When to Dump Old Downloads


Delete old installation files and other unnecessary system detritus from your computer to free up hard-drive space.

Q. I have an older computer and have been using Windows 7 for many years. As I update software, I have been accumulating installation files in the Downloads folder. Can I just clear the entire folder, or may some of them be filling some ongoing function?

A. If you have already added the programs to your computer, you can delete the old installation programs piling up in the Downloads folder. Once you have run the installer files, they just sit dormant unless you need to reinstall the program you downloaded. If you have been using Windows 7 for years, odds are those installer files have outdated versions of the programs anyway.

When you have made sure the Downloads folder contains nothing but outdated installer files, you can detele its contents and reclaim space on the computer’s drive.CreditThe New York Times

Before you dump everything, skim the folder’s contents to make sure there are no items in there you need. Next, press the Control and A keys to select all the files at once and press the Delete key to fling them into the Recycle Bin. To erase the contents of the Recycle Bin, right-click its icon and choose Empty Recycle Bin.

The Disk Cleanup tool that comes with Windows can also be useful for dredging up and deleting outdated and unneeded files taking up space on your hard drive. To use it, go to the Start menu, type “Disk Cleanup” in the search box and select Disk Cleanup in the results. The program scans the computer and presents a list of file types that can be flushed. Mark your selections and click the O.K. button for the utility to do its work.

The Disk Cleanup tool included with Windows scans the computer for unnecessary files (left), and system files (right), that you can safely delete from the hard drive.CreditThe New York Times

Those with Windows 10 can use the system’s Storage Sense feature to automatically reclaim drive space used by unneeded files. To set it up, press the Windows and I keys to open the Settings box, select the System icon and then Storage. Once there, you can turn on the Storage Sense function and set up your preferences.

Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology to techtip@nytimes.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

J.D. Biersdorfer has been answering technology questions — in print, on the web, in audio and in video — since 1998. She also writes the Sunday Book Review’s “Applied Reading” column on ebooks and literary apps, among other things.@jdbiersdorfer