How to Remove Malware From Android in 2021: Phones & Tablets

If your Android phone’s been slowing down or you see many more ads than normal, then there’s one likely culprit: you have malware. Luckily, it’s easy enough to remove malware from Android devices, so read on to find out.

Robin Barber
By Robin Barber (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2021-05-16T13:08:16+00:00

With around three million apps on the Google Play Store, it’s no surprise that some malicious software gets through Google’s security. However, with a combination of antivirus apps and clever use of safe mode and the settings menu, anyone can remove malware from their Android phone.

Key Takeaways:

  • Malware on phones is usually either adware, spyware or ransomware.
  • Signs of malware include high mobile data usage, the phone slowing down and lots of ads.
  • A good antivirus app is the best way to remove malware.
  • The best way to avoid malware is by being careful when you install apps, follow links or download files.

There are many kinds of cybercrime that can infect phones, but the most common way for average users to be affected is through malicious apps. These apps will normally harvest your data and send it back to the criminals, display lots of extra ads on your device or do both.

The apps will also try to hide from the user, so you need to keep an eye out for the symptoms of an infected device if you want to spot suspicious activity and start the process of malware removal.

  • Other than scanning your phone with an antivirus app, you can check to see if your battery is dying faster than normal, your WiFi is being used when you aren’t doing anything, or you get more ads than normal.

  • There’s no way to know for certain how the malware got on your phone, but if it started slowing down after you downloaded something — such as some new, third-party apps — then there’s a good chance whatever you downloaded contained the malware.

  • You can avoid malicious apps by being sure to research everything you download, checking out reviews and making sure the developers are reputable. However, to be totally safe, you should also make sure you have the latest version of Android and a good antivirus running.

How to Remove Malware From Android Devices

When it comes to removing malware from your Android device, there are two methods you can use. Simply downloading a good antivirus app and running it will clean up most issues, but there’s also a manual method if you know which app is causing the issue.

Removing Malware Using an Antivirus App

This is a quick and easy way to remove malware. Plus, with the trials and free plans that most antiviruses offer, you won’t even have to pay. Make sure the program you use is a reliable antivirus for Android devices (like Bitdefender), and you shouldn’t have any issues with these four steps.

  1. Download an Antivirus

    Go into the Google Play Store, find an antivirus app that you trust (we used Bitdefender for this example) and click “install.” Wait until it’s installed on your phone, then open it.

    android remove malware antivirus download
  2. Create an Account

    First, it’ll prompt you to either create an account or sign in. Simply enter your email address and a password, and you’ll get access to whichever free plan or trial the provider offers.

    android remove malware antivirus account
  3. Start a Scan

    After signing into your account, there will be an option to scan your device. It’ll prompt you to give it access to your files to find any threats. Accept this and wait until it’s done.

    android remove malware antivirus scan
  4. Check If You’re Safe

    Once the scan is over, the antivirus will tell you if you’re safe or if something needs removing. Choose to remove any threats that it finds to protect your phone.

    android remove malware antivirus delete threats

Removing Malware Manually

If there’s a particularly suspicious app on your phone that you think might be causing the issue, and you want to uninstall it yourself, then you can use this method to remove it manually. You can also get rid of apps you don’t remember downloading or anything that doesn’t appear in the app drawer this way.

Although it isn’t always necessary, it’s a good practice to put your phone into safe mode first and check that the malware isn’t a device admin app. These two steps are really easy to do but can vary between phones, so be sure to look up the specifics for your device if this method doesn’t work.

  1. Reboot to Safe Mode

    Hold the power button to turn off your phone. Then hold the power button and the volume down button at the same time to put the phone in safe mode. You’ll know you’ve entered it correctly when it says “safe mode” at the bottom-left corner of your screen.

    android remove malware manually safe mode
  2. Remove the Threat’s Privileges

    In case the malware has made itself a device admin to prevent it from being uninstalled, go to “device administrators” inside your security settings. Here you can deactivate any device admin apps, including any malware that has these permissions.

    android remove malware manually remove privileges
  3. Go Into Your App Settings

    Still in your “settings,” select “apps” to get into your app settings.

    android remove malware manually app settings
  4. Find the Suspicious App

    In the “apps” section of the app settings menu, there’s a list of all of your apps. You’ll be able to find the malicious software here.

    android remove malware manually find the app
  5. Remove the Malware

    Tap on the app you want to uninstall and select “uninstall” to remove it.

    android remove malware manually uninstall
  6. Restart Your Phone

    A quick restart will exit safe mode and restore your phone to normal but without the malicious app.

    android remove malware manually restart

Types of Android Malware 

Although traditional self-replicating viruses are rare on Android phones, that’s only one type of malware. Instead, phones tend to be affected by one of three types of malware: adware, spyware or ransomware, each having different implications for you and your device.

Adware: is a kind of malware that shows you advertisements. It normally comes attached to an app that looks innocent, and once downloaded, will start showing you lots of unwanted ads. The criminal behind the adware makes money whenever it shows an ad. This can be annoying if the ads get in the way, but the bigger problem is that sometimes adware is also spyware.

Spyware: is a more malicious kind of malware that steals your information and sends it back to the criminals. It can steal everything from your SMS messages and photos to credit card details and account passwords. To make things even worse, spyware can often hide in the background, as it doesn’t always need to show the user anything to work.

Ransomware: on the other hand, is normally discovered immediately, as it encrypts all of your data. Once encrypted, you can only get the key if you meet the criminal’s demands, usually some kind of payment. This can make your phone completely unusable and, therefore, impossible to save, so ransomware protection is your only option.

Is Your Android Phone Infected With Malware? How to Tell

Telling if your phone is infected can be difficult, especially if it’s infected with spyware that hides in the background. However, there are a few signs that might suggest there’s malware on your phone.

The first thing to look for is if the phone has started to slow down and feel sluggish. Even the most well-hidden malware will increase your CPU usage, which can slow down the more CPU-intensive apps that used to work fine. This will also decrease your battery life, which can be another sign.

If you think you’ve downloaded adware, then you should look for an increase in ads. They might show up in places you didn’t expect, somewhere that was previously ad-free, or as pop-up ads when you open other apps.

Finally, seeing an app you don’t recognize or downloading an app only to see its icon immediately disappear is another great sign that there’s malware on your device.

However, while these are good signs that malware has infected your device, there’s no guarantee you’ll notice. Some malware hides itself, so an average user can’t find it. This means getting a good antivirus is worthwhile, even if you think your phone is safe.

How Did My Android Device Get Infected With Malware? 

Malware can get into your device in a number of ways, and some can be very convincing, so it’s important to know what caused your device to get infected in the first place.

The main place for malware to get into your device is through the Google Play Store. Although Google tries to keep everything safe for users, things can slip through, so you should make sure that you only download apps by reputable companies that have plenty of good reviews from real people.

Even if an app seems legitimate, it could be a trojan. Trojans are apps, links, ads or files that look like they should be one thing — such as a genuine app or email from your bank — when really they’re some kind of malware.

Another way you might accidentally download malware is when you’re sideloading apps. This is because software that you’ve found on the internet doesn’t go through any major checks to make sure it’s safe. Because of this, you should only sideload an app when it’s necessary, being very careful about the sources for these apps.

However, downloading apps isn’t the only place you could get attacked. Cybercriminals will often send spam emails or text messages with fake links. This can lead to you giving the criminal unwanted access to your phone and the data on it.

How to Avoid Android Malware

It’s good to know how to remove malware, but solving a problem is never as good as stopping it from occurring in the first place. Although you’ll never be completely free from malware, there are some tips you can follow to decrease the chance that it infects your device.

1. Know What You’re Downloading

Getting apps from reputable sources and checking the reviews first can decrease the chance that you download something malicious.

Whether it came from a Facebook friend or a foreign prince, question what they sent you and check that it’s legitimate before you click it. 

3. Check Permissions Carefully

When you’re installing a new app that asks you for certain permissions, think about why it needs that level of access and deny it if you think it’s unnecessary.

4. Keep Everything Updated 

When someone discovers a mobile security issue, Google will release a patch to stop malicious apps from exploiting the weakness. If you don’t download these updates, your phone is at risk.

5. Get a Decent Antivirus

Modern antivirus programs are pretty good at finding malware on Android phones and warn you of anything suspicious that ends up on your device, as long as the app is running. 

Ways to Protect Your Android

The best all-round malware protection for any Android phone is to use an antivirus app for both background security checks and regular scans of the device. However, it’s important to know that your antivirus is protecting you and is a good deal.

Our favorite antivirus for Android is Kaspersky. It has a solid free plan, the app is easy to use, its protection is some of the best and the fully featured paid plan is only $11.99 per year for one mobile device. If you want to learn more, read our full Kaspersky antivirus review.

Note that there were some concerns about connections to Russia in the past, but Kaspersky’s “global transparency initiative” has been a step in the right direction toward better data privacy.

However, if you’re still concerned about Kaspersky, then Bitdefender is a great alternative. With its own free plan and strong protection, Bitdefender’s only letdown is its lighter feature set on Android and higher price tag at $14.99 per year per device for the mobile paid plan. Still, if this interests you, check out our full Bitdefender review for more information.

Finally, there’s Trend Micro, a pretty strong antivirus with plenty of nice features, as long as you’re willing to pay. Outside of Trend Micro’s free trial, it will limit you to only manual scans for malware unless you buy a plan. However, as it’s just $69.95 per year for 10 devices, our full Trend Micro review is definitely worth reading if you want to protect several phones.

Final Thoughts

If you’re having trouble with malicious apps and other Android malware, then taking these steps to clean up your phone can help speed it up, reduce unwanted ads and protect your data. So, whether you got the malware through a genuine app store or by clicking random links in Chrome, you can return your device to normal without a full factory reset.

However, as personal data can be irreplaceable and not all malware is easily removed, you should also take steps to backup your device. Luckily, there are plenty of good online backup programs that will keep your data safe in case you need to do a full reset of your Android phone.

Have you had symptoms of malware infecting your phone? Did these steps help solve the problem? What steps have you taken to protect your data from future threats? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for reading.