How to Clean a Hard Drive in Windows

Not only will it run faster, you'll likely have more space available to store photos, videos, anything you like

What to Know

  • Open Disk Cleanup: Select all boxes under Files to Delete. You can safely remove all of these files.
  • Settings > System > Storage > Configure Storage Sense or run it now. Turn it on to delete temporary files.
  • Uninstall unused apps: Go to Control Panel > Programs and Features. Select app(s) you don't want > Uninstall.

This article explains how you can clean up your PC's hard drive by removing temporary files, unwanted apps, and more.

The tips in this article apply to Windows 11, Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP, although some of the wording might be slightly different.

How to Clean Your Hard Disk With Disk Cleanup

The Disk Cleanup utility has been included with Windows starting with Windows XP. While the functionality enhanced slightly in newer versions of Windows, the process remains the same.

  1. Select the Start button and type Disk Cleanup. Select the Disk Cleanup app. When it launches, you'll see all of the files on your system and how much space clearing them would make available.

    Screenshot of disk cleanup utility
  2. Under Files to Delete, select all boxes. These include downloaded files, temporary internet files, cache files, the Recycle Bin, and more. You can delete all of these files without hurting your Windows system at all. Select OK to begin the cleanup process.

    Screenshot of all cleanup files selected.
  3. The Disk Cleanup utility will delete all of the unnecessary files in the locations you've selected, and then the utility will close.

Use Storage Settings and Storage Sense

You don't have to do a full Disk Cleanup every day or week, but you should clear your Recycle Bin, temporary internet files, and downloaded files regularly.

If you are using Windows 11 or 10, you have access to a utility called Storage Sense, where you can do this more sophisticatedly.

  1. From the Start button, open Settings and then select System.

    The Windows Settings dialog box.

    In Windows 11, the steps are: Settings > System > Storage, select Storage Sense. Enable Automatic User content cleanup and then select Run Storage Sense now.

  2. Select Storage from the left menu. This will display how your storage is currently being used and areas where you can clean your hard disk and free up space.

    Screenshot of Storage settings in Windows 10.
  3. You'll see the area that uses the most space at the top of the list. Select each of these to delete unnecessary files there. One area you should often check in this list is Temporary files. It may take a few minutes to display, but this contains items such as the Recycle Bin, temporary internet files, Windows upgrade log files, and more.

    The Windows Storage dialog box.
  4. Select the boxes to the left of the items in the Temporary Files list and select Remove files at the top to clean all these areas of your hard drive.

    Screenshot of Temporary Files area
  5. Back on the Storage screen, select Configure Storage Sense or run it now.

    The Storage dialog box in Windows 10.
  6. Set the toggle under Storage Sense to On. Select the checkbox under Temporary files, and select the frequency you'd like your Recycle Bin and Downloads folder to be cleaned automatically.

    Screenshot of setting up Storage Sense
  7. When you're finished adjusting the Storage Sense settings, you can select Clean now or you can close out of the window to let the system take over according to the settings you selected.

    Storage Sense keeps your Recycle Bin and Downloads folder clean automatically, so you don't have to remember to do it manually.

    If you are running any version of Windows older than Windows 10, you must remember to use the Disk Cleanup utility to manually clean your hard disk.

Other Ways to Clean a Hard Disk in Windows

Even though you've now gotten rid of files you no longer, there's still more to do.

Uninstall Unused Applications

Unused apps on your system can take up much more space than you realize, especially if those apps are unused because you moved on to a different app (now you have two apps that perform the same task, but you are only using one).

  1. Select the Start menu, type Control Panel, and select the Control Panel app.

    You can see the amount of space you'll clean from your hard drive by installing an app by checking the Size column.

  2. Select Programs and Features.

  3. Select the Installed On header to sort by oldest installed application first. Now click on any application you no longer use and select Uninstall in the menu to uninstall it.

    Screenshot of removing programs in Windows

Make Sure Cloud Storage Backups Are One-Way

Online storage services like OneDrive and Google Drive have Windows apps that sync with your Windows folders and store their contents in the cloud. However, these services include an Offline Storage feature that saves files on your computer. Disable this to save space.

  • OneDrive: Right-click the OneDrive cloud in your Windows taskbar and select Settings. On the Settings tab, select Save space and download files as you use them.
  • Google Drive: Visit your Google Drive settings and make sure the Offline option is deselected.

Copy Entire Folders to an External Drive

Once an external hard drive is attached to your Windows PC, hold down the Shift key, and drag entire folders of files into the attached external hard drive.

This will move, rather than copy, the folder. This is a great way to move files like vacation photos or videos from your computer, cleaning up a lot of space.

A Clean Hard Drive Works Better

The importance of regularly cleaning your Windows hard drive can't be understated. It leaves you space to store important files, and it's also where the computer stores data for fast retrieval when you have many applications open at once. Keeping it clean ensures your computer runs fast and efficiently.

  • Should I defrag my computer?

    Yes, but maybe no. If you are sure your computer has a hard drive, then yes, defrag your hard drive. If you aren't sure what that means, read our primer about fragmentation and defragmentation. If you know what it means and have an SSD and not a hard drive, do NOT defrag your SSD. Our primer article mentioned just above explains why you should not do that.

  • Can my computer only use one hard drive?

    No, all computers can use multiple hard drives simultaneously (that is, hooked up to the computer at the same time). Depending on what kind of computer you are using, you might be able to have two hard drives inside your computer, or you might need to use an external hard drive connected to one of your computer's ports. External hard drives aren't as convenient if you move your computer around often, but if your computer stays put, it's just as convenient as the hard drive inside your computer.

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