While it's important to clean your Windows PC occasionally to clean junk and free up space, it's possible to go overboard with it. If you go beyond basic cleaning with the tools built into Windows, you run the risk of breaking something.
Let's look at some dangers of going too far with Windows cleaning, and what you should know about these operations.
1. Deleting Your Recovery Partition
Most of the time, when you install Windows 10 on a disk, it creates a recovery partition. This allows you to easily reset or refresh Windows on your computer without having to use a separate installation disc or recovery USB drive.
If you installed Windows on your own, this recovery partition is often negligible. But computer manufacturers often include their own recovery partition with their customized version of Windows, which takes up a lot more space.
To have a look at the size of your recovery partition, right-click the Start button or press Win + X to open the Power User Menu, then choose Disk Management from the list. Next to Disk 0, which is the disk where you have Windows installed, you should see at least one section labeled as (Recovery Partition).
Using disk management tools, you can delete this partition to free up space on your drive. However, if you do this, you won't be able to conveniently refresh Windows using the built-in tools. You can create a recovery drive on a separate device, but if you lose that, you won't be able to reinstall Windows either.
In those cases, you'll have to download a Windows 10 image to access recovery options, which isn't very convenient. If you have separate recovery media and won't lose track of it, then deleting your recovery partition is OK. But otherwise, you should leave it be, as it's a lifesaver when you need it.
2. Damaging Your Registry
The Registry is a database where Windows keeps all kinds of settings for both the OS and third-party apps. Usually, you don't need to venture into the Registry on your own unless you want to perform an advanced tweak or similar.
It's common to see advertisements for Registry cleaners online. They claim that they'll fix thousands of "problems" in the Registry and make your computer run faster. These might include unused entries, like information left over by uninstalled programs.
However, in almost all cases, Registry cleaning does not bring any noticeable improvements. Even fixing thousands of "errors" would only clean up a few kilobytes on your system, and the Registry doesn't really get "clogged" with unneeded entries to the point where it affects performance.
If you use a Registry cleaner anyway, you could do more harm than good to your system. The Registry is a complex place, so even "good" Registry-cleaning software might mess up and remove an important file by mistake. If this happens, you could corrupt Windows, damage a program, or cause other big issues.
Registry cleaners are simply not worth it. They offer no advantages and have the potential to break your system. Stay away from them.
3. Erasing System or Other Important Files
Windows has lots of important files scattered around the file system. These include crucial system files, program settings, and tweaks you've made. Windows will block you from deleting some of these files, but there's also a risk of erasing something important if you get too fervent with cleaning.
You should avoid deleting files in any important system directories, such as C:\Windows. The OS hides a lot of these by default, so it's even more important to double-check if you've chosen to show hidden files.
But it's not just system files that can cause problems. Some games store save data in your Documents folder, for example. Blindly deleting everything in your Documents could cause you to lose game progress by mistake.
Familiarize yourself with Windows folders that you should never touch and stay away from them unless you have a specific reason to poke around.
4. Driver Cleanup
Computer drivers are important, as they allow all the hardware you connect to your computer to function properly. While it's important to keep key drivers like your chipset and graphics drivers updated, most of the time, you should follow the "if it's not broken, don't fix it" rule with them.
Since drivers can be more tedious to update than regular software, you might be tempted to install a driver update utility. Unfortunately, these are usually more trouble than they're worth. Driver update utilities are notorious for bundling a bunch of ads, installing the wrong drivers, or grabbing drivers from illegitimate sources.
Even legitimate driver utilities can cause issues. There are reports online of AMD's Cleanup Utility removing USB drivers for mice and keyboards, causing black screens, or other frustrating issues.
Driver cleanup tools like Display Driver Uninstaller can be useful in drastic cases where you have no other choice to get rid of a problematic driver. But you should avoid them otherwise—see our guide to updating Windows drivers for what to do instead.
5. Drive Wiping
The ultimate form of overzealous cleaning comes in the form of wiping your drive. When you reset Windows 10, you can choose to keep your personal files intact or wipe everything to start fresh.
Of course, if you're just resetting to refresh Windows, you probably don't want to wipe everything. But if you're selling your computer, then wiping everything prevents the new owner from recovering your data.
You can go a step further and use a tool like DBAN (Darik's Boot and Nuke) to obliterate everything on the drive by overwriting it with garbage data. This takes a lot of time, but gives you security in knowing that no traces of data remain on the drive.
Just be careful if you do this. Using a tool like DBAN will make everything on your computer irrecoverable, so don't use it unless you have a full backup and are sure you want to destroy everything.
Be Careful With Windows Cleaning
As we've seen, it's easy to go too far with Windows cleaning and end up breaking something. The basic Windows cleaning tools should be fine in most cases; if you go beyond them, make sure you know what you're doing.
Image Credit: Stokkete/Shutterstock
Don't know how to clean Windows 10? Here's a clear step-by-step guide to getting your Windows PC nice and tidy again.