How to Clean Your Windows Computer: The Ultimate Checklist

Dan Price 27-11-2017

Over time, computers slow down. Of course aging hardware plays a part, but for most people, a more common cause is poor operating system maintenance.


If you’ve ever done a clean install of Windows, you’ll know what we’re talking about. Getting rid of all the accumulated junk and starting afresh instantly makes your machine run faster and smoother.

However, you don’t need to take such drastic steps. Spending some time cleaning up Windows can yield almost identical results. Sure, your five-year-old laptop might never be able to play the latest AAA game, but you’ll still see vast improvements.

Here’s the ultimate checklist for cleaning your Windows computer.

1. Delete Unused Software

Let’s begin with an obvious one. The first step on the road to a clean computer is removing all the old software you no longer use. If you’re not a “diligent deleter,” you’ll be amazed at how much unnecessary stuff you have installed on your machine.

Uninstall Windows 10 Apps & Features


To see all the apps on your computer, go to Start > Settings > Apps > Apps and features. Scroll down the list and click Uninstall on anything you don’t need.

Clearly, you need to exercise a touch of caution. Don’t just get rid of stuff you don’t recognize — run a Google search first to ensure it’s safe to delete!

2. Run Your Antivirus

Next, you should run your antivirus software The 10 Best Free Antivirus Software No matter what computer you're using, you need antivirus protection. Here are the best free antivirus tools you can use. Read More . One of the most common causes of slow computers is viruses.

The precise instructions for running the scan vary from app to app, but you should try and locate an option called Full Scan, Deep Scan, or something similar. The scan will take much longer to complete, but you can be sure it won’t overlook anything.


how to clean computer ultimate checklist

It’s also worth downloading Malwarebytes. Rather than focusing on viruses, its primary goal is protecting users against the latest trojans, backdoors, adware, and spyware.

3. Disk Cleanup

Windows 10 offers a Disk Cleanup tool. It’s been part of the Windows operating system for many years, and it’s still just as effective at cleaning unnecessary files and improving performance.

To run Disk Cleanup, either type the app’s name in the Start Menu or go to Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Disk Cleanup.


Clean Up Windows System Files

Before running the scan, click Clean up system files. It allows the app to run a more thorough scan by checking for old Windows Update files and log files.

Generally, you can delete all the files the scan finds. Mark the checkbox next to each type of result and click OK. Note, however, that when you choose to clean up Previous Windows installation(s) using the Clean up system files option, you won’t be able to roll back to the previous Windows version Free Up Disk Space by Removing Windows.old Folder Windows prepares an automatic backup before you re-install. The Windows.old folder includes user profiles and personal files. Here's how to restore the data and remove the folder to free up space. Read More anymore.

4. Defragment Your Hard Drive

In Windows 10, the operating system runs disk defragmentation when it senses it is required. However, as we’re doing a thorough clean of your computer, it would be remiss not to run it manually.


You can find the Defragment and Optimize Drives tool by running a search or by going to Control Panel > Administrative Tools.

Optimize Windows Drivers

To use the app, highlight your primary hard drive and click Optimize in the lower right-hand corner of the window.

5. Delete Old Drivers

Windows retains old drivers. The logic behind the retention is sound: you’ll never be stuck if a new driver doesn’t perform as expected. The offshoot, however, is that your machine might be full of drivers from devices that you stopped using years ago.

There are two easy ways to remove old drivers from your computer: the command prompt or environment variables. For more information about the specifics, check out our in-depth guide How to Easily Remove Old Drivers From Windows Not only does Windows retain previous driver versions for current devices, it also stores drivers for devices you stopped using long ago. We'll show you how to clean up old drivers from your system. Read More .

6. Refresh Your Startup List

Any seasoned Windows user knows that the operating system lags way behind macOS, Chrome OS, and Linux when it comes to boot times 6 Ways to Fix Slow Boot Times in Windows 10 If your Windows 10 boot time is slow, you aren't alone. We've compiled the most common solutions to help you fix slow startup on Windows 10. Read More .

Typically, the problem is caused by the number of programs Windows tries to launch when it first starts. The majority of them are unnecessary.

Windows Task Manager Start-up Items

To clean your startup list, press Ctrl + Alt + Delete and select Task Manager. On the new window, click More Details, then choose the Startup tab at the top of the screen.

You should now be looking at all the apps Windows tries to run at boot. To disable an app, highlight the appropriate row and click Disable.

7. Clean the AppData Folder

When you uninstall an app, you’ll often find remnants of its former presence dotted around your machine. One of the most common locations is the AppData folder.

By default, the folder is hidden. You can find it at C:\Users\[Username]\AppData or by typing %AppData% into Windows search.

Windows AppData Folder

Within the main folder, there are three subfolders: Local, LocalLow, and Roaming. Make sure you go through all three folders to find any traces of old software. Again, don’t delete anything unless you’re sure it’s safe.

To prevent these remnants from being left by any apps you delete in the future; you can use a dedicated uninstaller tool. One of the best is Geek Uninstaller. The app is so good, it’s one of our “must-have” free maintenance tools Top 5 Free Computer Maintenance Tools You Should Know About Treat your computer right and it will stay fast and responsive for many years. But neglect proper maintenance and your system will suffer. So where do you begin? With the five apps we recommend here. Read More .

8. Remove Old Program Files

The other place you’ll often find trace elements of old apps’ files is in the Program Files folders.

On most machines, there are two Program Files folders. You can find them at C:\Program Files and C:\Program Files (x86).

As with the AppData folder, work through the contents of each folder carefully and delete any files and folders that are no longer in use.

9. Clean the Registry

You’ve probably heard horror stories about registry cleaners. Even the best-in-class, CCleaner, has a less-than-subtle approach to clearing your registry junk Top 5 Freeware Registry Cleaners That Improve PC Performance Cleaning the registry will rarely improve Windows performance and it's risky. Yet many swear by registry cleaners. You too? At least use one of these tools because they're the safest you will find. Read More .

But it is essential to keep your registry reasonably tidy. Think of it as a library: the bigger the library, the longer it takes you to find what you’re looking for. Similarly, the more junk in your registry, the longer it takes Windows to locate the entries it needs.

Windows Registry HKEY_Current_User/Software

Why not take matters into your own hands? It’s easier than it sounds. Run a search for regedit and press Enter. Then, go to Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE and Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software. Within each folder, slowly work through the list and delete entries for software you no longer use.

Warning: Deleting the wrong registry entry can have grave consequences for your system. Ensure you make a complete backup of your registry data How to Back Up and Restore the Windows Registry Editing the Registry unlocks some cool tweaks, but can be dangerous. Here's how to back up the Registry before making changes so they're easily reversed. Read More before proceeding.

10. Clean All the Caches

Windows 10 is full of caches. Without getting too bogged down in technical jargon, a cache is a non-permanent file that Windows might need again in the future.

But what if Windows doesn’t need it again? You’ve got all those files lying around cluttering up your hard drive.

In an article elsewhere on the site, we’ve introduced you to several hidden caches 7 Hidden Windows Caches & How to Clear Them Cached files can take up a lot of bytes. While dedicated tools can help you free up disk space, they might not clear it all. We show you how to manually release storage space. Read More and explained how you can clean each one individually. Working through all seven will take a while, but it’s time well spent.

How Do You Clean Your Computer?

In this article, we’ve introduced you to 10 crucial steps if you want to give your operating system a spring clean. By processing all 10, you’re guaranteed to see a performance boost.

How do you prevent clutter from accumulating on your hard drive? Do you use any unique apps or tools? What other tricks would you add to this list? Share this article with your followers on social media.

And while you’re cleaning the insides of you computer, pay some attention to its external appearance too and give your computer’s screen a thorough, safe cleanup How to Clean a Computer Screen Safely and Easily Concerned by your PC or laptop's dirty screen? Feel it's time to clean up the display? Here's how to clean a computer screen. Read More .

Image Credit: yoka66/Depositphotos

Related topics: Antivirus, Computer Maintenance, Defragmentation, Drivers, Registry Cleaner, Windows 10, Windows Task Manager.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Pat
    May 29, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Hillary said to just use a rag to clean your computer and then smash your phone with a hammer.

  2. Col. Panek
    December 4, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    One step: I cleaned Windows off it once and now run Linux Mint.

  3. Ian Hart
    December 2, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Those of us on Windows 10 will benefit from the 6-month upgrade if you are wise enough to do a clean install; Bingo! New computer, this makes your list all but redundant, Most modern PC's will have at least 4 GB of RAM be 64bit and now SSD's are cheap enough, you'll have snappy machine, sure go through the startup list you'll have to re-install the programs you want, but that's it!

  4. anthony
    November 27, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    You should probably add that fragmenting an SSD is very very bad

  5. Hildy J
    November 27, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    Do Not Defragment Solid State Drives (SSDs).

    Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) benefit from defragging. SSDs are harmed by defragging. With HDDs merging fragments of files allows them to be read more quickly because they are accessed by physically moving a read/write head to a position on a spinning disk. SSDs directly access locations electronically and merging fragments has no effect on speed - defragging, if you could do it, will take time and produce no benefit. Plus, you (i.e. your computer) can't do it because the SSD itself decides where to write each bit of data and it doesn't care if the bits are 'next to' each other.

    BUT the problem is that an SSD's life is degraded each time you write to it. The SSD is designed to work around this by marking specific locations as unusable. Commanding it to rewrite all your data fragments will speed the degradation. While modern SSDs are less prone to this than older SSDs, it makes sense not too stress any SSDs by defragging.

  6. Coldfish01
    November 27, 2017 at 3:08 pm


    thanks for the detailed article. Your tips are really good to create more space. Especially the AppData folder can grow quite a lot.

    But besides point "6. Refresh Your Startup List", the Computer will not get faster, with ANY of the mentioned points. So your sentence: "Over time, computers slow down. Of course aging hardware plays a part, but for most people, a more common cause is poor operating system maintenance." , is not correct.

    The Registry and the Hard drive isn't a " relational database". It has a hierarchically structure. It doesn't matter if you have a 10 KB or a 10 GB big Registry. Every action will be done in exact the same time. Only the first load time to the RAM will take longer... But with every register cleaner, you might get a few KB, which will have near to no effect..

    Sidenote: Every Registry cleaner, is only "snake oil" with the risk to harm your system. You should really never run it...

    Still, if you need more space, the tips are fine. But not to get more speed.

    • Doc
      November 27, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      Wrong on a couple of points: Defragmenting a spinning HD can improve things quite a bit, especially if your PC doesn't have idle time to do it as scheduled maintenance.
      Removing unnecessary "temp" (junk) files can speed up access, especially if your drive is nearing full (if an NTFS volume reaches around 85% full, access will get slower for some reason).
      About the Registry: "It has a hierarchically structure." Um, no, the word is "hierarchical," and having broken entries is kinda bad. I've had absolutely NO problem with CCleaner; cleaning the Registry may have little affect...but I've yet to see any harm.

      • anthony
        November 27, 2017 at 7:21 pm

        I agree!!! From what I have been told, the reasons ALL hard drives slow down as you fill them too full is because it takes longer to get to the file physically. When there are many other files the computer may need to cross check to make sure its has the right file. At the end of the day Hard Drives are physical objects that have to bow to the laws of physic. Think of it like a coat room. As people come in dropping off coats to you there no problems as long as you don't run out of room. But as the room fills with coats, you'll have less room to move and you have to check and double check to make sure you dont give away someone elses coat in a room full of probably very similar colored and styled coats (computer talk in binary which is 1's and 0's that's it. When looking at 2 familiar files with 1's and 0's, a 0 in a different place is totally different file). It will take longer and longer to go to and quickly find the correct coat. If there were lets say half the room filled it would be easier and faster to access coats to give back to the owners! Hopefully Quantum computers will fix this problem!

        • Doc
          November 27, 2017 at 7:31 pm

          Actually, it's not because the drive is full or you have to "look harder" or "make sure you're not giving out the wrong file," but because the MFT (the NTFS Master File Table) may become fragmented.

          There's never a chance of "giving out the wrong coat" because EVERY file is logged in the MFT, as well as all of the unused space. But a bug in (older versions?) of NTFS may slow down access if the drive is over 85% full.