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How to Free Up Space on Your PC

Find helpful tips, tricks, and shortcuts that show you how to get more space on your PC’s disk drives. It only takes a few minutes to clean your PC storage to help it to perform optimally.

Key PC Storage Takeaways

  • If your PC’s storage drive space is full, it reduces its performance. It’s not only an inconvenience for you but can also put your PC at risk.

  • Windows offers several built-in tools for disk cleanup that help you remove unnecessary files from your PC storage.

  • Your time is precious. Consider upgrading to a new storage drive, and say goodbye to the hassle of an overly full disk drive.



Get More Space on Your PC Disk Drives

Have you tried to install or download something important and then received a prompt saying your C drive is full? Or perhaps you wonder, “Why is my computer so slow?,” as you wait and wait for files to open or applications to launch.

Good news! An overly full PC storage drive can be easy to diagnose and fix, and there are many ways to do it. A few clicks can clean your PC storage and transform the way your computer performs.

How Disk Space Impacts PC Performance

The less free space you have on your drive, the longer it will take your PC to recall stored data and write new data. This can slow down every aspect of your experience using the PC, from how long it takes for Windows to boot to how long it takes to connect to a Zoom call. It’s especially detrimental when you’re multitasking. While SSDs are faster and have other advantages over traditional HDDs, they still perform more slowly if they’re too full.

“Even solid-state drives (SSDs) can noticeably slow down when they’re too full. Keep your SSDs below 70 percent full to ensure maximum speed.”1 From “Why solid-state drive (SSD) performance slows down as it becomes full.”

An overly full storage drive can become a major issue if it prevents your PC from downloading and installing the latest updates for Windows or your important apps. Without these updates, your PC may not have the latest antivirus and malware protections, and its performance will likely degrade even further.

Most importantly, if you have to continually scramble to make room to download important files or install applications, making a few adjustments to your storage drive is going to help you become more productive.

How to Check Available Disk Space

Windows offers a variety of easy ways to monitor your available disk drive storage space.

  • File Explorer: Open Windows File Explorer. In the left sidebar, locate and select This PC. This view provides a list of the used and available space for each of the drives installed on your device. Right-click on your storage drive, and select Properties to see greater detail about its current usage.
  • Start: Another helpful view can be found by selecting Start in the taskbar or by tapping the Windows key to bring up a list of applications. Locate and select Settings to open the Settings window. Next, locate and select System, and finally, locate and select Storage. This view helps you see the categories of files taking up your storage data, and it offers helpful tools for fast cleanup.
  • Task Manager: For a detailed view of the performance of your storage drive, beyond its available capacity, open Task Manager by searching for it in the Start menu or by pressing the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete buttons simultaneously on your keyboard. In the Task Manager window, select the Performance tab, and then select your storage drive disk, which is typically labeled C:.

Aren’t Memory and Hard Drive Space the Same Thing?

When you’re looking at your PC’s performance numbers, it’s important to distinguish between available storage space on your disk drive and your PC’s available random access memory (RAM), often just called “memory.” Your PC disk storage space determines how many files and applications you can store on your device in total. RAM is memory just for applications that are currently running. If the percentage of RAM you’re using is consistently near 100 percent, you may want to consider higher-capacity RAM, particularly if you use your computer for gaming.

Tips to Free Up Storage Space on Your Windows PC or Laptop

Here are some quick hit strategies that you can use to free up space on a PC running the Windows 10 or Windows 11 operating system.

  • Helpful hint: Before you begin, take note of how many gigabytes (GB) of space you need to clear off of your storage drive. As you follow these tips, frequently refresh your File Explorer window to view your available storage space amount and see if you’ve hit your target.
  • Please note: There are interface differences between the two Windows OS versions. Steps to access particular tools and actual terms used may vary from what is described.

Use Disk Cleanup

One of the easiest ways to cut down on the clutter that collects on your storage drive is by using the Microsoft Disk Cleanup app that is built into Windows.

To use this application, first click the Start icon on your taskbar or tap the Windows key. Next, locate the search box and type, “Disk Cleanup.” Select the Disk Cleanup app to open it. Then find and select the storage drives you want to clean. Once you’ve made your selections, select the Clean up system files button.

When cleanup is complete, open the File Explorer, and review the available space for each of the installed drives to see if you have met your desired storage space target.

Empty Recycle Bin

On your Windows desktop, find the Recycle Bin icon, or search for it in the Start menu. Open the Recycle Bin to view all of the files that you have deleted but are still taking up your storage drive space. Right-click on the Recycle Bin icon or a particular file, or view the Recycle Bin Tools tab. Locate and select Empty Recycle Bin to free up space and get rid of those files permanently.

Remove Temporary Files

Your disk drive storage may be bogged down with temporary files, which hold data while apps are creating or editing files but are rarely useful to keep around.

Select Start in the taskbar, or tap the Windows key, to bring up a list of applications. Locate and select Settings to open the Settings window. Next, locate and select System, then Storage. Locate and select Temporary files to select the types of files you want to delete. Once you’ve made your selection, select Remove files.

When cleanup is complete, open the File Explorer, and review the available space for each of the installed drives to see if you have met your desired storage space target.

Uninstall Unnecessary Apps

Select the Start icon on your taskbar, or tap the Windows key. Next, locate the search box and type, “Add or remove programs.” Select the related Settings search result to open the control panel for installed apps.

The apps listed are those that are taking up storage space on your device’s drive. Locate the Sort by header. Select it, and then select the Size option. Scroll through the list to see if there are any applications you don’t plan to use. To uninstall an app, select the app, and then select the associated Uninstall button.

Most apps can be downloaded and reinstalled with relatively little effort, but a forgotten photo editing program or video game can take up a huge chunk of your storage space.

When you’re done, open the File Explorer, and review the available space for each of the installed drives to see if you have met your desired storage space target.

Delete Unnecessary Files

It’s likely that there are files hidden in your maze of folders that you don’t know about but are taking up your storage space. Likely locations are your Downloads folder, as well as your Documents, Videos, and Photos folders. Files are often downloaded or backed up to these locations and may no longer be useful to you.

Use the File Explorer to locate and look into each folder. Sort by file size and look for larger files like videos and applications. Delete any you no longer need. Smaller files of 500 megabytes (MB) or less are likely not worth the effort to delete. Hunt down the biggest files first to make a bigger space-saving impact faster. Make sure to empty your recycle bin when you’re done!

Then, open the File Explorer, and review the available space for each of the installed drives to see if you have met your desired storage space target.

Configure Windows Storage Sense

Why not let Windows automatically delete and clean up unnecessary files?

To take advantage of this feature, select Start in the taskbar, or tap the Windows key, to bring up a list of applications. Locate and select Settings. Next, locate and select System, then Storage. Locate Storage Sense, and select the control to turn the feature on. Storage Sense will manage most of the basic cleanup for you; however, take a moment to adjust the settings so it operates the way you want it to.

Move Files to the Cloud

The leading cloud service providers make it easy to offload files from your PC disk drive to the cloud. All you need is a web browser and a few spare minutes to begin uploading files to a cloud storage drive, which will then allow you to delete them off your PC’s local disk drive. Placing PDFs and emails in the cloud won’t win you much space. Look for hefty media files when considering what to move to a cloud drive.

As long as you have high-speed internet, it can be very easy to work with files you’ve uploaded into the cloud. But please note that most cloud storage services create local versions of files to make them faster for you to access and to make them available when you’re not online. Most services also offer you the ability to determine what files or folders are available offline (i.e., stored locally) vs. what’s online only. Make sure that large files you don’t frequently need are online only, so they stay off your disk drive.

Upgrade Your Storage

It’s possible that your PC’s storage drive is simply too small to be useful to you. Upgrading your disk drive can make storage problems a thing of the past. Many disk drive manufacturers offer easy ways to port your old data to your new, larger drive.

If you have an expandable PC, you may need to incorporate an additional storage drive. Adding a single SSD to a PC tower can often offer enough space to store everything that an avid content creator, gamer, or other power user could possibly want. The storage drives on many laptops are also upgradable, though this task might be best suited for experienced users and professional PC technicians only.

A highly efficient solution is to purchase an inexpensive USB storage drive—either an external hard drive or USB flash drive—and let it hold your large files and folders. If the external drive and your PC are capable of a USB 3.0 connection, you can work with large files without compromising much performance.

A Quick Reference for the Future

You now have a range of tips, tricks, and shortcuts that you can use at any time—on their own or in combination—to free up space on your PC’s disk drives. For faster access, consider bookmarking this page so you can reference it again in the future.

PC Drive Space Frequently Asked Questions

You have several options for maximizing PC storage space:

  • Configure Storage Sense to work as frequently and in as many places as possible.
  • Look for large media files, such as videos, to clear off of your machine, either by moving them to the cloud or another storage device or by deleting them.
  • Frequently clean up your Downloads folder to remove unnecessary files.
  • Purchase an external USB storage device to hold large files.
  • Start using a cloud storage drive for media files and personal documents.
  • Upgrade your old storage to a new drive that provides significant excess space.

For HDDs, leaving 10 to 15 percent of the drive free for virtual memory, temp files, and other storage needs can keep your PC running well. SSDs, however, need more available space. SSDs work best if the available storage is kept between 25 and 30 percent of the total capacity.

Your C drive is typically the drive that stores your operating system files and all your applications. It’s also the home of your Downloads, Videos, Photos, and Documents folders, where files you don’t need can collect. The C drive will typically be the first to fill up, which will reduce your computer’s performance. You can avoid this by making sure to store all large files and personal documents on an external drive or in the cloud, not on the C drive.

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