Clean Up Disk Space in Windows to Increase Performance

Do you have a computer that is running low on space because you’re store a lot of pictures, videos, or other large files? Once your computer gets low on hard disk space, normal processes begin to slow down and your computer will run painfully slow. There are of course lots of other reasons why your computer might be running slowly, but this post is specifically for those who know they are running low on disk space.

So instead of having to delete files or move things off to USB sticks or external hard drives, you can first try to free up some space on your computer that may be taken up by useless temporary files, old system files or installed service packs. There are also other big space “hogs” in Windows that are set by default to hog disk space and should be reined in as soon as you can! I’ll first talk about these space hogs and then we’ll talk about what tools you can use to clean up old files.

Space Hog #1 – Recycle Bin Size

Why pick on the Recycle Bin eh?? The never-irritating and sometimes life-saving trash can just sits there waiting for us to tell it what to do right? Well, it also takes up a LOT of space that it doesn’t need. The recycle bin uses a percentage of your hard drive in order to store deleted files. However, this percentage is set by default at a very high number and ends up wasting a lot of space.

Here’s how to fix space hog#1. First right click on the Recycle Bin on your desktop and click Properties. Depending on the OS you’re running, the dialog will look different.

recycle bin properties

In Windows XP, click on the Global tab and you can choose Use one setting for all drives or Configure drives independently. It’s usually better to configure the recycle bin for each drive independently since it’s based on the size of the drive, so 5% of a 50GB hard drive is much bigger than 5% of a 20GB hard drive. At the top you’ll see tabs for each partition you have on your computer.

windows xp recycle bin

By default, the slider bar is usually set at something like 12%, which is very high! Unless you are deleting huge files, there will never be a need for a recycle bin that size. A good size is from anywhere between 3 to 5% of your hard drive. Drag the slider bar and you just saved yourself a good amount of space, especially if you have large hard drives. My computer is set to 1% and I’ve never had a problem recovering a file from the bin!

In Windows 7, the recycle bin properties dialog looks a bit different, but the same concept applies.

windows 7 recycle bin

Here they just made it a little more efficient by using only one tab. You can click on each partition and see how much space is currently being taken up. Just change the value to whatever you feel comfortable with. On my D drive, which is 1 TB hard drive, the recycle bin was taking up a whopping 45 GB! That is just ridiculous and totally eating up lots of space that could be used for something else.

Space Hog #2 – System Restore

Another handy little service that can get your computer back up and running sometimes, but again takes up a lot of extra space that is not needed,  is system restore. Also, System Restore only recovers Windows files, not any of your data. So having System Restore enabled on any other drive other than your C drive (where Windows is installed) is completely useless.

To fix this one, right click on My Computer and choose Properties.

my computer properties

Click on the System Protection link in the left hand menu.

system protection

This will bring you to the System Protection dialog and here you will be able to see the current configuration for system restore.

system restore settings

As you can see from my computer, I have a C, D and G drive of which system restore has been turned off on D and G. Again, this is because System Restore does not protect your data, it only protects Windows system files, so you don’t need it for any other drive other than the main system drive. If you click on the C drive and choose Configure, you’ll get the dialog box to set the amount of space.

system protection for c

For system restore, a value between 2% to 4% will be fine. In Windows XP, the default 12% wastes loads and loads of space! In Windows 7, it seems to be a more realistic value like 5%. I have mine set to 2% and even with that, I still have over 10 restore points to recover from if I needed to.

Space Hog #3 – Hibernate

In Windows 7, you may have a lot of space being taken up by the Hibernate option. Basically, it’s not really all that useful anymore since you can just put your computer to sleep. The main issue with it is that it takes up just as much space on your hard drive as the amount of RAM you have. So I have 8 GB on my machine and so it takes up 8 GB on my small 80 GB system partition or 10%! Definitely worth disabling unless you really use it a lot.

Luckily, I wrote up a post on how to disable hibernation in Windows 7 already, so go ahead and do that first!

Space Hog #4 – System Files

The last big space hog I have encountered on Windows machines are system files. These could be old service pack files, old Windows installation files and all kinds of other system files. The best way to clean these up is to simply run Disk Cleanup. Most people think this is a useless tool, but it’s helped me saved over 20 GB on my hard drive. Have you ever used a tool and found a giant folder called WinSXS? Unfortunately, you can’t delete it, but you can trim it down in two ways: disk cleanup and via the command line.

Open Disk Cleanup and click on the Clean up system files button. By default, disk cleanup loads and will clear out some temp files, etc, but you have to click the button to clean out service pack files, etc. If you’ve never run it, you should see the total amount of disk space you gain value jump dramatically. In my case, I had saved over 6 GB when I had first run it.

disk cleanup

Now it’s showing only a little bit more because you can see I already cleaned out the service pack backup files. You can also read my previous post on cleaning up the WinSxS folder using the command line, which may reduce the size even further, so make sure to try it.

service pack backup

Cleaning Up Other Space Hogs

Now let’s talk about some other areas where lots of space gets taken up. First up are temporary Internet files. If you browse the Internet all the time, but never have cleared your cache out, you temporarily files are probably taking up several GBs of space.

clear browsing data

I won’t go into detail here about how to clear your search history and cache files because I’ve already written about it. Follow that link and scroll down to the section for clearing browser history for IE and Chrome. For other browsers, just Google it.

Beyond this, the other major space hogs are harder to find. In these situations, you have to use a third party program to find out where the space is being taken. For example, if you use iTunes and have a bunch of Apple gadgets, the mobile sync directory can be 30 to 40 GB in size (it was for me) because of backups performed whenever you connect a device to the computer. Once you know what’s taking up the space, then you can search online for the best way to delete the data.

TreeSize is a program that has a free version, which works great and quickly lets you see what’s taking up space on your hard drive.


Using this program is how I found out and an Outlook PST file was taking up 3 GB, my mobile sync folder with tons of old backups was taking up 30 GB and that WinSxS folder was taking up 25 GB! Go through each folder systematically and Google anything you don’t understand before you delete it.

The last thing you can do to clean up disk space is uninstall programs via Control Panel and run a program called CCleaner. CCleaner helps automate some of the stuff I mentioned above, so you don’t have to manually do it.


If you do everything I mentioned above, you should definitely be getting at least a few GBs of space back unless your computer is already very optimized. If you have any other space saving tips for Windows, let us know in the comments. Enjoy!

Comments [1]

  1. Thank you very much indeed, freed up some 25 GB on my 160 GB HDD 😉 Cheers!

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