Running out of space on your computer’s C: drive can be a frustrating experience, especially when you need it the most. In Windows 10 and 11, the C: drive typically contains important system files, software installations, and user data. While it’s essential to tread carefully to avoid deleting important system files, there are specific folders and files you can remove to free up some much-needed space. In this article, we’ll walk you through various folders usually found in the C: drive that you can safely delete, along with steps to do so. Keep in mind that you should always back up important files before making any changes to your system.
Also see: How to Clean C: Drive in Windows 11
Deleting temporary files in the C: drive
Temporary files are commonly stored in various folders within your C: drive, often accumulating over time and taking up valuable space. These temporary folders may include paths like
C:\Users\[Your Username]\AppData\Local\Temp. However, Windows provides a convenient built-in feature that allows you to easily identify and delete these files without having to navigate through multiple folders.
How to delete temporary files
- Open the Windows Settings by pressing Win + i keys together.
- Click on “System”, and then click on “Storage”.
- In the Storage section, click on “Temporary files”.
- Choose the types of temporary files you wish to delete, such as cached files, downloaded files, and thumbnails.
- Click “Remove files” to delete them.
By following these steps, you can reclaim a significant amount of disk space, especially if you haven’t cleared these files in a while.
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Windows Update and Software Distribution folder cleanup
Windows stores files related to updates in various folders, notably in the Software Distribution folder and as part of its Windows Update Cleanup cache. While these files are crucial during the updating process, old or unused files can be safely removed to free up space.
Method 1: Windows Update cleanup through Disk Cleanup
This method only deletes files that are no longer needed for system operations like update rollback. It’s safer and easier for those not familiar with Windows Update’s intricacies.
- Search for “Disk Cleanup” in the Windows search bar and open the application.
- Select the C: drive and click “OK”.
- Click on the “Clean up system files” button.
- Once the scan is complete, look for “Windows Update Cleanup” in the list.
- Check the box next to it and click “OK”, then “Delete Files”.
Method 2: Manually deleting the Software Distribution files
This is a more comprehensive cleanup, which deletes all Windows Update-related files, including the current update cache. Proceed with caution, as this can affect your system’s ability to receive future updates if not done carefully.
- Open Command Prompt as an administrator.
- Stop the Windows Update Service by typing
net stop wuauservand pressing Enter.
- Navigate to
- Delete all files and folders inside.
- Return to Command Prompt and restart the Windows Update Service by typing
net start wuauservand pressing Enter.
Important: Always restart the Windows Update Service after deleting files, or you may encounter issues with Windows Update functionality.
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Removing the Prefetch files
Prefetch is a feature in Windows designed to speed up the boot process of commonly-used applications. However, over time, the Prefetch folder can accumulate a lot of files, some of which may no longer be useful. Cleaning up this folder can free up some disk space.
How to delete the Prefetch files
- Press Win + R keys to open the Run dialog box.
prefetchand press Enter.
- You may receive a permission prompt. If so, click “Continue”.
- Select all files in the folder by pressing Ctrl + A.
- Right-click and choose “Delete” to remove the files.
Remember, deleting these files won’t harm your system or applications. Windows will simply recreate the necessary Prefetch files the next time you run your applications.
Deleting files on the desktop
The Desktop is one of the most accessible locations for storing files temporarily or for quick access. However, these files are typically stored on the C: drive by default, contributing to its space usage. Over time, you may find that your desktop becomes cluttered with files you no longer need or use, which not only takes up disk space but can also slow down your computer’s startup time.
How to delete files from the desktop
- Minimize or close all open applications to get a clear view of your desktop.
- Browse through the files and folders on your desktop.
- Identify the items you no longer need or use.
- Select these items by clicking on them while holding down the
- Right-click on the selected items and choose “Delete”.
Note: Ensure that you are not deleting shortcuts to applications unless you intend to do so. Shortcuts usually have a little arrow icon on the lower-left corner of their icons.
By keeping your desktop clean, you not only free up space on your C: drive but also make your computing environment more organized and efficient.
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Old Windows installations
If you’ve upgraded your operating system or installed a major update, Windows often keeps a backup of the old version in a folder named “Windows.old”. This folder is usually located directly in the root of your C: drive.
If you try to delete the “Windows.old” folder by simply right-clicking and selecting “Delete,” you will most likely encounter an error message stating that you need permission to perform this action, even if you’re logged in as an administrator. This is because the folder contains important system files from your previous Windows installation, and the operating system restricts unauthorized access to ensure safety.
How to delete old Windows installations properly
To properly delete this folder and bypass the permissions error, you need to use the Disk Cleanup tool:
- Open Disk Cleanup by searching for it in the Windows search bar.
- Select the C: drive and click “OK”.
- After the scan completes, click on “Clean up system files”.
- Again, select the C: drive and click “OK”.
- Look for “Previous Windows installations” in the list.
- Check the box next to it and click “OK”, then click “Delete Files”.
Note: Deleting the “Windows.old” folder will prevent you from rolling back to a previous version of Windows. Make sure you’re comfortable with your current setup before taking this step.
By deleting this folder, you can reclaim a large amount of space, which can sometimes be well over tens of gigabytes.
User Downloads folder
For most users, the Downloads folder is located in the C: drive by default. Specifically, you’ll find it under the
C:\Users\[Your Username]\Downloads directory. Over time, this folder can accumulate a lot of files—ranging from software installers to media files—that you might have downloaded for one-time use but forgot to delete. Given its default location in the C: drive, cleaning this folder can be an effective way to free up significant disk space.
How to delete files from the user “Downloads” folder
- Open File Explorer by pressing the
Win + Ekeys together.
- Navigate to
[Your Username]with your actual username).
- Review the files and folders to identify items you no longer need.
- Select these unnecessary files and folders.
- Right-click and choose “Delete”.
Reminder: Make sure to double-check that you’re not deleting any files that you may need later. Always exercise caution when removing files from the Downloads folder, especially if you aren’t sure what they are.
By routinely checking and cleaning your Downloads folder, you can ensure that it doesn’t become a digital “junk drawer,” keeping your C: drive more spacious.
Clearing browser cache
Web browsers store temporary internet files, such as images and scripts, in your C: drive to help web pages load faster in future visits. This storage space is commonly known as browser cache. While it enhances your browsing experience by speeding up load times, it can occupy a considerable amount of space on your C: drive over time.
The good news is that you don’t have to manually navigate to the C: drive to find and delete these files. Modern browsers have built-in settings to handle this, making it easy to remove these cached files without having to sift through complex folder structures.
How to delete browser cache in different browsers
For Google Chrome:
- Open Google Chrome and click on the three vertical dots at the top-right corner to open the menu.
- Go to “Settings”.
- Scroll down and click on “Privacy and security”.
- Click on “Clear browsing data”.
- Check the box for “Cached images and files” and click “Clear data”.
For Microsoft Edge:
- Open Microsoft Edge and click on the three horizontal dots at the top-right corner.
- Click on “Settings”.
- Scroll down to “Privacy, search, and services”.
- Under the “Clear browsing data” section, click “Choose what to clear”.
- Select “Cached images and files” and click “Clear now”.
- Open Firefox and click on the menu button (three horizontal lines) at the top-right corner.
- Click “Settings”.
- Go to the “Privacy & Security” tab.
- Scroll down to the “Cookies and Site Data” section and click “Clear Data”.
- Uncheck “Cookies and Site Data” and keep “Cached Web Content” checked, then click “Clear”.
Clearing browser cache not only frees up space but can also help solve some browser-related issues.
Conclusion: Be mindful but don’t fear the cleanup
Cleaning up your C: drive to free up disk space on a Windows 11 or Windows 10 computer doesn’t have to be a nerve-wracking experience. By focusing on the right folders and files, as we’ve outlined in this article, you can reclaim valuable space without jeopardizing the stability or functionality of your system. Always remember to take necessary precautions such as creating backups before you begin the deletion process. Doing so ensures you have a safety net in case something goes wrong.
Frequent maintenance of these folders will not only free up disk space but also help your system run more smoothly. Just make it a habit to revisit these areas periodically, and you’ll be well on your way to keeping your computer in top shape.