The disk cleanup tool that comes with Windows can quickly delete various system files and free up disk space. But some things – like “Windows ESD Installation Files” on Windows 10 – should probably not be removed.
For the most part, the items in Disk Cleanup are safe to delete. However, if your computer is not running properly, deleting some of these things may prevent you from uninstalling updates, rolling back the operating system, or just troubleshooting a problem, so they are useful to have with you if you have space.
Disk Cleanup 1
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You can start Disk Cleanup from the Start menu – just search for “Disk Cleanup”. It will immediately search for files it can delete and display a list for you. However, this only shows files that you can delete with the permissions of your current user account.
Assuming you have administrator access to your computer, you will click “Clean up system files” to see a complete list of files you can delete.
To remove a group of files, check it. To keep a group of files, make sure it is unchecked. You see the maximum amount of data you can delete at the top of the window, and how much space you actually want to save at the bottom. Click “OK” when you have finished selecting data, and Disk Cleanup will delete the data you want to remove.
Windows ESD installation files are important
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On Windows 10, there is now an option for “Windows ESD installation files” here. Deleting it can free up some gigabytes of hard disk space. This is probably the most important option on the list, as it may cause problems for you to delete it.
These ESD files are used to “reset the PC” to the factory settings. Deleting these files will have more disk space – but you will not have the files needed to reset your PC. You may need to download Windows 10 installation media if you ever want to reset it.
We do not recommend deleting this, unless you desperately need the few gigabytes of hard disk space. Deleting this will make your life more difficult if you ever want to use your “reset PC” feature in the future.
All other disk cleanup can be deleted
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So what do all the other options do? We went through Disk Cleanup and made a list. Note that we used Disk Cleanup on a PC running Windows 10 with the Anniversary Update installed. Older versions of Windows may have slightly fewer options. Some options may appear only if you have certain types of system files on your hard disk.
- Windows Update Cleanup: When you install updates from Windows Update, Windows keeps older versions of system files around. This allows you to uninstall the updates later. But if you do not plan to uninstall any Windows updates, this is a waste of space. This is safe to delete as long as your computer is working properly and you do not intend to uninstall updates.
- Windows Defender: This option deletes “non-critical files used by Windows Defender”, according to Disk Cleanup. Microsoft does not explain what these files are anywhere, but it is likely that they are only temporary files. You can select this option to free up some space, and Windows 10’s built-in antivirus will continue to run normally.
- Windows Upgrade Logs: When you upgrade Windows – for example, upgrade from Windows 7 to 10, or upgrade from Windows 10’s November update to Windows 10’s anniversary update – Windows creates log files. These log files can “Help identify and troubleshoot problems that occur”. If you do not have any upgrade-related issues, feel free to delete them.
- Downloaded program files: This folder contains ActiveX controls and Java applets that are downloaded from the Internet when you view specific Web pages in Internet Explorer. Feel free to delete these. They are automatically downloaded again when you visit a website that requires them, if you need them.
- Temporary Internet files: This contains the “browser cache” for Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge. The cache contains parts of websites that are stored on your hard drive, so you can load them faster in the future. You can clear this to free up space, but your browser cache will eventually be refilled. Also note that this only affects Microsoft browsers. Other browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have their own browser caches you need to remove from Chrome or Firefox itself. Just remember: Deleting your browser cache regularly will reduce your browsing performance.
- System error memory dump files: When Windows crashes – known as a “blue screen of death”, the system creates a memory dump file. This file can help you identify exactly what went wrong. However, these files can take up a lot of space. If you do not intend to try to troubleshoot any blue screens (or you have already fixed them), you can remove these files.
- System Archived Windows Error Reporting: When a program crashes, Windows creates an error report and sends it to Microsoft. These bug reports can help you identify and resolve issues. Archived bug reports have been sent to Microsoft. You can choose to delete these, but you will not be able to see program crash reports. If you are not trying to solve a problem, they are probably not important.
- Queued Windows bug reporting: This is the same as “System Filed Windows Error Reporting”, except it contains queued error reports that have not yet been sent to Microsoft.
- Windows ESD installation files: This is important! As described above, these files are stored on the PC and are used to “Reset the PC” to the factory settings. You can remove them to free up space, but then you will need to create and provide Windows installation media if you ever want to reset your PC.
- Delivery optimization files: “Windows Update Delivery Optimization Service” is the part of Windows 10 that uses your computer’s bandwidth to upload app and Windows updates to other computers. This option allows you to remove data that is no longer needed, other than uploading to other PCs.
- Device driver packages: Windows retains old versions of device drivers, whether installed from Windows Update or elsewhere. This option will delete the old device driver versions and keep only the latest one. You can remove these files if your PC and its devices seem to be working properly.
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- Previous Windows installations: When you upgrade to a new version of Windows, Windows keeps the old Windows system files for 10 days. You can then downgrade within the ten days. After the ten days, Windows will delete the files to free up disk space – but you can delete them from here immediately. On Windows 10, installing a major update, such as the Anniversary Update or the November Update, is basically treated the same as upgrading to a completely new version of Windows. So if you have recently installed the anniversary update, the files here will allow you to downgrade to the November update.
- Trash: Check this option, and the Disk Cleanup Utility also empties your computer’s Recycle Bin while it is running.
- Temporary files: Programs often store data in a temporary folder. Check this option, and Disk Cleanup will delete temporary files that have not been modified in more than a week. This ensures that it only deletes temporary files the programs do not use.
- Temporary Windows installation files: These files are used by the Windows installation process when you install a new version of Windows or a major update. If you are not in the middle of a Windows installation, you can delete them to free up space.
- Thumbnails: Windows creates thumbnails for photos, videos, and document files and saves them to your hard disk so that they can be viewed quickly when you view that folder again. This option will delete the cached thumbnails. If you reopen a folder that contains these file types, Windows will recreate the thumbnail buffer for that folder.
We have also seen various other options here. Some appear only on earlier versions of Windows, such as Windows 7, and some appear only if your computer has certain types of files on your hard disk:
- Temporary installation files: Programs sometimes create setup files when you install them and do not clean them automatically. This option will delete setup files that are no longer used for anything.
- Offline web pages: You can save web pages for “offline” browsing in Internet Explorer. Your “Offline web pages” are web pages that are specially stored for offline use, and if you check this, they will be deleted.
- Troubleshoot dump files: These are debug files created after a crash to find the cause of the crash. If you are not trying to troubleshoot a problem, you can delete them.
- Per user archived error reporting: These are the same as “System Archived Windows Error Reporting” files, but are stored under a user account instead of the entire system.
- Windows error reporting per user queued: These are the same as “System Queued Windows Error Reporting” files, but are stored under a user account instead of the entire system.
- Old Chkdsk files: The chkdsk utility runs when there is file system corruption on the hard disk. If you see any “old chkdsk files”, these are fragments of corrupted files. You can safely remove them unless you are trying to recover important, irreplaceable data.
- Game statistics files: On Windows 7, this includes your score information for included games such as Solitaire and Minesweeper. Delete them and the game will forget your score and other stats.
- Set up log files: These log files are created while the software is being installed. If a problem occurs, the log files can help identify the problem. If you are not trying to troubleshoot a software installation, you can remove them.
- System Error Minidump FIles: These are smaller memory dump files that are created when Windows crashes on a blue screen. They take up less space than larger memory dump files, but can still provide useful information that identifies the problem. You can delete these if you are not trying to troubleshoot system issues.
- Files thrown by Windows Upgrade: These are system files that were not transferred to your new PC during a Windows upgrade process. Provided your computer is working properly, you can delete them to free up space.
Overall, you can safely delete almost everything in Disk Cleanup as long as you do not intend to roll back a device driver, uninstall an update, or troubleshoot a system problem. But you should probably avoid these “Windows ESD installation files” unless you are really damaging for space.