Why you should download CCleaner (for free) if you want to speed up your PC

Remove unnecessary files and clear web history to boost speed and privacy

Why you need CCleaner

Download CCleaner free

The premise of CCleaner is simple: improve your PC's performance by deleting unnecessary files (including temporary files, cookies and the contents of your Recycle Bin) and protect your privacy by wiping your web browser's search history and recently typed URLs, and eliminating tracking cookies that report your online activities back to advertisers.

In theory that could all be done using Windows' own optimization tools, the Task Manager and your browser settings, but that would take time that many of us simply don't have to spare. CCleaner's clear, well designed interface makes it incredibly simple to keep on top of the housekeeping it's easy to ignore (even though you know you shouldn't).

Each element is explained clearly and you can deselect anything you don't want to be cleaned up so you don't accidentally remove anything that you might later need. For example, CCleaner can erase usernames and passwords saved by your web browser, but only if you explicitly tell it to.

  • For a less cluttered computing experience, try a Chromebook

CCleaner scan results

CCleaner scans your PC's hard drive for files that can be safely deleted to free up valuable space

CCleaner versions

There are four versions of the CCleaner desktop software:

All four will clear your PC of clutter for a speed boost and improved privacy, but the Professional version also includes real-time monitoring, scheduled cleaning, automatic updates and premium support. If you spend a little more on Professional Plus, you not only get CCleaner, but also superb file-recovery tool Recuva, disk defragging software Defraggler and system information program Speccy.

CCleaner Cloud puts all the features of the desktop software in your browser, and once you've installed the client software, you can use it to clean up multiple PCs remotely. It's available in three versions, depending on your requirements:

  • Free
  • Professional - US$5 (about £3.41, AU$6.69) per month or US$50 (about £34.14, AU$66.88) per year
  • Business - US$2 (about £1.36, AU$2.68) per endpoint per month.

All versions are free from spyware and adware.

CCleaner Free

You'll be keen to dive in and begin optimizing your PC straight away, but before analyzing you drives it's a good idea to take a look at CCleaner's settings. Some of these are only accessible to Pro users, but others (such as 'Only delete files in the Recycle Bin older than 24 hours' and any specific cookies you'd like to keep) are worth looking at before you begin your first scan.

CCleaner saved password warning

CCleaner will alert you if you select any files that might cause problems if they're deleted

The main CCleaner screen contains two tabs - Windows and Applications - displaying all the temporary files and other potentially unwanted clutter it can remove from your system. You'll notice that some options are unchecked by default; these are ones you might want to keep for the sake of convenience, and CCleaner will let you know the risks if you select any particularly significant ones so you can make an informed decision.

When you've made your choices, click 'Analyze' and CCleaner will scan your system to see how much drive space you could save by clearing those items. This scan may take a couple of minutes depending on how cluttered your drives are.

Once it's finished its scan, CCleaner will show you what it's found. If you're happy to go ahead and delete those files, click 'Run cleaner' and the program will do its work. If it's removed a significant amount of junk, you should see a noticeable improvement in speed. Our review PC (formerly a mess of temporary files and cookies) definitely felt less sluggish after CCleaner swept away over 2.4GB of clutter..

After it's deleted temporary files, CCleaner can take a look at your Windows Registry. This is a database that stores information about the operating system itself and your installed programs. Over time, it can become populated by unused entries, broken links and missing data, all of which can affect your PC's performance. To give it a spring clean, select 'Registry', take a look at which CCleaner is going to scan for, and click 'Scan for Issues'. If you're happy to let CCleaner correct the problems it's found, click 'Fix selected issues'.

CCleaner registry scanner

CCleaner can scan your Windows Registry for broken links and missing data

You'll be prompted to make a backup before proceeding, which is a very good idea - the Registry is a fundamental part of your operating system, and there's a chance (albeit small) that cleaning it up could cause damage.

CCleaner will then begin running through each issue it's found, explaining why it's been flagged up and giving you the option to fix it, skip it, or go ahead and fix everything.

Once that's done, the Tools option lets you uninstall programs, and decide which launch automatically when Windows starts. Stopping non-essential programs starting themselves can dramatically improve your PC's boot times, so it's definitely worth checking out your options here, but take care not to disable anything important. It sounds obvious, but if you're not sure what a program does, Google it first.

CCleaner can also check for plug-ins in all of your browsers, and analyze your drives to see what type of files are taking up the most room. If most of your space is occupied by photos. For example, you might choose to shift them to an external drive.

CCleaner system restore

The Duplicate Finder is self-explanatory, and System Restore lets you choose to delete older saved recovery points. You can't delete the most recent Restore Point, but be careful with this option; older Restore Points can be very useful if something goes wrong with your PC's software and you need to turn back the clock.

The final tool is Drive Wiper. You're unlikely to need this, but if you want to make sure nothing can recover your deleted data, it's the tool for you. When a file is deleted, it isn't immediately removed; instead, the space it occupied on your drive is marked as available to be overwritten. That's how file recovery programs like Recuva are able to dig out files that have been emptied out of the Recycle Bin. The Drive Wiper will write over all the 'available' space on your drive with other data (up to 35 times), making it nigh-on impossible for anything to be recovered. Be extremely careful with this option. If you're selling your PC, you might choose to wipe an entire drive this way to avoid leaving sensitive information behind (not the one containing your operating system, naturally).

How often you run CCleaner is a matter of personal choice; its settings give you the option to run it every time your PC starts, but you may prefer to run it manually from time to time instead for faster boot times. The free edition of CCleaner doesn't include automatic updates, so it's worth clicking 'Check for updates' in the bottom right periodically.

CCleaner Professional

The Professional version of CCleaner includes all the features of the free edition, with the added ability to schedule scans on a daily, weekly or monthly basis - whatever is most convenient for you.

You can also ask CCleaner to update itself automatically when new bug fixes or features are added, and do so silently in the background to avoid disturbing you. Both of these settings can be found under the 'Options' tab.

When you buy CCleaner Professional, you'll be sent an email with instructions explaining how to log in to Piriform's website for Priority Support. This lets you send a ticket directly to the support team, who will aim to answer it within four hours during their working day.

Users of CCleaner Free can still find support in Piriform's knowledge base of commonly asked questions and submit requests for help. Professional users will be given priority, but it's still very rare for a free program to offer such comprehensive support.

CCleaner Professional

CCleaner Professional includes priority support, automatic updates and scheduled scans

CCleaner Cloud

In addition to the desktop versions, CCleaner is also available as a cloud-based web app for cleaning up all of your PCs remotely. After signing up online you'll be prompted to download the installer. Once that's done, your PC will be connected to your account and you can log in using your email address.

CCleaner Cloud connected PCs

You can connect up to three PCs using the free version of CCleaner Cloud

Further PCs can be connected the same way - visit the CCleaner Cloud website, select 'Log in' and download the software. They will all be connected by your master account, and you can use any one to scan and optimise the others remotely (provided they're all turned on and have the client software installed - more on that in a moment).

The free version is limited to three devices, whereas the Professional edition covers your whole household. The Professional version also gives you two-factor authentication for extra security, access to a year's event history (compared to the free version's two months) and no event limit.

Once you've added a device, CCleaner Cloud will show its specifications, as well as its resource usage including bandwidth, memory and CPU. Click any of these to see more information about the programs and processes running, and their resource use.

The CCleaner tab offers all the features you've come to expect from the desktop program to clean and speed up your PC. Simply select the areas to check from the list on the left, then click 'Analyze'. Once it's done its work, you'll be shown how much space you can clean up, and a button to do just that.

CCleaner Cloud Analysis

CCleaner Cloud will scan your PC for files that can be deleted to free up space, just like the desktop software, and can be run remotely from another PC you own

One particularly interesting feature is the ability to install software; if you've downloaded any software installers, but not used them, CCleaner Cloud gives you the option to do so without having to hunt the installer down yourself (it's probably hidden in the depths of your Downloads folder).

The cloud edition of CCleaner also includes a cloud version of Piriform's Defraggler for defragmenting your hard drives remotely. It works in much the same way as Windows' built-in Defrag tool, but with the added ability to defrag empty space to help prevent fragmentation in future, and select certain areas to be scanned.

Conclusion

CCleaner is superb - a quick and easy way to keep on top of the regular housekeeping tasks we know we should be doing to keep our PCs running smoothly and protect our privacy, but don't always make time for. The free download offers pretty much everything you need to keep your PC free of clutter, but the extra convenience of the Professional edition's automatic updates and scheduled scans may win you over.

Download here: CCleaner

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cat is TechRadar's downloads editor. She's been a tech journalist for six years on magazines including PC Plus, Official Windows, PC Format and Windows: Help & Advice (with a brief stint in PR for the nuclear industry in between). If you have a question about software, drop her a line!