Windows contains plenty of files and folders that you don’t really need. From hidden caches and old files that you can remove to clear space to files you can actually delete to solve problems, knowing what’s safe to remove can be challenging.
Let’s step through some Windows files and folders that are totally safe to remove, and why you might want to do so. Note that some of these folders are in protected locations, so take care when deleting them.
1. The Hibernation File
Located at C:\hiberfil.sys
Hibernation mode on your PC is like sleep mode, but the system saves all your open work to the hard drive and then shuts down. You can remove the battery from your laptop and stay in hibernation for a week, then start back up and be right where you left off. Of course, this takes up space, which is what the hibernation file is for.
Depending on your hard drive size, the hibernation file is likely several gigabytes or more. If you don’t use hibernation and want to disable it, you can easily do so via the Command Prompt. Note that you shouldn’t just delete hiberfil.sys, as Windows will recreate it again.
Open a Command Prompt (Admin) by right-clicking on the Start Button. Type the following command to disable hibernation:
powercfg.exe /hibernate off
That’s all it takes to disable hibernation. Windows should delete hiberfil.sys on its own when you do this; feel free to delete it if not. Note that disabling hibernate mode will also prevent your computer from using fast startup on Windows 10, which isn’t much of a loss since that can cause boot problems.
2. The Temp Folder
Located at C:\Windows\Temp
As you’d guess from the name, Windows temporary files aren’t important beyond their initial use. The files and folders inside contain info that Windows used at one time but doesn’t need anymore. You can visit this folder and delete everything inside by pressing Ctrl + A to select everything and then Delete. Windows might give you an error about a couple of items when you do this — just ignore those and clear everything else.
My Windows temp folder had 16GB worth of crud in it. pic.twitter.com/iIO4w9Bjq2
— CHASE (@GIFChaseH) December 15, 2016
3. The Recycle Bin
Located at shell:RecycleBinFolder
The Recycle Bin isn’t really a folder, and it might be obvious to some folks, but we’re including this in case some readers aren’t aware. Whenever you delete a file on your system, Windows sends it to the Recycle Bin. This is a special place where deleted files are kept until you permanently delete them or restore them. If you don’t remember to empty the bin, there could be several gigabytes of old data still in there.
You can access the Recycle Bin through the shortcut on your desktop. If you don’t have one, type shell:RecycleBinFolder into the Run menu (press Windows key + R) or the File Explorer navigation bar. Once here, you’ll see everything you’ve deleted recently. You can right-click on individual items and choose Delete to permanently erase them or Restore to send the file back to its original location. On the Ribbon above, you’ll see buttons to Empty Recycle Bin and Restore all items.
To tweak the way the Recycle Bin works, click Recycle Bin Properties on the Ribbon. Here, you can change the maximum size of the bin, or select Don’t move files to the Recycle Bin. This permanently deletes items and skips the bin completely (but doesn’t actually erase the data right away). We don’t recommend this because the Recycle Bin gives you a second chance in case of a mistake.
4. The Windows.old Folder
Located at C:\Windows.old
Whenever you upgrade your version of Windows (like you probably did when you installed Windows 10), your system keeps a copy of your old Windows files called Windows.old. This folder is essentially everything that made up your old computer, kept around in case something didn’t transfer correctly. In an extreme scenario, you could use this folder to roll back to a previous version of Windows. You can also open the folder and grab a few stray files if you need.
Windows automatically removes this folder after ten days (it was once 30 days), but you can remove it yourself if you’re crunched for space. It won’t delete if you try to go through the File Explorer, so type Disk Cleanup into the Start Menu and launch the tool. Click Clean up system files at the bottom of the window and let the utility do another scan. Once that’s done, look for the Previous Windows installation(s) and delete it using this tool.
Obviously, removing these files makes it harder to recover in case of an issue. With the Windows 10 Creators Update coming soon, we’d advise you to hold onto this folder until you’re sure everything is working properly.
5. Downloaded Program Files
Located at C:\Windows\Downloaded Program Files
This folder’s name is a bit confusing. It actually holds files used by internet Explorer’s ActiveX controls and Java applets, so that if you use the same feature on a website you don’t have to download it twice. Thus, this folder is essentially useless — ActiveX is an extremely dated technology that’s full of security holes, and Java applets are rare. ActiveX is exclusive to internet Explorer and you’ll probably only encounter it on ancient corporate websites these days.
Most home users don’t use IE anymore, let alone ActiveX. Your Downloaded Program Files folder might already be empty, but feel free to clean out its contents if it’s not.
The Best Way to Clean These Folders
We’ve mentioned several items that you can safely remove, but manually deleting them isn’t the best way to go about it. Aside from spending the time doing this yourself when it could be automated, it’s safer to let a tool do these cleanings for you. This avoids accidentally deleting files that you need, or messing with the wrong folders.
The Windows Disk Cleanup tool does plenty on its own and is simple to use. For more control, a third-party disk cleanup tools like CCleaner lets you clean more places and offers some extras, too.
Which Windows Folders Do You Erase?
It takes a bit of looking around, but Windows holds plenty of files and folders that aren’t needed. Remember that your computer does a pretty good job of keeping itself clean, so you don’t have to obsessively remove the contents of these folders unless you’re really low on disk space. Running the Disk Cleanup tool once or twice a month will do plenty to keep the cruft away. You have better things to do than micromanage your PC’s temporary files.
To continue cleaning, check out our step-by-step guide on cleaning your Windows 10 PC.
Which additional Windows files and folders do you delete? Share your favorite useless folders with us in the comments!
Image Credits: designbydx/Shutterstock
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