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Using Windows Disk Cleanup

Over time, it’s not uncommon for files to accumulate on your system – unused files, old ones, or files you no longer need. There are many reasons for this, but most are pretty valid when you get down to the details.

Fortunately, you don’t need to get into the details to clean things up. Windows includes a disk-cleanup utility that’s helpful for cleaning this type of thing right up.

Let’s walk through the steps of using Windows Disk Cleanup.

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Launching the utility

Click the Start menu, the All Programs item, the Accessories items, and then the System Tools item:

Disk Cleanup on the start menu

You may be asked to select which drive you want to clean up:

Disk Cleanup disk choice

After selecting the disk (typically the C: or system drive), Disk Cleanup does some calculations to determine what kinds of things are on the disk that could potentially be removed to save space.

Disk Cleanup pre-calc

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.

Disk Cleanup list - user

As you can see, there’s a long 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 common and useful thing to select here is:

  • Temporary Files – These are files created by applications and the system itself that, as the name implies, are temporary. Very often, they aren’t deleted by the processes that created them for various reasons. As a result, they accumulate over time. This is often a large amount of space if Disk Cleanup has never been run.

In reality, there’s nothing wrong with selecting everything1.

Click OK and Disk Cleanup goes to work:

Disk Cleanup Cleaning

Cleaning system files

You may have noticed a button in the user interface:

Clean up system files button

Click that, and (potentially after asking for administrative confirmation), the Disk Cleanup utility will re-launch, this time to operate on system-wide cleaning opportunities:

Disk Cleanup list for the system

While this list looks very similar, several items are new and some are slightly different.

Once again, the most interesting and common items to clean include:

  • Service Pack Backup Files: This can actually free up a lot of space, but it comes at a cost. Once you’ve deleted these backup files, the Windows service pack(s) on your machine cannot be uninstalled. The only way to “uninstall” a service pack after deleting these files is to reinstall Windows from scratch without it. This is very rare; typically getting rid of these files is a fine idea.

And also once again, it’s typically just fine to select everything in the list to be cleaned up.2

Click OK and Disk Cleanup goes to work:

Disk Cleanup Cleaning the System

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.

CCleaner comparison

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. On the other hand, CCleaner cleans up many of the same items, plus assorted thingrun s that can be cleaned up relating to other browsers and applications not supplied by Microsoft.

My short recommendation:

  • If you can only one, run CCleaner.
  • If you don’t want to download yet another third-party application, then run Windows Disk Cleanup.
  • Otherwise, why not run both?

Footnotes & references

1: Of course, you do have a complete system backup, just in case, right? RIGHT? 🙂

2: See previous footnote about having a backup, just in case.

Windows 8: The examples in this article are all Windows 7, but Disk Cleanup has not changed much in Windows 8. At the tiled Start screen, just type “disk cleanup” and a shortcut to the utility will appear.

32 comments on “Using Windows Disk Cleanup”

  1. There is a third step to the cleanup process that wasn’t mentioned. There are many blogs where people complain about their recovery disk showing full and they don’t know how to clean it up. Well after the second step in your article you didn’t mention a third step that you can continue the cleanup process by selecting the “More Option”s tab at the top. You can then go under “System Restore & Shadow Copies” and select Clean Up and the recovery disk will be cleaned up of all but the last system shadow copy, eliminating the problem of recovery disk being full. It should be noted that this process should only be done if your computer is operating properly in case you should need to do a shadow copy restore as at that point only the last one is available to restore from. If you’ve had problems with your PC they may be included in that last recovery that may have the problem on it, thus not being able to restore a good clean copy. This problem of recovery disk being full is a common prevelent problem for many, and many explainations on how to fix don’t fix the problem, this third clean up step will fix the problem of recovery disk D or E being full.

  2. i use disc clean once or twice a week and i`ve noticed sometimes even when the box on the left is checked the amount on the right to be freed does not change. when that happens i have to highlight the item and click ok for it to work. usually its only one item, sometimes two. is that a glitch or just one of those things? i have windows 7 ultimate.

  3. I’ve noticed when using disk cleanup and choosing clean system files that the drive it is on becomes about 7% fragmented, when running disk fragment it doesn’t defrag that drive back to 0% maybe 5 or 6%

  4. Before I run CCleaner I will generally use Easy Clean because it gets rid of temporary internet files faster than CCleaner but CCleaner will then pick up stuff that Easy Clean missed. Only then will I run Microsoft’s Disk clean up. This methodology – run at least twice a week – seems to minimise the usage of valuable disk space.

  5. If I type disk cleanup on the start tile screen, APPS is selected by default and program is not found. Have to click on settings for disk cleanup to be found. Clumsy. I have a short cuts folder on desktop, would like to add disk cleanup to that folder. Any suggestions?

    • When I type di with Apps selected, the first item is Disk Cleanup.

      To put Disk Cleanup on your Start Page/Menu, open the Control Panel (one way is to right-click the lower left corner and select Control Panel). Then click on Administrative Tools to bring up a File Explorer page and look for Disk Cleanup.

      When you right-click Disk Cleanup you will have several options: Pin to Start, Pin to Taskbar, Copy, and Create shortcut. If you want it in an existing folder on your Desktop, just select Copy and then Paste it into your folder.

  6. If I clean up the Service Pack Backup Files, would this affect Windows System Restore, i.e., make all of the Restore points useless?

  7. DO NOT to remove the cookies that identify you to sites you visit regularly. If you remove them, you’ll have to remember your ID and password for each site. I have plenty of disk space, and the size of each cookie is minuscule. I just leave them in place.

    • Open Windows Explorer (My Computer). Navigate to c:\Program Files\Internet Explorer. Left click on iexplore.exe and drag it to you desktop. That will create a shortcut there.

  8. I cleaned up my C: drive using windows 7, but now my control panel has nothing but header saying view: small / large,.. and even when I chose e.g. show small, nothing appears.
    Could any one help me, please.

  9. I deleted Windows Disk Clean-Up by accident. I Love Disk Clean-up and want it back, can I download it some how. I’m running Windows XP Professional With Microsoft Office 2007. Please help XXXX

  10. Personally, I haven’t worried about disk space since before the turn of the century…just sayin’. 🙂

    Leo, wouldn’t removing the Service Pack files affect “SFC /SCANNOW”? That command can be very picky about how SP’s were installed (original media w/SP files versus original media w/out SP files.). When it ultimately asks for “your installation media” and you’ve removed the SP files, it will choke and because you can’t supply them in their original location it won’t finish it’s job.

  11. Hi I was wondering if I did a disk cleanup, would it permanently delete files? e.g word docs, excel docs that I created?

  12. Do these clean up programs give a list of date files with an option to delete? I believe I have redundancy hidden in various folders. Is there a way to get a list of all files within folders. I could then sift through for the duplications.

  13. Type/click ‘run’.
    In run, type cleanmgr /sageset
    press enter
    Choose the categories you want to clean by ticking the boxes

    Again, open run… type cleanmgr /sagerun
    press enter.

    If you don’t know what a category means, don’t delete it.
    Sometimes this process will make a system unstable, so please,
    ALWAYS make a backup first.

    • According to what I’ve hears Chrome retains browser history on your computer for 10 weeks or until you delete it manually or set it to delete it automatically.

      • Yes I know browsing history delets after 90 days or so but when i visit history stored on c disk there is still one page i visited a year ago and deleted it from browsing hisotry. It still remains on my hard disk and cant be deleted.

  14. “The examples in this article are all Windows 7, but Disk Cleanup has not changed much in Windows 8. At the tiled Start screen, just type “disk cleanup” and a shortcut to the utility will appear.”
    What about Windows 10? Will it work the same way here? Would you recommend using it?

  15. Hello!

    I’ve noticed several times that the cleaning is not very effective.
    For instance, this last time I took the time to write down the figures:
    Disk cleanup announced, selecting everything, it would delete 11,2GB.
    File explorer said my disk had 17,6GB free, out of 58,2GB.

    After, literally, hours waiting disk cleanup to finish, file explorer showed only 19,6GB free.

    I have Windows 10 version 1803.

    Is this normal or can it be ameliorated?

    Best regards

    • Make sure you do BOTH user and system files — that takes two runs of Disk Cleanup.
      Then if that doesn’t do it, consider using CCleaner in addition.

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