10 Ways to Free Up Disk Space on Your Windows PC

BY Lori Kaufman

Published 17 May 2017

10 Ways to Free Up Disk Space on a Windows PC

You’ve had your Windows PC for a few years now. When you first bought the computer, you thought you’d never use up that 1TB of disk space. Now, you’re running out of room. If you’re not ready to swap out the drive for a bigger one, there are ways you can easily free up space for your important programs and files by removing the unimportant and unused junk on your Windows PC.

Today, we’ll show you 10 ways you can free up disk space on your Windows PC’s hard drive if you are getting the annoying ‘low disk space’ warning in the system tray.

Mac users: Your Mac’s Storage Almost Full? 3 Ways to Free up Disk Space on Your Mac

1. Remove Unneeded Files with CleanMyPC

CleanMyPC is a really handy tool that helps you free up disk space and speed up your Windows PC. Using CleanMyPC allows you to avoid running several different apps and doing many things manually. Simply download CleanMyPC, run the scan, and click a button to clean your PC.

Use CleanMyPC to wipe away gigabytes of stuff from your PC. It can delete caches and logs you don’t need anymore, remove extra language files not being used, empty recycle bin folders located on all hard drives, completely uninstall unused programs, and even delete old system restore files.

You can try out CleanMyPC with the free trial version, which only allows you to clean 500MB of unnecessary files, resolve up to 50 registry issues, completely uninstall one application, remove one extension, turn off and on one autorun of an application of your choice, clean any amount of privacy data of your choice only once, and securely erase any number of files or folders only once. A single license of CleanMyPC costs $39.95 and is well worth the money. You can get a discount if you buy two licenses or a family pack of five licenses.

To use CleanMyPC, simply click the “Scan” button on the main screen you see when you open the program. The scan of your computer may take a while, depending on the size of your hard drive and how much CleanMyPC finds to clean up. The program tells you how much was found to clean up. You can click “Show Details” to see the caches and logs, trash and junk, and extra languages that were found and select certain items to clean up. Or, if you just want CleanMyPC to clean everything it found, simply click “Clean”. As you can see in the image below, we were able to free up over seven gigabytes of space on our Windows PC.

Cleanup completed in CleanMyPC.

2. Securely Erase Sensitive Unwanted Files

In addition to the caches, logs, trash and junk, and extra languages, there may be some of your own data files you don’t need anymore and you would like to delete them to free up disk space. However, some of these files may contain sensitive and private information. Simply deleting these files (using the Recycle Bin or by pressing Shift+Delete) does not guarantee that other people can’t recover them. CleanMyPC includes a Shredder feature, available both in the app and on the right-click context menu in File Explorer.

The easiest way to use CleanMyPC’s Shredder feature is in File Explorer. Open File Explorer, select the files and/or folders you want to securely delete, right-click on them, and the select “Secure Erase by CleanMyPC” from the pop-up menu. Then, click “Erase Now” on the Shredder dialog box that displays. An animation of papers being shredded displays in the lower-right corner of the screen until the shredding is done, which could be quick, depending on how much you selected to be shredded. Your files have been deleted without leaving a trace, so they cannot be recovered.

Securely erase files using CleanMyPC.

3. Completely Uninstall Unwanted Applications

Another option to free up disk space is to uninstall applications you don’t use. Most Windows applications come with their own uninstallers. However, they don’t always remove the entire program, leaving behind useless cache files, preferences, or miscellaneous folders. Even the Programs and Features tool in the Windows Control Panel may leave behind pieces of programs.

The Uninstaller feature in CleanMyPC wipes out every trace of an application, even the leftovers of previously uninstalled applications. When you click on Uninstaller on the left side of the CleanMyPC window, your PC is scanned and a list of installed applications displays.

To uninstall an application, select it in the list and click the “Uninstall” button. The factory uninstaller is run and then let CleanMyPC take over and remove the unneeded leftovers. Click “Refresh” to rescan your PC and generate a fresh list of installed applications. There is also a Search box in the lower-right corner of the CleanMyPC window that allows you to find specific applications.

Completely uninstall applications using CleanMyPC.

4. Run the Windows Disk Cleanup Tool

If you prefer using built-in tools to delete unneeded files and free up disk space, Windows includes a tool that deletes temporary files and other unneeded files. To access it, open File Explorer, right-click on one of your hard drives and select “Properties” from the pop-up window. On the Properties dialog box, click the “Disk Cleanup” button. You’ll see a dialog box while Windows calculates how much space can be freed up and the total amount you can free up is listed at the top of the Disk Cleanup dialog box when it opens.

In the “Files to delete” box, check the boxes for the items you want to delete. The amount of space that will be freed up is listed to the right of each item. The total amount you selected displays below the “Files to delete” box. Click the “OK” button when you’re ready to delete the files. Click “Delete Files” on the confirmation dialog box that displays. A progress dialog box displays while the files are deleted and then closes when the deletion is done. The Disk Cleanup dialog box also closes automatically. However, the Properties dialog box remains open, so click the “OK” button to close it.

You can also clean up system files, such as setup log files, non-critical Windows Defender files, temporary internet files, temporary files from programs, and picture, video, and document thumbnails. Read the description of each item before deciding to delete it. There are some items that Windows recommends you don’t delete if you don’t absolutely have to, including the Windows ESD installation files and the Windows upgrade log files. The More Options tab provides access to the Programs and Features tool, allowing you to uninstall applications, and to a tool that will delete all but the more recent Windows restore point.

Once you’ve selected which system files to delete, click “OK” and then click “Delete Files” on the confirmation dialog box. Again, the Disk Cleanup dialog box closes automatically, but you must click “OK” on the Properties dialog box to close it.

Windows Disk Cleanup Tool

5. Analyze Your Computer’s Hard Disk Space Usage

As we mentioned earlier, you might want to delete some of your own data files to free up disk space. However, how can you tell which ones are taking up the most space? WinDirStat is a free program that scans your hard disk and displays which folders, file types, and files are taking up the most space.

NOTE: Do not use WinDirStat to delete programs or any important system files. Use it to see just how much space programs are taking up, if the Programs and Features tool in the Control Panel doesn’t tell you that information. Just make sure you properly uninstall programs, and don’t just delete them.

All the files and folders on your hard drive are listed in a tree format in the top-left half of the window along with the percentage of the total disk space they are taking up, their total size and the number of items, if the item is a folder. The top-right half shows a list of all the file types (file extensions) and how much space each file type takes up, what percentage of the total disk space each type is using, and the number of files of that type exist. The bottom half of the window shows a treemap, giving you a graphical representation of the disk space usage. Each colored rectangle on the treemap represents a file or directory, and the rectangles are nested, representing the files, directories, and subdirectories that are listed in the directory tree above the treemap. The area of each rectangle is proportional to the size of the files, directories, and subdirectories. The colors of the rectangles for files in the treemap match up with the color in the file extensions list in the top half of the window.

You can quickly open a folder in File Explorer by clicking on it in the directory tree in WinDirStat and pressing Ctrl+E. This allows you to view what’s taking up space in WinDirStat and then easily go to File Explorer to further examine the directory and decide what you want to delete. Remember, if it’s a sensitive or private file or entire folder, you can use the Shredder feature in CleanMyPC we discussed earlier to securely delete the file or folder.

Analyze Your Computer's hard disk space usage with WinDirStat.

6. Find Duplicate Image Files

If you have collected a lot of photos taking up room on your Windows PC, you may have duplicate image files you might not be aware of. However, you can use a free tool called VisiPics to find duplicate image files you can delete and free up disk space.

Using VisiPics, you can find duplicate images files even if they have been resized, rotated, edited, or otherwise modified. You can apply different filters such as Strict, which will return almost identical results, Basic, and Loose, which allows for more differences while still finding similar image files. The Auto-Select feature allows you to automatically mark duplicate photos for deletion or to be moved that are smaller and uncompressed, and with lower resolution than their similar counterparts.

VisiPics works with most major image formats: JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PCX, TIFF, TGA and RAW images.

To find duplicate image files using VisiPics, first navigate to the first folder you want to scan in the directory tree, select it, and click the Add button to add it to the list. Add any other folders you want to scan in the same manner. Select the filter you want to use and click the Play button. Your duplicate image files display in the left pane. If you want to automatically select the duplicate files that are smaller and uncompressed, and with lower resolution, make sure those settings are selected on the Auto-Select tab and then click the “Auto-select” button. The duplicate image files that will either be deleted or moved (your choice) are automatically marked. To delete the duplicate image files, click Delete. If you’re not sure you want to delete them, click the Move button to move the image files to another location of your choosing so you can review them first before deciding what to do with them.

Find duplicate image files using VisiPics.

7. Make OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox files Online-Only

If you use cloud services like OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox to store files, you can install the desktop client that allows you to sync the files to your computer. However, if you store a lot of files, especially big files, on these cloud services, the files are also available offline on your computer by default and can start to consume a lot of disk space on your computer. You can choose which folders are available offline and which ones you want to be online only in the desktop clients for OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox.

To make folders available online only in the OneDrive client, and free up disk space on your computer, right-click on the OneDrive icon in the system tray and select Settings. On the Account tab on the Settings dialog box, click the “Choose folders” button. The “Sync your OneDrive files to this PC” dialog box displays. To make a folder available online only, so it doesn’t take up space on your computer, uncheck the box to the left of that folder. You can also click the “>” to the left of a folder to expand it and access the subfolders within it. When you’re done deselecting folders, click the “OK” button. The folders you deselected are removed from your computer, but you can still access them in your OneDrive account online.

You can do the same thing in Google Drive and Dropbox. For Google Drive, right-click the Google Drive icon in the system tray and then click the menu button (three vertical dots) on the pop-up dialog box. Select Preferences from the menu. On the “Sync options” tab on the Preferences dialog box, select the “Sync only these folders” option. Then, uncheck the boxes next to the folders you don’t want taking up space on your computer and click the Apply button. Those folders will be removed from your computer, but you can still access them in your Google Drive account online.

To make folders available online only for your Dropbox account, right-click the Dropbox icon in the system tray and then click the gear icon on the pop-up dialog box. Then, select “Preferences” from the menu. Click the “Account” button at the top of the Preferences dialog box and then click the “Selective sync” button. On the Selective Sync dialog box, uncheck the boxes next to the folders you don’t want taking up space on your computer, then click the “Update” button. Then, click the “OK” button on the confirmation dialog box that displays. The “Selective Sync” button becomes grayed out and reads “Updating”. Once the update is done, click OK to close the Preferences dialog box. The deselected folders will be removed from your computer, but you can still access them in your Dropbox account online.

Make OneDrive folders online-only.

8. Resize the Hibernation File or Disable it

If you need to shut down your Windows PC, but you’re in the middle of working or surfing the web and you want to preserve the state of your system, you can hibernate the system. When you hibernate Windows, the contents of the RAM, or memory, is saved to your hard drive. The current state of your system is saved and the machine is completely shut down. When you boot your computer the next time, all your programs and open documents will be restored the state they were in when the machine was shut down.

Hibernation uses gigabytes of space on your hard drive even if you haven’t used it, just in case you do. If you don’t plan on using hibernation, you can disable it to free up disk space and the hibernation file will be deleted. However, it is useful if you use a laptop and transport it to many different places. You can essentially pause what you’re doing and continue where you left off the next time you boot your computer. If you don’t want to disable hibernation, you can resize the hibernation file (hiberfil.sys), so it doesn’t use quite as much space on your hard drive. Unfortunately, you cannot move the hibernation file to another location.

NOTE: If you use a lot of memory on your computer (run a lot of programs or processes at once), the size of the running processes in memory might become bigger than the hibernation file. and Hibernation mode will not work correctly, causing you to lose your current session. So, be careful not to resize your hibernation file too small for the amount of memory you use.

If you decide to resize your hibernation file to free up disk space, you need to use the command line. To open the Command Prompt window, press the Windows key+R to open the Run dialog box. Then, type “cmd.exe” in the Open box and click the OK button or press Enter. At the command prompt, type the following line and press Enter.

powercfg -h size XX

The “XX” is a percentage of the total memory in your computer, so replace the “XX” with the percentage you want to use. The default percentage is 75% and you can’t go below 50%. For example, you can set it to 55% by entering the following command. Again, the percentage you should use depends on how much memory you tend to use. You can try out different percentages to see what works best for you, but remember that you could lose your session if your hibernation file is too small.

powercfg -h size 55

If you don’t want to use Hibernation mode, and you’d rather have that hard disk space back, you can disable hibernation with one click using CleanMyPC. Open CleanMyPC and click on Hibernation on the left side of the window. Then, simply click the “Turn off” button. The Hibernation item on the left will read “Disabled”. To turn on Hibernation mode again, click the “Turn on” button, and the size of the hibernation file will display on the Hibernation item on the left.

Disable Hibernation Mode using CleanMyPC.

9. Reduce the Amount of Space Used for Windows System Restore or Disable it

In the first section, we mentioned that CleanMyPC will remove all but the latest Windows restore point. However, you can also reduce the amount of space Windows uses for restore points or disable System Restore entirely to free up disk space. Note that if you reduce the amount of space used for restore points, you will have fewer restore points to restore your system from and fewer previous copies of files to restore.

To reduce the amount of space used for Windows system restore points, search for “system protection” on the Taskbar (Windows 10), Start screen (Windows 8/8.1), or Start menu (Windows 7). We’re not going to actually create a restore point right now, but click on “Create a Restore Point” in the search results. The System Properties dialog box opens with the System Protection tab active. Click the “Configure” button to open the System Protection dialog box. In the Disk Space Usage section, drag the “Max Usage” slider to the desired size you want to use for system restore points.

If you really need the disk space and want to disable system restore point completely, click the “Disable system protection” option in the Restore Settings section. We really don’t recommend disabling system restore points completely. They are very useful if something goes wrong with Windows and you need to restore your system to an earlier state.

Change disk space usage for Windows restore points.

10. Add External Storage

Finally, if the above options didn’t free up enough space and you still need more, you can add removable storage, such as USB flash drives, external hard drives, and SD cards. CDs or DVDs can also be used to offload files that you don’t want to delete but that you don’t access or change much and you just want to archive it. If you really need a lot of storage space for your data, you can add high-capacity network drives, such as network-attached storage (NAS) boxes, or a personal cloud, to your home network.

External storage devices in Windows.

How do you free up space on your Windows PC? Do you use any tools we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments.

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