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Cleanup Your PC by Removing Temporary Files

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 6/16/2009

You can use Disk Cleanup to rid your PC of temporary Internet files, but it won’t catch all of them. Learn how to get rid of files Disk Cleanup missed.

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    There is a good chance you have temporary (*.tmp) files hiding in every nook and cranny of your PC. You should delete these files on occasion, since these files can accumulate and eventually bog down your computer. If you’ve never taken the time to clean up your temporary files you can free up lots of hard drive space too.

    There are lots of reasons temp files are created. When Windows locks up or crashes, or if you have to use Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart, some temporary files get left on your hard disk. Some installation routines also leave temporary files. Temp files can be files that the computer creates to use as backup files for office programs like Microsoft Word so that, if something happens and the program shuts down unexpectedly, a saved copy will be available. Programs create temporary files, too, to store frequently needed information in an easily retrievable folder. Temporary files are also created when you surf the Internet, and these files store information about the Web sites you visit. Most of the time, these files are created to save you time, but after a while, their buildup can cause a hard disk to bog down.

    It’s best to clean up your temporary file folders occasionally, just to make sure you aren’t causing the hard drive any unnecessary strain. There are several ways to do this, and using Disk Cleanup is the easiest.

    Disk Cleanup is a utility that ships with Windows XP and Vista and can be used to delete temporary Internet files, temporary (computer) files, offline Web pages, the files in the Recycle Bin, and more. Temporary files aren’t needed, and if you’ve used offline Web pages, they’re just taking up space too. Disk Cleanup is easy to use, but this first time you might want to lay off emptying the Recycle Bin, just to be safe.

    Here’s how to use Disk Cleanup:

    1. Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, and click Disk Cleanup. [See Image 1]

    2. Select the drive to clean up (if prompted), and click OK.

    Note: If you’re using Windows Vista, and if you have multiple user accounts on your PC, you’ll be asked whether to clean up your files or everyone’s. You’ll have to make a choice to continue.

    3. In the Disk Cleanup dialog box, select the items to delete. I suggest leaving the Recycle Bin unchecked (you can do that manually later), but you can select the others. [See Image 2]

    4. Click OK.

    Tip: If you have multiple partitions, run Disk Cleanup on each of them.

    Cleaning Up What Disk Cleanup Has Missed

    You might have noticed that there weren’t options in Disk Cleanup to remove cookies, browser caches, Internet Explorer history, recent documents, and similar items you might want to get rid of. In addition, if you use Search to locate the temporary files on your computer after running Disk Cleanup, you’ll notice there are still some there. Here’s how to clean up these additional temporary files:

    1. Use the Search option and search your drive for *.tmp files to delete temporary files left on your machine. Make sure you've configured the Search Look In box to search all partitions and drives.

    2. Right-click Name in the Search window and verify that Date Modified is checked.

    3. Click Date Modified in the Search window to sort the remaining temporary files by date.

    4. Hold the Shift key and select the first file that is more than a week old. Click again on the last file in the list.

    5. Click Delete on the keyboard. (Not all files will be deleted.)

    Just for fun, search for and delete any files with the following extensions: *.dmp (dump files created when your computer crashes) and *.fts and *.gid (files that make searches faster; if you don’t use Help a lot, delete these).

    Bonus Tip: To clear the Recent Documents list, right-click the Windows Taskbar, click Properties, click the Start Menu tab, and click Customize. Here, you can click Clear in XP or change the number of recent programs to display to zero in Vista. [See Image 3]

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    Images