Steve September 15, 2021
how-to-clean-up-and-make-space-on-your-windows-“c”-drive

The all-important “C” drive is, for most people, the core of the PC, where the operating system is installed and all the crucial system files are kept. Inevitably, this is also the drive that gets filled up most easily due to endless Windows updates, temporary files of applications, downloaded files that you forget about, and the fact that by default, everything saves to the “C” drive. Here we show you how to clean up your C drive in Windows, recover some space, and subsequently get it running again.

1. Delete Temporary Files

Manually removing temporary files in Windows gives the most immediate results to clean up the C drive and regain space.

Below, we show you some tricks that clean out your various temporary files automatically, but those methods (like Storage Sense and Disk Clean-up) won’t do a complete job of clearing out temporary files, and there’s a good chance that the biggest, most hard-drive-hogging temporary files will remain in your Temp folder for a bit longer. (The automatic methods will wait for files to reach a certain age – one week, usually – before deleting them.)

Note: make sure you’re not running anything when deleting temporary files manually. If you delete temporary files related to an app you’re currently running, it may crash, and you may lose whatever you were working on at that moment.

To find your main temporary files folder, the default directory is “C:UsersYour PC UsernameAppDataLocalTemp.” Alternatively, you can hit Win + R, then enter %temp%or search for “delete temporary files” from the Windows 10/11 search box or Windows 11 Start menu search.

C Drive Cleanup Temp Files Location

To see how much space the Temp folder is taking up, select everything in it using Ctrl + A, then right-click any file and click Properties. If you’re okay with moving forward, make sure everything is selected using Ctrl + A, right-click, then click “Delete.”

You can find a summary account of all these temporary files from “Storage” under “System.”

C Drive Cleanup Temporary Files

To remove these temporary files, go one level deeper and erase what you don’t need. These files include downloads, Windows Update Cleanup, diagnostic data, viewer database files, thumbnails, Recycle Bin data, and more.

C Drive Cleanup Temp Files Remove

2. Storage Sense

Windows has a handy feature called Storage Sense, which monitors the storage space on your PC, then jumps in and cleans things up if you’re running low. It does basic things like clean up your Recycle Bin, remove old files in your Downloads folder, and delete temporary files on your PC.

While Windows 11 has Storage Sense directly under “Storage Management,” this feature can be accessed from “Turn on Storage Sense” in System Settings in Windows 10. Again, it’s faster to find either of these terms from the search menu. On some systems, you may see this option as “configure Storage Sense or run it now.”

C Drive Cleanup Configure Storage Sense

Click “Configure Storage Sense or run it now,” then in the new window, click the slider under Storage Sense so that it’s “On.” You can then use the drop-down menu below to choose whether you want it to run when you’re low on space, daily, weekly or monthly.

C Drive Cleanup Free Up Space Now

In Storage Sense, you’ll also see that you can automatically delete files that have been in the Recycle Bin for a certain amount of time. This applies to your Downloads folder as well (which, from my experience, is definitely a place where unused files tend to outstay their welcome).

There’s also an option called “free up space now” which takes just a few minutes to erase many of these unnecessary files. This allows you to immediate recover several gigabytes of storage space.

3. Scan for Large Files on Your Hard Drive

Using Windows Explorer, you can scan for files based on size throughout your entire hard drive. The amount of times I’ve found hefty redundant files sitting around for years is unbelievable.

To do this search, open a Windows Explorer window, select your “C” drive, then click the “Search (C:)” search box at the top right of the window.

C Drive Cleanup Scan For Large Files Hard Drive

Type “size:” to get a bunch of autofill options showing varying sizes of files to filter for. You can use one of these presets or, if you want to get more specific about the size of file you’re looking for, type “size:>1gb” to look for files over 1GB in size and so on.

You can delete files directly from the results or right-click, then select “Sort by -> Size” to order them by size and quickly see which ones need deleting.

Just by testing this, I’ve discovered an old Android 7.1 VM that I really don’t need anymore. Just don’t delete anything that looks important. (For example, stuff from the “C:Windows folder” or game files that tend to be quite large.)

4. Uninstall Windows Shovelware and Space-Hungry Apps

In the “Apps & Features” window (you’ll find it by right-clicking the Start button), you can sort the list by “Size” to see which applications are the most HDD-hungry. You may be surprised by the results and may wish to remove apps as appropriate. Think about whether you really need all those space-hungry apps and delete as appropriate.

C Drive Cleanup Uninstall Big Programs

Another thing that may surprise you is that you’re the proud owner of games like Bubble Witch 3 Saga and Minecraft, which you never wanted in the first place! Simply uninstalling them from the “Apps & Features” list won’t suffice, however, and you will need to remove them using the Powershell. To do this, read our guide on how to uninstall pre-installed Windows apps.

5. Clean Up Disk Space

You’re probably aware of Windows’s built-in Disk Clean-Up utility but have not been using it. This is the first place to look to free up some space.

To start using it, launch Windows Explorer, right-click on the C drive and select “Properties” from the list.

C Drive Cleanup Right Click Properties Select

Once the Properties window is open, click “Disk Cleanup” to open the utility. Here, in the “files to delete” box, select all the checkboxes like System memory error dump files, Recycle Bin, set up log files, etc.

C Drive Cleanup Disk Cleanup

Once you have selected all the checkboxes you want, click on “OK” to free up the disk space occupied by the above files. How much space you free up depends on how badly you’ve neglected your “C” drive. You can also clean up the system files to get back additional lost space.

C Drive Cleanup Disk Cleanup System Files

6. Disable Hibernation in Windows 10/11

Hibernation is a handy feature you can use in Windows to easily turn off your computer while saving the current state so that you can resume your work when you power it on. That said, it can take a huge amount of disk space, as it reserves the amount of space on your hard drive equal to how much content is saved in your RAM. (So potentially, the more RAM you have, the more disk space it uses.)

To disable hibernation in Windows 10, do a search for “Power and Sleep Settings” and go to “Additional Power Settings.” It can also be accessed from “Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound.” With Windows 11, you can directly navigate to the option from “System -> Power & Battery.”

C Drive Cleanup Windows11 Power Battery

Click on the “choose what the power buttons do” link in the pane on the left. This action will take you to the system settings window.

C Drive Cleanup Choose What Power Buttons

Click “Change settings that are currently unavailable.” This action will enable all the disabled options.

C Drive Cleanup Change Settings Currently Unavailable

Scroll down and uncheck the “Hibernate” checkbox to disable hibernation. If it’s already unchecked, you don’t need to do anything else.

C Drive Cleanup Hibernate Unchecked

7. Delete Browser Cache and Cookies

Temporary Internet files like the browser cache and cookies take up a little bit of your C drive space, so clearing those temporary files will grant you additional free space.

make-space-clean-up-c-drive-windows

In Chrome, go to “Settings -> Advanced -> Privacy and security,” then “Clear browsing data.”

In Firefox, go to “Options -> Privacy & Security,” then under “History,” select “Clear your recent history.”

In Microsoft Edge, go to “Settings -> Clear browsing data -> Choose what to clear,” and make sure to select the “Cached data” and “Cookies” options.

8. Remove Old Windows Update Files, Previous Installations

Windows has a tendency to hold onto old (and mostly redundant) system files. For the most part, you can delete these files, particularly if you installed your current version of Windows over a previous version. To do this:

1. Open Windows Explorer, right-click the C drive and select “Properties.”

2. Click “Disk CleanUp,” then in the new window, click “Clean up system files” to open the advanced disk cleanup window.

3. Select the “Windows upgrade log files” checkbox and, if you have anything there, the “Previous Windows installation(s)” checkbox.

C Drive Cleanup Disk System Files Clear

Unbeknownst to me, my laptop still had plenty of space related to Windows Update Cleanup and Windows upgrade log files, using up nearly 3.5GB of hard drive space.

Cleaning up the unnecessary files consumes a few minutes but is worth the extra space gained on C drive.

There are other checkboxes here, but for the most part, they don’t use up a ton of space and can be left alone. When you’re ready, click “OK” to clean up your hard drive.

9. Reduce the Size of the WinSxS Folder

The WinSxS folder is located in the C drive of your PC at the Windows folder location – for example, “C:WindowsWinSxS.” It stores the necessary files to recover your system. You can easily reduce the size of this folder, but this comes with the below warning.

C Drive Cleanup Win Sxs Folder

Warning: do not delete any files directly from the WinSxS folder or the folder itself. This would greatly damage your system and make it impossible to restart or recover.

1. It’s very important to tread cautiously and handle these files directly from Task Scheduler.

2. Once it opens, search for “Task Scheduler Library -> Microsoft -> Windows -> Servicing -> StartComponentCleanup” and right-click to select “run.”

3. Wait a few minutes for the operation to finish.

C Drive Cleanup Start Component Cleanup

10. Make OneDrive and File Explorer Files Online Only

OneDrive and FileExplorer files can be made online-only. This would greatly save the amount of space you use on C drive. If you have reliable, fast Internet, you should benefit from this amazing space-saving tip. 

For OneDrive, select the OneDrive app from a Start menu search in Windows 11 and searchbox of Windows 10. Sign in using your Microsoft account used in the local PC. Go to the OneDrive folder by clicking “Next.”

C Drive Cleanup Onedrive Folder

Right-click on any OneDrive subfolder, and if they take up a lot of space, make them “online only” instead of putting them on the device to always be available.

C Drive Cleanup Onedrive Online Only

The same methods above can be repeated for any files or folders in the File Explorer window. By making them online only, you can access them whenever you want. Of course, if you have some important data you always need access to, you will want to make it available on your device.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are the methods to clean up the C drive similar for Windows 10 and Windows 11?

Yes, the methods to clean up the C drive are very similar for Windows 10 and Windows 11. There may be minor variations in the placement of some menu options, but the methods to clean up the C drive are applicable for both Windows 10 and Windows 11.

2. Should I use disk cleanup software for the C drive?

You should always opt for built-in Windows methods to clean up the disk space, including your C drive. We have extensively covered many of these native techniques in this tutorial.

Periodic Microsoft Windows updates are the surest means to verify the integrity of your system. Third-party software does many of the same things as the native tools: they can identify temporary files, pending update files, files in the Recycle bin, and so forth.

However, if they accidentally delete any important files, such as WinSxS folder files, that can cause you a lot of trouble. It can prevent you from rolling back updates or troubleshooting Windows problems on your own. By and large, I would not recommend using any third-party software to clean up your Windows drive. It does more harm than good. Avoid tools such as CCleaner and Wondershare RecoverIt.

3. Why is my C Drive automatically filling up?

With regular use, the C drive will keep filling up. Each file and folder you create (on any drive) has an impact on the available space in the C drive. Did you finish a System Restore? It will definitely allocate a certain amount of space in the C drive.

If you haven’t updated your computer in a long while, it can become vulnerable to bloatware, and it can be hard to delete files. Of course, we often forget to delete temporary files, unnecessary programs, and space intensive applications. These all play a role in making the C drive fill up automatically.

We have seen some of the best ways to clean up the Windows C drive. It’s good to go through this routine every now and then, but it’s advisable to make sure it doesn’t fill up in the first place. Read on to learn some native ways to clean the Windows registry. If you want to keep streamlining your Windows setup, see how to install Chromium on Windows. We also have a guide on how you can view network adapter details in Windows.

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Sayak Boral Sayak Boral

Sayak Boral is a technology writer with over ten years of experience working in different industries including semiconductors, IoT, enterprise IT, telecommunications OSS/BSS, and network security. He has been writing for MakeTechEasier on a wide range of technical topics including Windows, Android, Internet, Hardware Guides, Browsers, Software Tools, and Product Reviews.

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