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Clean up Windows 11 with Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup

Are you running out of free space on your Windows 11 computer? Or maybe you would like to clean up all the clutter that can build up over time? If so, here is how to clean and free up space on Windows 11 using Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup.

Clean up Windows 11 with Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup

Windows 11 has two (2) built-in programs that you can use to clean up Windows 11; Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup. They both have similar features, and they both can be run manually or automatically.

Note: Both of these programs will permanently delete files on your computer, so you need to be careful what you decide to clean up. Remember, once you delete a file or files with either one of these programs, you cannot get them back.

Storage Sense

The Storage Sense feature inside of Windows 11 Settings

Storage Sense is relatively new, as it first appeared in Windows 10 version 1809. It is relatively simple to use, as it only has a few settings that you can change.

Storage Sense can be run automatically when your computer starts to run out of free space or every day, week, or month. It can delete files in your Recycle Bin and Downloads folder based on how long those files have been there. You can run Storage Sense manually too.

How to open Storage Sense in Windows 11

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo key button to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the list of pinned apps on the Start menu, left-click on Settings.
  3. Scroll down the right-hand column and left-click on Storage.
  4. In the right-hand column, left-click on Storage Sense.

Disk Cleanup

The Disk Cleanup program inside of Windows 11

Disk Cleanup has been inside Windows for some time now and has far more options for cleaning up Windows 11. And there are two (2) ways to run Disk Cleanup, which I refer to as Standard and Advanced.

Disk Cleanup can clean up user and system files, ranging from the Recycle Bin and temporary Internet files for users to Windows Update and thumbnails for the system.

The Standard way to run Disk Cleanup

  1. Left-click on the Start button Windows logo to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the upper right-hand corner of the Start menu, left-click on All apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of programs and left-click on Windows Tools.
  4. Left-click on Disk Cleanup.

or

  1. Open File Explorer using one of the following:
    • Left-click on the File Explorer icon (manilla folder) on the Taskbar.
    • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo + E at the same time.
    • Use the Power User menu by right-clicking on the Start Windows logo button and selecting File Explorer.
  2. In the left-side column, left-click on This PC.
  3. In the right-side column, right-click on the drive you want to optimize and select Properties.
  4. On the General tab, left-click on the Disk Cleanup button.

If you started Disk Cleanup from the Windows Tools shortcut and have more than one (1) drive inside your computer, you may be prompted for which drive you want to clean up.

From the dialog box that appears, you will see a list of user files that can be deleted. If you are looking to clean up your user profile, select the files you want to delete and left-click on the OK button.

If you want to clean up system files, then left-click on the Clean up system files button. If this is the drive with Windows installed on it, you will have several more file options to choose from. Select the files you want to clean up and left-click on the OK button.

The Advanced way to run Disk Cleanup

Using the advanced way of starting Disk Cleanup will give you all of the user and system settings options. And you can also use Task Scheduler to run the advanced Disk Cleanup settings on a schedule you set.

The first thing you need to do is open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges. Note: The full name of Disk Cleanup is cleanmgr.exe, but you only need to use cleanmgr in the Admin Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 11

In the Admin Command Prompt, type the following and then press Enter.

cleanmgr

This will start Disk Cleanup, just like starting it from the Windows Tools shortcut. But you can use command-line switches to get all of the options (user and system). You can use several different command-line switches with cleanmgr, but you will only need to use two; /sageset:n and /sagerun:n.

cleanmgr /sageset:n

/sageset:n - This switch displays the Disk Cleanup settings dialog box and creates a registry key to store the settings you select. The n value is stored in the registry and allows you to specify different tasks for Disk Cleanup to run. The n value can be any integer value from 0 to 65535. To get all the available options when using the /sageset switch, you may need to specify the drive letter that contains the Windows installation.

cleanmgr /sagerun:n

/sagerun:n - This switch runs the specified tasks assigned to the n value using the /sageset switch. All drives in the computer will be enumerated, and the selected profile will be run against each drive.

How to create a Scheduled Task to run Disk Cleanup

First, you will need to have created a preset configuration using the /sageset:n switch. Then open Task Scheduler and create a new task.

  1. Left-click on the Start button Windows logo to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the upper right-hand corner of the Start menu, left-click on All apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of programs and left-click on Windows Tools.
  4. Left-click on Task Scheduler.
  5. In the right column labeled Actions, select Create Basic Task. The Create a Basic Task Wizard will appear.
  6. Give the task a name and description, and then select Next.
  7. Select when you want it to run (trigger).
  8. When prompted for what task you want to perform, select Start a program, then select Next.
  9. When prompted for a program/script to start, select Browse and navigate to C:\Windows\System32\ and select cleanmgr.exe.
  10. In the Add arguments section, type /sagerun:n and then select Next.
  11. Then select Finish, and you're all set.

You can also create a shortcut with the cleamgr /sagerun:n command, that way, you can run it manually whenever you want.

How to enable automatic registry backups in Windows 10 and Windows 11

When it comes to repairing Windows-based computers, the one thing that will positively stop Windows from starting up is a corrupt registry. Having a backup of the registry is essential for quickly getting a system back up and running. So here is how to enable automatic registry backups in Windows 10 and Windows 11.

How to enable automatic registry backups in Windows 10 and Windows 11

In previous versions of Windows, the operating system would automatically backup the registry. In fact, Windows did automatically back up the registry until Windows 10 version 1803.

With Windows 10 version 1803, Microsoft disabled the automatic registry backup to help reduce the overall footprint of Windows. Microsoft would prefer you to use the System Restore feature.

But considering that Windows 10 and Windows 11 can take up to 40GB or more of disk space, the folder that contains the registry backup (Windows\System32\config\RegBack) only takes up roughly 100MB or so of disk space. I do not see a problem with having a backup of the registry.

Now over the past couple of years, I have seen an increase in Windows computers that do not have System Protection enabled. System Protection is the feature that creates and manages the System Restore feature.

So when I get a computer in the shop with a corrupted registry, and there are no System Restore points, then the only thing I can do is reformat the drive and reinstall Windows. But you can re-enable the automatic registry backup with a simple registry edit.

Note: If you are not comfortable editing the registry, don't hesitate to contact a local computer technician to assist you.

From my experience, getting the registry backups going again is a two-step process. First, you create the registry key and restart your computer to take effect. Then you run the built-in task inside of Task Scheduler. Let's start with the registry editor.

How to open the Registry Editor in Windows 10 / Windows 11

  1. Open the Registry Editor by either
  2. Navigate to HKLM (HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE) > System > CurrentControlSet > Control > Session Manager > Configuration Manager
    Registry Editor open to Configuration Manager entry
  3. In the left-hand column, right-click on Configuration Manager and select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value.
    Creating the new DWORD value EnablePeriodicBackup
  4. Name the new DWORD value EnablePeriodicBackup.
    Registry Editor open to EnablePeriodicBackup value
  5. Right-click on the EnablePeriodicBackup value and select Modify.
    Modifying the EnablePeriodicBackup value
  6. Change the Value data from 0 to 1 and left-click on OK.
    Changing the default EnablePeriodicBackup value from 0 to 1
  7. Restart your computer.

Using File Explorer, navigate to the Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder and see if the registry files are backed up. If you encounter a couple of dialog boxes that tell you that you do not have permission to access this folder, left-click on Continue.

You should see five (5) files in this folder; DEFAULT, SAM, SECURITY, SOFTWARE, and SYSTEM. And more than likely, they will be only 0KB in size. If that is the case, we will need to run the task that backups the registry.

Now we need to run the built-in task RegIdleBackup to get the Windows to start backing up the registry. Once you run the RegIdleBackup task, you should restart your computer again to get it fully functional.

How to open the Task Scheduler in Windows 10 / Windows 11

  1. Open the Task Scheduler by either
  2. When Task Scheduler appears, navigate down the left-hand column to Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows > Registry.
    The RegIdleBackup task inside of Task Manager
  3. In the center column, highlight the RegIdleBackup task and select Run in the right-hand column.
  4. Restart your computer.

Windows will now be backing up the registry regularly, usually every ten (10) days. Now that you enabled automatic registry backups let's check and see if they are working.

Let's use File Explorer again to navigate to the Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder and see if the registry files have increased in size. You should now see they are no longer 0KB.

The different ways to navigate Windows 11

If you have used Windows before, you are well versed with the Start menu. But did you know that there are other ways to get around inside Windows 11? Let's take a look at the different ways to navigate Windows 11.

The different ways to navigate Windows 11

In the early versions of Windows, you only had the Program Manager to make your way around Windows. But in 1995, Microsoft released Windows 95 with a new way of navigating Windows, the Start menu.

Over the years, the look of the Start menu has changed. It has had several different Windows logos, flat/rounded/beveled edges, but it always worked the same way.

Then came Windows 8, and Microsoft changed the Start menu. The Start menu was replaced with the Start screen, and navigating Windows would never be the same.

When Windows users complained about the Windows 8 Start screen, Microsoft introduced the Power User menu in Windows 8.1. That made finding the more popular features easier, like Settings, System, and Computer Management.

So when Windows 10 was released, the Start menu came back along with the Power User menu. A few other cool features were added to the Start menu, including the ability to change the accent color of the Start menu.

With Windows 11, Microsoft changed the look and feel of the Start menu, but all of the essential functions are still there. The Start menu layout changed, but the learning curve is really mild.

Windows 11 Start menu

The Start menu is the traditional way of getting around Windows 11. As with every version of Windows, Microsoft has made some changes to its appearance.

With Windows 11, you can change the location of the Start menu to either the center or the left side of the Taskbar. Sadly, you can not change the Taskbar's position to the left, right, or top of the screen.

You can change the same Start menu features in Windows 11 that you could in Windows 10. The only thing I found you cannot do is to change the Start menu's color. You can only change the color mode, light or dark.

All Start menu customizations can be found by going to Settings > Personalization. Here is a list of the features and areas on the Windows 11 Start menu.

The different features and areas of the Windows 11 Start menu

  • Search box - Type in the name of the app or file you are looking for.
  • Pinned apps - This is a collection of shortcuts to your favorite programs.
  • All apps - Here, you will find all of the shortcuts to all of the installed programs.
  • Recommended - This is a list of the most recently used files.
  • Folders - These are the shortcuts that you select to appear next to the Power button. You can choose which folders appear by going to Settings > Personalization > Start > Folders.

Here is a list of the folders you can have to appear next to the Power button.

  • Settings
  • File Explorer
  • Document
  • Music
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Network
  • Personal folder

Windows 11 Power User Menu

The Power User menu appeared in Windows 8.1 to appease users that were upset with the replacement of the Start menu with the Start screen. Windows 8 was a nightmare to navigate using the Start screen, and the Power User menu made it a little easier.

The Power User menu has shortcuts to the most used features inside of Windows, including System, Settings, and Computer Management. And the cool thing is that you can bring up the Power User menu in two (2) different ways.

  • Right-click on the Start button Windows logo

or

  • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo + X at the same time.

Windows 11 Power User menu

If you use your keyboard to bring up the Power User menu, the different programs and features will have a letter underlined in their name. If you press the corresponding letter, that program or feature opens.

Windows 11 Windows Logo keyboard shortcuts

Back when the Start menu was introduced, Microsoft also added a feature to help navigate Windows using the keyboard. That Windows logo key on your keyboard can do a whole lot more than just bring up the Start menu.

Windows 11 Windows logo keyboard shortcuts

The Windows logo key can open more than fifty (50) Windows 11 programs and features when used with other keys. Some of my personal favorites are:

  • Windows logo key Windows logo + E opens File Explorer
  • Windows logo key Windows logo + R opens the Run dialog box
  • Windows logo key Windows logo + X opens the Power User menu

What makes these Windows logo keyboard shortcuts special to me is that you can use only your left hand to use them. That way, I can keep my right hand on my mouse. Follow the link below for a complete list of the Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 11 (it opens in a new window).

Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 11

How to defragment and optimize your drive in Windows 11

When it comes to the performance of your Windows 11 computer, the faster your drive can read and write files, the better. So keeping your drive in tip-top shape is essential. So here is how to defragment and optimize your drive in Windows 11.

How to defragment and optimize your drive in Windows 11

Imagine opening a filing cabinet and finding someone mixed up all the files. It would take you more time to find the files you were looking right? The same thing holds true for your computer.

When I started working with computers, there were only a couple of storage options: Hard Disk Drives (HDD) and Floppy Disk Drives (FDD). And DOS and early versions of Windows were notorious for not writing files back to exactly where they were found, and this a how a drive gets fragmented.

So HDDs required regular defragmentation to maintain their performance. On the other hand, Solid State Drives (SSD) write files back to the same place they found them. The only maintenance SSDs require is free space consolidation.

And the built-in defragment/optimization program in Windows 11 can handle both HDDs and SSDs. In fact, there are two (2) versions of the defrag program. One has a GUI (Graphic User Interface), The other uses a Command Line Interface (CLI).

I like to refer to the different versions as Standard (GUI) and Advanced (CLI). The Standard version is simple to use but has limited features, and the Advanced version is a little harder to use but has more features.

The Standard way to defrag/optimize your drives in Windows 11

Using the GUI version of Defrag in Windows 11

To perform Standard defragment/optimization, you will need to open the Defragment and Optimize Drives program. Here are a couple of ways of opening the app.

  1. Left-click on the Start button Windows logo to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the upper right-hand corner of the Start menu, left-click on All apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of programs and left-click on Windows Tools.
  4. Left-click on Defragment and Optimize Drives.

or

  1. Open File Explorer using one of the following:
    • Left-click on the File Explorer icon (manilla folder) on the Taskbar.
    • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo + E at the same time.
    • Use the Power User menu by right-clicking on the Start Windows logo button and selecting File Explorer.
  2. In the left-side column, left-click on This PC.
  3. In the right-side column, right-click on the drive you want to optimize and select Properties.
  4. Left-click on the Tools tab.
  5. Under Optimize and defragment drive, left-click on Optimize.

Once you have the Optimize Drives program open, just highlight the drive you want to optimize and select either Analyze or Optimize. You can also change the schedule that Windows 11 uses for scheduled optimization.

The Advanced way to defrag/optimize your drives in Windows 11

Using the CLI version of Defrag in Windows 11

To perform Advanced defragment/optimization, you will need to run command-line syntax(s) and parameter(s) in an Administrative Command Prompt. The link below opens in a new window.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 11

The name of the program you want to run is Defrag. There are multiple syntaxes and parameters you can use with Defrag. The complete list and a few examples are listed below. The correct usage of syntaxes and parameters are as follows:

Defrag <Volumes> <Operations> [<Options>]

Examples:

  • Defrag C: /U /V
  • Defrag C: D: /TierOptimize /MultiThread
  • Defrag C:\mountpoint /Analyze /U
  • Defrag /C /H /V
Volumes
/C | /AllVolumes On each volume run only the preferred operations from the given list of operations.
/E | /VolumesExcept <volume paths> Perform all the given operations on each volume except those specified. If the exception list is empty, this behaves as /AllVolumes.
volume paths Specifies the drive letter followed by a colon, mount point, or volume name. More than one volume can be specified. Run all the given operations on each specified volume.
Operations
/A | /Analyze Perform analysis.
/B | /BootOptimize Perform boot optimization to increase boot performance.
/D | /Defrag Perform traditional defrag (this is the default). On a tiered volume, traditional defrag is performed only on the Capacity tier.
/G | /TierOptimize On tiered volumes, optimize files to reside on the appropriate storage tier.
/K | /SlabConsolidate On thinly provisioned volumes, perform slab consolidation to increase slab usage efficiency.
/L | /Retrim On thinly provisioned volumes, perform retrim to release free slabs. On SSDs perform retrim to improve write performance.
/O | /Optimize Perform the proper optimization for each media type.
/T | /TrackProgress Track progress of a running operation for a given volume. An instance can show progress only for a single volume. To see progress for another volume launch another instance.
/U | /PrintProgress Print the progress of the operation on the screen.
/V | /Verbose Print verbose output containing the fragmentation statistics.
/X | /FreespaceConsolidate Perform free space consolidation, moves free space towards the end of the volume (even on thin provisioned volumes). On tiered volumes consolidation is performed only on the Capacity tier.
Options
/H | /NormalPriority Run the operation at normal priority (default is low).
/I | /MaxRuntime n Available only with TierOptimize. Tier optimization would run for at most n seconds on each volume.
/LayoutFile <file path> Available only with BootOptimize. This file contains the list of files to be optimized. The default location is %windir%\Prefetch\layout.ini.
/M | /MultiThread [n] Run the operation on each volume in parallel in the background. For TierOptimize, at most n threads optimize the storage tiers in parallel. Default value of n is 8. All other optimizations ignore n.
/OnlyPreferred When volumes are specified explicitly, defrag performs all the given operations on each specified volume. This switch lets defrag run only the preferred operations, from the given list of operations, on each specified volume.

How to check your drive for errors in Windows 11

When it comes to Windows 11, keeping your drives error-free is essential to the performance of your computer. Hard or slow to open files or apps could signify that the drive needs to be checked for errors. Here is how to check your drive for errors in Windows 11.

How to check your drive for errors in Windows 11

Now disk errors are not uncommon in Windows. In fact, the original name of MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System) was QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System).

There are two (2) different ways to check a drive for errors: Standard and Advanced. The Standard way is far easier to run, but the Advanced way is more comprehensive.

Standard drive error checking in Windows 11

Standard drive error checking in Windows 11

To perform a Standard drive check, you will need to access the properties of that drive. To do this, you will need to open File Explorer.

  1. Open File Explorer using one of the following:
    • Left-click on the File Explorer icon (manilla folder) on the Taskbar.
    • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo + E at the same time.
    • Use the Power User menu by right-clicking on the Start Windows logo button and selecting File Explorer.
  2. In the left-side column, left-click on This PC.
  3. In the right-side column, right-click on the drive you want to check and select Properties.
  4. Left-click on the Tools tab.
  5. Under Error checking, left-click on Check.
  6. Left-click on Scan drive.

Advanced drive error-checking in Windows 11

Advanced drive error checking in Windows 11

To perform Advanced error checking, you will need to run command-line syntax(s) and parameter(s) in an Administrative Command Prompt. The link below opens in a new window.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 11

The name of the program you want to run is CHKDSK (short for check disk). There are multiple syntaxes and parameters you can use with CHKDSK. The complete list is below.

Keep in mind that if to want to run CHKDSK on the drive with Windows on it, the error check may need to be scheduled for the next boot. But CHKDSK will prompt you if that is the case. The two command lines I use on a regularly are

CHKDSK (drive letter): /F CHKDSK (drive letter): /R

CHKDSK [volume[[path]filename]]] [/F] [/V] [/R] [/X] [/I] [/C] [/L[:size]] [/B] [/scan] [/spotfix]

volume Specifies the drive letter (followed by a colon), mount point, or volume name.
filename FAT/FAT32 only: Specifies the files to check for fragmentation.
/F Fixes errors on the disk.
/V On FAT/FAT32: Displays the full path and name of every file on the disk. On NTFS: Displays cleanup messages, if any.
/R Locates bad sectors and recovers readable information (implies /F, when /scan not specified).
/L:size NTFS only: Changes the log file size to the specified number of kilobytes. If a size is not specified, it displays the current size.
/X Forces the volume to dismount first if necessary. All opened handles to the volume would then be invalid (implies /F).
/I NTFS only: Performs a less vigorous check of index entries.
/C NTFS only: Skips checking of cycles within the folder structure.
/B NTFS only: Re-evaluates bad clusters on the volume (implies /R).
/scan NTFS only: Runs an online scan on the volume.
/forceofflinefix NTFS only: (Must be used with "/scan") Bypass all online repair; all defects found are queued for offline repair (i.e. "chkdsk /spotfix").
/perf NTFS only: (Must be used with "/scan") Uses more system resources to complete a scan as fast as possible. This may have a negative performance impact on other tasks running on the system.
/spotfix NTFS only: Runs spot-fixing on the volume.
/sdcleanup NTFS only: Garbage collects unneeded security descriptor data (implies /F).
/offlinescanandfix Runs an offline scan and fix on the volume.
/freeorphanedchains FAT/FAT32/exFAT only: Frees any orphaned cluster chains instead of recovering their contents.
/markclean FAT/FAT32/exFAT only: Marks the volume clean if no corruption was detected, even if /F was not specified.

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