder, temporary files, the user’s Documents folder, RAM, and some other places.
You can also add your own custom locations like another hard drive or some other folder, as well as scan inside installation packages and archives.
CureIt! is a bit large when compared to these other tools (over 150 MB), but it can also scan for a number of other malware types like adware, riskware, hacking tools, dialers, etc.
Something interesting to note about this program is that it’s the only spyware scanner from this list that uses a unique name with each download, which is to help prevent malware from blocking it.
ComboFix is very much a hands-off, on-demand spyware scanner. After downloading it, just open thefile to immediately start the whole process.
Here’s how it works: ComboFix backs up the Windows Registry before anything else, followed by the creation of a System Restore point. After that, the scan starts automatically and you see the results populate in Command Prompt.
When the spyware scan is complete, a log file is created at C:\and then opened for you to read through. It’s there that you can see if any spyware was detected and removed and which ones were found but not removed (which you can delete manually or use another tool to remove).
ComboFix only works on Windows 8 (not 8.1), 7, Vista, and XP. More »
More Not-So-Free Spyware Removers
The following are some other programs that are not free but do provide constant, always-on anti-spyware shields as well as on-demand spyware scanners/removers and automatic updates:
- Norton AntiVirus Basic ($49.99 /year for 1 device): A huge name in antivirus software. The other non-basic editions have more features but are also more expensive.
- Kaspersky Anti-Virus ($59.99 /year for 3 devices): Also protects against phishing attempts and dangerous websites.
- Zemana Antimalware ($24.95 /year for 1 device): Includes a browser add-on/toolbar cleaner and has a very simple interface that makes it a cinch to protect your system from spyware.
- McAfee Total Protection ($59.99 /year for 1 device): Includes a password manager to prevent spyware from collecting your credentials.
- Bitdefender Antivirus Plus ($59.99 /year for 3 devices): Light on system resources and can be set up with Autopilot to silently protect against threats.
Note: Most of these professional anti-spyware programs can be tried for free for a week or so, usually up to 30 days, so make sure to check those out before committing to purchasing something.