Clean up disk in Windows: How to use onboard clean-up tools

Is there almost no free space left on the drive? Or is it disappearing from day to day, which a glance at Windows Explorer reveals – and you want to put a stop to it? The magic word here is: clean up. If you do this regularly, you will only have to dispose of small amounts of rubbish in your home in the same way as you would with a vacuum cleaner – the situation is different if cleaning is done less frequently. In the latter case, larger volumes are to be removed. It is up to your preference how often you wave the virtual cleaning rag. Good to know: Cautious contemporaries, which often include IT experts, often advise against external tuning tools.

Windows’ own cleaning utilities, on the other hand, are okay, they say. Because with on-board solutions, you won’t damage anything when digitally scrubbing Windows or the drive. And in fact you tackle data ballast conservatively, especially with the disk cleanup embedded in the OS.

The application does not usually have a destructive effect, and Windows usually runs flawlessly after applying the solution. However, the same is often true of third-party system optimizers: if there aren’t too many, use them judiciously (don’t dismiss all the suggested optimization operations unchecked), and ideally have a backup of files captured in the back-hand, pretty much nothing can go wrong. A particularly all-encompassing backup before performing PC tuning is mostly for the paranoid. If you want to do without it, you are welcome to do so. Because if you free up memory on the PC, the ballast in question is swept away here, but the content on your external backup disk (if not compressed, until it is deleted) needs the same capacity.

CCleaner (functionally replaces Disk Cleanup)

Wise Disk Cleaner (similar to CCleaner, but also defragments and trims)

Go to Disk Cleanup in Windows

Since Windows 10 1703, Windows has integrated a disk cleaning function in the Settings app. The related, classic disk cleanup was already used in the days of Windows XP. Microsoft is no longer developing it, but it is in the Redmond-based provider’s operating systems up to the current Windows 11 22H2 (first feature update for the Windows 10 successor). The settings app is not for everyone, some like the control panel more, but it has lost its formerly lavish scope functionally in the context of feature updates for Windows 10 and Windows 11. The Disk Cleanup ranks in terms of “historical”, but is currently still of high quality and for classic operation fans far better than the app equivalent. Because with it you effectively tackle data that is wasted on storage space.

Below we describe a general way to get this garbage collector started in your operating system. What follows is a true myth on the subject and a new fact in Windows 11 22H2. Because the disk cleanup has also lost something in Windows 11, not necessarily in terms of functions, but in terms of relevance – with regard to a somewhat less prominent placement in remote operating system corners.

CCleaner and CCEnhancer: Delete all kinds of junk data

More speed: The best tuning tools

To access Disk Cleanup: The procedure described here applies to Windows 7, Windows 8(.1), Windows 10 and Windows 11. First, press Windows-R to call up the Run dialog. In it you give cleanmgr a. Confirm with the Enter key. If multiple partitions exist, use the drop-down menu to select a different drive section than the default C, if required. The on-board tool alias cleanmgr.exe then inspects that memory area. As a rule, however, the tool does not find any or almost no ballast on non-C drives, so that the endeavor is usually not worthwhile.
The garbage yield from non-C volumes is essentially limited to the contents of the recycle bin. An example that illustrates the sometimes desolate way of working: Did you install Windows in a multi-boot environment, so in addition to the system you just booted, there are other Windows installations on additional partitions? If their drive sections have files that have been trashed, don’t catch them when you use cleanmgr to inspect C:. In order to get rid of recycle bin files on the partitions of the OS that has not just started up, it is necessary to search E: and F: individually starting from the booted C: OS – we thought. But even in this configuration, we weren’t able to empty the trash on the external logical memory sections in the test. But it worked with drive D:, on which no operating system resided (a pure data volume). If you want to clean (more) thoroughly on various existing drives, it is necessary to start up the relevant operating system installations individually, if any are set up there (restart the PC and select one of your entries in the boot manager boot menu, which has been graphical since Windows 8); here it is then necessary to “launch” cleanmgr.exe. From the point of view of Windows and cleanmgr, the system that has just been booted is always C: and the ballast that can be found can be seen in comparison here.
Clean up disk in Windows: How to use onboard clean-up tools

Windows Disk Cleanup automatically deletes unnecessary drive data. In addition, the on-board tool looks at system restore points and installed programs that can be shaken off as an alternative or in addition to memory gain.

In the following articles you will find in-depth help and suggestions for cleanmgr:

Start disk cleanup via drive properties

Alternatively, call up Disk Cleanup by entering its name in the Windows Start menu and clicking on the appropriate search hit. Or you can take a more pragmatic, more memorable route than the cleanmgr command prompt: Open Windows Explorer with Windows-E and right-click one of your drives.

Then call “Properties” in the context menu, alternatively you can do this by double-clicking on one of the memory entries while holding down the Alt key. In the window that opens, click on “Clean” on the “General” tab.

Disk Cleanup loads immediately and scans the drive whose properties you previously visited. Some users implicitly assume that in order to optimize a memory area, you have to call up exactly the properties of that particular area. As mentioned, there is a click on “Cleanup” on the “General” tab for a disk cleanup. To defragment, however, switch to the “Tools” property tab and click on “Defragment now” under Windows 7 or on “Optimize” since Windows 8/8.1 (and under Windows 10, 11). Let’s talk about the myth mentioned above in the article: It is even true in the context of disk cleanup.

Clean up disk in Windows: How to use onboard clean-up tools

You can access Cleanmgr or Disk Cleanup in a very convenient way from the properties of your drives. This screenshot is from Windows 11 21H2. Only up to this OS is it possible to call the function using the properties on the plan.

In fact, drive cleaning refers to that disk section whose properties you previously looked up. When defragmenting, the myth that you have to switch to the appropriate properties (as some web instructions incorrectly suggest) is false: When you click the Defrag button mentioned, the on-board defragmenter dfrgui.exe (has been around since Vista) is always started. and the upper partition listed in it is marked here. This is not necessarily the one that matches the properties window previously in your care. It can (!) be the same drive if you opened the C: properties and the dfrgui.exe interface lists C: at the top; it doesn’t have to (if you have gone to the “Properties” of another drive).

“Clean” button abolished, “Details” fills the breach

A word about the “Clean” button under “General”, see the properties of your drives: This button is available up to and including Windows 11 21H2 (first release of Windows 11). Windows 11 22H2 marks the first feature update for Windows 11 and turns things on their head. So “Clean” is renamed “Details” here. You no longer use this to call up cleanmgr.exe, but the settings app and its cleaning ambitions. Depending on the properties dialog, the application selects a specific drive.

On Windows 7/8.1/10 and Windows 11 21H2, a registry entry specified what should open when you click “Clean”:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerMyComputercleanuppath

In this registration database path there is an entry “(Default)” which is defined as path %SystemRoot%System32cleanmgr.exe /D %c contains. The entry does exist on Windows 11 22H2 systems as well, but its content is irrelevant to the new “Details” button.

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At that time it was possible to change it and then, when clicking on “Clean”, call up a cleanmgr.exe alternative application such as CCleaner (depending on the EXE path entered manually). A modification in the direction no longer affects the “Details” button option. By the way: There is also a registry key for the software that should open when you click the Defrag Properties button. If you have the time to experiment with it, the path is

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerMyComputerDefragPath

Alternatives to Disk Cleanup

CCleaner finds and deletes more junk than Cleanmgr. Due to the more productive thoroughness, the disadvantage that the CCleaner now sometimes reacts sluggishly may not be of great importance to you. Disk Cleanup doesn’t clean the registry, but CCleaner does—and also the filesystem (like cleanmgr does). Another Cleanmgr alternative, BleachBit, is a pure file system scrubber. And with the Eusing Free Registry Cleaner you only clear out the registry, but not the NTFS file system of dead files.
Burnbytes is an open source work and aims to replicate Microsoft’s disk cleanup feature – it’s a project worth keeping an eye on. Cleanmgr fans are most likely to find what they are looking for at Burnbytes or Cleanmgr+.
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