Overzealous PC cleaning can break things, but some cleaning will help you free up space and keep your system running quickly. Trimming down those unnecessary temporary files you don’t need is particularly crucial if you have a small solid-state drive and you want to make the most of its storage.
Windows Disk Cleanup
Windows has a built-in Disk Cleanup tool, which you can access in several ways. For example, you could open File Explorer or Windows Explorer, right-click a disk like your C: drive, select Properties, and click the Disk Cleanup button. Or, you could tap the Windows key to open the Start screen or Start menu, type Disk Cleanup to search, and click the “Free up disk space by deleting unnecessary files” or “Disk Cleanup” shortcut. It’s also available in the Administrative Tools folder in the Control Panel.
By default, the tool will clean up files for your user account alone. Click the Clean Up System Files button to clean up everything on the system and free up the most space. The tool will scan for and remove a wide variety of files, including temporary files, Internet Explorer browser data, and gigabytes of Windows Update uninstallation files. It will even remove the Windows.old folder, if you’ve upgraded to a newer version of Windows and still have files from your old Windows installation lying around.
The More Options tab includes links to easily access the System Restore dialog, where you can delete restore points to free up space, and the Programs and Features dialog, where you can uninstall software and remove Windows components.
If you want more cleaning options than Disk Cleanup provides, go with CCleaner. It’s like Disk Cleanup on steroids — it cleans up some system files Disk Cleanup won’t touch and it also deletes temporary files used by third-party programs, such as the Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers. CCleaner also cleans up your “tracks,” such as your history of opened files, visited web pages, and similar private data.
Be sure to configure CCleaner before using it, so it doesn’t remove things you want to keep. For example, you may want to disable cookie cleaning to stay logged into websites in your browsers. CCleaner will remember your settings between uses. The free version of CCleaner will do everything you need; you don’t need to buy the paid version.
CCleaner does have a registry cleaner built-in. We don’t recommend using a registry cleaner because it won’t do much for you, and it could potentially cause a problem with one of the millions of Windows programs out there. However, if you must use a registry cleaner, you should probably use CCleaner. It’s fairly conservative and has been widely tested.
Duplicate File Cleaners
Duplicate file cleaners can also help clean up your PC. For example, you may have duplicate copies of photos you’ve taken or other documents, and those files will be using up an unnecessary amount of space. These tools will scan your system for such duplicate files and help you delete them to free up space.
Any of the duplicate file finders we’ve recommended will work just fine. Don’t point it at a system directory like C:\Windows or C:\Program Files and start deleting duplicate files it finds in there or you could mess up your system. Stick to your personal data files only — documents, music, pictures, videos, and other stuff — not system or program files.
Bloatware Removers Like The PC Decrapifier
When you get a new computer, you can run a tool like The PC Decrapifier on it. This tool will scan your computer for useless bundled bloatware applications and help you quickly uninstall them. If you’ve had your current computer for a while and never cleaned up all that junk software that came with it, you may want to run this program now. You can also just head to the Control Panel and uninstall the programs you don’t want by hand.
Disk Usage Analyzers Like WinDirStat
WinDirStat isn’t an automated cleaner program, but it is one of the best ways to free up space on Windows. Run the tool and it will scan your hard drive to catalog which files and folders are using the most space, presenting them in a visual list. You can easily see what’s using up space and figure out what files you should remove and programs you should uninstall. It will help you quickly make decisions about what to get rid of.
The Programs and Features Control Panel
Some people swear by third-party uninstallers for uninstalling software on their Windows PCs, but those really aren’t necessary. For the vast majority of programs, you can simply uninstall the program from the Programs and Features pane in the Windows Control Panel and be done with it. Sure, they may leave a few tiny files or a handful of registry entries on your computer, but those aren’t actually a problem and barely use any space. Just uninstall programs you no longer use to free up space from here.
A Startup Program Manager
On Windows 8 and 8.1, you can also use the Task Manager to disable Startup programs, clean up your system tray and make your computer faster to boot. On Windows 7 or earlier versions of Windows, you can use the Tools > Startup pane in CCleaner to do the same.
Be careful when doing this, as you could disable useful utilities that allow your hardware or software to function properly. On the other hand, many Windows programs add unnecessary startup software that just bogs your system down.
You don’t even need most of these system-cleaning tools to keep Windows running smoothly. As long as you’re happy with the amount of free space you have, you can just run the Disk Cleanup tool once a month or once every few months and keep an eye on the number of programs you have installed — your Windows system will be fine as long as you’re taking proper care of it.
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