How to Free Up Space in Windows 11

Windows 11 Logo
Microsoft

Windows 11 includes robust tools for managing the storage on your PC. It can detect where large, unused files are, clear temporary files automatically, and empty the recycle bin on a schedule. Find out how to use them here.

Check What’s Using Space

Every program installed on your computer uses up space, most generate temporary files while they’re running, and some even cache files for faster access. All of the files, pictures, and videos you download are also using up space. If you have a small to medium-sized hard drive, or just keep everything you download, storage space can be an issue.

Fortunately, Windows 11 includes a few tools that make it simple to determine how space is being used. Most of the tools Windows 11 includes for managing storage can be found in the Storage menu.

To access it, click the Start button, then type “Storage settings” into the search bar, and hit Enter. You can also open the Settings app and navigate to System > Storage Settings.

At the top of the window, you’ll see a breakdown of how your PC’s storage is currently utilized. Any of the categories can be clicked to give more detailed information. It is also possible to view more categories — in addition to the top few listed — by clicking “Show more categories.”

Box showing storage use by category. Arrow

Take some time to look through what is using up space on your PC. Click on each category, like “Other,” to see more details. If you’re storing a lot of large or infrequently accessed files on your PC, you may want to back up those files to an external hard drive or a cloud service instead.

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Free Up Space With Settings

To quickly free up some space, begin by clicking “Temporary files.” If it isn’t there, click “Show more categories” to make it visible.

The Temporary files page tells you specifically what kind of temporary files are on your PC. There may be more types of temporary files displayed on your screen than in the example. It is safe to remove all of them, so select what you want, and then click “Remove files.”

Then, in the top left corner of the Settings window, click the back arrow to go back to the previous screen.

There are two other menu items that contain features useful for maximizing your free space — “Storage Sense” and “Cleanup recommendations.”

Click “Cleanup recommendations” to get some useful advice from Windows.

Cleanup Recommendations will display things Windows 11 thinks you can delete to save space. Review the recommendations here and remove things you don’t need.

Be careful: Windows may recommend deleting files you want to save. Specifically, be careful of “Large or unused files.” As an example, a zipped photo archive you got from a relative a year ago could wind up included.

Large or unused files indicated by a red box

Finally, click the back arrow again, and then click “Storage Sense.”

Storage Sense is the utility Windows 11 includes to automatically try to free up storage on your PC. At the very top, there is an option to clear temporary system and app files. Make sure it is enabled.

The “Automatic User content cleanup section” can be used to free up space when Windows detects space is running low or on a set schedule. Click the toggle at the top to enable it. Then, look through the menu items and select the options you like.

Again, be careful with automatically deleting downloads. It is a lot more difficult to restore deleted files with Windows File Recovery than it is to delete them in the first place. If OneDrive is installed, you will also have an option to delete local copies of files that have already been backed up to the cloud. Close the window once you’ve set up Storage Sense to your liking.

Free Up Space With Disk Cleanup

The other utility included in Windows 11 is called “Disk Cleanup.” To launch it, click the Start button, type “Disk Cleanup” into the search bar, and then hit Enter. If you have multiple hard drives, you’ll be prompted to select the drive you want to clean.

Disk Cleanup Main Menu

Most of the cleaning options in Disk Cleanup are the same as the ones in the Storage menu, so feel free to use Disk Cleanup if you prefer it. The important addition is “Clean up system files.” Click that. Disk Cleanup will run for a few seconds while it locates files.

Once it is done running, a few new cleanable items will have been added to the list. Some of them, like Windows update files or files related to previous installs of Windows, can be very large.

System cleanup example, with size of windows update leftovers in red box

The new items are generally safe to delete, but some of them are error log files. That means if there is a problem with your computer, it may be more difficult to troubleshoot. However, new error logs will be generated if or when the error occurs again. Once you’ve selected what you want to clean, click “OK” at the bottom right.

Clear Your Browser Data, Too

Browsers store a lot of data. Browser cookies and your browsing history use only a tiny amount of space, but your browser cache can become quite large — on the scale of gigabytes — if it isn’t cleared regularly. The cache stores some of the information from websites you visit. That way, on repeat visits, your PC doesn’t have to download all of the information from that website again. It can load a local copy instead. Ideally, this saves time—especially if you don’t have blazing fast internet or you frequent websites with lots of images.

Luckily, clearing your browser data is simple and risk-free. Just be sure not to wipe any saved passwords! You could also configure your browser to automatically clear your browsing data every time it is closed.

Should You Use Third-Party Cleaners?

There are a variety of third-party programs that are available to clean up temporary files, remove large, unused files, and clear your browser’s data. In general, these programs don’t offer anything you can’t do yourself or with the tools built into Windows 11, but they do offer a one-click option that can be convenient.

Warning: Many of these programs will include, or attempt to install, other undesired programs. They may also warn you about threats to your “computer’s health” to try to convince you to buy another product or a premium subscription. For the most part, this is nonsense and should be ignored.

The most popular option is CCleaner. CCleaner can be configured to clear any of the files generated and stored by your browser, Windows, and dozens of other programs you might have on your computer. CCleaner’s default settings are pretty safe — it will clear temporary files generated by Windows and some supported programs, empty the recycle bin, and delete some of your browser data, like the history, cookies, and cache.

Default CCleaner settings

If you’re going to modify the things CCleaner cleans, or utilize the Advanced tab, make sure you double-check what it is first. Accidentally deleting the passwords saved in your browser could result in a lot of unnecessary work.

Don’t Clean the Registry

CCleaner, and other third-party programs, include registry cleaners. Registry cleaners promise to save space, improve system stability, and make your PC run more quickly by removing old registry keys. Don’t use them. If you choose to, always make sure to back up your registry.

The Windows Registry is where Windows 11, and many of your installed programs, store their settings. It is how Windows 11 knows where to find programs, what programs are associated with a given file type, what settings to use when a program runs, and countless other things. The registry is made up of “keys,” which are analogous to folders, and each key can hold multiple “values,” which are like files. Each key is associated with a specific function or program on the computer, and each value controls a specific setting. If you’re careful, modifying the registry can be a useful way to customize Windows.

Sometimes when a program is removed, the registry keys associated with that program are left behind. However, these individual keys are tiny. Even the size of the entire registry on a computer that has been in use for years will be small compared to the storage capacity of modern hard drives.

Deleting or modifying registry keys has some risk. Deleting a key that is essential to Windows 11 could break the operating system; deleting a key essential to a program you’ve installed could break that program. CCleaner is pretty well designed and is unlikely to cause a problem like that. Even so, you’re much better off losing a few megabytes of storage than you are accidentally deleting something important from your registry.

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