Over time, it’s not uncommon for files to accumulate on your system — unused files, old files, or files you no longer need. There are many reasons for this buildup, if you dig into to the details.
Fortunately, you don’t need to dig into details to clean things up; Windows includes a helpful disk clean-up tool for just this kind of thing.
Let’s walk through using Windows Disk Cleanup.
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Launching the utility
In Windows 10, click the Start button and start typing “disk cleanup”.
In earlier version of Windows, you’ll find Disk Cleanup on the Start menu, in All Programs, Accessories, System Tools.
Disk Cleanup begins by calculating what could be removed to save space on the disk.
Cleaning up user files
The default action is for disk cleanup to clean up files associated with or accessible by your currently logged-in account.
There’s a list of different items that can be deleted (or “cleaned up”) to save space. Click on each, and a description is displayed below.
In my experience, the most useful item to select is:
- Temporary files. These are files created by applications and the system itself that, as the name implies, are temporary. For various reasons, they often aren’t deleted by the processes that created them. As a result, they accumulate over time. This is often a large amount of space if Disk Cleanup has never been run.
My approach, however, is to select everything1.
Click OK, and after a confirmation message, Disk Cleanup goes to work.
Cleaning system files
You may have noticed a button in the user interface:
Click that, and (perhaps after asking for administrative confirmation), the Disk Cleanup utility will re-launch, this time to operate on system-wide cleaning opportunities:
While this list looks very similar, several items are new and some are slightly different.
The most interesting and common item to clean is:
- Windows Update Cleanup: This can free up a lot of space, but it comes at a cost. Once you’ve deleted these backup files, Windows update items on your machine cannot be uninstalled. Fortunately, the need for this rare; typically, cleaning these files is a fine idea.
And once again, it’s just fine to select everything in the list to be cleaned up.2
Click OK, and Disk Cleanup goes to work once again.
The net result after running Disk Cleanup should be more free disk space. Perhaps a lot more space, if this is the first time Disk Cleanup has been run.
While there is a fair amount of overlap between running Piriform’s CCleaner disk cleaning app, it’s not a 100% replacement for Disk Cleanup, as I understand it. For example, I don’t believe CCleaner will remove service pack backup files.
Perhaps the biggest difference is that CCleaner does not limit itself to Windows.
By its very nature, Windows Disk Cleanup will deal only with Windows, and perhaps Microsoft-provided software like Internet Explorer or Edge. On the other hand, CCleaner cleans up many of the same items, plus assorted items relating to other browsers and applications not supplied by Microsoft.
My short recommendation:
- If you only do one, run CCleaner.
- If you don’t want to download yet another third-party application, run Windows Disk Cleanup.
- Otherwise, why not run both?