How often do you clean out your hard drive? If you can’t recall the last time you did—or you happen to know you never have—your hard drive could be well overdue for a cleanup.
Why should you even bother? For one, a good hard drive cleanup comes with security benefits. Though you may not realize it, your computer stores traces of your personal information—from files you’ve previously deleted to passwords and credit card numbers you’ve entered—making you vulnerable to identity theft if your computer gets hacked. Cleaning up your hard drive will help protect that information.
Plus, since you’re deleting unneeded files and freeing up space, cleaning up your hard drive will speed up your computer and boost your device’s performance. It’s also a good idea to reset your hard drive if you’re getting rid of your computer. You don’t want other people accessing your old files, which they’re fully capable of doing even if you’ve hit the “delete” button.
Clean your hard drive periodically with these tips.
Step 1: Clear Your Browsing History
Your computer stores data on every web page you visit, which can be accessed by other websites you go to and by anyone using your computer. To keep your Internet activity private, it’s a good practice to clear your browsing data frequently, though the frequency is up to you.
The steps involved will depend on the browser you use, though you can usually access your history from your browser’s top toolbar. If you’re on Windows, CTRL + H will bring up your history when your browser is open. From there, you can delete the log of which sites you’ve visited to maintain your privacy.
Your browsing history may also include saved passwords. After clearing your browser history, consider using a password manager to manage your passwords and keep them out of your browser history.
Step 2: Delete Temporary Internet Files
In addition to browser history, your computer also stores temporary Internet files, which you may want to delete for security reasons or simply to speed up your computer. Again, the steps involved will vary depending on your browser, but here’s a quick look at how to clear temporary files for Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari.
Step 3: Run a Disk Cleanup
If you’re using Windows, you’ll find the disk cleanup option to be valuable when cleaning up your hard drive. When programs run, they often create temporary files that are no longer needed afterward. Running a disk cleanup will rid your computer of these temporary files as well as remove other unimportant data.
To do this, head to your PC folder and right-click on your hard drive file under “devices and drives.” Choose “properties.” Then, click on “Disk Cleanup” and follow the instructions from there. You’ll be able to choose which types of files to clean up so you don’t affect any data you want preserved, and you’ll get an estimate on how much data you can clear up with each task.
Step 4: Find and Delete Old, Unneeded Files
All old files do is bog down your computer’s performance. If you’ve had your computer for a fair amount of time, chances are it’s full of files you only used once and don’t need anymore. You can start by searching through your documents and getting rid of old downloads and unneeded files from past projects.
However, if you head to your control panel and into your programs, you can organize your list of programs by date and instantly see which ones are the oldest. Go ahead and uninstall the ones you don’t use anymore. Feel free to also explore by file size so you can get rid of programs that take up a considerable amount of memory.
Step 5: Remove Duplicate Files
There’s really no reason you need copies of the same file on your computer. It will only slow your device down. You can start by running a duplicate file search tool to pinpoint files that appear more than once on your hard drive. You might find copies of the same document saved in two places or files that were autosaved and are essentially the same as your manually saved data. Go ahead and delete duplicate files you don’t need.
Step 6: Erase Deleted Files
If you think your files are safely deleted from your computer once you hit that “delete” button, you are very wrong. Typically, these files are saved in the “recycle bin” on your computer’s hard drive, essentially giving you a second chance to “restore” the files. However, files can be restored until they are later written over, which means that if you delete files from your recycle bin, you’re really only deleting the record marker, not the file contents.
To permanently delete files, you’ll need a program designed to wipe these files, which you can schedule to automatically clean up deleted files. This isn’t just about removing personal or incriminating data. It can also free up space that will boost your computer’s performance.
Step 7: Install a Hard Drive Cleanup Tool
Not all your hard drive cleanup has to be done manually. Save time and effort by downloading one of many hard drive cleanup tools. Just be sure you’re downloading a trustworthy file and you understand the extent of the service—such as if it will reset your hard drive completely.
Start with one of these hard drive cleanup tools outlined by PC World. If your computer is running on Windows 8 or 8.1, you’ll find the option to wipe your hard drive completely without any additional software. Head to your PC Settings, which you can access via the Charms bar, and visit “Update and Recovery.” You can choose to “fully clean the hard drive,” which will wipe all data. This is your ideal option if you’re selling your computer or giving it to a friend. That way, any old files can’t be recovered.
Simply hitting “delete” on old files doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. With these hard drive cleanup tips, you can keep your personal data and unneeded files out of unwanted hands. Is your computer ready for a hard drive cleanup?