How to Free-up Disk Space on your Windows PC

If your using Windows computer is running out of disk space, here are few steps you should absolutely do to instantly recover tons of free space.

1. The Obvious Methods to Free Disk Space

a. Use CCleaner to quickly clear your Windows recycle bin, temporary Internet files, log files, memory dumps and other stubborn files that don’t show up in Windows Explorer. CClean also provides an option to clean your unused Windows Registry keys and your browser cookies but that won’t save any disk space.

b. Use Revo Uninstaller (the free version) to remove software programs, game demos and other stuff that you no longer use. Revo has a useful “hunter mode” to help you uninstall programs that are not listed in the “Add/Remove Programs” section of the Control Panel.

c. Use either WinDirStat or Space Sniffer to locate files that are taking the maximum amount of space on your hard disk and either erase the unnecessary ones or move them to another partition. You may also use Windows Desktop Search to easily find the largest files on your system from Windows Explorer.

d. Use Duplicate Cleaner to find duplicate files on your hard disk. These may include videos, documents, MP3s, zip archives, images and all other types of files. Duplicate Cleaner compares the MD5 hash of files - not just the file names or their byte size - and is thus pretty accurate at identifying duplicates. Another good alternative for removing duplicates is Duplicate File Finder – this is more suitable for novice users.

e. Check your downloads folder and get rid of all the program installers, driver packages, ISO files, IPSW files, virtual machines, and other bulky files that you may have downloaded from the Internet.

f. If you enjoy watching video podcasts, it may be a good idea to delete old episodes from the disk. iTunes, Zune and most other podcasting software offer easy options to automatically delete podcast episodes that either too old or have been watched.

g. iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users should consider deleting device backups from the computer to reclaim space. Open iTunes – > Preferences – > Devices and delete all backups of your iOS devices but for the most recent one.

h. If you have been an Outlook user all your life and only recently migrated to Gmail, you can backup Outlook’s bulky PST files to Gmail and then move them to another drive for safekeeping. All your old emails can be easily access from Gmail itself.

2. The Not-So-Obvious Ways to Recover Free Space

a. Get Rid of the Shadow Copies

When you install new software program, update device drivers or apply patches and hot-fixes on your computer, Windows will automatically store a snapshot of your system before making the changes. This helps because if something stops working after the installation, you can easily restore your system to the last working state.

Other than system files, Windows also stores backup copies of data files (like documents, pictures, etc.) on your computer which may come really handy if you accidentally modify or delete the original files. Technically, these are known as shadow copies and the feature is available in all editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7.

If you have been using your computer for some time, the disk space consumed by these restore points and shadow copies may easily run in gigabytes. You can either remove all the restore points from your system or, if you would like to play extra safe, you can keep the new restore points and just get rid of the old ones.

Click the Windows Start button and type cmd in the search box (not the Run dialog). Now press Ctrl + Shift + Enter to open the command prompt with Administrator privileges. Click Yes if you are shown the User Access Control Window.

Now type the following command to remove only the old shadow copies:

c:\>vssadmin delete shadows /for=c: /oldest

Or, if your system is working normally, use this command to remove all the shadow copies.

c:\>vssadmin delete shadows /for=c: /all

Command Line is quicker but if you prefer the visual option, launch Disk Cleanup from the Start Menu and choose Clean up System Files. Switch to the “More Options” tab and choose “Clean up” under System Restore and Shadow Copies to delete all but the most recent restore point on the hard disk.

b. Make the Service Pack Permanent

When you installed Service Pack 1 (SP1) on a Windows 7 machine, it saves the installer packages in c:\WINDOWS\WinSxS folder. These would be required in case you want to uninstall SP1 later but if that is unlikely to happen, you can remove the SP1 backup files and reclaim some lost space.

Launch Disk Cleanup, choose Clean up System Files, select “Service Pack Backup Files” and delete. Alternatively, you may run the following command as an admin:

c:\>dism /online /cleanup-image /spsuperseded

You may have to reboot the machine after the dism command. If you are on Windows Vista, you may also use the Vista Cleaner utility to clean the Service Pack installer files.

c. Reserve Less Space for Restore Points

Windows will continue to save new restore points until all the disk space reserved for saving restore points is filled up. That means if you have less reserved space, the old ones will get deleted more quickly to make room for new restore points.

Go to Windows Start – > Run and type sysdm.cpl to open the System Properties dialog. Click the “System Protection” tab, choose your current drive (C:) and click Configure. Set the Max Usage anywhere between 3% and 5% of the total disk size. Apply the changes.

Now that you have recovered some important space, go back to the “System Protection” tab and click Create to to capture of snapshot of your system in its current working state – just to be on the safe side of things.

Also see: Reinstall Windows from Scratch

Amit Agarwal

Amit Agarwal

Google Developer Expert, Google Cloud Champion

Amit Agarwal is a Google Developer Expert in Google Workspace and Google Apps Script. He holds an engineering degree in Computer Science (I.I.T.) and is the first professional blogger in India.

Amit has developed several popular Google add-ons including Mail Merge for Gmail and Document Studio. Read more on Lifehacker and YourStory


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