How do I... Use the Disk Cleanup tool in Microsoft Windows Vista?

No matter how hard you try to keep your hard drive clean, lean, and mean, temporary and other junk files will eventually gunk up your disk space. Running the Microsoft Windows Vista Disk Cleanup tool will free up that all important disk space for you. Here is how you use it.

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While the available cheap capacity of hard drives continues to grow toward terabyte size, there seems to be a never-ending need for more storage space. One of the best ways to ward off a lack of remaining capacity on your hard drives is to delete files you no longer use or need. The Disk Cleanup tool that comes standard with Microsoft Windows Vista automates much of this deletion process for you. This How do I... tutorial explains how the Disk Cleanup utility works.

Making room

The Windows Vista Disk Cleanup tool is located under the Performance Information and Tools icon in the Control Panel. Navigate to Control Panel | Performance Information and Tools and click the Open Disk Cleanup link on the left hand side of the window (Figure A).

Figure A

Performance Information and Tools

Alternatively, you can use the handy Vista Desktop search tool. Click the Vista Start button, type in "disk" (See Figure B) and hit the enter key to get to the initial dialog screen (Figure C). Note: You have to have administrative rights to run Disk Cleanup for all users.

Figure B

Desktop search for "disk"

Figure C

Initial Disk Cleanup dialog screen

The next dialog screen wants you to make a drive selection. (Figure D)

Figure D

Choose a drive

After you choose your drive, the tool calculates the potential space savings that can be achieved. (Figure E)

Figure E

Calculating space savings

Once the analysis is complete, the Disk Cleanup tool gives you a list of potential space saving file deletions it can make. The list includes the usual suspects like Temporary Internet files, but it also includes more obscure files like the hibernation file. (Figure F)

Figure F

Disk Cleanup analysis

One of the largest files on my laptop was the System queued Windows Error Reporting files. These files were generated during the month I was operating without Vista approved wireless 802.11 LAN card drivers. Thankfully, those bad days are behind me and I can regain over 25 Mb by deleting those files. (Figure G)

Figure G

Regaining 342 Mb

Under the More Options tab (Figure H) of the Disk Cleanup dialog you can reach the Programs and Features icon on the Control Panel (Figure I). This Vista tool is similar to the Windows XP Add/Remove Programs. Here you can uninstall applications if you wish.

Figure H

More Options

Figure I

Programs and Features

Also on the More Options tab (Figure H) you will find a button for deleting and cleaning System Restore and Shadow Copies. Clicking the "Clean up" button in this category allows you to remove old System Restore points to free up hard drive space. You will get the obligatory "Are you sure" box (Figure J), but assuming your Vista installation is stable, deleting these files should have not impact on operating system functions.

Figure J

Are you sure?

Once you click OK to give it the go ahead, the Disk Cleanup tool will report its progress as it removes files and creates space (Figure K).

Figure K

Cleaning in action

Once the process is complete you returned to you desktop with more hard disk storage space to work with. All-in-all the Microsoft Windows Vista Disk Cleanup tool is a straightforward and easy to use utility.