Quick Tip: Reclaim used hard drive memory with Disk Cleanup

Microsoft Windows 7 has a built-in utility that will free used hard drive memory increasing available storage space with a click or two of the mouse.

While disk drive storage is relatively cheap these days, users and administrators are always looking for ways to increase the amount of available memory space on their hard drives. A well-established Law of Computer Programming states: "Any program will expand to fill available memory."

There are plenty of third-party applications that claim to free up hard drive memory and, therefore, increase the efficiency of a Windows 7 PC, but there is a built-in tool that does much the same thing and it's available for free.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

In Windows 7, click on the Start Menu and click the Computer link to reveal the connected drives on the PC. Right-click on the drive you want to work on and click the Properties menu item, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Navigate to disk drive properties.
On the storage drive Properties screen, you want to navigate to the General Tab (Figure B). In the middle of this screen, near the graphical representation of the drive's memory allocation is the Disk Cleanup button. Click that to start the process.

Figure B

Click the Disk Cleanup button.
After a bit of analysis, on the Disk Cleanup screen (Figure C), Windows 7 will list the files that you can potentially delete to increase the amount of available memory on the drive. The first time you run the process, Windows will not take the system files into account. If you want to free even more drive memory, you should click the Clean Up System Files button.

Figure C

Here is the potential additional storage space.
As you can see in Figure D, running the additional cleanup process generated a few more megabytes of potential storage.

Figure D

Cleaning the system files creates more potential storage.

At this point, you should work your way through the list to check off which files you actually want to delete from your system. On my test system, I choose to delete all the suggested files, but there may be files on your system that you'd want to keep.

Stay on top of the latest Microsoft Windows tips and tricks with TechRepublic's Windows Desktop newsletter, delivered every Monday and Thursday. Automatically sign up today!

Note: During the course of writing this blog post and taking screenshots, I ran the Disk Cleanup process twice and each time I freed more disk storage space. I would suggest running the process more than once just to see if you can free more space yourself. Note 2: Yes, the Disk Cleanup application is available for Windows XP and Vista.