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How to Keep Windows Running Smoothly With Routine Maintenance

A little routine can go a long way.

Much like an automobile, it can be useful to periodically look under the hood, clean things up, and make sure that all is as it should be.
An animated style image showcasing a humorous and exaggerated scene: a desktop computer is securely placed on a more prominent and detailed automotive hoist, which is well-defined and realistic within the animated context. Below the hoist, a cartoonish technician, dressed in colorful mechanic's attire, is comically inspecting the computer from underneath. The garage setting is vibrant and lively, filled with oversized, cartoon-like tools and car parts. The technician, displaying a humorous expression, uses an oversized wrench or tool to interact with the computer, emphasizing the playful nature of the scene. The background includes other whimsical elements typical of an animated mechanic's workshop.
(Image: DALL-E 3)
Question: You’ve mentioned “routine maintenance” in a few places. What does that mean/entail?

Good point.

Computers are often compared to automobiles. Both need routine care and maintenance to run well and keep running well for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, your computer dealer won’t remind you, and your computer has no odometer to let you know when it’s due.

Let’s review what you should do, when you should do it, and what you can rely on Windows to do for you.

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Windows routine maintenance

  • Create recovery and emergency disks
  • Check your backups
  • Update your software
  • Check your security software
  • Uninstall what you don’t need
  • Review startup programs
  • Run Disk Cleanup
  • Clean out the dust


I’ll start with a few things you really only need to do once.

Create a Recovery Drive

A recovery drive can be used to repair a variety of issues in Windows, and even to reinstall Windows itself.

This only needs to be done once per operating system (Windows 10, 11, etc.), but it might be advisable to refresh the recovery drive after every major update (22H2, 23H1, and so on.) If you don’t have one and your machine has a problem, there are two alternatives that may help:

  • Create the recovery drive on another working machine with the same edition of Windows on it. This should work, but may be missing information specific to your machine or your setup.
  • Download and use the most recent Windows installation media from Microsoft, and use that. This won’t have machine-specific information on it, but will be able to run a variety of repair and recovery tools.
  • See: How to Create a Windows Recovery Drive.

Create an emergency disk

This is a disk created by your backup software. When you boot from this disk, you’re immediately taken to that backup software, ready to restore a previously created backup image. This is important should you ever need to replace a failed hard drive or restore an entire image.

The good news here is that you can create the emergency disk for your backup software on another machine if you need it and don’t yet have it. Some backup software vendors even have pre-made emergency disk images you can download and use.

Ongoing Maintenance

These are items you should do either all the time or every so often.

Check your backups

Of course you’re backing up, right? Good.

Now, make sure those backups are happening as you expect. I occasionally hear from folks who assumed that the backup schedule they set up some time ago just continued to work — without realizing that a problem of some sort had arisen and the backups hadn’t been happening for weeks or even months.

This is important for all types of backups. Of particular import is to also test your backups to be sure you can extract something from a backup image, for example.

I’d confirm backups are running properly at least once a month and test a backup twice a year.

Keep software updated

For Windows, this should be happening automatically. It’s the most important software to keep up to date, as it’s the software most often targeted by hackers. Keeping Windows up to date is important to ensure you have all the latest fixes for the exploits attempting to compromise your computer.

Other software falls into this bucket as well, though perhaps at a lesser priority. More and more software updates itself automatically or at least notifies you of available updates. Take those when you can. If you have software that doesn’t check automatically, then every so often, maybe once a month, check for updates to your most-used software.

Check your anti-malware tool

Much like Windows Update, this should be a set-it-and-forget-it situation. Anti-malware tools should not only update themselves regularly but should also perform periodic scans and take other steps to ensure your security.

This is important enough that you should keep an eye on it. Since most anti-malware tools run what’s called a “quick” scan, consider running a full scan once a month or so. Confirm that all the components of your anti-malware tool are working as expected.

Uninstall the software you’re not using

Go through your installed programs and remove those you no longer use. Review the list in Settings->Apps and uninstall those items you know you don’t need.

There are a few reasons to do this.

  • Some installed software has components that are running all the time whether you use them or not. Uninstalling removes those.
  • Theoretically, every application installed on your machine is an additional security risk. Windows isn’t the only thing that hackers target. While the chances are typically low, depending on the specific software, removing it ensures that any vulnerabilities it might have are no longer present on your computer.
  • It frees up disk space. How much, of course, depends on the specific application.

Depending on how readily you install things, even just to try them out, this would be something I’d recommend doing at least twice a year.

Review Startup programs

After you’ve uninstalled software you don’t need, the next thing to do is to review what’s being auto-started when you boot Windows and decide whether it needs to. You can do this in the Startup tab of Task Manager. Review what you find there and disable those you know you don’t need. If you’re not sure, leave it enabled or do a little research before deciding.

This doesn’t need to happen often — perhaps once a year — since the impact is typically minimal. It’s worth doing, however, to avoid things accumulating that you don’t need.

Run Disk Cleanup

Once a month or so, fire up the built-in disk cleanup tool and let it clean up what’s accumulated over time. For a variety of reasons, “stuff” accumulates that you don’t need. If you want to include non-Windows programs, consider using CCleaner’s cleanup as well.

Don’t forget the physical

Dust is your computer’s enemy. If too much accumulates, it can cause your machine to run hotter than it needs to, potentially shortening the computer’s life or causing occasional crashes along the way. How often depends on the environment your computer lives in. If Corgi hair is common in your life, too, clean more often than if you have no pets.

No longer needed

These are things that were once needed that no longer apply or things promoted as being needed that never really were.


If you’re running Windows 7 or later, you don’t need to defrag your hard disk. There are two reasons:

Registry cleaners

Registry cleaners were never really needed — certainly not in any routine fashion. In rare cases, when tracking down a problem they may add some value, but it’s most definitely not anything I recommend for routine maintenance.

Do this

Is everything I’ve listed above absolutely necessary? Of course not. I’ll admit to not adhering to the letter of the law myself.

However, periodic maintenance can result in a faster, more stable, longer-lasting Windows experience.

Ya know what else helps? Subscribing to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

Do you have things that you’d consider important “routine maintenance” not listed above? Let me know in the comments!

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27 comments on “How to Keep Windows Running Smoothly With Routine Maintenance”

  1. Leo: Hi, have a question. I read up on the CC Cleaner on your site and it looks pretty interesting. Therefore, I gave it a try. After downloading the free version. I went to the custom cleanup program and clicked on analyze and run cleaner. I than closed it down and brought up my run/temp files and found nothing had been erased. Can you tell me if CC Cleaner is a stand-alone program and only will erase/keep cleaned up temp files on its program rather than take them off of my Win 10 system? I would have thought that when I used it my temp files would have been erased but for naught. Should I have purchased the CC Cleaner Pro program for it to really work and erase my temp files. By the way under the Custom Cleanup Program various programs like Edge Chrome, Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer and System are listed and had check marks on files which I left when I ran the analyze/run cleaner program Was that an error too? Also here is what I do to all of our 4 computers at home for maintenance. I am not an expert just read and do what I find for maintenance/cleanup. First, I always check for updates than monthly do backups. After I do updates, I do my maintenance duties. I start off clear all my history files in my browser than I do Run Temp than delete all files it brings up, than do Run %TMP% than delete all files it brings up (however some files won’t delete which is normal), than I go to this PC click on Windows and scroll down to windows and click on software distribution and clear out all files, than I go to download files and clear out any files not needed, than I go to recycle bin and clear out those files and lastly I go to control panel click on internet options and delete to clear out those files. Does that all make sense or is there some other short cuts I don’t know about to clean up files? I also do other stuff like defrag only on hard drives, disk cleanup and occasionally run ipconfig /flushdns. I love you articles you send me. Thank you

  2. Reply to harrythehoarder: CCleaner has lots of settings for what you want cleaned. You need to go through and check some boxes. The only boxes that would NOT check are entries such as “desktop shortcuts”, “start menu shortcuts”, and “menu order”. Don’t be afraid if CC throw up a warning dialog box. There is also a setting under Options > Advance where you want to uncheck the entries that say delete only items older than 24 hours. Also, as Mark said, CCleaner won’t clean anything that’s running, specifically any browser and Windows (File) Explorer.

    CCleaner Pro doesn’t add much to the basic cleaning. It provides more background monitoring (i.e. more CPU drain), more automated updates and backups (i.e. more magic that you don’t understand), and driver updates (i.e. more chances to break your system).

  3. Hello! Great article and very informative!

    One thing EXTERNAL to the computer that should be periodically checked is the battery backup unit (UPS) your computer/monitor/inkjet/modem is connected to (you ARE using a UPS, right?). Unplug the UPS from the wall and make sure it still provides power to your computer. Switching between UPS and wall power should seem seamless to your components. Usually UPS batteries poop out after three or four years… good news (unless your unit has been struck by lightning) is that UPS batteries can be replaced without having a replace the whole unit, and much cheaper.

    If you don’t know WHY you should be using a UPS maybe Leo has covered that in another article… bottom line, don’t trust your computer system to unfiltered unconditioned wall power (or your expensive TV/stero for that matter!).

  4. Leo: I asked this in the comments for your Disk Cleanup article but didn’t get an answer. I periodically run PC Manager from MS. It seems to do pretty much the same thing as Disk Cleanup in so far that it clears out caches, temp files, etc…

    Is there a difference between the two programs & should both be run periodically if they perform different tasks? Thx.

  5. Reply to Ron Iannetta:
    If you read through the article and comments in Leo’s previous “PC Clutter” article you should come to the conclusion that you can and should use both. CCleaner and PC Manager cover different grounds, but with some overlap. PC Manager is the old Disk Cleanup with some additional features thrown in.

    You should understand that the reason people use a cleaner is because they want to clean out the clutter left behind, primarily, by Microsoft and Windows. So, given that Microsoft creates the clutter in the first place, it’s not going to clean out the things that Microsoft doesn’t want you to clean out. The other consideration is that PC Manager will evolve and change via updates, so it won’t always do what you think it’ll do.

    CCleaner is OK and gives you more cleanup options. If you allow it to update, then it too will evolve and change its features. Ever since Avast bought CCleaner, it is messier and more intrusive. It nags you, it insists on running a background task, and it leaves behind persistent Avast cookies in your default browser !

    Bottom line: Use both.

    • You mention that Microsoft would prevent PC Manager from deleting files it still needs. Microsoft will also prevent CCleaner from deleting files still needed. Files in use can’t be deleted.

      CCleaner is more in your face not with offers, but it still works as well as ever. Nag screens are the price of free.

  6. aa1234aa: One of the items PC Manager doesn’t delete are the Windows Security log files. I’ve tried manually deleting them & permission is denied, even though I’ve started File Explorer as administrator. No help from Google on this one. I wonder if CCleaner will delete them. I haven’t tried yet.

  7. I already do everything Leo suggests, and more. He provides a great list to start with. I used to do a few checks annually, but no more. Many of those routines are no longer useful/required, or I switched to performing them bi-annually.

    Among the items specific to me are several apps that don’t require installation. I call them install-free apps. A few of them don’t have a configuration option to check for updates when they start, so I manually check them for updates monthly.

    My system maintenance routines include:

    Bi-Annual (every January and June 1st):
    Test backups
    Check the Installed Software list for unused/unneeded software
    Check Startup programs in Task Manager
    Physically clean out dust using compressed air

    Monthly (first day of the month):
    Check that backups are executing
    Run Patch My PC to check for installed software updates
    Check install-free apps for updates
    Run anti-malware full scan
    Run Disk Cleanup

    You should do something similar. If you want, you can modify this list to suit your own needs.

    I hope this helps others,

    Ernie (Oldster)

  8. I have a Macrium Reflect emergency disk, which I have used to good effect on 2 laptops previously. Given that, is it really useful or worthwhile to dedicate another 32 GB flash drive to a recovery disk? Many thanks.

    • Flash drives are cheap. Restoring from a system image is usually the best, but the Windows Recovery Disk is an extra layer of protection. For example, years ago, I had a corrupted MBR (Master Boot Record). The emergency disc restored that in minutes. It can fix things that don’t require a full system restore.

  9. Ron and Mark:
    It’s not all about “files in use”. It’s about intent. Microsoft won’t delete many of the remnants of Edge or Defender. CCleaner won’t clean garbage from Avast anti-virus (if you use that). The other side of the story is that the Windows design allows for an enormous amount of garbage to be tucked away just about everywhere. And it’s not just Windows, but also every application you install and use and every website you visit. Given that every machine has a unique profile, it’s impossible for a tool to find and delete every piece of unneeded garbage. Besides, what’s considered “unneeded” or “safe to remove” is very dependent on the system’s profile and state. The average user must be satisfied with whatever automated cleanup he or she can get. To go beyond that you need to be a zealous techie and devote gobs of time to find and remove stuff.

    Often times some files cannot be removed because the associated application has a service or background task running. These days every blasted app runs a background task, so before you can delete its files you first need to find and kill the background tasks. Some items need administrator permission and that depends on a lot of other factors. I’m a techie and, just for amusement, I maintain a batch file which deletes garbage from everywhere I can find. Of course, the batch file approach is different for every version of Windows and must be updated for changes.

    A related issue is to understand what every application does and what its settings will allow you to do. For example, reading some of the comments here, it’s evident that some people do not have a clear understanding of CCleaner settings.

  10. My old Windows XP and 7 laptops are humming along. (The XP WEP program helped for several years.) A little clunky at times, especially with the internet Need special browsers. But overall still up and running. (I’m a product of the early 1940’s. You never throw anything away. You fix it. Including your marriage, if necessary.)

  11. I’d love to run Disk Cleanup but for the last month, it just closes before finishing. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for an answer and only find that I’m not the only one with the problem and the answers do not work.

    • Hard to say — if they’re large and complex that could be it.
      If they’re in OneDrive, and your internet is slow, then that could be it.
      If Excel.exe is on a questionable area of the hard disk, that could be it.
      There’s more, I’m afraid. Did this just start happening, or has it always been so?

  12. In addition to the items you mention for routine maintenance, I also run
    Dism.exe /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth
    sfc /scannow

    Dism does not tell you if it fixed anything, and I don’t look at the log files. However, sfc often says it found corrupt files and repaired them. The sfc log files are extensive, and the explanations of what it repaired are not meaningful to me, so I don’t know if it is a big deal or not.

    What do you think about using these tools?

  13. From Leo’s article, I just followed the link on how to do a test restore. Recently, I made the mistake, after upgrading my Acronis software to the current version, of completing a test backup to my system disk. A rare occurrence it may be, but the restore failed! Fortunately, the full backup on which this increment was based did recover me – with a little help from Windows own recovery mechanism – to the version I had two months ago. Since most of my data is elsewhere, I was able to recreate the current system fairly closely. Like many others, I now use other backup software in addition to Acronis.

    One other tool I use is an old version of portable MiniTool Partition Wizard free to make a removeable disk copy, verified (?) with chkdsk. Strangely, an unintentional boot from a copy of my desktop computer system plugged into my laptop went straight into the copied Windows. Curiosity drove me to repeat the experiment the other way round desktop, and that was also immediately successful, background, icons, programs and all. The astonishing thing is that the two machines have totally different brands of motherboard and processor and most hardware-independent applications ran without problem. Windows must be getting more and more robust, I guess.


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