Everyone has had a pop-up ad interrupt what they’re doing at some point. Since these are a hassle, it makes sense to figure out where a pop-up is coming from and get rid of it.
Let’s walk through diagnosing why pop-up ads appear in Windows, and show how to stop them.
Why Do Pop-Ups Appear in Windows?
While many pop-ups are annoying and intrusive, they don’t always show for a negative reason. Sometimes, Windows itself or important apps will display a pop-up to alert you to something important.
It’s easy to start ignoring these, but you shouldn’t dismiss them all. Below is a sampling of reasons why a pop-up might appear in Windows:
- Windows Defender, or another antivirus you have installed, found an infection.
- An app is prompting you for an update. Popular apps that show a pop-up when updates are ready include Steam, Malwarebytes, Asana, and Paint.NET.
- Cloud storage apps like Dropbox are warning you that you’re low on space, or similar.
- Time-sensitive apps like backup clients warning you that a backup hasn’t run recently.
- Various errors that the app feels are important enough to grab your attention immediately, such as not being connected to the internet.
- A background process quickly created and then hid a popup.
- You’ve visited a spammy website, or have a malicious extension in your browser, that is spawning pop-ups.
Let’s look more into the common reasons for pop-ups to help you determine what’s legitimate and what action to take.
How to Diagnose and Stop Legitimate Pop-Ups
If the pop-up comes from an app you have installed, it’s likely legitimate. This might happen when you boot your computer, upon opening the app, or randomly while the app is open in the background. If you don’t recognize the app the notification claims to come from, proceed with caution and follow the steps in the next section.
In Windows 10 and 11, many apps send pop-ups through the official Windows notification service. Clicking these should bring up the app in question, allowing you to look at the alert and get more information on where it came from. If you get a generic dialog box instead, check the title or mouse over its icon on the taskbar to see which app sent it.
For anything like security alerts, backup errors, updates, or low storage, you should take the recommended action to stop the pop-up from happening again. Sometimes, these are one-time fixes, but other times they will keep happening if you don’t address the root of the problem.
There are a few ways to deal with these: if you’re low on space in a cloud storage app, see our guide to cleaning up messy cloud storage, which will help free up space. Or if you get tired of update pop-ups, see if the app is offered on the Windows Store. Those apps update automatically, saving you from seeing pop-ups.
Importantly, malicious pop-ups can masquerade as update notifications for your apps. These are often for deprecated software like Flash Player or Java, making them clear fakes. Our guide to avoiding fake download buttons will help you spot these phonies.
Disabling Pop-Ups in Apps
In many cases, even trustworthy apps will send more notifications than you want. To turn off non-essential notifications, such as Windows Defender telling you that it didn’t find anything in a scan or OneDrive offering to show you past photos, you’ll usually find options to disable these in the apps.
Stopping Microsoft Ad Pop-Ups
While many of the pop-ups that we’re discussing come from third parties, Windows 10 and Windows 11 include plenty of ads from Microsoft in the form of pop-ups. You might see prompts to use Microsoft Edge, sign up for a trial of Microsoft Office, or similar.
How to Stop Malicious Pop-Ups
Most dangerous pop-ups come in two forms: in your browser, or from junk software on your computer.
To rule out anything nasty on your PC, if you haven’t in a while, it’s a good idea to scan with anti-malware software and remove anything it detects. In addition, head to Settings > Apps > Apps & Features and check through your list of installed software. Remove anything you don’t recognize, use, or trust.
Stopping Browser Pop-Ups
Browser pop-ups are frustrating because they can take various forms. Thankfully, modern browsers are great at stopping pop-up alerts. If you’re still seeing them, make sure that your browser is set to block pop-ups, which all should be by default.
To check the pop-up blocker in Chrome, click the three-dot Menu button at the top-right of your browser and choose Settings. Choose Privacy and Security on the left sidebar, followed by Site Settings.
Under Content on this page, choose Pop-ups and redirects. Make sure it’s set to Don’t allow sites to send pop-ups or use redirects to block them automatically.
If there are any sites you trust to use pop-ups legitimately, add them to the Allowed list. Otherwise, Chrome should suppress them all. See how to manage Firefox pop-ups for an overview of the process in that browser.
After that, review your installed browser extensions and uninstall anything you don’t use. If you continue to have issues with pop-ups, you might need a more powerful browser extension to prevent them.
Be aware that shady sites are more likely to spam you with pop-ups. A barrage of alerts is a sign that you’re on a dangerous site.
Stopping Pop-Ups on Windows
Armed with these tips and linked guides, you know now how to detect where a pop-up is coming from and how to stop it. These have become less of a hassle over time, but you’ll still encounter them on modern systems. When in doubt, you can stop a pop-up either by dealing with the source app or removing the problem software/website.
That’s why differentiating between legitimate warnings and fake virus pop-ups is a key skill.