Hard Drive Cleaning Best Practices. How to clear hard drive space

Quick Tip: You can select all files with the Ctrl + A keyboard shortcut, selecting the first file, holding the Shift key while selecting the recent files, or holding the Ctrl key and selecting each file individually.

If you hang on forums, you may see lots of “My C: drive is almost full, how can I empty it?” Questions. Generally speaking, the C: drive is the drive where the operating system is installed. Usually we do not install other programs on the system drive as this can slow down the computer performance. But many green hands don’t know this and install almost all programs on the C: drive and the C: drive is almost full. Therefore, you need to clean up your C: drive to reduce the space used.

Here you will find 5 methods on how to empty your C: drive when it’s full on Windows 10/8/7.

Method 1. Disable hibernate

1. Double-click This PC.

2. Select Organization -> Folder and Search Options.

3. In Folder Options, select View. Select “Show hidden files, folders and drives”.

Show hidden files

Hibernation is turned on by default, and it doesn’t really harm your computer, so it’s not necessary to turn it off even when you’re not using it. However, when hibernation is enabled, a portion of the disk is reserved for its own file – hiberfil.sys – which is allocated to 75 percent of the computer’s installed RAM. If you have 8 GB of RAM, hiberfil.sys takes 6 GB of hard disk space; if you have 16 GB of RAM, the hiberfil.sys file will take 12 GB.

Method 2. Run Disk Cleanup

You can also empty your C: drive by cleaning it.

1. Click Start, type “disk” in the search field and select Disk Cleanup.

2. In Disk Cleanup, select the disk you want to clean up. Here is the C: drive. Click OK.

3. Then it will calculate how much space you can free on C drive.

4. And then choose to delete files you don’t need.

After wiping your C: drive, you can create a system restore point. You can use it to restore your system when you need to.

Method 3. Delete temporary and downloaded files

Temporary files can be deleted without running Disk Cleanup. Temporary files are usually stored in “C: \ Windows \ Temp” or “C: \ Documents and Settings \ username \ Local Settings \ Temp”. Files in both folders can be deleted directly.


Method 4. Delete Internet temporary files

To delete temporary internet files, you can do the following:

1. Open Internet Explorer (IE), click Tools, select Internet Options.

2. The Internet Options window will then appear. Click Delete and the Delete Browsing History window will appear, where you can delete temporary files, history, cookies, etc.

Delete temporary internet files

Method 5. Empty the Recycle Bin

When you delete items from your computer, they are not deleted immediately. They just stay in the Recycle Bin and take up valuable space on your hard drive. Thus, emptying the Recycle Bin is another way to free up space for your C: drive. To empty the Recycle Bin, right-click the Recycle Bin on the desktop and click Empty Recycle Bin. A warning will appear asking if you are sure you want to permanently delete the Recycle Bin items. Click Yes to continue.

Solve “C: drive is full” by increasing partition capacity

An empty C: drive when it’s full is only a temporary solution. After a while, you may find that your C: drive is full again. To solve the C: drive full problem, the best way should be to extend C: drive with free hard disk space. Some users choose to reinstall the system to re-partition the hard drive. But now you can use AOMEI Partition Assistant Professional to re-partition your hard drive without data loss. You can use it to extend your C: drive without reinstalling your operating system.

Situation 1. C: drive full but D: drive empty

If the C: drive is full but the D: drive is empty, you can use the free space on the D: drive to extend the C drive.

Step 1. Install AOMEI Partition Assistant on Windows 11/10/8/7 and run it. It will show you the basic environment of your disks. Right-click the D: drive, select “Allocated Free Space”.

Step 2. After that, a window will appear where you can allocate free space from the D: drive to the C: drive. After configuring, click “OK”.

Step 3. Finally, click “Apply” and “Continue” to proceed.

Situation 2. C: drive full, but there is unallocated space on the hard drive

If the C: drive is full but the hard drive has unallocated space, you can extend the C: drive with unallocated space.

Step 1. Run AOMEI Partition Assistant, right click the C: drive, select Merge Partitions.

Step 2. Select unallocated space to add to drive C.

Step 3. Click “Apply”> “Continue” when you are back to the main interface.

Note: The Disk Cleanup utility is different from the Disk Defragmentation utility. While both are essential for optimal performance, the latter tool helps you manage important files without creating more hard drive space. Be sure to schedule both tasks for the best results.

What is taking up space on my hard drive?

Programs and applications that are included with the software you use on a daily basis can take up the most space on your hard drive without your knowledge. Other hidden culprits are old (often redundant) Windows system files that remain after the deployment of a new Windows update.

Lots of everyday files also take up more space than you can imagine, especially if there are tons of hidden duplicates. The space taken up by photos and videos in particular can add up quickly thanks to advances in high-quality image capture. You should also look for temporary files used by other programs. For example, Chrome’s cache can take up a significant portion of the C drive and needs to be cleaned regularly.

In addition to the file type and size, it’s important to be aware of where your files are located. Content on your desktop and synced OneDrive folders, as well as anything stored in downloaded files or the trash, takes up space.

How do I clean up my hard drive?

When it comes to how to clean your hard drive, there are a number of tools and tips to help you remove unnecessary files and applications. Memory Sense and Disk Cleanup are two common Windows features that make it easy to view file sizes and delete those you no longer need. While Disk Cleanup is technically the predecessor to Storage Sense, it is still widely available and considered the tool of choice of many IT professionals.

The steps for removing temporary files with Disk Cleanup varies slightly depending on the version of Windows you’re using, but they’re all more or less the same:

  1. Open “Start”
  2. Search for “Disk Cleanup” and click on it when it appears
  3. Use the “Disks” drop-down menu and select drive C
  4. Click the “OK” button
  5. Click the “Clean up system files” button
  6. Check the boxes next to the files you want to delete (Temporary Internet Files, Downloaded Program Files, Recycle Bin, etc.)
  7. Click “OK” and then “Delete Files” when asked if you are sure you want to delete

Like Disk Cleanup, Storage Sense allows you to manually view and delete temporary and unnecessary files, quickly freeing up space and increasing disk performance. The tool can also be configured to automatically delete temporary files as well as those from the recycle bin and downloads.

Follow these steps to delete files using the Storage Sense feature:

  1. Open settings.”
  2. Click on “System.”
  3. Click “Memory.”
  4. In the “Memory Sense” section, click “Free up space now” or the “Temporary files” box under “Local Disk C” if you are using Windows 10 May 2019 Update.
  5. Select the content you want to delete, such as downloads, temporary files, recycle bin, delivery optimized files, etc.
  6. Click “Delete.”

To automate Storage Sense and stay ahead of hard drive congestion, do the following:

  1. Open settings.”
  2. Click on “System.”
  3. Click “Memory.”
  4. In the “Memory Sense” section, click “Change how you automatically free up space” or, if you are using the May 2019 update, click “Configure Memory Sense” or “Run Now” in the “Storage” section.
  5. Turn on the Memory Sensor switch.
  6. Use the “Run vault” drop-down menu and select when (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) you want the storage sensor to delete temporary files as well as those in the recycle bin and downloaded.

Disk Cleanup and Memory Detection are great options to start cleaning your hard drive, but there are plenty of other options to consider. Some of the most effective are:

  • Uninstalling Programs: Apps and games take up a lot of space. It’s important to regularly identify which programs no longer serve a purpose and remove them from your hard drive. To do this, go to the control panel and select “Uninstall Panel”. You will be led to a list of all your programs, which you can view by file size, and asked to select the ones you want to uninstall.
  • Eliminate duplicates: Duplicates as a result of repeated downloads do not make any sense and only add to the clutter on your hard drive. You can use CCleaner to manually search for and eliminate these pesky files, or get the support of a third-party application designed to detect duplicate files quickly. There are many tools that can search for duplicates in Windows and other applications.
  • Disabling hibernation: Hibernation is a Windows 10 feature that allows users to shut down the computer while saving the current session, allowing you to easily continue working after starting a backup. Hibernation, while extremely convenient, can take up a lot of disk space. Disabling this feature is a smart move when cleaning your hard drive. To do this, open the Windows Control Panel and select “Power Options”, then the link “choose what the power buttons do”. You will see a link “change settings that are currently available” – check this and uncheck the “Hibernate” box.”
  • Manage your folders in the cloud: Cloud file storage programs like OneDrive and Dropbox are great when your files can only be accessed online. However, once it’s synced with a hard drive, storage quickly becomes a problem. This is especially important if the folders contain movies or photo albums. Share large folders online-only and reserve synchronized folders for those you have access to on a daily basis.
  • Compressing Files and Applications: New Technology File System (NTFS) has a built-in compression feature that can reduce the size of files, folders, and entire drives. Windows 10 also has Compact OS, a utility that can compress applications. Remember that both of these features come with potential risks. NTFS compression can have an impact on system performance, while Compact OS can potentially lead to irreversible damage to the installation. These forms of compression should only be used when all other hard drive cleanup procedures are in place, or in cases where immediate storage is needed and a full computer backup exists.

Whether you just need to clean and protect more space on your existing hard drive, or wipe your entire system clean, these tips should get you started.

Configure Storage Sense in Windows 11

In Windows 11, Storage Sense has moved to the Storage Management section of the Storage Settings page. Find it at the bottom of the screen, under the current disk space graphs. Turn on the Storage Sense switch and click on an entry to configure it.

Check the box next to Keep Windows running smoothly by automatically cleaning up temporary system files and applications. Click the drop-down box under Run Memory Sense and select one of the four options: Daily, Weekly, Monthly, or When Disk Space Is Low.

Click the drop-down box under Delete files from my trash if they haven’t been opened for more than a month and select Never, 1 day, 14 days, 30 days or 60 days. Do the same for Delete files in my download folder if they haven’t been opened longer than.

If you want to clean the disk immediately, click the Run Memory Sense Now button. Wait at least a few minutes for the drive to be wiped. After the process is complete, you will be informed how much disk space has been freed up.

Review OneDrive Files

If you’d rather not automate the process of freeing disk space, Windows still gives you enough information to make your own decisions. As Windows breaks down data into different categories on the Memory Settings screen, you can easily see what types of files are chewing up disk memory and manually freeing up space.

For example, if you are using OneDrive to store and sync files on your computer, click the OneDrive icon and then click View OneDrive. This will display all of your OneDrive files and allow you to view everything and delete what you don’t need.

Quick tip: if you want to delete most files, use the 1 day option. The Downloads folder may contain valuable files downloaded from the Internet, which means that it is recommended that you manually back up these files before running the function.

Get rid of monster files

Most computers are very efficient when it comes to how they store data, but some types of files can eat up memory that cannot be saved.

To see which files are the largest:

  • Open Windows Explorer (File Explorer).
  • Select “This PC.”
  • Enter “size” in the search box in the upper right corner.
  • You’ll be able to choose from several categories of file sizes, from “Blank” to “Giant.”
  • Start with the largest files, checking if they are needed.
  • If not, move your trash can to them and free your computer of the burden.
  • Do this with all of the larger file sizes until you have a reasonable amount of hard drive space.

Use the Disk Cleanup Tool

This handy tool comes standard on Windows 10 PCs and lets you remove unnecessary operating system files with one click. Windows can recognize them and remove the ones it no longer needs.

  • Run Disk Cleanup by asking Cortana or selecting it from the search box.
  • Select “Drive: C” to complete a task that will take several minutes, or longer if this is your first time.

Note: The Disk Cleanup utility is different from the Disk Defragmentation utility. While both are essential for optimal performance, the latter tool helps you manage important files without creating more hard drive space. Be sure to schedule both tasks for the best results.

In this Windows 10 guide, we’ll show you the best ways to free up space on your PC to store more files and install feature updates hassle-free.

Save files to a different drive

If your computer has multiple hard drives or a partitioned drive, you may find that one drive (or partition) is out of space. Luckily, you can fix this by changing the default save locations for apps, documents, music, photos, and videos. To do this, open the Settings menu and go to System> Storage and click the link at the bottom Change where to save new content. You can select a partition or drive – even a removable drive such as a USB flash drive or memory stick – that is connected to your computer to save files by category, including applications, documents, music, photos, and videos.

save the location

Screenshot by Matt Elliott / CNET

Disable hibernate

Rather than shutting down your computer completely, you can put it into hibernation, a quasi-shutdown state that allows your computer to start up faster. When the computer hibernates, it saves a snapshot of files and drivers before shutting down, which takes up space. If fast startup is not your priority, you can reclaim valuable hard disk space by disabling hibernation entirely, as hiberfil.sys can take up gigabytes of disk space.

Click the Start button and search for Command Prompt. Right-click Command Prompt at the top of the search results and select Run as administrator. In the command prompt window, type: powercfg / hibernate off, then press Enter. (If you miss hibernation, you can use the command: powercfg / hibernate to re-enable the feature.)

disable hibernation

Screenshot by Matt Elliott / CNET

Or if you don’t mind spending a few dollars, you can use Duplicate Cleaner Pro, which not only has a nicer interface, but also has tons of extra features to help you find and remove duplicate files.

Free up space clearing Recycle Bin on Windows 10

Windows 10 does not delete files on the hard drive after deleting them. Instead, they are moved to the Recycle Bin and marked for deletion to give you a chance to recover your files if you ever need them. However, since the Recycle Bin can grow over time, emptying its contents is the first thing you can do to free up space.

In Windows 10, when deleting files, the system does not delete them from the hard drive. Instead, they are put in the Recycle Bin if you need them back. However, depending on the feature configuration, the Recycle Bin can take up a lot of space over time, which means emptying the Recycle Bin is one of the first steps you should take to regain valuable storage space.

To empty the Recycle Bin for space reclamation in Windows 10, follow these steps:

Search for Recycle Bin and click on the highest result to open the app.

Quick tip: If the app doesn’t appear as a result, you can open File Explorer (Windows key + E), then type Recycle Bin and hit Enter in the address bar.

Click the Empty Trash button.

Empty Recycle Bin in Windows 10

source: Windows Center

After following these steps, the system will free up approximately 10 percent of the disk capacity (assuming the Recycle Bin is full).

Change Recycle Bin settings

Windows 10 reserves 10 percent of its available space for deleted files. When the threshold is reached, the system will automatically delete files from oldest to newest. If you want, you can adjust the amount of space the system should use for the Recycle Bin.

To reduce the space usage of the Recycle Bin, follow these steps:

    Use the Windows + D keyboard shortcut to bring up the desktop.

Right-click the Trash icon and select Properties.

Open the trash properties

source: Windows Center

In the “Maximum size (MB)” field, specify the maximum hard disk space in megabytes that the Recycle Bin can use on the specified partition.

Recycle Bin Change reserved storage

source: Windows Center

After following these steps, the Recycle Bin will be able to store more or fewer files from the specified location, depending on your configuration.

Free up space removing junk files with Storage Sense on Windows 10

Storage Sense is a feature that allows you to delete various types of unnecessary files (including previous installation files after upgrade and temporary files) to free up space on the primary and secondary drives, to make room for other files and improve disk performance.

Enable Storage Sense

While you can use the Storage Sense feature manually, you can enable the auto start maintenance feature to avoid exhausting space quickly.

To enable the Memory Sense feature in Windows 10, follow these steps:

In the “Memory” section, click Configure Memory Sense or run now.

Open disk space settings

source: Windows Center

Use the “Run Storage Sense” drop-down menu and select the best option for your situation:

Option to enable memory detection

source: Windows Center

After following these steps, Storage Sense will run automatically according to the schedule you set to free up space and improve storage efficiency.

The option to enable this feature is also available on the “Memory” page. However, using this option only activates the default settings. Using the Storage Sense settings page allows you to configure how the feature should delete unnecessary content.

Delete unnecessary files with Storage Sense

To free up space by using Storage Sense, follow these steps:

In the “Memory” section, click Configure Memory Sense or run now.

Open disk space settings

source: Windows Center

Use the Downloads drop-down menu to specify how to clean downloaded files.

Quick tip: if you want to delete most files, use the 1 day option. The Downloads folder may contain valuable files downloaded from the Internet, which means that it is recommended that you manually back up these files before running the function.

In the “Content available locally in the cloud” section, use the drop-down menu to specify how long OneDrive content that is synced to your device remains online-only.

Advanced Settings for Storage Sense

source: Windows Center

Quick note: This option is part of OneDrive’s Files On-Demand, which allows you to access documents, photos, videos, and other files through File Explorer without having to sync them to save space. When your device is running out of space, you can use it to share files only in the cloud. You will still see your files, but their content will only be downloaded when you need them.

Storage Sense is a feature that allows you to delete various types of unnecessary files (including previous installation files after upgrade and temporary files) to free up space on the primary and secondary drives, to make room for other files and improve disk performance.

Reduce the Amount of Space Used for System Restore

If System Restore takes up a lot of hard disk space for restore points, you can reduce the amount of hard disk space allocated to System Restore. The trade-off is that you’ll have fewer restore points to restore and fewer previous copies of files to restore. If these features are less important to you than their hard drive space, free up a few gigabytes by reducing the amount of space used by System Restore.

Nuclear Options

These tricks will definitely save you some space, but they’ll turn off important Windows features. We don’t recommend using any of them, but if you desperately need disk space, they can help:

  • Disable hibernation – the system saves the contents of its RAM to the hard drive during hibernation. This allows you to save the state of your system without any power consumption – the next time you start your computer, you’ll be back where you left off. Windows writes the contents of the RAM to the C: \ hiberfil.sys file. To save disk space, you can disable hibernation entirely, which will delete the file.
  • Turn off System Restore – If reducing the amount of space used by System Restore isn’t enough for you, you can turn off System Restore entirely. You won’t be lucky if you have to use System Restore to get your system back to an earlier time, so be warned.

Remember that you will never get as much space as the disc promises on the box. To understand why, please read: Why do hard drives show the wrong capacity in Windows?

  • ›Keep it simple: Here are the only 4 system and security tools you need in Windows
  • ›How to delete temporary files in Windows 10
  • ›Do you really need to reinstall Windows regularly?
  • ›Five useful (and free) Windows utilities for gamers
  • ›How to Build Your Own Internet Security Suite for Free
  • ›6 ways to free up hard drive space used by Windows system files
  • ›How to shrink VirtualBox and free up disk space
  • ›GORILLA.BAS: How to play the childhood secret MS-DOS game

Chris Hoffman's profile picture

Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is the editor-in-chief of How-To Geek. He has been writing about technology for over a decade, and for two years he was a columnist for PCWorld. Chris has written for The New York Times, has been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations such as NBC 6 in Miami, and his work has been covered by news sites such as the BBC. As of 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read nearly a billion times – and it is right here at How-To Geek.
Read the full biography »

Rate article