How do I delete files from a full disk?

Having a full hard drive can be incredibly frustrating. You may find yourself unable to save new files or download anything new because your disk is maxed out on space. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to delete files and free up room on your crowded hard drive.

What Causes a Disk to Become Full?

There are several common reasons your hard disk may become completely full:

  • Saving too many files – Photos, videos, documents, and other files can quickly eat up space.
  • Installing large programs – Games, creative suites, and other large applications take up a lot of room.
  • Failing to empty the Recycle Bin – Deleted files sit in the Recycle Bin until it’s emptied, taking up space.
  • Unnecessary app data – Apps sometimes store cache and other temporary files that aren’t needed.
  • Downloads folder – Saved files from the internet go here by default and can fill up fast.
  • Sync folders – Syncing folders like Dropbox across devices duplicates files and takes up extra space.

Keeping track of what’s using up room on your hard drive and deleting unnecessary files are key to freeing up disk space.

How to See What’s Taking Up Space

First, you’ll want to identify which files and folders are taking up the most room on your crowded disk. Here are the steps to do this on Windows and Mac:

Check Disk Usage in Windows

  1. Open File Explorer
  2. Right click on the hard drive you want to examine (usually Local Disk C:)
  3. Select “Properties” from the menu
  4. Under the “General” tab, see a breakdown of disk usage by type
  5. Go to the “Disk Cleanup” tab and click “Clean up system files” to remove any unnecessary Windows files

Check Disk Usage on Mac

  1. Go to Finder and click on your hard drive
  2. In the General section, see a visual breakdown of storage by category
  3. Click “Manage” to see more details and delete files
  4. Go to About This Mac > Storage > Manage to see specific apps and files

This will show you a quick visual of what is using the most space. You can then dig deeper to see which specific folders and files are the biggest culprits.

How to Delete Files

Once you’ve identified which files are safe to remove, here are some tips for deleting them:

Use your computer’s file manager

Open up Windows File Explorer or the Mac Finder to browse and delete files manually. This works well for clearing out a few large files or folders.

Empty the Recycle Bin and Trash

Make sure to empty the Recycle Bin in Windows or Trash on Mac to remove deleted files from the hard drive permanently.

Use the Disk Cleanup utility

Disk Cleanup in Windows allows you to safely delete system files, temporary files, and other items that are safe to remove.

Uninstall unused programs

Uninstalling apps you are no longer using can recover significant disk space. Make sure to use the uninstall feature in the Control Panel or Settings menu and not just delete the program folder.

Move files to external storage

An external hard drive, USB flash drive, or cloud storage can help hold files that you don’t need regular access to but don’t want to delete forever.

Use AutoCleanup software

Programs like CCleaner or CleanMyPC scan your drive and safely remove unnecessary junk files with one click.

What Files Can Be Deleted Safely?

It’s crucial to be careful when deciding what to delete, so you don’t remove anything important. Here are some types of files that are normally fine to remove:

  • Temporary files – Cache, cookies, browsing history, and other temp files built up by apps and your browser.
  • Downloads – Installation files (.exe, .dmg) and disk images (.iso) are safe to delete after installing or using them.
  • Duplicates – Extra copies of photos, videos, docs, and other personal files that exist in more than one folder.
  • System logs and reports – Log files (.log) and system reports generally aren’t needed long-term.
  • Old apps – Uninstall programs you no longer use.
  • Unused languages – Delete language files for any languages you don’t use.

Types of files to avoid deleting if possible:

  • Personal photos and documents
  • Work files or projects currently in progress
  • Programs you use regularly
  • Music, video, book, and game files you still enjoy
  • System and program files (unless you know it’s safe)

Free Up Space on Popular Apps

Some apps are notorious for building up cache and junk files that can be safely deleted. Here are tips for a few common space hogs:

Windows System

Use the built-in Disk Cleanup utility to remove temporary files, logs, error reports, and more. Can recover several GB of space.


Clear the browser cache and browsing history to delete temporary internet files. Uninstall extensions you don’t use.


Cloud syncing apps like Google Photos and iCloud retain copies of photos unless deleted. Remove duplicates, blurry shots, and old images you no longer need.

Music and Video

Delete any media files you don’t listen to or watch anymore. Remove CD rips you’ve copied to digital.


Sort through attachments and delete large files. Empty the Deleted Items folder. Turn on auto-cleanup for spam and trashed mail.

Downloads Folder

Delete installers, disk images, ZIP files, and other temporary downloads you no longer need. Move active projects to a working folder.

Preventing a Full Disk in the Future

Once you’ve cleared space, take preventative steps to stop your disk from filling up again:

  • Delete files you don’t need regularly
  • Save new documents/media to an external drive
  • Use cloud syncing selectively
  • Limit how many backups are retained
  • Set download folders to redirect to external storage
  • Uninstall apps you’re not using
  • Use hard drive optimization software to clean and organize

When to Upgrade Your Hard Drive

If your disk is constantly maxing out on space even after deleting files, it may be time for an upgrade:

  • Upgrade to a larger internal hard drive with more storage capacity.
  • Add a second internal hard drive if your computer has space.
  • Use an external USB hard drive to plug in more storage.
  • For laptops, upgrade to a larger solid state drive (SSD).

Upgrading hardware may cost money but can provide more permanent relief if you’ve outgrown your current disk space.

Free Up Space By Deleting Files: Step-By-Step

Follow this step-by-step guide to effectively find and delete files to free up a full hard drive:

  1. Scan your disk usage. Use Windows File Explorer or Mac Finder to see a breakdown of storage by category.
  2. Identify large files. Sort folders by size to see which files and directories are largest.
  3. Open and delete. Manually open bloated folders like Downloads, Music, Photos and delete unneeded files.
  4. Remove duplicates. Use the “show duplicates” feature in your file manager to delete extra copies.
  5. Clear cache and temporary files. Empty the browser cache and download history, clear out temp folders.
  6. Uninstall apps.Completely uninstall programs you no longer use.
  7. Empty the Recycle Bin and Trash. Empty the Recycle Bin and Trash to complete the deletion process.
  8. Try cleanup software. Use CCleaner or other utilities to automate the deletion of junk files.
  9. Move active files. Copy important files to external storage to store long-term.

FAQs about Managing a Full Hard Disk

Is it bad to have a hard drive completely full?

Yes, having zero free space on your hard disk can cause serious performance issues. A full disk significantly slows down write speeds, decreases available RAM, and can even prevent new programs from installing. Ideally you want at least 10-20% free space.

What happens when your C drive is full?

The C drive is usually where Windows and your personal files are stored. If C is completely full, Windows may become unstable and prone to crashing. You’ll have trouble installing apps and updates or saving new files. Clearing space on C should be a priority.

What takes up the most space on my hard drive?

Photos and videos usually consume the most disk space for personal users. Games, creative suites, and big productivity programs can also bloat storage for some. Temporary files, cached data from browsers and apps, and backups may wind up using lots of hidden space as well.

Is it safe to delete Program Files?

No, you should never manually delete the Program Files or Program Files (x86) folders. This contains critical system files Windows needs to operate. The same goes for deleting C:\Windows\ files. Leave these folders alone and only delete specific programs using the official Control Panel uninstall process.

How do I free up C drive in Command Prompt?

You can use the “DEL” command in Command Prompt to delete files and folders. However, it’s usually safer to delete files through File Explorer. Running the Disk Cleanup utility from within Command Prompt can safely free up space from temporary files and system files.

File Type Safe to Delete?
Downloads Usually
Temp Files Yes
System Files Rarely
Duplicates Yes
Unused Apps Yes
Photos and Videos If not needed


Running out of free space on your hard drive can happen to anyone. Photos, videos, apps, and cached files all slowly eat away available storage. Fortunately, with some diligent file management, useless data and duplicate files can be deleted to open up precious disk space again. Just be sure to methodically target non-essential files for removal, and avoid deleting any active system files and folders. Follow the steps outlined here to safely clean a full hard drive and prevent it from clogging up again soon.