With the large storage drives on modern PCs, it’s easy for them to become cluttered with unnecessary files over time. Removing these unused files can free up valuable disk space. However, it’s important to be careful about what you delete, as some files are essential for the system to operate properly.
Temporary files are safe to delete and won’t impact system functionality. These include:
- Browser cache – Stores temporary internet files and cookies. Can be cleared within your browser settings.
- Windows Temp folder – Stores temporary app data and logs. Typically located in C:\Users\
- Recent documents list – Can safely be cleared from the Start menu.
- Downloads folder – Unless anything important was saved here, contents can be deleted.
App and Program Files
Application and program files take up significant storage space but shouldn’t be arbitrarily deleted. Consider:
- Uninstalling programs you no longer use will remove associated files.
- Retain installers for programs you may reinstall later.
- Don’t delete files for apps critical to system operation (e.g. registry, .dll files).
- Carefully review folders before mass deleting contents.
Media files like photos, videos and music can consume a lot of space. Tips for managing them include:
- Back up important media to external drives and cloud storage.
- Move less critical files to external storage.
- Delete duplicate, temporary and low quality files.
- Use compression to reduce file sizes if deleting isn’t an option.
System and Hidden Files
Avoid deleting files in Windows folders like Program Files, Windows and Users. Also don’t delete:
- Files and folders that start with a dot “.” – these are important hidden system files.
- Files with .dll, .exe, .sys or .drv extensions – critical system files.
- Files in C:\Windows\System32.
Deleting these system files can cause crashes or prevent apps and Windows from working properly.
Backup files tend to accumulate and can be safely deleted once you verify backups are valid and current. Examples include:
- Windows.old folders from previous Windows versions.
- .tmp, .bak, and .old files containing duplicates.
- Backup zips or disk images no longer needed.
Log files record system events and diagnostic info but can quickly consume space. Consider:
- Clearing logs for apps and services under ProgramData folders.
- Deleting Windows logs in Event Viewer older than a few weeks.
- Reviewing logs before mass deletion to avoid losing important data.
Recycle Bin Files
The Recycle Bin stores deleted files which can be permanently removed by:
- Right clicking the Recycle Bin and selecting Empty.
- Deleting individual files from within the Recycle Bin.
This will free up disk space from the deleted files.
Browser caches allow pages to load faster by storing images, files and webpage data locally. Over time, the cache can grow substantially. It’s generally safe to clear this data to recover space. In each browser, look for:
- Chrome – Settings > Privacy > Clear browsing data
- Firefox – Settings > Privacy & Security > Remove individual cookies
- Edge – Settings > Privacy > Clear browsing data
For optimal browser performance, avoid deleting the cache too frequently.
Downloaded Installers and Archives
Downloaded installer packages (.msi, .exe) and compressed archives (.zip, .rar) can accumulate over time. It’s fine to delete them if:
- The programs they downloaded are already installed.
- You have no foreseeable need to reinstall the programs.
However, retain installers and archives if:
- You may need to reinstall the programs later.
- The downloads contain important files you want to keep.
System Restore Points
Windows automatically creates restore points before major system changes to allow reverting settings. Older restore points can be deleted:
- Navigate to Control Panel > System > System Protection
- Select a drive and click Configure to open the System Protection tab
- Choose a restore point and click Delete
Avoid removing all restore points which provides a safety net against issues.
Desktop and Downloads Folders
The Desktop and Downloads folders quickly accumulate random files. Safely remove their contents if:
- There are no important documents or downloads on them.
- Anything important has been filed away in the proper folders.
Double check before mass deleting files in these locations.
Temporary Windows Files
Old Windows Installation Files
When upgrading from an older Windows version, the old installation files get stored in a Windows.old folder. This preserves files/settings in case you want to revert back. If you are happy with the new version, it’s safe to delete the Windows.old folder.
Having many duplicates of files like photos, music and documents can take up unnecessary space. Safely remove duplicates by:
- Searching for duplicate filenames in File Explorer.
- Using dedicated duplicate finder tools to identify copies.
- Only deleting duplicates after verifying the original files are retained.
Large Video and Audio Files
Video files like movies and audio files like music can quickly consume storage space. Consider:
- Compressing very large files to take up less space.
- Deleting files you will likely never access again.
- Storing files on an external hard drive if you want to keep them.
iPhone and iPad Backups
Regular device backups created by iTunes on your PC can take up many GBs. It’s safe to delete older backups provided you maintain the latest 1-2 backups of each device.
Old System Restore Points
As mentioned earlier, System Restore points allow you to roll back Windows system files and settings if something goes wrong. Very old restore points can be safely deleted to recover space. Avoid removing all restore points.
Downloaded Podcasts and Audio Streams
Applications like iTunes, Spotify and podcast catchers save audio streams and episodes on your local PC by default. These can be deleted if you have finished listening to them, or transferred to external storage if you want to retain them.
Steam Backup Game Files
The Steam gaming platform backs up game files to allow you to uninstall and reinstall games when needed. These backups can be large and safe to remove once the associated games are installed.
Thumbnails and Metadata Caches
Windows and apps create thumbnail previews and metadata caches of images, videos and documents to speed up loading previews. Over time these caches can grow large. They are generally safe to clear out – your files will remain untouched.
Maintaining your PC’s storage can involve safely removing types of unnecessary files without impacting system stability or deleting important data. Focus on clearing out system files like temporary data, browser caches and log files. Also look for user files that can be deleted like duplicates, downloads and backups. But avoid removing critical system, app and hidden files. With some regular maintenance, you can effectively reclaim lost disk space by deleting superfluous files.