What files can I delete from C: drive to free up space?

Published by Nyau Wai Hoe - Updated on

When your computer’s C: drive starts getting full, it can be a real headache, especially when you’re in a pinch. This drive usually holds your system’s must-have files, your apps, and your personal stuff. So, you’ve got to be careful not to delete the wrong things. But don’t worry, we’re here to guide you on safely tidying up your C: drive to get back some of that precious space. Just make sure to back up anything important before you start changing stuff around.

Also see: How to Clean C: Drive in Windows 11

What Files Can You Delete from C: Drive to Free Up Space

Deleting temporary files in the C: drive

Temporary files end up everywhere in your C: drive and can really pile up. You’ll find them in places like C:\Windows\Temp or C:\Users\[Your Username]\AppData\Local\Temp. Luckily, Windows has a handy tool that lets you clean these up without having to dig through folders yourself.

How to delete temporary files

  1. Open the Windows Settings by pressing Win + i keys together.
  2. Click on “System”, and then click on “Storage”.Windows 11 Storage Settings
  3. In the Storage section, click on “Temporary files”.
  4. Choose the types of temporary files you wish to delete, such as cached files, downloaded files, and thumbnails.
  5. Click “Remove files” to delete them.Delete Temporary Files from C: Drive

Doing this can give you back a lot of space, especially if it’s been a while since your last clean-up.

Related concern: Can I Delete Delivery Optimization Files in Windows 11?

Windows Update and Software Distribution folder cleanup

Windows keeps update files in different spots, like the Software Distribution folder and in the Windows Update Cleanup cache. Even though these files are important for updating, you can get rid of the old or unnecessary ones to free up space.

Method 1: Windows Update cleanup through Disk Cleanup

This way only gets rid of files that aren’t needed anymore, like those left over after updates. It’s pretty simple and safe, even if you’re not a Windows expert.

  1. Search for “Disk Cleanup” in the Windows search bar and open the application.
  2. Select the C: drive and click “OK”.Disk Cleanup Drive Selection C
  3. Click on the “Clean up system files” button.Clean up system files
  4. Once the scan is complete, look for “Windows Update Cleanup” in the list.Delete Windows Update Files from C: Drive
  5. Check the box next to it and click “OK”, then “Delete Files”.

Pro tip: How to Change Windows 11/10 Update Download Location

Method 2: Manually deleting the Software Distribution files

This method is a bit more thorough and gets rid of all update-related files, including the ones currently being used for updates. Just be careful with this one to avoid messing up future updates.

  1. Open Command Prompt as an administrator.
  2. Stop the Windows Update Service by typing net stop wuauserv and pressing Enter.Stop Windows Update services CMD
  3. Navigate to C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution.
  4. Delete all files and folders inside.Delete Software distribution files from C: Drive
  5. Return to Command Prompt and restart the Windows Update Service by typing net start wuauserv and pressing Enter.

Important: Don’t forget to turn the Windows Update Service back on after you’re done, or you might run into problems getting updates.

Recommended guide: How to Clean Up AppData Folder in Windows 11

Removing the Prefetch files

Prefetch is a Windows feature that makes your most-used apps start faster. But, the folder for Prefetch can fill up with lots of files over time, some of which you might not need anymore. Cleaning this out can also help free up some space.

How to delete the Prefetch files

  1. Press Win + R keys to open the Run dialog box.
  2. Type prefetch and press Enter.
  3. You may receive a permission prompt. If so, click “Continue”.
  4. Select all files in the folder by pressing Ctrl + A.
  5. Right-click and choose “Delete” to remove the files.Delete Prefetch and Superfetch files from C: Drive

Getting rid of these files is okay; it won’t mess up your system or apps. Windows will just make new Prefetch files as needed.

Learn more: How to Disable Superfetch and Prefetch in Windows 11 or 10

Deleting files on the desktop

The Desktop is super handy for keeping files you need to get to fast or just dropping things temporarily. But because it’s part of the C: drive, all that stuff can add up and take up space. Plus, a cluttered desktop can make your computer start slower.

How to delete files from the desktop

  1. Minimize or close all open applications to see your desktop clearly.
  2. Look through the files and folders on your desktop.
  3. Find the stuff you don’t need or want anymore.
  4. Select these items by clicking on them while holding down the Ctrl key.
  5. Right-click on the selected items and choose “Delete”.

Delete files from Desktop to free up C: Drive

Note: Make sure you’re not getting rid of shortcuts to apps unless you really mean to. You can tell it’s a shortcut if there’s a little arrow on the icon’s lower-left corner.

Keeping your desktop tidy not only frees up space on your C: drive but also helps keep your digital workspace neat and quick to use.

Might be useful: How to Delete Pagefile.sys in Windows 11

Old Windows installations

If you’ve got a new version of Windows or a big update, Windows might save a copy of the old stuff in a folder called “Windows.old”. It’s usually right on your C: drive.

How to delete Windows.old Folder Windows 11

Trying to delete “Windows.old” by right-clicking and hitting “Delete” often hits a wall with a message saying you need permission, even if you’re the boss of your computer. This happens because the folder has some important old Windows files, and Windows wants to make sure nothing important gets trashed by mistake.

Linked issue: Delete Windows.Old Folder in Windows 11/10, Access Denied?

How to delete old Windows installations properly

To get rid of this folder without hitting the permission roadblock, use the Disk Cleanup tool:

  1. Find and open Disk Cleanup through the Windows search.
  2. Pick the C: drive and hit “OK”.
  3. Once it scans, click “Clean up system files”.
  4. Choose the C: drive again and click “OK”.
  5. Find “Previous Windows installations” in the list.Delete Windows.old Previous Windows Installation from C: Drive
  6. Tick its box, click “OK”, then “Delete Files”.

Note: Deleting “Windows.old” means you can’t go back to an older Windows version. Be sure you like your current setup before you do this.

Getting rid of this folder frees up a lot of space, sometimes even more than a few gigabytes.

User Downloads folder

Most people’s Downloads folder is on the C: drive, under C:\Users\[Your Username]\Downloads. This place can pile up with files like software setups and media files that you might not need anymore. Clearing out this folder can give you back a good chunk of space on your C: drive.

How to delete files from the user “Downloads” folder

  1. Press Win + E to open File Explorer.
  2. Go to C:\Users\[Your Username]\Downloads (put your actual username in place of [Your Username]).Open user Download folder in Windows 11
  3. Take a look and figure out what you don’t need.
  4. Select those files or folders.
  5. Right-click and choose “Delete”.Delete Downloaded files from C Drive

Reminder: Double-check to make sure you’re not tossing out something important. Always be careful when cleaning out your Downloads folder, especially if you’re not sure what’s what.

Keeping your Downloads folder tidy helps prevent it from turning into a cluttered mess and keeps your C: drive more open.

Clearing browser cache

Web browsers save temporary internet files on your C: drive, like images and scripts, to make websites load faster next time you visit. This is called browser cache. It’s helpful for speeding up browsing but can eat up a lot of space over time.

Luckily, you don’t have to dig around your C: drive to clean these out. Modern browsers have easy settings for clearing cached files, so you don’t have to get lost in folders.

See also: Clear Cache (Memory, Browsers, Temp Files) in Windows 11/10

How to delete browser cache in different browsers

For Google Chrome:

    1. Open Chrome, click the three dots in the top-right corner for the menu.
    2. Hit “Settings”.
  1. Scroll to “Privacy and security”.
  2. Choose “Clear browsing data”.
  3. Mark “Cached images and files” and press “Clear data”.

How to clear Chrome cache

For Microsoft Edge:

  1. Open Edge, click the three dots in the top-right corner.
  2. Choose “Settings”.
  3. Find “Privacy, search, and services”.
  4. In “Clear browsing data”, hit “Choose what to clear”.
  5. Select “Cached images and files” and click “Clear now”.

How to clear Microsoft Edge cache

For Firefox:

  1. Open Firefox, click the menu button with three lines in the top-right.
  2. Go to “Settings”.
  3. Choose the “Privacy & Security” tab.
  4. Under “Cookies and Site Data”, click “Clear Data”.
  5. Uncheck “Cookies and Site Data” but leave “Cached Web Content” checked, then hit “Clear”.

How to clear Firefox cache

Clearing your browser cache not only makes more space but can also fix some browser problems.

Some remarks

Cleaning up your C: drive on a Windows 11 or 10 PC doesn’t need to be scary. By focusing on certain folders and files like we talked about, you can get back lots of space without messing up your computer. Just be sure to backup your stuff before you start deleting, so you have a safety net. Regularly tidying up these areas keeps your computer running smoothly and keeps space free. Just make it a regular thing, and you’ll keep your computer feeling fresh.

Nyau Wai Hoe
Nyau Wai Hoe is the Founder and Chief Editor of WindowsDigitals.com. With a degree in software engineering and over 12 years of experience in the tech support industry, Nyau has established himself as an expert in the field, with a primary focus on the Microsoft Windows operating system. As a tech enthusiast, he loves exploring new technologies and leveraging them to solve real-life problems.

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