Here’s How to Easily Clean Your Windows Drive for Optimal Performance

Whether you have a state-of-the-art SSD or an old magnetic hard drive, you’re probably filling them with a ton of files you no longer need. Storage bloat involves more than just keeping your old high school essays you graduated from decades ago. Your computer probably has apps and games you don’t touch anymore, or piles of temporary files lurking in dark corners. Here are some of our recommendations for reclaiming disk space and organizing our data.

Start by deleting old programs

We’ll start with what’s usually the easiest process, eliminating software that’s no longer needed. In Windows 10 and 11, installed programs can appear in different places depending on their type. The old “Add or Remove Programs” pillar still exists under Control Panel. However, this list does not show new UWP apps from sources like the Windows Store. Instead, we’ll head into Windows Settings and then dive under “Apps & Features.”

By default, this will list installed programs in alphabetical order. The “sort” option at the top can let you change this to organize by size or date installed. You can use it to quickly spot larger apps or target older installs that you may have overlooked. The filter option is handy if you have programs installed on multiple drives so you can target only drives that need a bit of a break.

storage cleaning apps and features
Removing old software is a good place to start

In my case, I no longer use this AVerMedia capture card in favor of the EVGA XR1. It is therefore an easy target to eliminate. Some apps may uninstall directly from this menu, while others will direct you elsewhere. For example, most x86 applications will be redirected to the Control Panel for uninstallation, while Steam games will appear in your library. Most apps take up kilobytes to megabytes of space, but deleting old games can often yield gigabytes of savings.

Automatically process unnecessary files

The next area to address is all the junk files that your system accumulates over time. This can be in the form of temporary files generated by applications like the web browser which can be safely deleted, old update files, older OS versions, etc. We’ll also be adding the Downloads folder to this section, which often contains stuff you no longer need or can easily redownload. Before proceeding, navigate to your Downloads folder and move anything important elsewhere, as the next step is rather indiscriminate.

Windows 10 has added a Storage Sense tool to help combat these buildups. It can be accessed by opening Windows Settings, then going under System followed by Storage. First, configure the preferences for how long items are kept in the Trash and Downloads folder. These can be set to Never. However, we recommend 30 and 60 days respectively because you really shouldn’t store anything important in these long-term folders. Storage Sense also works in conjunction with OneDrive to free up local space by keeping your files in the cloud with similar retention options.

storage cleaning storage sense 2
Storage Sense can automate clutter cleanup

Once your preferences are set, click “Run Storage Sense now”. This will obey your retention settings while also deleting temporary files. If you wish, this can be configured to run automatically on a schedule of your choice – for example, monthly – or only once your disk runs out of space.

Chase away all the trash

You can also try the Disk Cleanup tool for a more in-depth, manual alternative. To access it, click the start button and type “disk cleanup” – just start typing and the search box will appear – then click the disk cleanup icon. If prompted, choose your target drive to clean and click OK. This tool will show a long list of options to select from, but it is not yet complete. If you are a computer administrator, you can click the “Clean up system files” button to target even more locations.

storage cleanup disk cleanup
Disk Cleanup is a bit more in-depth

Every available option, even as an administrator, is safe to select without harming your computer. Just make sure you don’t need to revert your version of Windows or save anything from the Trash first. Each line will indicate the amount of disk space it contributes with a total amount to be saved by your selections below.

Now face your data hoarding addiction

The above tools are not enough to deal with the biggest problem. Data hoarding like a packrat can only be combated by manually tracking down files you no longer need. That doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Several applications exist to help you visualize where most of your data is hidden.

storage cleanup data categories
Windows is now trying to characterize your data

You may have noticed that Windows attempts to provide you with a breakdown of your data into different categories in the above process. For example, Settings > System > Storage shows that my computer has 826 GB of video, 324 GB occupied by apps and features, 73.6 GB residing locally from OneDrive, and 491 GB of “Other” data. Is it useful? Maybe, but we can do much better.

Walk in WizTree disk analyzer. This free application scans the desired storage drive or folder. It then creates different views of your data. The default tab is the tree view that maps all of the drive’s folders and reports on their size and the relative amount of disk space consumed. For our purposes, we actually want to look at the Allocated column rather than Size. In cases like OneDrive, the Size column shows how much capacity all files would use if they were all available locally. It’s useful if you also want to reduce your cloud storage, but Allocated shows the true amount of space currently in use on the disk.

storage cleaning wiztree
WizTree makes manual data cleaning much easier

In my case, this revealed a Photos folder on the root of my C: drive consuming 434.7 GB of space. It turns out that this folder was a backup I created when moving files to support my Synology NAS’s new hard drives. I no longer need to store them locally, so I can erase them.

storage cleaning videos from wiztree
I don’t need 827.0 GB of raw video files stored locally

I also see that my Users folder is typically 2TB in size while consuming a little over 1TB of local disk space. I can explore with the left plus button to see that most of this information comes from videos. I don’t need 827.0 GB of locally stored footage on my system. It’s a perfect candidate to upgrade to my NAS for archiving which can now hold 16TB.

storage cleanup wiztree files
Sort strictly by file size if you prefer

For another visualization, the bottom of the window represents each file by size and directory. Larger squares or rectangles indicate larger files. If your goal is just to find large files individually, click on the File View tab instead of the tree view. The File View tab is a sortable list of all files that are sorted by size by default. Here I can see that my Videos folder contains many individual multi-gigabyte files that I could choose to individually dispose of if I didn’t have my archive NAS.

What to do next

After all that, it’s probably worth taking a moment to tune your system as well. Windows has a habit of letting its system files get corrupted, but this simple command can fix it right away. You’ll also want to make sure your security settings are correct and that your antivirus isn’t burning through system resources without your knowledge. You might even want to make Windows more personal with this desktop customization guide.

We hope these techniques can help you reclaim some of your precious disk space. Be sure to donate to the developers to continue their great work if you found WizTree useful. We have no affiliation with WizTree – we just love it. If you want an alternative to WizTree, we also appreciated Shaft size. However, it doesn’t scan as quickly, nor does it provide the useful visual representation at the bottom. Of course, if you’d like to see more guides like this or support our independent journalism, consider contributing to our Patreon.

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