How to safely use Disk Cleanup?

Disk Cleanup is a built-in tool in Windows that helps free up space on your hard drive by removing unnecessary and temporary files. Over time, these files can build up and take up valuable storage space. Using Disk Cleanup regularly is an important part of maintaining your PC’s performance.

However, care should be taken when using Disk Cleanup to avoid accidentally deleting important files. In this guide, we’ll cover how Disk Cleanup works, what files it removes, and tips for using it safely.

What is Disk Cleanup?

Disk Cleanup is a system tool included in all versions of Windows. It scans your hard drive for files that can be safely deleted to free up disk space.

Some examples of files cleaned up by Disk Cleanup include:

  • Temporary internet files
  • Recycle Bin contents
  • Windows error reports
  • Temporary files
  • System files and logs

Disk Cleanup identifies these unnecessary files, allowing you to review and delete them. Typically, anywhere from several hundred megabytes to a few gigabytes can be freed up, depending on your storage usage.

The Disk Cleanup interface shows how much space each file category is taking up. You can choose which categories to delete files from.

Benefits of Using Disk Cleanup

There are a few key benefits to using Disk Cleanup:

  • Frees up storage space. By removing unnecessary temporary files and system files, Disk Cleanup can recover several gigabytes of hard drive space.
  • Improves system performance. Having lots of clutter on your hard drive can slow down your computer. Deleting these files helps speed up system performance.
  • Clears out junk files. Disk Cleanup specifically targets files that are safe to remove to declutter your PC.
  • Easy to use. Disk Cleanup is simple to use, even for those less tech-savvy. And it runs automatically in the background.

Regularly running Disk Cleanup helps ensure your computer runs smoothly and you don’t run out of important storage capacity.

How to Use Disk Cleanup

Using Disk Cleanup takes just a few steps:

  1. Open Disk Cleanup. To do this, type “Disk Cleanup” in the taskbar search and select it from the results.
  2. Select the drive you want to clean up files from, usually your primary hard drive (likely C:), and click “OK.”
  3. Disk Cleanup will scan the drive. This may take several minutes.
  4. Once the scan completes, you will be presented with a list of file categories that can be cleaned up. Review how much space can be saved from each.
  5. Check the boxes next to any categories you want to clean up files from.
  6. Click “OK” and then “Delete Files” to remove the selected file categories.
  7. Disk Cleanup will start removing the unnecessary files, which may take several minutes to complete.

Once finished, open up your hard drive properties to see how much extra free space is available. Running Disk Cleanup just once can recover several gigabytes of space!

What Files Does Disk Cleanup Remove?

When you run Disk Cleanup, what exactly is it deleting from your hard drive? Disk Cleanup targets only specific file categories that are safe to remove.

Here are the main file types that get removed:

  • Temporary internet files. Browser cache and cookies from web browsing.
  • Temporary files. Miscellaneous temporary files created by Windows and applications.
  • Recycle Bin. Permanently deletes all files moved to the Recycle Bin.
  • System error reports. Logs from application crashes and other errors.
  • System file leftovers. Unneeded DLLs, logs, and other system files.
  • Thumbnail cache. Folder thumbnail previews generated by Windows.
  • Setup log files. Logs from installing Windows updates and apps.
  • Downloaded program files. Temporary installation files from downloading apps.

Importantly, Disk Cleanup does NOT delete:

  • Personal files like documents/photos
  • Installed programs and apps
  • Music, video, or other media files
  • Emails or other communications
  • System files currently in use

It sticks to removing junk and temporary files buildup. But caution is still recommended when using it.

Should You Use Disk Cleanup as an Administrator?

Disk Cleanup can be run either as a normal user or with administrator privileges. But should you run it as an admin?

Here are the differences:

  • As administrator – Has permission to delete all file types. Can access protected system files.
  • As normal user – Can only delete user-specific temporary files. No access to system files.

Running Disk Cleanup as a normal user is safer. The worst it can typically do is delete browser temporary files and user-specific caches.

But administrator access allows cleaning up additional system files and logs. This can free up a bit more space.

In most cases, it’s recommended to run Disk Cleanup as a normal user. Only use administrator privileges if you really need to clean up extra system file buildup.

The safest approach is:

  1. First run Disk Cleanup as normal user.
  2. Review space recovered and files deleted.
  3. If additional cleanup is needed, re-run as administrator.

This ensures you don’t accidentally delete important system files. Only enable elevated access once you’re comfortable with Disk Cleanup’s standard behavior.

How to Use Disk Cleanup Safely

While Disk Cleanup is designed not to harm your system, extra caution when running it is still a good idea. Here are tips for safely using Disk Cleanup:

  • Review selections before deleting. Carefully inspect each file category before deleting to ensure nothing important was selected.
  • Backup important files. Consider backing up critical documents, photos, or other data before running Disk Cleanup just in case.
  • Don’t delete if unsure. If you come across file categories that seem suspicious or contain important files, leave them unchecked.
  • Run as standard user first. Only enable admin privileges once comfortable with Disk Cleanup’s behavior.
  • Undo recent deletions. Use a file recovery tool if you accidentally remove needed files.

Following these precautions when cleaning your hard drive can help avoid mishaps.

What to Do If You Delete Important Files

If important personal files, documents, or other data get accidentally deleted by Disk Cleanup, don’t panic.

You have a few options to try recovering deleted files:

  • Restore from backup – If you have backups enabled, you may be able retrieve copies of deleted files.
  • Use file recovery software – Programs like Recuva can scan your drive and recover recently deleted files.
  • Undo recent deletions – The free Disk Drill Basic has a “Recover Deleted Files” protection feature that saves copies of removed files.
  • Contact a data recovery service – For critical business or personal data, a professional recovery service may be able to help recover deleted files.

The quicker you act after deletion, the higher chance of recovery success. Avoid saving new files to the drive or changing system settings until recovery is attempted.

How to Recover Deleted Files Using Recuva

One of the easiest file recovery options is using free software called Recuva by Piriform. Here are the steps to try recovering deleted files with Recuva:

  1. Download and install Recuva from
  2. Open Recuva and select the drive you want to scan for deleted files.
  3. Click ‘Scan’ to search the drive for recently deleted files.
  4. Once complete, select the checkboxes next to any recoverable files you want to restore.
  5. Choose a folder to save the recovered files to.
  6. Click the ‘Recover’ button to retrieve your files.

Recuva can often successfully recover files deleted recently by Disk Cleanup. But recovery chances decrease over time, so run Recuva as soon as possible.

Tips for Improving Disk Cleanup Performance

To ensure Disk Cleanup runs quickly and smoothly, keep these tips in mind:

  • Close other applications – Shut down any other open programs to allow full system resources for cleanup.
  • Run during idle times – Schedule Disk Cleanup when you won’t be actively using your PC.
  • Disable security software – Temporarily turn off antivirus scanners that may slow down the process.
  • Clean up one drive at a time – Focus on one hard drive partition per cleaning session.
  • Disable notifications – Turn off notifications during cleanup to avoid disruptions.
  • Check the hard drive health – Defragment and scan for errors if Disk Cleanup seems abnormally slow.

Following these best practices will help Disk Cleanup complete as fast as possible. The specific cleanup time will depend on how much file buildup needs cleared from your system.

How to Set Up Disk Cleanup to Run Automatically

Instead of remembering to manually run Disk Cleanup, you can set it up to automatically clean your computer on a schedule.

Here is how to set up auto Disk Cleanup in Windows 10:

  1. Open Task Scheduler by searching for it on your computer.
  2. Click Create Task in the right pane.
  3. Name the task “Disk Cleanup” and add any description.
  4. Under Triggers, click New and set a daily, weekly, or monthly trigger depending on your preference.
  5. Under Actions, click New and then Start A Program. Choose Disk Cleanup.
  6. Click Ok to confirm the new action. Then click Ok again to create the scheduled task.

Disk Cleanup will now automatically clean your drive on the recurring schedule you set. You can adjust the frequency depending on how quickly temporary file buildup occurs.


Disk Cleanup is a safe and easy-to-use tool to free up hard drive space by removing unnecessary files. But care should still be exercised when running it to avoid accidentally deleting anything important.

Following best practices like previewing file selections, running first as standard user, and acting quickly in case of deletions will ensure you have no issues. Using Disk Cleanup properly helps your computer run faster and prevents wasted storage capacity.