How to Free Up Disk Space

Insufficient disk space can slow down your device and prevent you from saving files and installing essential security updates. We’ll show you how to clear disk space on Windows and Mac by emptying your recycle bin, using disk cleanup utilities, deleting temporary files, and uninstalling applications. Or, use dedicated cleanup software to keep your disk clean automatically.

Written by Anthony Freda
Published on May 7, 2021
Reviewed by Sandro Villinger

Many programs can generate large amounts of junk. That's why the feel of a brand-new computer is so quick to fade. Not sure how much disk space you have left? Skip ahead to learn more about what disk space is and how to check how much disk space is currently free, or use an effective junkware removal cleanup tool to help you with all of the above and more.

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    How to clear disk space in Windows

    Trying to clear disk space in Windows is all about knowing which files your computer needs, and which ones it can live without. Otherwise, you may end up deleting important personal data, or hobbling your laptop or desktop by erasing essential system files.

    Enter Avast Cleanup: an automated cleanup tool that clears out everything you don’t need — including bloatware, unnecessary digital leftovers, and old registry settings for outdated programs — while saving everything you do. Try Avast Cleanup to shorten your boot time and improve the performance of your computer, all without you having to do a thing.

    Prefer to manually clear space on your PC? We’ll take you through all the necessary steps.

    Here’s how to free up disk space in Windows:

    1. Empty the Recycle Bin

    For many people, a hard drive cleanup will begin and end by emptying the trash can. But when you right-click and select Delete on Windows, that file hasn't actually been deleted yet. And unless you have a program or setting that regularly clears out your Recycle Bin, its contents will build up over time and take up huge amounts of space. Luckily, deleting all this data takes just a few clicks, and the question of how to get more disk space is solved.

    Simply right-click the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop, and then click Empty Recycle Bin.

    Emptying the Trash on macOS to free up disk space.

    That's it! Just make sure to look through the Recycle Bin before deleting. You can retrieve a file by right-clicking and restoring it to its original location.

    Be aware that if you delete a file on an external HDD, and if that file is bigger than your available space on your main hard drive, you may receive a notice that you’re about to permanently delete the file. As with anything, make sure to read before deciding to click. 

    Still got something burning a hole in your hard drive? When figuring out how to free up disk space, it’s good to target the least-essential stuff first, so let’s move on to the stuff your computer definitely isn’t using.

    2. Use Disk Cleanup

    Windows comes with an automated app for deleting all kinds of things, including obsolete Windows files and anything in the Recycle Bin. Here’s how to clear up disk space on Windows 10:

    1. Step 1. Type Disk Cleanup in the taskbar.

      A windows start menu with Disk cleanup appearing
    2. Step 2. Click Disk Cleanup and choose a drive to clean.

      Selecting a disk to clean with Disk Cleanup for Windows 10
    3. Step 3. The Disk Cleanup utility shows you everything you can delete and how much space you will clear up. All of these are safe to delete, except Windows ESD Installation Files. Leave that unchecked.

      a view of Disk cleanup after "Cleanup system files" has been clicked
    4. Step 4. You can delete even more if you click Clean up system files (see the screenshot in step 2), which gives you additional options for file deletion.

    If you're looking for the best Windows cleaning methods, Disk Cleanup is a tried-and-true method that will help you speed up your PC.

    3. Delete temporary files

    Disk Cleanup doesn't remove temporary files created by Chrome and other browsers, so you'll have to remove them from within those programs. Clearing your cache on Mac and PC is handled within your browser’s settings — look for a button that says Clear Cache. The button is usually close to one that lets you delete browser cookies

    Cache sizes can easily reach several gigabytes. If you’re wondering how to get more disk space, one way is to flush out all the data your browser automatically saves onto your computer.

    4. Delete duplicate files

    You can manually go through your files and find unnecessary doubles, or you can use a program that detects duplicates for you. Using an app will prevent you from deleting folders with identical names but different contents. This is about how to free disk space, not how to delete precious memories!

    Is this too much to remember? Avast Cleanup includes a tool for clearing out temporary files from web browsers and duplicate folders whether you're using Mac or PC. It can be a hassle going through all your apps and folders separately, so why not use a program that does it all for you? Try Avast Cleanup today.

    5. Uninstall applications

    Unused or useless programs like bloatware might be taking up space on your computer, and uninstalling them can increase your available hard drive space. Here’s how to uninstall unnecessary applications on your Windows PC, and how to free up disk space as a result:

    1. Step 1. Type Add or remove programs in the taskbar, and select Add or remove programs.

      the windows start menu displaying the app "Add or remove programs"
    2. Step 2. Scroll through the list of programs on your computer and remove them from here. Look up any program names you don’t recognize before deleting them. Anything with Microsoft or Windows in the name is probably important and shouldn’t be touched. If it isn't important, it should get removed by Disk Cleanup anyway.

      A view of the Add or remove programs app.
    3. Step 3. Click the program you want to uninstall and click Uninstall.

       an example of what happens when you click on one program, with the Uninstall button circled.

    6. Configure System Restore

    System Restore lets Windows restore critical files that might have been lost in a recent update. You can usually leave it as is — unless you're really hurting for space. 

    System Restore reserves a certain amount of space on your hard drive so it can do its job. Here’s how to use System Restore to set aside space on your hard disk: 

    1. Step 1. Type System protection or Create a restore point in the Taskbar. Select Create a restore point.

      A windows start menu showing the System Restore app.
    2. With your main Windows drive highlighted, click Configure.

      the system restore app interface, with Windows C drive highlighted and the "Configure" button circled.
    3. Set the Max Usage amount using the slider. The default setting is usually optimal for your PC, and you should only change this if nothing else has worked for you.

      configuration options for System restore, with the "Disk Space Usage" section circled.

    It's up to you to decide what's more important: a failsafe mechanism that might save you one day, or increased disk space. Proceed with caution.

    How to clear disk space on Mac

    Mac's Storage Management feature offers some useful recommendations on how to clear out space, but it can only go so far.

    Here’s how to reclaim disk space on your Macbook:

    1. Empty the trash

    For many people, a hard drive cleanup will begin and end by emptying the trash can. It’s certainly a good place to start, but it will only scratch the surface when it comes to freeing up disk space.

    1. Right-click the Trash icon on your desktop.

    2. Click Empty Trash. Emptying the Trash on macOS to free up disk space.

    2. Use Optimize

    Mac’s built-in cleanup app is called Optimize — here’s how to it to free up storage space on your Mac:

    1. Step 1. Click the Apple logo in the upper-left corner and select About This Mac.

    2. Step 2. Click Storage and then Manage.

      Viewing and managing storage options in macOS Catalina.
    3. Step 3. Under Optimize Storage, click Optimize to clear out any movies, TV shows, and other large files that you've already watched.

      Optimizing storage to clear out large files and free up disk space in macOS.

    The Optimize tool is an easy way to clean out your Mac and free up disk space for new files.

    3. Delete temporary files

    As well as freeing up gigabytes of storage space, deleting cached data can help improve your Mac’s performance, and even boost your security. For best results, make sure to clean out your browser, app, and system cache by following our comprehensive guide to clearing your cache on Mac.

    4. Delete duplicate files

    Erasing unnecessary duplicates can free up tons of space, but it’s time consuming to do manually. Using a specialized clean up program like Avast Cleanup not only saves you time, but ensures you don't accidentally delete any important folders with identical names but different contents.

    5. Uninstall applications

    It’s not always straightforward to get rid of unnecessary programs on Mac, so check out our dedicated guide to learn how to uninstall Mac apps and free up hard drive space without using a third-party uninstaller. Alternatively, you can uninstall apps easily on Mac with the help of a bloatware removal tool.

    6. Save files to the cloud

    Even after purging your Mac of unwanted junk, temporary, and duplicate files, it’s still possible to free up even more disk space by uploading files you do want to keep to iCloud, MyDrive, or another third-party cloud storage service. This means you can safely store and access all your documents, photos, and videos without weighing down your hard drive.

    What is disk space, exactly?

    Disk space is the total amount of data that a hard disk or hard drive can store. Your operating system and apps like Google Chrome take up disk space, which can also be called disk storage or storage capacity. Disk space is measured in gigabytes (GB).

    Why should I free up disk space?

    A drive that is 90% full won’t work as well as one that's 85% full, so be sure to regularly clean up your PC to reclaim some space. If your hard drive is 90% full, it's probably not your fault — you wouldn't believe how much junk is generated by the most popular programs. Becoming well-versed in how to free disk space is generally a good idea. 

    Keep at least 15% of your disk storage empty to allow enough space for temporary files. Web browsers store data from commonly visited websites on your computer, but over time, you can accumulate data for sites you haven't visited in months. Clear out temporary files in your browser to create space for the sites that you do visit. 

    Windows updates take up space as well. Get rid of old updates and one-time installation files to preserve space for newer updates — which are essential to your computer's security. 

    Without sufficient storage space, your hard drive will split files up into small pieces and store them wherever it can, and these must all be read before you can use the file. Hard drive defragmentation can put these files back together, but you’ll need free space. Otherwise, your PC may struggle to open large files. 

    Finally, you'll need some free space in case your RAM needs to offload some work to your hard drive. Though your computer will slow down considerably when this happens, at least it won’t freeze because your hard drive is too full to help at all.

    How to check disk space on Windows 10

    Checking your disk space on Windows 10 takes just a few clicks. If you’re an Apple user, jump down to check your disk space on Mac.

    Here’s how to check what is taking up space on your hard drive in Windows 10.

    1. Click the folder icon on the taskbar.

      A windows taskbar with the folder icon circled.
    2. Click This PC on the left panel.

      File explorer in Windows with "This PC" highlighted in the left pane.
    3. Under Devices and drives, find your C: drive and note how much space is left.

      An overview of "This PC" in windows explorer with Windows C drive highlighted.

    If your disk is full, it’s definitely time to delete some data to free up space. You can also fix 100% disk usage in Windows task manager if that’s your issue.

    How to check disk space on Mac

    The first step in clearing up your Mac hard drive is knowing how much space you're taking up already. Luckily, it's simple. Here’s how to check how much disk space you have on your Mac:

    1. From your desktop, click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner. Select About This Mac.

      Opening up the Mac menu in macOS Catalina.
    2. Click the Storage tab at the top.

      Viewing available storage in macOS Catalina.

    This helpful little screen also tells you what kind of storage you're using.

    By clicking About This Mac, you can easily see how much disk space you have and what kind of storage you're using.The categories should be pretty self-explanatory, although you might have to investigate further to find out what Other means on a Mac. Either way, learning more about your computer should help you speed up your Mac with ease.

    Free up extra space with Avast Cleanup

    Know what gets rid of all the unnecessary stuff without any risk to your important data or system files? A trusted third-party cleanup program. These apps have been so useful to so many people for decades that you would be hard-pressed to find a tech-savvy person that doesn’t have one installed.

    Avast Cleanup cleans the registry, deletes the browser cache, removes bloatware, defrags your hard drive when necessary, and much more.Avast Cleanup does it all — it cleans the registry, deletes the browser cache, removes bloatware, defrags your hard drive when necessary, and everything else we talked about above. With Avast Cleanup, you’ll never deal with a full hard drive again.

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    Anthony Freda