Do a clean sweep: How to delete unwanted files and programs
Ever wonder how to clean out your computer? Many people do, because it’s not unusual to have your PC’s hard disk filled with games and other programs you no longer need. In fact, some technology analysts believe that we use less than 10 percent of the programs installed on our computers. The following instructions describe how to safely—and easily—uninstall old or unused programs and remove files from your Windows-based computer.
If you are looking for information on how to eliminate all of the personal files from your computer—before you resell it, for example—the directions in our article, Protect and purge your personal files, are sure to help. If you want to make sure that your computer is clean, as in free of viruses and malicious software, the Malicious Software Removal Tool and Microsoft Safety & Security Center are great places to start. If you need to know how to clean a computer hard drive, read on.
Decide which programs to purge
When planning a disk cleanup, the first step is to decide which programs you no longer need. You may want to keep only the programs you use regularly. For example, has it been a year since your child played that action game? Chances are good that you still have the original CDs anyway (if you want to reinstall it later), so perhaps it's time to wipe it off the hard drive.
If you don't know the purpose of a program that's on your hard drive, you can always use a favorite search engine, such as Bing, to see what it is. For example, if you don't plan to buy a camcorder, remove any preinstalled video-editing software that may have come bundled on your PC.
If it helps, make a list of programs you want to keep and others you can do away with or store on disk.
Delete unused programs, beginning at the Start menu
While it’s easy to remove software, many novice computer users believe a program can be removed by simply deleting the program’s icon from the desktop. This method doesn’t work because the icon is only a shortcut to the real program, which consists of many files.
You can uninstall programs from your computer by using one of two methods, both located on the Start menu:
Uninstall from the All Programs list
Click the Start menu, and then click All Programs (or Program Files) to see a list of programs installed on your computer. Programs installed as part of a program group are identified by a folder icon in the list. When you click the program group, you should see an option that enables you to remove or uninstall the program. Click this option, and then follow the on-screen wizard to safely remove the program from your PC. You may be asked to restart your computer. Don’t restart the PC until after you have saved any files that are open.
You can follow an on-screen wizard to safely remove programs from your PC.
Uninstall from Control Panel
Some programs don’t give you the option to uninstall them from a program group, but you can uninstall them from Control Panel.
On the Start menu, click Control Panel, and then, under Programs, do one of the following:
It may take a few seconds for this page to open, but when it appears, you’ll see a long alphabetical list of installed programs.
When you see the name of a program you no longer want on your hard disk, click it, and then do one of the following:
Follow the prompts. A progress bar shows you how long it will take to safely remove the program. When it's finished, you will see the list again.
Go through the list, but leave those programs that you are unsure of. And don’t remove a program group if you use one of the programs. For example, if you use Microsoft Works Database, don’t uninstall Microsoft Works, because Works Database is part of it.
When you uninstall a program, you may also get a message that says that uninstalling the program may remove a file that is shared by another program. To be safe, keep these suggested files on your PC (they shouldn't take up much room on your hard disk, anyway). When you uninstall a game, the program may ask if you want to keep saved game files. If you think that you will reinstall and play this game again, you can choose to keep the files.
Use System Restore
Your PC automatically creates restore points while you use your computer. That way, if you accidentally delete a program that you want to keep, you can restore your PC back to an earlier time to get the program back. To restore, on the Start menu, click All Programs (or Program Files), click Accessories, and then click System Tools. Click System Restore, and the program will guide you through the steps.
Learn more about System Restore:
Scan your computer for performance and security problems
You can also download a free safety scan from the Internet for your computer. The Windows Live OneCare safety scanner includes a virus and spyware scan, a free registry cleaner scan, and more. And while you’re doing these cleanup chores, you can also download and run Security Essentials to help ensure that your computer is free of viruses, spyware, and other malicious programs—at no charge.
This article focuses on uninstalling entire programs, but it's even easier to delete individual files. If your musical tastes have changed since you went through that country-and-western stage, you can easily delete downloaded music files or at least burn them to a CD to free some space on your PC.
Go to Computer (or My Computer) or Windows Explorer, highlight the files that you no longer want on your hard disk, and press the Delete key (or right-click the file name, and then select Delete). This will send your unwanted files to the Recycle Bin for safekeeping—until you're sure that you no longer want them. To free space on your computer, you’ll need to empty the Recycle Bin periodically. To empty the Recycle Bin, right-click the icon on your desktop, and then click Empty Recycle Bin.
Remove temporary files
If you’ve downloaded a .zip or .exe file from the web and then installed the program on your hard disk, you can delete the original file. To delete the file, right-click the file name, and then click Delete.
And here’s a final tip to help keep your computer lean. If you want to free even more room on your hard disk, get rid of the temporary files that your computer amasses over time. Go to Computer (or My Computer) or Windows Explorer, and right-click the letter associated with your hard disk (usually C:). Click Properties, and then click Disk Cleanup. For more information, read Slow PC? Optimize your computer for peak performance.
Format disks and drives
If you need to perform the ultimate cleanup on your computer and you need to know how to delete all files on your computer, learn about formatting disks and drives. Keep in mind, however, that this is not a reversible process, so be sure that you have a good reason to reformat your hard drive (for example, you have backed up all of your files and need to reformat the hard drive to install a new operating system, or you are selling your computer and need to remove all of the information on it).
Was the information in this article helpful?