I get asked a lot by coworkers and friends about how to clean up a computer (either because it’s running slow, has spyware, or because they just can’t do anything on it any more). Below are 5 of the major cleanup methods I use to get their computer up and running again. Depending on the issue you want to resolve, I’ve broken up this post into some common categories…
Free up some space
1.) Disk Cleanup
- Disk Cleanup via My Computer
Disk Cleanup removes temporary internet files, downloaded program files (used to install things like updates, that aren’t needed any more), other temporary files, recycle bin contents, cached thumbnails, error messages, and other unneeded files. In addition to deleting the files, it also compresses old files that haven’t been used in a long time, to free up some room on the disk for actively used files.
To run Disk Cleanup:
- Go to your Start Menu, click All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup **OR** Open My Computer, right-click on the drive you wish to clean, choose Properties > click the Disk Cleanup button (like the Disk Cleanup image shows)
- Once the program has calculated all the things it can cleanup, go through the “Files to Delete” section and Check those which you want deleted, Clear those you do not want to delete.
- Once you’ve made your selections, click OK, then click Yes or “Delete Files” when prompted and it will handle the rest.
2.) Disk Defragmentation
Running Disk Defragmenter will help speed up your system’s ability to find and read data from your hard drive. In the pre-XP days, this was a big deal, and when you ran the utility a progress graphic would appear showing you which bits were being moved to where as everything was organized. To run Disk Defragmenter you would have to know about the application, and either run it manually or set up a scheduled task for it. When Vista & Windows 7 were released, this process was automatically added as a scheduled task, and likely runs every Wednesday sometime late at night.
If you’re on XP or lower, and want to run Disk Defragmenter:
- Click the Start Menu > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter **OR** Open a Run prompt, and type “dfrg.msc”
- Choose the drive you want to defragment, then click Analyze.
- Once it has finished processing, it will make a recommendation as to whether it needs to be defraged or not.
- If it says it needs it, or if you just want to do it anyway, click the Defragment button, and let it do its thing.
- As long as there is at least 15% free space on the drive, you can do this as many times as you think necessary – ultimately it will come close to putting all the colored bars together, and all the empty white space together – but it won’t always be perfect.
Removing Unwanted Programs
3.) Control Panel’s “Add/Remove Programs & Features”
The safest way to remove programs from your computer that you either don’t want or need is with Windows XP’s Add/Remove Programs or the Vista/7 Equivalent “Programs & Features” icon in the Control Panel.
Knowing which programs to remove can be tricky if you aren’t familiar with what has been installed on your computer. Generally if it is a new computer, or one that has been subjected to Spyware infection, I tell people to remove anything that has these words in it that aren’t from big name software vendors that you trust (i.e. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, etc):
Take caution about what you’re uninstalling from your computer. If you’re uncertain about a program, go to a website like BleepingComputer.com’s Uninstall Database and see if there is an entry for it in there. If there is an entry, and it’s described as a program you should remove, go ahead and remove it or follow their uninstall instructions. If the entry is either approved or non-existent, leave it on your computer, and we’ll check it with some of the next methods.
4.) Microsoft Security Essentials – Remove Spyware/Malware/Viruses
It’s the result of years of beta testing on the OneCare and OneCare Live platforms and now one of the latest, and best, software apps for removing viruses, spyware, and other malware is coming out of Microsoft – and what’s more it’s free. The program is called Microsoft Security Essentials – and as compared with 20 other security suite programs (including big names like Symantec/Norton, McAfee, Trend-Micro and AVG) MSE came out close to the top. But being free, and doing such an excellent job at finding programs that aren’t explicitly listed in its definitions (known as using Heuristics) MSE ranks better than the paid apps in my book. I use it on all my computers at home, and recommend it to folks who ask.
5.) Spybot Search & Destroy
Another free, and very effective program that I’ve used for years is called Spybot Search & Destroy. The best way to describe this program’s features is mentioned directly on their website:
Spybot – Search & Destroy detects and removes spyware, a relatively new kind of threat not yet covered by common anti-virus applications. Spyware silently tracks your surfing behavior to create a marketing profile for you that is transmitted without your knowledge to the compilers and sold to advertising companies. If you see new toolbars in your Internet Explorer that you haven’t intentionally installed, if your browser crashes inexplicably, or if your home page has been “hijacked” (or changed without your knowledge), your computer is most probably infected with spyware. Even if you don’t see the symptoms, your computer may be infected, because more and more spyware is emerging. Spybot-S&D is free, so there’s no harm giving it a try to see if something has invaded your computer. – www.safer-networking.org
There are some imitations out there that will try to get you to download something *similar* to Spybot, but instead of removing spyware, they actually add more. So instead of telling you to go download it from their site and risk clicking on an advertisement on one of their mirror websites, you can download it directly from the safer-networking.org website here.
Other ways to clean up
If your computer is still having trouble, there are other more complicated methods I use, but they require some knowledge of what is normally expected to be on a computer, and what is not. There are some very technical tools available for free that will show what files are in use by which process to help pinpoint the issue, but poking around on the sub-process level can really mess up your computer even more.
Should you find yourself needing this kind of expertise, you may need to take it to your local computer guru and have them take a look at it. Anyone who has successfully broken and fixed their own computer several times for fun should be able to figure out what’s wrong with yours.
But remember, whether it’s a family member, coworker, or best friend don’t expect the service to be free – even if they refuse payment. Acquiring the knowledge beyond what I can post in a Do-It-Yourself blog post takes many years of experience, mistakes, stress, and searching the internet for specific answers to the issue at hand. So treat them to dinner, offer a service exchange (if you have your own specialty), or something to show you appreciate their help.