Disk Cleanup is a system maintenance utility included in all versions of Windows – it is designed to free up space on your hard drive and may improve the performance of your computer.
But if you have Windows 7 installed, in all likelihood your hard drive will be huge – at least 250GB in size (laptop) or 500GB+ (PC). It might therefore seem a waste of time to worry about the amount of temporary files and accumulated detritus on your computer. However, there are still 2 valid reasons for running Disk Cleanup:
1. Computers With A SSD Drive – Your computer may have a SSD (Solid State Drive) instead of, or as well as, a traditional hard drive. SSDs are becoming more popular as they are incredibly quick compared to standard drives. Although they increase system performance dramatically, SSDs offer relatively small storage capacities for the price (60GB is a common size) so storage space is really at a premium.
2. Delete Temporary and Useless Files – Disk Cleanup identifies files that you can safely delete and lets you choose to delete some or all of them to free up space – this may also help speed up your computer and prevent file defragmentation.
What Can Disk Cleanup Do?
- Remove temporary Internet files – these accumulate over time and can take up 100s of megabytes of storage space on a hard drive
- Delete downloaded program files e.g. ActiveX controls and Java applets – these are only temporary files that can be safely removed, they’re not actual programs that you can run
- Empty the Recycle Bin – you can do this manually but many people don’t bother and it can become full of trash
- Remove Windows temporary files, such as error reports and setup log files – these are historical reports of little future use
- Compress old files – never compress old files unless you are completely out of hard drive space. It will take longer to access them afterwards because Windows will have to uncompress them ‘on the fly’
- Remove service pack upgrade files e.g. the Service Pack 1 (SP1) upgrade process for Windows 7 leaves several gigabytes of files behind – these are only useful if you need to restore to pre-SP1. In reality, once you have SP1 running for a few weeks it makes little sense to keep them as you will have no need to restore back to pre-SP1…
- Optional: remove old restore points and shadow copies from System Restore
How To Use Disk Cleanup
Windows 7 and Vista
1. Click ‘Start’, click ‘All Programs’, click ‘Accessories’, click ‘System Tools’ and then click ‘Disk Cleanup’
2. If you have more than 1 hard drive available you will be prompted to specify which drive you want to clean – usually this will be the Windows C: drive
3. If you see the ‘Disk Cleanup Options’ dialog box, choose to clean up all the files on the computer (not just your own files).
4. Wait whilst Disk Cleanup calculates how much space you can free up – this may take a few minutes
5. The Disk Cleanup dialog box appears as shown below:
6A. If you want to clean up System Restore and Shadow Copy (previous version) files, click ‘Clean up system files’ (if prompted for authorisation, choose yes) then click the ‘More Options’ tab else skip to step 7
6B. Under ‘System Restore and Shadow Copies’ click the ‘Clean Up’ button then click the ‘Delete’ button, OK and the ‘Delete Files’ button to confirm deletion – this will remove all except the last system restore point and shadow copies. This may take a few minutes – when complete, click the ‘Disk Cleanup’ tab to continue
7. In the Disk Cleanup dialog box, scroll through the content of the ‘Files to delete’ list and clear/check (tick) the check boxes for files that you don’t/do want to delete then click OK
8. When prompted to confirm that you want to delete the specified files, click Yes and they will be deleted
The process for XP is very similar:
1. Click ‘Start’, point to ‘All Programs’, point to ‘Accessories’, point to ‘System Tools’ then click ‘Disk Cleanup’.
2. If you have more than 1 hard drive available you will be prompted to specify which drive you want to clean – usually this will be the Windows C: drive.
3. Wait whilst Disk Cleanup calculates how much space you can free up – this may take a few minutes
4. The ‘Disk Cleanup’ dialog box appears as shown below:
5A. If you want to clean up System Restore files, click the ‘More Options’ tab else skip to step 6
5B. Under ‘System Restore’ click the ‘Clean Up’ button then click the Yes button to confirm deletion – this will remove all except the last system restore point. This may take a few minutes – when complete, click the Disk Cleanup tab to continue
6. In the Disk Cleanup dialog box, scroll through the content of the ‘Files to delete’ list and clear/check (tick) the check boxes for those that you don’t/do want to delete and then click OK
7. When prompted to confirm that you want to delete the specified files, click Yes and they will be deleted
Tip: deleting all except the last system restore point can take quite some time as they can be 10GB+ in size – until this process completes you will not be able to click back onto the Disk Cleanup tab, just be patient.
Disk Cleanup still has a part to play in maintaining and optimizing a computer. Temporary files can often be deleted more easily and thoroughly with the excellent free Ccleaner utility (see my review on Ccleaner) but Disk Cleanup can remove some files that Ccleaner can’t e.g. system restore points and files from service pack upgrades.
How often to run it depends on how full your hard drive is and how often you download/install new programs – once every month or two should be fine for most people.