How To Remove Junk Files From Your Windows PC

Thomas Köhler

Here's a scenario: Your PC is relatively new, but its performance seems to be declining, with space running out on your hard drive and booting up taking longer. You might assume this is because of a hardware defect, but you'd likely be wrong, with the real culprit a buildup of unnecessary files.

In this article, we'll show you seven ways you can safely and easily remove junk files. Some of these only require a few clicks to make your PC as good as new.

What Are Junk Files?

Programs, data, and files that serve no purpose or have never been used by the computer are referred to as junk files. In contrast to viruses and other kinds of malware, junk files don't actively damage your system. However, by weakening its performance and overloading your hard drive, the end result is similar. Whether temporary files, unused programs, or an overflowing recycle bin, there are lots of different kinds of junk files, including:

Temporary Internet files
When surfing the Web, your browser creates temporary files in order to load pages more quickly. This consumes storage space and gradually fills your hard drive.

Temporary system files
Your operating system also temporarily saves files in order to reduce pressure on your RAM. Unfortunately, these temporary files aren't always deleted after they've fulfilled their purpose, consuming storage space as a result.

Temporary program files
Temporary program files are similar to temporary system files and are created when programs, such as Microsoft Word, automatically save whatever you're working on. Like the types above, these files can also clog up your hard drive over time.

Full recycle bin
Files that you delete are moved to the recycle bin, but not automatically deleted. Just as in real life, you need to take the figurative garbage out, regularly making sure that you empty your desktop's recycle bin in order to free up space on your hard drive.

Unused programs
Programs that you don't use not only consume storage space, they can also slow down your system's performance, should they be running in the background.

Large files
The bigger the file, the more space it takes up on your hard drive. Large files that you no longer need or have a use for should be deleted to free up space.

Duplicate files
Downloads of the same file or multiple versions of a single document can also quickly eat up storage space on your hard drive.

In most cases, junk files can be safely, quickly, and efficiently removed from your system. The options for deleting such files are nearly as varied as the types of junk themselves.

Manually Delete Junk Files

Before you start cleaning up your hard drive, it's a good idea to create a backup. In this way, it's possible to recover any data that you delete by accident, just in case.

Deleting junk files manually is possible, but requires a considerable amount of time since you'll need to sort through all of your system's folders. There's also a strong likelihood that you won't be able to locate all of the files on your own as well. Luckily, default tools included with Windows as well as third-party solutions make it possible to easily tidy up your PC:

Uninstall Unused Programs

Most PCs and laptops come with a range of pre-installed software that their users simply never use (bloatware). Over time, you might also install programs needed for a specific task, but then cease using them thereafter and forget to uninstall them. Whatever the reason, unused programs consume valuable storage space on your system, and if running in the background, can noticeably slow it down.

You can view a list of all programs installed on your system in Windows 10 in the Apps & Features area.

In most cases, the solution to this problem is relatively easy: A list of all programs installed on your system is visible under Settings or through the Control Panel. For Windows 10 users, this is the Apps & Features area, on Windows 7 and 8, you'll need to go to Control Panel > Programs and Features and then click on individual programs and the option Uninstall/Change in the window's taskbar. Here, it's possible to quickly identify and uninstall unused programs.

Delete Temporary Files

Temporary files are created by programs or your operating system to make sure that you don't lose any unsaved progress in the event that your system crashes. The type you're most likely familiar with is an automatic save in Microsoft Word, which occurs until you save the document yourself and create a Word file. Temporary files are easily recognizable via their .tmp ending.

Most temporary files are automatically deleted once they're no longer needed (i.e. after you save the file in question), however, some stick around and can clog up your system. Tools like Disk Cleanup are able to automatically get rid of most of these. Should you want to be a bit more hands-on, you can sort through temporary files by navigating to C:/User/x/AppData/Local or C:/Windows/Temp.

You can delete temporary files individually by navigating to the Temp folder.

Clear Browser Data

If you feel that your Internet browser is getting slower, a mass of junk files could be the problem. Cookies, cached data, as well as URL and download records can paralyze even the best browsers, with the only solution being a thorough clearing of browser files.

With just a few clicks, you can free your browser of junk files and clutter.

In most cases, you can delete cookies and your search history directly in the browser. For users of Google Chrome, click on the main menu (three buttons in the top right corner), hover over More tools, and click on Clear browsing data. By clicking on Advanced, you can see precisely how much clutter has accumulated and when (last 24 hours, last week, etc.). Thereafter, it's possible to delete groups of files as necessary.

Use Windows Disk Cleanup

Windows Disk Cleanup lends a helping hand in locating and deleting files that are no longer needed. Before using it, however, you should close any programs that are opened. You can access Disk Cleanup via Accessories > System Tools, but for newer systems, simply type "disk cleanup" in the Start menu's search bar.

The actual cleaning up is relatively straightforward: Start by selecting which drive you'd like to tidy and the kinds of files that you want to delete. Disk Cleanup shows which files will be deleted and how much storage space these presently consume. When ready with your selection, click on Ok and Windows will take care of the rest.

Disk Cleanup helps to remove junk files from your system.

Beyond that, Windows Disk Cleanup also offers the ability to delete system files that are no longer needed. Click on the Clean up system files button, and confirm your decision as administrator.

Users of Windows 10 can take advantage of another interesting feature: Under Disk Settings, the option exists to allow Windows to regularly free up storage space on its own. Data that is no longer needed, such as temporary files or the contents of your recycle bin, will then be regularly purged from your hard drive.

Find Large Files

TreeSize Free offers a free tool for finding large files on your system.

Large files that are no longer needed or used consume significant amounts of storage space on hard drives, space that could be used for more important things. Thanks to tools like Treesize Free or WinDirStat, finding and deleting these files is as easy as pie.

A word of warning: Make sure that you don't become overzealous in your quest to free up disk space and accidentally delete critical files from system folders, likeC:\Windows\System32. In the worst case, this can render your computer useless.

Streamline Autostart

Should your PC take a long time to boot up despite being relatively new, the problem is likely programs that automatically start with your system. Most of the time, installed programs allow themselves (with your permission) to start when your system does, even if you don't need or want them to.

You can remove programs from auto-starting by right clicking on them.

Proactively, you can make sure that whenever you install new software, you disable the autostart option. For currently installed programs, solving this problem is easy and requires only a few clicks: Open Windows Task Manager, select the detailed view, and click on the Autostart tab. Here, you'll be provided with an overview of all programs that start automatically when your system boots up. In the Startup Impact column, you can see what effect this has on your system's speed. By right-clicking on one of the programs, it's possible to prevent it from automatically starting.

Automatically Clear Junk FIles

Locating and thoroughly deleting junk files requires time and patience, even though some tools, like Disk Cleanup, make it possible to quickly and relatively effortlessly get rid of temporary browser files. To help in tidying up your hard drive and make the process more convenient, a number of third-party tools are available.

The most famous of these is CCleaner, which has been automatically deleting temporary, unneeded, or duplicate files since 2006.

Like the other tools we explored, CCleaner allows you to select which files it should delete:

With CCleaner, it's possible to customize what sort of files the tool should look for, or simply use the default settings.

By the way: CCleaner also offers Windows Registry cleanup. This registry serves as your operating system's central configuration database. As registry cleaning generally doesn't have any positive impact upon a PC's speed, it isn't recommended for modern operating systems.

Conclusion

Unneeded files can and do accumulate on any PC over time. In most cases, this data clogs up the hard drive, inhibits your system's performance, or both. Thanks to a number of different tools and methods, it's possible to quickly and easily free your computer from these constraints. Automated cleaning tools like CCleaner are particularly thorough, however, you shouldn't write off the integrated solutions that come with Windows either.

Regularly tidying up your PC makes as much sense as cleaning your home, apartment, or car. At the very least, you'll free up space on your hard drive for newer files, while you might even breathe new life into your computer.

Author (German Version): Thomas Köhler
Thomas Köhler studied German and history and is currently pursuing a master's degree in public history at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. As a freelance author, he writes mainly about data protection, IT security and software.
Translator & Editor: D Bare
Other languages:
Deutsch 
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