The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Windows 8

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Cleaning Windows 8

Almost two years ago, we released our guide for making Windows 7 like new again. Windows 8 provides some pretty drastic changes to the interface and back end, so while our guide will still work for the most part, there are enough differences to make writing a brand new guide for Windows 8 worthwhile. Slowing down over time is still a problem that affects Windows 8, even if it is the fastest Windows yet. So for those who don’t want to do a refresh and wish to keep their installed programs intact, here’s our ultimate guide to tackling causes of slowdowns, cluttered menus, and other problems – written specifically for Windows 8.

The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Windows 7

The entire guide will take a couple hours to complete, and is very much worth it. We’d recommend staying focused so nothing bad happens, with the occasional break every now and then (there will definitely be times when the computer is busy and no input is necessary). This guide was specifically written for Windows 8 and combines aspects of cleaning new Windows features and cleaning the desktop. If you are using an older version of Windows, please check out our Ultimate Guide for Windows 7 instead.

Got your coffee ready? Let’s roll.

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1) Full System Backup (files, programs, and Windows)
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EASEUS Todo Backup Free

This step is a precaution and is highly recommended, though not required. Skip down to Step 2 if you don’t need to backup your system.

Windows 8 has replaced Windows 7′s Backup and Restore with something called File History. It’s certainly more convenient than Backup and Restore ever was with recovering personal files, yet lacks a critical function: backing up the operating system itself. Any file recovery program can easily dig accidentally deleted files of the trash. Rescuing an infected or broken Windows installation that can’t boot is much harder, and really can only be done with a system image backup.

Backing Up Partitions

We would recommend using EASEUS Todo Backup Free, now compatible with Windows 8, for creating complete hard drive backups. Be sure to have a bootable disk ready that you can boot from in the case that Windows 8 cannot be launched. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep the software installed for scheduled backups after you’ve completed this guide, so you’ll have relatively recent full backups of the system and any data.

Make a Bootable Disk

The option for creating a bootable disk is found under Tools on the Home tab. If you don’t want to whip out a DVD to burn it on, you should at least save the .ISO so that it can be burned later via a Linux Live CD in case Windows cannot be launched.

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2)
 Full Scan using Windows Defender
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Windows 8 now comes with its own anti-virus utility known as Windows Defender, which is essentially a re-branding of Microsoft Security Essentials. It’s quite good at keeping Windows secure, and so no third party software such as Norton or Kaspersky is required unless Windows Defender can’t clean out a more nasty infection. Windows Defender can be accessed by typing “defender” in the Start menu search.

Update Definitions

Be sure to update the virus and spyware definitions before you start your scan. Head over to the Update tab and press the big Update button to download the latest database. This might take a few minutes depending on when you last updated. Windows 8 should update Windows Defender automatically in the background, though definitions will get outdated if the machine hasn’t been used in a while.

Scan Now

Head back to the Home tab, select the Full Scan radio button, and click Start Scan. Doing a full system scan usually takes a couple hours and may slow down the computer considerably, so now would be a good time to do something else. Windows 8 runs quick scans on a scheduled basis, which are much faster and less thorough. Most of the time it’s pretty obvious when a computer has been infected, though sometimes a hidden virus can lay low and avoid suspicion which is why a full scan is necessary.

When finished, Windows Defender will either say something along the lines of “nothing found” or report any detections, which you can then decide from which to remove.

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 3) Clean Temporary Files using CCleaner
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CCleaner has been updated to support (to an extent) Windows 8, which finds and removes temporary files stored in your installed browsers and from its wide library of supported applications. The more temporary files are laying around, the longer it takes to load them all up at once (such as browsing history). It’s infinitely more advanced than Windows’ built in Disk Cleanup tool, and in all honesty we’re surprised the Disk Cleanup tool has gotten no improvements in a while. You can download CCleaner here.

Using CCleaner

Launch CCleaner, and leaving the default settings checked, click on Analyze. Depending on how much junk is stored in your system, CCleaner might take a few minutes to do an analysis. When finished, do a quick look over of what it’s found, and then click Run Cleaner to begin clearing the temporary files it’s found.

Delete IE Metro History

Windows 8 Bonus Step: If you use the Metro (fullscreen) version of Internet Explorer, you will have to manually clear the cache and browsing history. Open the Charms menu (move the mouse to the upper right corner of the screen), select Settings, open Internet Options, and press the Delete button under “Delete Browsing History.”

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4) Remove Unnecessary Apps & Turn Off Live Tiles
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Unopened Apps Running

If you’ve got Start menu apps laying around that you rarely use, removing them can clear out clutter and slightly improve system performance. Even though apps on the Windows 8 Store are extremely optimized under strict requirements, it’s still bad to have too many of them, especially ones that run in the background during startup. We found in the task manager processes for apps that hadn’t been launched yet (one of which doesn’t even have a live tile), as shown above. At the same time, the Store app will have to keep track of more updates all the time.

Modify App Settings

Start menu apps can be removed by right clicking on them and selecting Uninstall from the menu that pops up below. Alternatively, if you wish to keep an app but reduce its system impact, you can turn its live tile off.

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 5) Clear Start Menu Notification (Live Tile) Cache
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When you log off or shut down in Windows 8, the tile notifications on the Start menu are preserved for when you login again. They can include snippets of text, images, and numerical values such as the amount of unread emails in the inbox. Over time, the notifications can get ‘stuck’ and won’t update properly, or will update very slowly.

Cleaning the Registry

Type Run into the Start menu search and run gpedit.msc to open the Local Group Policy Editor. Following the image above (click to enlarge), open up User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Start Menu and Taskbar in the left column. Look for the Clear history of tile notifications on exit setting, double click it, and set it to Enabled. Now, restart your computer.

If you like the idea of having the latest tiles every time you login again, you can keep the setting on enabled. Otherwise, after reboot, head back to the configuration setting and select Not Configured to stop clearing tile notifications after logging off like before.

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6) Uninstall Unused Desktop Software
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Uninstalling Software

There’s no point in keeping desktop applications that are rarely used either, especially big programs that take up copious amounts of disk space. Software that’s never updated can be prone to security vulnerabilities. Additionally, some software depends on services and other background tasks to launch during startup, slowing your computer’s boot times. Watch out before you uninstall though, for some programs are required for others to function properly. We’d recommend checking Google every time you don’t know why something’s installed.

Type Uninstall in Start menu search, select Settings and then choose Uninstall a Program to quickly open your programs list. From there, get rid of everything that you haven’t used in a long time, or haven’t even run once. Apps on the Start menu won’t show up in this list, so glance back at Step 4 if you want to get rid of more of those.

Windows 8 Bonus Step: Now would also be a good time to replace desktop software with nearly identical Start menu apps. Being much less resource intensive thanks to the certification process to get an app onto the Store, there are many optimized Start menu apps that have older desktop equivalents (Skype is a good example).

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7) Clean up the All Apps List
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Cleaning up the All Apps List

This step isn’t necessary if you rarely access the Start menu.

It doesn’t make much sense to have rarely used support links and other non-app shortucts under Start menu’s All Apps list. If you’re an avid use of the Start menu’s search, you may find over time that these rarely used shortcuts will get in the way of the applications themselves. This wasn’t much of a problem with Windows 7 with its ability to collapse folders in the All Programs list, a feature missing from the Windows 8 Start menu. Getting rid of unused shortcuts will speed up searches and reduce clutter.

Open the All Apps list by right clicking at the top of the screen (opening the menu bar at the bottom) and selecting All Apps. Right click on any desktop application shortcut and on the menu bar, press Open file location to access the Start menu folder. Delete anything you don’t use or want and the items should disappear from the Start menu. Be sure to watch for leftover shortcuts from software you uninstalled in Step 6.

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8) Clean the Registry with CCleaner
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After removing a couple of programs, Windows’ registry will now have some useless entries laying around that point to nothing. While they won’t harm your computer per se, they could cause unintentional side effects like broken context menu entries.

Cleaning the Registry

Open up CCleaner again (hopefully you didn’t uninstall it back in Step 6!) and click the Registry tab on the left side. Scan for Issues, which will take a moment, and then Fix selected issues to clean up whatever CCleaner has found (most of the time it just ends up deleting all the entries). Note that Start menu apps cannot access the registry and are designed to be self contained, so scanning for issues after removing a Start menu app will yield no results created by that app.

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9) Verify System File Integrity
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Begin Scan

This step won’t work if you don’t have the latest updates installed. If the System File Checker refuses to work and/or quits immediately after it begins scanning, restart your computer (Update and Restart).

Windows’ System File Checker is a function usually only referred to in troubleshooting forums, which is surprising considering it’s a pretty neat hidden feature. The System File Checker scans for corrupted or missing system files and replaces them with the correct ones. Running a system file check can restore broken Windows functionality and help recover after a virus infection.

sfc -scannow

In Start menu search, type sfc -scannow and run it as administrator (right click, select Run as Administrator from the menu that appears at the bottom of the screen). This process will take a while to complete, and will automatically repair any corrupted or missing files it finds at the end of the scan.

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10) Disable Unnecessary Startup Entries
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From automatic updaters to desktop widgets, it seems like everything wants to start up with Windows, even software that doesn’t need it at all. KeePass, a password manager, as a ‘preboot’ feature that appears to do absolutely nothing, yet significantly increases boot time. That’s not to say that all startup programs are useless, and keeping software updated is important to patch up security vulnerabilities. Other than that, many of them have virtually no reason to be there and lengthen startup times.

Startup Tab

Startup software is now listed in Windows 8′s new task manager (Ctrl+Shift+Esc) under the Startup tab. Entries can be enabled and disabled by right clicking and changing their status. The Startup impact column can help gauge which programs are slowing down startup times the most. Disable items you know you don’t use and items that don’t serve any visible purpose (the exception being automatic updaters unless they cause significant slowdowns).

Congratulations! You’ve now completed The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Windows 8 (and Making it Fast Again), the longest guide we’ve written to date. Your computer should now be cleaner and less cluttered, as well as much faster than before. If you’re wondering why we didn’t have steps for defragmenting the hard drive and updating drivers, it’s because Windows 8 does that automatically (weekly and daily, respectively).

Has this guide helped you out? We’d love to hear from you: please drop a comment below!

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This article has 2 comments

  1. chaz 01/29/2013, 6:37 am:

    this is really useful information, the bit on temporary files was very useful.

  2. Brian Cui 01/29/2013, 4:25 pm:

    Glad to hear it’s helped you Chaz!

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