Jump to Key Sections
- Open Windows Disk Cleanup Tool
- Use the Windows Disk Cleanup tool
- Delete Windows system files
- Delete applications and restore points from Windows
Like everyone else, you have probably accumulated a myriad of files on your computer over time. Of course, your PC’s hard drives and/or SSDs contain important items you want to keep, such as software, documents, music, photos, videos, games or other personal files. But they also contain a host of less visible items, such as temporary files or system files, some of which are related to Windows updates, which are more difficult to recover. But they also contain a host of less visible items, such as temporary files or system files, some related to Windows updates, which are harder to identify and locate, but which nevertheless take up a lot of space and can be hundreds of bytes (MB) or even several gigabytes (GB). And they should be deleted regularly to free up space, especially when the available storage space is running out.
There are several ways to clean up to free up disk space on a computer (see our practical sheets on optimizing a PC that has become slow and on cleaning up a full disk). But Windows also has a powerful and rather unknown utility to easily remove unnecessary system files: the Disk Cleanup tool. Integrated as standard in Windows 10 and 11, it can analyze internal or external disks – hard disk, SSD, memory card, USB stick – and automatically delete all kinds of system files that are difficult to remove by hand, filtering them by categories. And even though it relies on an old-fashioned interface, it is devilishly effective!
How to Open Windows Disk Cleaner?
Like other specialized Windows utilities, the Disk Cleanup tool is a bit hidden. There are two very easy ways to find it.
Open Windows Disk Cleanup on Windows 10:
- With Windows 10, click on the Start menu, then scroll down the list of installed applications. Click the Windows Administrative Tools folder to view its contents, then click Disk Cleanup.
Open Windows Disk Cleanup on Windows 11:
- With Windows 11, click on the Start menu, and then in the window that appears, click on the All Applications button in the upper right corner.
- Scroll down the list that appears and click Windows Tools.
- In the window that appears, click Disk Cleanup.
Another method, which works with both Windows 10 and Windows 11, is to type Disk Cleanup in the search field of the Windows taskbar (usually the first three letters are enough). A results window will appear immediately. Click on Disk Cleanup or simply press Enter on your keyboard.
How to Use the Windows Disk Cleanup Tool?
Regardless of the method you choose to run it, the Windows Disk Cleanup tool is used in the same way in Windows 10 as in Windows 11. You can use it to automatically clean all your storage media, internal or external.
- When launched, the Disk Cleanup tool first displays a small disk selection window. Click on the drop-down menu to choose the disk you want to clean from the list(C: for the disk on which Windows is installed and which is often the most cluttered), then click on the OK button to confirm.
- The Disk Cleanup tool immediately starts an analysis of the contents of the selected disk, and after a few seconds of analysis, it displays its report.
- The window shows at the top the total space you can free up with the cleanup tool, then lists the different types of files you can delete with the space they occupy and not always very explicit headings: downloaded program files, temporary Internet files, DirectX shader cache, thumbnails, etc. Scroll down the list and check the boxes of the file types you want to delete and uncheck the others.Windows then shows thetotal space saved if you delete the selected files.
- Click the OK button, then confirm by clicking Delete Files in the warning window that appears next.
- The Disk Cleanup tool will then delete all the file types you selected, displaying the progress of the operation on a bar. If you have changed your mind in the meantime, you can still cancel the operation by clicking the Cancel button.
- Note that the tool’s window closes automatically when the cleanup is complete. You need to restart it to perform further operations.
How to Clean Windows System Files?
The basic cleanup of the Disk Cleanup tool does not remove everything. And to go further and free up more space, you need to delete more sensitive system files.
- Launch the Disk Cleanup tool with one of the methods listed above. Choose a disk to examine from the drop-down menu, then, when its analysis is complete and the report is displayed, click the Clean System Files button at the bottom left of the Disk Cleanup window.
- Very curiously, a new disk selection window appears. Choose the disk you want to examine from the drop-down menu again and click the OK button.
- The tool then examines the selected disk – the operation can be quite long depending on the type and size of the disk. It then displays all the types of system files that can be deleted along with the space they occupy: Microsoft Defender Antivirus, Windows upgrade log files, device driver packages, previous Windows installations, etc. Note that this list is different from the one obtained after a "simple" scan, because it shows other files.
- Again, check the boxes of the file types you want to delete and uncheck the others. Note the often very large size of files corresponding to Windows upgrades. The window shows both the total disk space you can recover and the actual space you will free with your selection.
- Once you have made your selection, click the OK button, then confirm by clicking Delete Files in the warning window that appears next to start deleting the selected files.
The Windows Disk Cleanup tool will then start deleting all the file types you have selected, displaying the progress of the operation on a bar. Be patient, as this deeper cleanup than the previous one can take quite a long time, even on an SSD. Note that the tool’s window closes automatically when the cleanup is complete.
How to Remove Applications and Restore Points from Windows?
It’s not over yet! The Disk Cleanup tool offers to go even further by removing other unnecessary Windows items, such as unused applications or obsolete restore points. As always, you have to be sure not to delete any important items, but again, there are ways to save a lot of space on a disk.
First, proceed as in the previous step. Launch the Disk Cleanup tool using one of the methods listed above. Choose a disk to examine from the drop-down menu, then, when its analysis is complete and the report is displayed, click the Clean System Files button at the bottom left of the Disk Cleanup window.
This time, click on the More Options tab at the top of the window. The contents of the window change and the tool offers two sections: Programs and Features and System Restores and Snapshots.
The Programs and Features section corresponds to the installed applications and the various Windows modules. Click on the Clean Up… button and a new window, inherited from the old Windows Control Panel, appears showing the applications that can be uninstalled, with the size they occupy on the disk.To remove an application from the PC, click on its name to select it and then on the Uninstall button at the top of the list. Note that this method duplicates another Windows function (see our practical sheet). It is high time that Microsoft cleaned up its own functions…
The System Restores and Snapshots section corresponds to the automatic backups of Windows, which allow you to return to a stable system in case of problems.Click on the Clean Up button… A small warning window appears, offering to delete all but the most recent system restore points. Click on Delete to start the operation.
And that’s it: in a few minutes, you will usually recover several gigabytes of storage space without cleaning up by hand!