Free Hard Drive Space with Disk Cleanup

Step One: Find the Disk Cleanup Utility

"Disk Cleanup" will be in the "Programs" area after typing it in Windows 7's search window.

If your computer is running out of hard drive space, it can cause a number of problems. You may not be able to add programs, since there isn't enough room left on the drive. It can also slow down your computer, because there's more stuff on it for the operating system to search through. In addition, your PC occasionally uses your hard drive like RAM, temporarily storing data on it (this is known as "paging") for a program to retrieve quickly. If you don't have space on the drive, it can't be paged, which can further slow down your machine.

Windows includes a program called "Disk Cleanup", which finds data that may be unnecessarily clogging your hard drive, and deletes it (with your permission); this tutorial will take you step-by-step through Disk Cleanup, and how to use it.

First, click on the "Start" button, and type "disk cleanup" in the bottom search window. You'll see "Disk Cleanup" at the top; click on it to open.

Select the Drive to Clean Up

Select which drive you'll clean up. The default drive for most systems will be the "C:" drive.

After the program opens, a window will ask you which drive you want to clean up and add more space to. In most cases, this will be "C:", your primary hard drive. But you can clean up any drive on your system, including flash drives or external hard drives. Just choose the correct drive letter. In this case, I'm cleaning up my C: drive.

Disk Cleanup Main Screen

The main screen gives options on what files or folders you may want to delete to free up space.

After choosing the drive to clean up, Windows will calculate how much space Disk Cleanup can free up. Then you'll see the main screen, shown here. Certain files or folders will be checked, and others may be unchecked. Clicking on each item brings up a description of what the files are for, and why they may be unnecessary. It's a good idea here to accept the default items. You can check other unchecked items if you're certain you won't need them, and need more space freed up. Just make sure you don't need them! If you're not sure whether you need them or not, keep them. When you're done that process, click "OK" at the bottom.

The Windows Disk Cleanup Progress Bar

A progress bar shows you what files are being deleted when.

After choosing OK, a progress bar will track the cleanup process. When it's done, the bar will disappear and the files will have been deleted, freeing up additional space. Windows doesn't tell you that it's finished; it just closes the progress bar, so don't worry that it doesn't say it's finished; it is. You should then notice that your hard drive is emptier, and things may run faster, too.