How to: Free up hard drive space

Ever been just using your computer, and suddenly a message pops up saying you need more disk space?

Don’t fret, we’ve all got it at least once!  However, this is no need to run out and buy a new hard drive.  Sometimes, all you have to do is clean up.

A lot of the time, we download files to use once.  This leaves clutter in the download folder, so if you don’t need any of those, you can just delete them.  Often times for Firefox, the download folder is %username%\Documents\Downloads or %username%\My Documents\Downloads.  For Internet Explorer running in Windows Vista, you can find it in %username%\Downloads.  Just open these and delete any files you don’t need.

Another good cleanup tool is Disk Cleanup, which comes baked-in to Windows.  Under the Programs section of the Start menu, go to Accessories/System Tools/Disk Cleanup.  Run it, and select what you don’t need.

As I was checking out this tool, I found something suprizing- I had over 7GB of junk in the Recycling Bin.  This included some dupes of vacation pictures and the Adobe trial downloads- nothing I care about.

Next up, take a quick jog around your computer.  Is there anything you don’t need? Delete old documents you know you’ll never need.  Of course, make sure you back them up first!  Clear out those videos you made when you were first trying out Windows Movie Maker. Uninstall those freebies you know you’ll never use.

Next on the path to recovery is to defragment your hard drive.  It’s under Start/All Programs/Acessories/System Tools/Disk Defragmenter.  What it does is it takes all your files that have been invisibly split across your hard drive and it de-splits and reorganizes them.  This won’t gain much space, but it will speed your file acess slightly.

Another space-freeing way is to use CCleaner to do the heavy lifting.

CCleaner is a system utilities tool that clears personal information, but that includes cache.  Once you download and install CCleaner from here (install the Slim version for no nasty toolbar) then open it.

You should select Cache, but DESELECT (very important!) COOKIES.  If you select cookies you’ll need to log in to every single site again, and reselect all non -logged in settings.

appsccleaner.png - upload images with Picamatic

On the “Windows” tab, select “Temporary Internet Files” and Recycle Bin” to save space without sacrificing some settings.

windowsccleaner.png - upload images with Picamatic

NOTE:  Check “Empty Recycle Bin” for more space-saving.

After no cleaning and no following of the instructions above, CCleaner is offering to save 7.7GB of space.  Even without the Recycling Bin, that’s over 1/2 a GB!  That doesn’t even include Firefox’s cache, which is because you need it to be closed to clear the cache.


So now we’ve cleaned and cleared, deleted and del… whatever.  Let’s check the numbers:


hddfreebeginning.png - upload images with Picamatic

And, of course, the AFTER:

HDDafter.png - Picamatic - upload your images

With over 70GB free, 7GB may not seem like a lot, but on my old laptop, I freed 12GB with this method.


This article has been contributed to dotTech by Locutus. It is copyright 2009 by Jean-Luc Picard (aka Locutus).  Any uses of this article outside of dotTech[.org] will be considered illegal.


This article is copyright 2009 by Jean-Luc Picard.  Any uses of this article outside of dotTech[.org] will be considered illegal.

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  • Lee Daniels

    Having heeded hundreds of Ashraf’s suggestions over the past few years, and grateful-plus for a growing number of intelligent contributors who just teach and share and make plenty of us get sharper and sharper at this, and then, BOOM! Along comes a young pup sneaking in one @$$-kicking dll cache clean. 2040? Ppfff! I’m about to clean more than 4,000 from one computer, more than 10k add’l from 3 others.
    JeanJean, you are HOTD (hero of the day).

    Thank you all. .. many, many times. If Ashraf does not win a Nobel someday, we all owe him in a kick in the keister. Great teaching and sharing.

  • Thanks Locutus. I make regular cleanings that you recommend, so it brings me 2 Mb today.
    For cons, I’m surprised that no one talks about cleaning the DLLcache that I do on a regular basis (not every day of course).
    On win XP-sp3, the directory is under C:\WINDOWS\system32\dllcache.
    I just found 2040 items there. After cleaning, there are still 25 and I removed 336 MB (I get the files from the recycle bin and I put them in a safe place just in case, but until now it was useless).
    For those who don’t know how to do that :
    – select all the files in the directory, right click and select “delete” ;
    – each popup saying the file is a program and asking if you really want to delete it, say NO!!!
    Best regards.

  • AlanR

    The character, Jean-Luc Picard, in Star Trek is portrayed by British (English) Shakesperian actor, (Sir) Patrick Stewart.
    The name seems to have Franco origin, but that really is for the authors to explain.

    I think the real reason for change of avatar to Locutus is just because it is shorter and thus means less typing.

    But who cares.? As it is written “Never mind the plot, just enjoy the story.”

  • Janet

    Aren’t restore points cumulative–like backups that don’t copy the everything but rather just record the changes (thus requiring earlier ones in order to restore)?

  • Janet


    Mike, I went to Windows Cleanup! as you suggested, to check it out. Does it have any advantages over CCleaner, which is what I have been using? Seems to do the same things as all the popular utilities’ cleaners…..

  • One last tip: Throw away your OS so that you don’t have to worry aobut disk space!!! All right just joking :)

  • Darthyoda

    First off, you’re better to defrag last, instead of in the middle, and for defragging, I’d suggest I see a new version’s now out called MyDefrag, but since I haven’t used it yet, I’m not sure how good it is. But with JKdefrag, it’s freeware, but not only does it defrag, it also re-organizes your hd.

    # On most harddisks the beginning of the harddisk is considerably faster than the end, sometimes by as much as 200 percent! See the link to “HD Tune” in the “See Also” chapter for a nice little free program to measure your disk. The default JkDefrag optimization strategy therefore moves all files to the beginning of the volume instead of through out your hd. It is intended for daily use and will simply fill gaps with files from above, very quick and with very little data movement.
    # JkDefrag classifies files into 3 zones: directories (zone 1), regular files (zone 2), and SpaceHogs (zone 3). Directories are perhaps the most accessed data on disk, so zone 1 is placed at the beginning of the harddisk. After the directories comes a free area, then zone 2 with regular files, another free area, and then zone 3 with SpaceHogs (less important files that take up a lot of space).

    Second of all, CCleaner does a lot of what the disk cleanup does, but it seems to be safer. I’ve heard of seam people who ran it, but lost part of the os during the process. CCleaner can also delete the files backed up by updating Windows, as well as the registry entries left behind.

  • Clive

    @Locutus: In my experience the slow down effect is un-noticeable & the gain in disk space is worth giving this idea a try. It’s not like it’s irreversible after all i.e. you can always change the setting back to the default.

  • amnesia

    Your not the only one who thought that.

  • @Jaap: In Star ztrek I think Picard is English.

  • Jaap

    I must be very naive. I really thought Jean-Luc Picard was your real name and that you were a Frenchman.
    I had to use Google and Wikipedia to find the connection between Jean-Luc Picard and Locutus.
    Obviously I am not a Trekkie/Trekker.
    Btw, Jaap is my real name…

  • @amnesia: Yeah- I decided that Jean-Luc Picard was too boring, and so right after I saw the episode with Locutus I changed the username.

  • amnesia

    Haha, when I first sore Locutus at the top, I thought he’d nicked it off Jean-Luc Picard.

  • @bucky: Ah. I was just making sure- sometimes people tend to skim the last part- the part that says “this was contributed by Locutus.”

  • bucky

    I know it was you who wrote the article, Locutus, and I apologize for not referencing that in my comments. However, it was Ashraf who addressed my post, thus my thanks to him. Sorry for any misunderstanding. My comments were directed at his reply and to my continuing reliance on his input. I, too, use CCleaner and Disk Cleaner, as you suggested. I should have acknowledged your writing of the article, which brought to mind the question I posted. Your article confirmed that I was doing something correctly. For that, I am grateful, cuz I’m new at the techy stuff and there’s lots I’m unsure of. Keep writing, both of you. I’ll keep reading and learning!!!

  • @Frienley: Always make sure it is a dupe. Also make sure it is not in any area like Program Files, Windows, %username%/appdata, or anywhere you don’t access directly for file storage. In other words make it only your data files you delete.

  • @bucky: Just for future reference, it was I that wrote the article.

  • bucky

    Thanks, Ashraf. I highly regard your advice on this website and on GAOTD. I’ll stick with Disk Cleanup and try to do everything else manually. I know I’ve got backups of backups of backups of pictures, so maybe I’ll just check for those and leave the other stuff alone. Thanks, too, for the quick response.

  • Frienley

    @Ashraf: I had used the Duplicate File Finder program of Glary Utilities,and deleted few files,then one app of mine is not available.
    Fortunately, I undo this operation in the Restore Center of Glary Utilities.
    But I think some duplicate files in disks where there are not system files could be deleted.Right?

  • @david roper: Yes it will.

  • david roper

    Ah, Compress will indeed make it smaller but won’t it make your PC slower to decompress stuff when it’s needed?

    Just asking.

  • Clive

    After you’ve followed all the tips posted here I have a tip which will gain you even more space on your HDD(s). In XP do this:

    (1) Open My Computer
    (2) Right click on a disc
    (3) Select Properties
    (4) In the General tab tick the box beside “Compress drive to save disk space”.
    (5) Click on Apply

    Using this method “saved” me 20 Gb.

  • Ashraf

    @bucky: Do not delete anything! You see the problem with most of these “Duplicate File Finders” is that they are very inaccurate. Chances are many of the files it is telling you are duplicates are actually needed by you. I never suggest anyone to use any duplicate file finder regardless of who it is made by. By design these types of programs are just flawed.

  • bucky

    Along these same lines, maybe someone can help me — a relative newbie. I just ran Glary Utilities Duplicate File Finder program and came up with LOTS of duplicates showing in the Program Data folder and the User folder. Is it OK to delete from one of these folders? If so, which one? I’m not sure which is the most important one to keep, though anything with “Program” in it always sounds important, doesn’t it??? I’ve been working on a “before school starts cleanup” and have freed up some space, but would like to get as much of the junk out as I can because I know more junk will be going in once school starts. Thanks to all of those with much more knowledge than I have; I visit this website daily and have learned a lot from all of you who are willing to share your knowledge, almost always in terms I can understand. It’s much appreciated!

  • @Jaap: Ah OK. I was just cleaning the hard drive, not your privacy (:

  • Jaap

    @Locutus: When writing about CCleaner you wrote: “DESELECT (very important!) COOKIES. If you select cookies you’ll need to log in to every single site again, and reselect all non -logged in settings.”

    That is not completely true.
    After you’ve opened CCleaner, do not right away click on the button ‘Cleaner’, but first on the button ‘Options’ > Cookies. There you can choose which cookies you want to hold. After you have done that, click on the button ‘Cleaner’ en al the other cookies will be removed. That’s how I do it.
    Ccleaner will remember your choices.

  • @Giovanni: Disk Cleanup includes old restore points on Windows XP.

  • Ashraf

    @Giovanni: I didn’t write the article.

  • etim

    Also, remember—you can decrease the size of your recycle bin.
    The default on my XP was set at 10% of the total HD. Apparently this space is held in reserve and not available for other files; I can’t justify that much room used up for what I consider to be just a safety catch zone for accidentally deleted files.

    Restore points–I’ve found it easier to just set the limit of restore points to 3-5 rather than having to go back and manually delete old points.

  • MikeR

    Nice tip for those who inexplicably allow their hard drives to become full of junk without realising it.

    But of course, they shouldn’t get into that position in the first place because a daily clean takes, well, mere seconds with Steve Gould’s beautifully simple, non-aggressive and

    F A S T

    freeware cleaner:

    Windows Cleanup!

    I use it at the end of every Internet session, and sometimes during ’em if I’ve been to an online banking or online savings site; I have the Windows Cleanup icon in my QuickLaunch bar.

    Here’s Steve’s home page. The Cleanup! link & info is top right:

    Over the years I’ve found Steve’s little offering faster, better, smaller and more dependable than the mighty Crap Cleaner.

  • Giovanni

    Hi Ashraf!!

    I think you missed out to mention other 2 great space-freeing ways to free up the HD space gaining a lots of space in return.


    Simply by removing useless old back up RESTORE POINTS and old WINDOWS XP UPDATE BACKUP FILES from your system….as simple as that…LOL!!

    In fact just a few people know that WINDOWS automatically creates several RESTORE POINTS at regular intervals (usually every day) or at the time of significant system events such as the installation of a new software or device driver.

    At the same time WINDOWS makes a BACK UP of all the files that will be replaced by the new patches/hotfixes every time you install them on WINDOWS UPDATE, as precautionary measure to revert your computer into its prior state should the UPDATES cause problems to your system.

    In fact, every time you update Windows, the backup files are stored in your Windows system folder in hidden mode meaning that, over the medium and long term, these backup files, along with the RESTORE POINT ones, will accumulate using a large size of your hard disk space, but if an UPDATE causes problems to your system, this will usually become evident soon after receiving the update.

    So there is no need for users to keep BACKUP FILES older than a few weeks should their PC work fine after applying the windows patches/hotfixes.

    TUNE UP UTILITIES has a feature able to perform both tasks above mentioned easily and smoothly.

    Alternatively, to safely remove Windows XP Update Backup Files from your system you can also use this tool (I had already sent it via email a couple of days ago but it looks like you have ignored it, maybe because you use only that big FLOP of OS called VISTA used by only 20% of PC [LAPTOP] USERS around the world…right??):

    I’ve just used it a few hours ago along with TUNE UTILITIES and as a result of that I was able to clear up almost 4 GB of useless old backup updates in one go.