The best free anti-malware software 2018

The best free anti-spyware and anti-malware software

If you're looking for the best free anti-malware software for Windows – whether it's a whole new security package, or just an additional program to give your regular antivirus a boost – then you've come to the right place.

Here is our definitive list of the best free anti-malware software, and choosing the right software for your needs is essential, as malware continues to be a threat and a concern for us all.

It's not just viruses we're talking about here, but also annoying programs such as adware, that can embed themselves in your web browser and add toolbars or change you homepage. Not only are these annoying, but they also pose a serious security risk.

Getting the best antivirus you can is an excellent first line of defence for your PC, but it's often a good idea to install additional anti-malware software to boost your protection from a more diverse range of threats. Alternatively, you could replace your existing security software with a whole new suite designed to protect against all kinds of malware - see our best free antivirus software.

Otherwise, read on to find out our pick of the best free anti-malware software you can download. With any of these installed, you'll be able to browse the internet with confidence.

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Bitdefender Anti-Virus Free Edition is the best free anti-spyware and anti-malware software

Bitdefender provides a simple, hassle-free way to keep your PC safe from malware. It's a whole antivirus and anti-malware package in one

1. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

Discreet but effective, Bitdefender is the best anti-malware for your PC

Operating system: Windows

User-friendly
Clean and simple interface
No options or settings

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is the strong, silent type. This anti-malware software doesn't even ask questions when you install it – it just quietly gets on with the job of identifying and eliminating anything that poses a risk to your safety and security.

Editor's choice: Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

It has B-Have, which looks for apps behaving badly; link scanning to identify cons; proactive malware and spyware scanning that can detect threats nobody has encountered before; and boot scanning every time you start your PC.

Ad-free, nag-free and hassle-free, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a great product that runs quickly and silently while you get on with something more interesting.

Its comprehensive suite of tools to protect your PC makes Bitdefender the best free anti-malware software you can download today. It's all the protection you need in one handy package.

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AVG Anti-Virus Free 2016

AVG AntiVirus Free presents frequent pop-ups, but is a reliable security solution that will keep your PC safe from malware

2. AVG AntiVirus Free

A simple interface and effective scanning with remote activation

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android

Quite configurable
Great track record of malware protection
Scans can be rather slow
Not the best phishing protection

If you're looking for anti-malware software that keeps quiet and won't disturb your work, be warned – AVG Antivirus Free is quite vocal with its notifications, and irks us from time to time with pop-ups telling us we've done something fantastic with regard to our online safety.

As an anti-malware app, though, it's very good. The dashboard is user-friendly, there's protection not just from downloadable threats, but from dodgy links too, and you can use your mobile to scan your PC remotely, which is pretty clever.

The paid-for Pro model has more security options - it has more robust download protection, offers data encryption includes a firewall - but the free version offers decent protection for most PC users.

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MalwareBytes Anti-malware

The free version of MalwareBytes Anti-Malware is excellent, but the paid-for version is even better

3. MalwareBytes Anti-Malware

An excellent anti-malware tool, but the free version lacks real-time protection

Operating system: Windows

Detects adware and other threats
Works alongside your antivirus
No on-demand scans
Might conflict with security apps

You can use MalwareBytes Anti-Malware free for as long as you like, but there's an important caveat: real-time protection, the fast 'hyper scan' mode and malicious website blocking features all expire after 14 days - and that means you're missing out on some of the program's best features.

MalwareBytes has a deserved reputation for destroying malware and spyware that other programs miss, and its chameleon technology - which once again expires after a fortnight in the free version - means it's less susceptible to attacks that deliberately target security software.

Think of the free version as a short-term savior or a test drive; the Premium version costs £19.95 (about US$30, AU$40) per year.

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Spybot Search and Destroy

The free edition of SpyBot Search and Destroy does an excellent job of cleaning up adware, malware and spyware

4. SpyBot Search & Destroy

An anti-malware and anti-spyware stalwart that's ideal for diagnosing existing infections

Operating system: Windows

Easy to use
Immunization tools
Slow updates and scans
Limited information about threats

SpyBot Search & Destroy is a veteran of the malware wars, dating back to the first adware in 2000, and while it doesn't scan for viruses – that's in the Home version, which is $13.99 (about £10, AU$20) – the free software does a decent job of finding and fixing adware, malware and spyware.

It's more of a system repair tool than a system protection tool, however, and you need to be careful where you get it from: there are fake versions in circulation designed to cause damage, not fix it. The version linked here is the real deal.

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Emsisoft Emergency Kit

You can carry Emsisoft Emergency Kit on a USB stick for use whenever and wherever you need it

5. Emsisoft Emergency Kit

A lifesaver if your PC is already infected, but not a preventative tool

Operating system: Windows

Runs as a portable app
Command line option for pros
Slow install and update process
Not as effective as resident tools

Most security software tries to stop malware and spyware getting onto your system. Emsisoft Emergency Kit doesn't: it's the 911 call of security software, the app you use when your PC's been poked by something unpleasant.

It's designed to be portable – an anti-malware app you carry around with you on a USB stick – and its system requirements are tiny: just 200MB of RAM, so it'll run happily on any PC with 1GB memory or more. With two million malware signatures, Emsisoft Emergency Kit can restore almost any infected PC to rude health.