Nowadays, a relatively clean and uncomplicated Windows 10 system disk might be home to a lot more than 150,000 files and 90,000 folders. A far more complex, application-heavy system disk might contain between 500,000 and a million files. That’s lots of files!
Indeed, not all those files need be kept around. Thus, it’s a good idea to practice disk hygiene on a regular schedule. That’s exactly what’s explained and explored here, with plenty of examples and screen shots to illustrate the cleanup process. Best of all, the tools that’ll help you clear won’t set you back a dime.
Step 1: Run Disk Cleanup or “Free up space now”
From time immemorial, Windows has included a software application for cleaning up disk space – namely, Disk Cleanup, a.k.a. cleanmgr.exe. In Windows 10, users gained a second method to clean up disk space, part of its Settings-based “Storage Sense” facility, that is targeted at optimizing storage in Windows 10. Even though there continues to be speculation the first method might disappear consequently, the Disk Cleanup utility remains ready, ready to work even in the latest 19H1 Insider Preview (Build 18317) as I write this story. Either approach provides a great way to cleanup extraneous and unneeded Windows 10 files.
To produce Disk Cleanup, type disk or cleanmgr.exe into the Start menu search engine. In either case, the Disk Cleanup desktop app should appear at the top of those search results. Make sure to right-click the program and select Run as administrator in the resulting pop-up menu. Why? Only then will it offer to clean up redundant or outdated OS files (for example old OS files after an upgrade, or old updates) as well as other Windows leftovers.
You’ll wish to scroll through the checkbox components of the pane labeled “Files to delete:” and pick stuff you’d prefer to get rid of. The numbers within the right column indicate how much disk space the items occupies. Don’t delete old OS versions or updates if you think you might want to roll back to earlier versions. Note additionally that the Downloads item represents the items in your personal Downloads folder, so don’t delete it unless you’re sure you don’t need anything in there.
The second built-in cleanup option comes from Windows 10’s Settings app. If you click Settings > System > Storage > Free up space now, the machine runs a scan. Once that scan is finished, you’ll find yourself facing options like the ones in the screen capture below:
The boxes the thing is checked represent the default selections that Windows 10 marks for deletion advertising media are this utility. Note that it doesn’t choose the Trash can (which contains items that is usually desirable for cleanup) by default.
When I use this tool, I usually uncheck Thumbnails. But I also check Delivery Optimization Files, Recycle Bin, and sometimes also Error Reporting Files, assuming I’m not fighting system issues I might wish to are accountable to Feedback Hub or perhaps in an assistance encounter of some type.
All of those other checked merchandise is usually worth losing, including various kinds of temporary files, upgrade log files, graphics files, and so on. The figures around the right show how much disk space you can regain by deleting the items.
In August 2018, Microsoft quietly announced it would deprecate Disk Cleanup but ensure that it stays available “for compatibility reasons.” Personally, I don’t think the organization will ever eliminate it since the Settings > Free up space tool is definitely an available alternative. That’s because many Windows admins and power users run cleanmgr.exe in the command line having a number of switches and settings this user-friendly UWP app cannot match.
Unless and until Microsoft offers a command-line option to cleanmgr.exe that can do what that tool currently does in scripts and batch files perfectly, I firmly think that Disk Cleanup will remain part of modern Windows OSes. Only time will tell, obviously. We’ll see!
Whichever tool catches your fancy, you need to use it at least one time per month for cleanup, or even more often than that.
Step 2: Use UnCleaner to trap what built-in tools miss
Josh Cell is really a Francophone developer in Canada who’s built a peachy and free utility called UnCleaner. It is able to ferret out and take away temporary and obsolete log files that even Windows’ built-in utilities don’t catch and kill. You are able to download the latest version of UnCleaner (1.7) from Major Geeks.
Running on the production PC upon which Disk Cleanup just ran, here’s what UnCleaner finds to wash up:
Note that it finds over 400MB of files to clean up, even on a supposedly clean system. All you have to do is click the Clean button in the lower left area of the screen, and it will delete the files it’s flagged that aren’t locked to some running Windows process. You’ll never understand this utility to get rid of everything (because something’s always locked by runtime constraints). But you’ll often visit a status message that says “Good. Your system is extremely clean.”
Step 3: Drop obsolete device drivers with DriverStore Explorer
DriverStore Explorer (RAPR.exe) is really a free, open-source tool that you can download from GitHub. Always be sure to seize the most current release (0.9.39 as of this writing). Unless you’re a genuine Windows driver wizard, you’ll need only click two buttons to create RAPR do its thing: Select Old Drivers and Delete Package.
You’ll need to run RAPR in administrator mode (right-click its icon and select Run as administrator). When you begin it up, you’ll see a list of installed drivers with checkboxes. Click on the Select Old Drivers button at the top right from the screen, and also the program will automatically look into the boxes for that older driver versions it finds.
Click on the Delete Package button, and RAPR will do away using the older drivers. The utility won’t delete any drivers which are currently in use, so of course this usually safe cleanup method picks an active driver, RAPR won’t delete it unless you click the Force Deletion checkbox. Power users and experts can find a lot more for RAPR to complete, but many regular users only will enjoy its ability to clean up old, outmoded drivers.
Notice within the screenshot above the program picks two older Nvidia drivers when that button is clicked, for any potential space savings of 1.5GB or thereabouts. Once you make use of this tool a period or two, space savings will seldom considerably larger, but first-time users may recover 3 to 5GB when they clean up numerous driver files. On especially cruft-laden systems, I’ve used to this tool to recuperate 7 to 10GB.
Step four: Use DISM to clean the Component Store
Most Windows OS files live in the WinSxS folder, also known as the Component Store. Each time you install a cumulative update, and often after other updates, the Component Store will contain duplicate, obsolete, or orphaned elements. You can use the Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) tool in the command line to determine the Component Store from time to time. Such checks will tell you if a cleanup is required.
To get started, you’ll have to open a heightened PowerShell window. Around the Windows desktop, type the Windows key and, then select Windows PowerShell (Admin) in the resulting pop-up menu. (Alternatively, you can type powershell into the Start menu search engine, then right-click Windows PowerShell and choose Run as administrator from that pop-up menu.) Within the Administrator: Windows PowerShell window seems, type this string striking enter:
dism /online /cleanup-image /analyzecomponentstore
As I wrote this story, I had just installed a Cumulative Update along with other update items earlier that week. Affirmed, /analyzecomponentstore reported there were three reclaimable packages ready for cleanup. Notice that the response text reported “Yes” within the field labeled “Component Store Cleanup Recommended.” That’s your clue that DISM has something it may cleanup on your behalf.
To make which happen, in the Administrator: Windows PowerShell window, type this string:
dism /online /cleanup-image /startcomponentcleanup
Following the cleanup operation, I analyzed the component store once again. This lets you do the math around the pre and post /analyzecomponentstore outputs. This time around, cleanup saved more than 0.71GB of space for the actual on-disk size of the component store. Most of these savings come from reduced backups and disabled features (0.7GB) – a great cleanup maneuver and result. Some updates may remove 3 or more reclaimable packages. (That one removed three.) Recently updated systems may recover as much as 3GB by using this technique, with respect to the number and size of reclaimable packages removed.
Step five: Inspect the system drive with WinDirStat (or equivalent)
Once all preceding cleanups are complete, it’s smart to inspect the machine drive to determine in which the big files are. I personally use the disposable, open-source WinDirStat program, but TreeSize Free is really a worthy alternative. These programs produce graphical renderings of disk contents making it simple to spot big files and folders.
The diagram in the bottom window places colored rectangular blocks to exhibit a schematic for entries in the scanned drive’s file system. This kind of diagram is called a treemap and organizes files by disk and folder hierarchy, in which the size of a given block shows how much disk space each file consumes. For the big blue box outlined in white at the very top left from the diagram, the legend in the lower left says it’s an event trace log file (file extension: etl).
Remember, you’re looking for big files, because getting rid of them provides useful, quick wins in the disk space recovery game. The following, the boot log (.etl file) I ran yesterday on my small system to try to determine in which the time was going created a HUGE (49.2GB) file behind. I’ve carried out with that analysis and don’t need the file anymore, so getting rid of it regains me nearly 50GB of disk space in one fell swoop. Yes!
By clicking other “big blocks” in the treemap, you will soon figure out where your biggest potential space recovery opportunities lie. You won’t be able to get rid of all of them – the paging and hibernation files must stay, for example (green blocks at lower center) – but if some of them can go, big space savings will result.
Practicing to achieve perfection
If one makes these cleanups periodically (I aim for at least one time a month), you’ll be able to keep the space consumption under much better control. Do this regimen out for yourself, and you’ll soon see what I mean. And don’t forget to slog with the Users folder (especially your account subfolder) every so often, too, because junk also has a tendency to accumulate there.