The Complete Guide to Cleaning Your Hard Drive

Francis Piche Student Software Engineer, McGill

27 August 2017

Cleaning your hard drive is the most basic form of computer maintenance that a lot of us tend to neglect. 

Whether your brand new laptop just arrived, or your hard drive is an at-capacity monstrosity, you’ve probably got a lot of PUP’s (Potentially Unwanted Programs). Call it what you want: crapware, junkware, shovelware, PUP, crudware, or bloatware. Point is, you don’t need it, you don’t want it. Take ‘em out, and make room for the things you really want.

Why Bother?

A lot of new computers come pre-installed with a slew of programs you’ve probably never heard of, and really don’t need. And over time it’s easy to gather a heap of out-dated software you needed at some point, but haven’t touched in years. Either way, it’s good to clear ‘em out, if not for the hard-drive space, but for the performance boost.

Some software, (especially the junk that comes pre-installed) likes to run in the background, and can’t always be stopped (easily) with the task manager. While they can seem useful on the surface, letting these pile up can suck up your computers precious RAM, CPU and disk resources.


Here’s story to get a better idea of why this is worth doing:

A few weeks ago while I was home visiting my family, my dad was complaining that his laptop was running slower than usual. So, I ran a quick speed test to rule out bad internet connection; 50mbps download, damn I wish mine was that good…  A quick ctrl-alt-del to look at performance.. WOAH. His disk was fluctuating between 0-100% usage with no apps or programs open! So I looked at the processes to look for the culprit… AHA!

A bugged windows process that pre-loads apps based on predictions of your typical usage was loading and closing a bunch of apps on a loop, sucking up his disk’s juice.

Turns out that this “prediction software” is very common in newer PC’s, and is completely unnecessary. It’s meant for impatient people who don’t like waiting an extra second for apps to load. After removing it, his PC was running smooth again.

Moral of the story, CLEAN OUT YOUR COMPUTER.

How to sort out the mess:


Stick to the free stuff. If you need convincing, check out this article by How-to Geek about why PC Cleaning Apps are overhyped.


First, some maintenance.


CCleaner is a great tool because it cleans up old caches, temp files, duplicate files, and other junk that can accumulate from using your software. This is nice because it cleans things that, unless you knew exactly where to look, you might not otherwise find, especially in programs you don’t intend to delete.

Most importantly, it has a registry cleaner. Cleaning this out can prevent errors from broken or conflicting settings and lead to a more stable machine. I personally use this once every few weeks as a maintenance tool.

CCleaner demo for cleaning your hard drive

It also has other, more hardcore hard-drive cleanup tools like an uninstall wizard, system restore and drive wiper (use these with caution!) For these purposes though, I just use the regular old windows tools.


Should I Remove It?

Should I Remove it? demo for cleaning your hard drive

Should I Remove It? Is perfect for those programs you’re not sure whether to keep or uninstall. It’s basically just an uninstall wizard, but has user ratings and removal %, along with an extensive database of program information to help you decide whether to keep or remove a program. My only complaint about this program is that it’s uninstaller doesn’t detect allll your programs, so it’s best used in conjunction with something like CCleaner.


Don’t let a cluttered hard drive slow down your workflow.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign? ” – Albert Einstein

Malware and Viruses:

Sparing the details about which system protection to use and why, it might be a good idea to run a scan to look for potentially harmful or unwanted files/programs. If you’ve been careful about your browsing and downloads, odds are you’re fine. However, a scan can find even more potentially unwanted files that you can remove as part of your cleanup.

If you need a recommendation for which software to use for this, I personally use the free version of MalwareBytes. (But remember, you can’t get a virus unless you give yourself one. Good browsing/download hygiene is key!).

What about the programs I do want?

If you’ve just gotten yourself a new computer, now that it’s clear of unwanted programs that come pre-installed, you’ll want to put your own stuff on there.

Recently a friend of mine recommended I use Ninite. It’s a tool that lets you choose your software from a fairly extensive list and download it all in one go. It’s a convenient tool if you’ve just bought a new machine and need to install a bunch of stuff.

Ninite for cleaning your hard drive demo



A few notes on installing new programs:

A lot of people just download new programs willy-nilly by clicking next-next-next. You can save yourself a lot of trouble in the future by paying attention to things like:

-whether it’s also coming with toolbars, browser extensions or other software

-signing you up for a mailing-list (ew, spam and inbox clutter)

-where the program is being installed (organizing your files BEFORE you install is much easier than after, when they’re scattered in your program files.)



Cleaning your hard-drive is useful because:

-It can slightly increase performance by increasing disk space

-It can prevent crashes from a cluttered system registry

-It can increase performance by disabling unwanted background processes


How to do it:

-First, use either your windows uninstaller or ShouldIRemoveIt? To  uninstall unwanted programs.

-Next, run CCleaner to get rid of caches, temp files, and clean up your registry.

-Lastly, scan your system for malware/viruses (just to be sure).

-If there’s any new software you want to install, try out Ninite to  install a bunch at once!


Now that you’ve cleaned out the junk, it might be a good idea to take this time to organize your files. Click that link to see my post about exactly that!

Happy cleaning!



If you have any questions, let me know in the comments, or send me an email! On the contact page you’ll find links to my social media and email.

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