Windows 11 has a powerful set of tools for managing storage on your PC. It detects the location of large unused files, automatically clears temporary files, and empties the Recycle Bin on a schedule.
Check what content is using storage space
Every program installed on your computer takes up space, and generally speaking, most programs generate temporary files when they run, and some even cache files for faster access. All files, pictures, and videos you download also take up space. If you have a small to medium-hard drive, or just keep everything you download, having too little storage space might bother you.
Still, Windows 11 includes tools that make it easy to determine how space is being used. Most of the tools included with Windows 11 to manage storage can be found in the Storage menu.
To access it, click the “Start” button, then type “storage settings” in the search bar and press Enter. You can also open the Settings app and navigate to System > Storage Settings.
At the top of the window, you’ll see a breakdown of the current usage of your computer’s storage. Any category can be clicked to provide more detailed information. In addition to the first few categories listed, more categories can be viewed by clicking “Show more categories”.
You may need to take a moment to look at what’s taking up space on your computer. Click on each category, such as “Other”, to see more details. If you store a lot of large or infrequently accessed files on your computer, you might want to back up those files to an external hard drive or cloud service.
Free up space by setting
To free up some space quickly, click Temporary Files, and if you don’t find it, click Show More Categories and you should be able to see it.
The Temporary files page tells you specifically what kind of temporary files are on your PC. There may be more types of temporary files displayed on your screen than in the example. It is safe to remove all of them, so select what you want, and then click “Remove files.”
Then, in the top left corner of the Settings window, click the back arrow to go back to the previous screen.
In addition to this, the two options “Storage Sense” and “Cleanup recommendations” also contain features useful for maximizing available space.
“Cleanup recommendations” should get you some useful advice.
Cleanup Recommendations will display things Windows 11 thinks you can delete to save space. Review the recommendations here and remove things you don’t need.
Be careful: Windows may recommend deleting files you want to save. Specifically, be careful of “Large or unused files.”
Finally, click the back arrow again, and then click “Storage Sense.”
Storage Sense is the utility Windows 11 includes to automatically try to free up storage on your PC. At the very top, there is an option to clear temporary system and app files. Make sure it is enabled.
The “Automatic User content cleanup section” can be used to free up space when Windows detects space is running low or on a set schedule. Click the toggle at the top to enable it. Then, look through the menu items and select the options you like.
Again, be careful with auto-deleting downloads. Recovering deleted files with Windows File Recovery is much more difficult than deleting them in the first place. However, if you have OneDrive installed, you also have the option to delete local copies of files that have been backed up to the cloud. Close the window after setting up Storage Sense to your liking.
Free up space by cleaning up the disk
The other utility included in Windows 11 is called “Disk Cleanup.” To launch it, click the Start button, type “Disk Cleanup” into the search bar, and then hit Enter. If you have multiple hard drives, you’ll be prompted to select the drive you want to clean.
Most of the cleaning options in Disk Cleanup are the same as the ones in the Storage menu, so feel free to use Disk Cleanup if you prefer it. The important addition is “Clean up system files.” Click that. Disk Cleanup will run for a few seconds while it locates files.
Once it is done running, a few new cleanable items will have been added to the list. Some of them, like Windows update files or files related to previous installs of Windows, can be very large.
The new items are generally safe to delete, but some of them are error log files. That means if there is a problem with your computer, it may be more difficult to troubleshoot. However, new error logs will be generated if or when the error occurs again. Once you’ve selected what you want to clean, click “OK” at the bottom right.
You also need to clear your browser data
Browsers store a lot of data. Browser cookies and your browsing history use only a tiny amount of space, but your browser cache can become quite large — on the scale of gigabytes — if it isn’t cleaned regularly. The cache stores some of the information from the websites you visit. That way, on repeat visits, your PC doesn’t have to download all of the information from that website again. It can load a local copy instead. Ideally, this saves time—especially if you don’t have blazing fast internet or you frequent websites with lots of images.
Luckily, clearing your browser data is simple and risk-free. Just be sure not to wipe any saved passwords! You could also configure your browser to automatically clear your browsing data every time it is closed.
Try a third-party app
There are a variety of third-party programs that are available to clean up temporary files, remove large, unused files, and clear your browser’s data. In general, these programs don’t offer anything you can’t do yourself or with the tools built into Windows 11, but they do offer a one-click option that can be convenient.
The most popular option is CCleaner. CCleaner can be configured to clean any files generated and stored by browsers, Windows, and dozens of other programs on your computer. CCleaner’s default settings are pretty safe – it will clean temporary files generated by Windows and some supported programs, empty the Recycle Bin, and delete some browser data like history, cookies, and cache.
If you’re going to modify the things CCleaner cleans, or utilize the Advanced tab, make sure you double-check what it is first. Accidentally deleting the passwords saved in your browser could result in a lot of unnecessary work.
Can’t clean registry
CCleaner and other third-party programs include registry cleaners. Registry Cleaner promises to save space, improve system stability, and make your PC run faster by removing old registry entries. Please remember not to use them. Always make sure to backup your registry if you want to.
The Windows Registry is where Windows 11, and many of your installed programs, store their settings. It is how Windows 11 knows where to find programs, what programs are associated with a given file type, what settings to use when a program runs, and countless other things. The registry is made up of “keys,” which are analogous to folders, and each key can hold multiple “values,” which are like files. Each key is associated with a specific function or program on the computer, and each value controls a specific setting. If you’re careful, modifying the registry can be a useful way to customize Windows.
Sometimes when a program is removed, the registry keys associated with that program are left behind. However, these individual keys are tiny. Even the size of the entire registry on a computer that has been in use for years will be small compared to the storage capacity of modern hard drives.
Deleting or modifying registry keys has some risk. Deleting a key that is essential to Windows 11 could break the operating system; deleting a key essential to a program you’ve installed could break that program. CCleaner is pretty well designed and is unlikely to cause a problem like that. Even so, you’re much better off losing a few megabytes of storage than you are accidentally deleting something important from your registry.