Step by step computer cleanup instructions

I'm going to give you simple step by step instructions on how to clean up your computer, and how to make sure all privacy or other related files are not left behind on your computer hard drive. This will involve both manual cleanups and some software cleanups (which will clear many things at once and save your some time before moving on to the manual cleanups). If you are selling, donating, or even sharing your computer with others, it is critical that you cleanup all the privacy related files or any files that can lead to something like identify theft. It is also important to make sure the data is not recoverable once deleted. For the sake of this article, I will assume you are selling your old computer, and these are the steps I would go through myself to cleanup my computer, including old browsing history, leftover files, leftover programs or documents, videos or pictures, or other privacy files you may have never even thought of, but yet they are there for others to find on your computer.

I will make these steps as simple as possible, but feel free to go to the messageboard and ask a question if you are stuck. Lets get started cleaning!

  • 1) First off, there are alot of different cleanups which I will walk you through, but I want to get the biggest bang in one swipe to start this off, before we get to the manual cleanups below. Lets start by running a program to wipe out alot of garbage data on your computer at once, but also to browse and review some other files it will find. Download the Complete Cleanup software here. This is a shareware program but you can just use the free trial for this article. Once installed, return to this article to view the steps and screenshots below.

    Open the software, When you first run the software, it may show a scan option, go ahead and run the scan. Once the scan is done, everytime you run the software you will see a screen like this below. I circled in red, the checkboxes and the cleanup all button. Make sure you check all items as shown, then click the cleanup all button. This will eliminate alot of garbage and privacy files in one sweep.

    Next, on the left hand side you will see these 3 buttons at the top. Simply click and view each one, and you may or may not see additional privacy items listed. Go ahead and delete these in each window.

    Next, you will see the 2 cirlced buttons shown below, click each one. The "review media" button will involve several searches, and if you want to do a thorough cleanup you should spend a little time in this one. This is because documents, photos and videos are often left behind or forgotten. It will list what it finds and you can click and view each one, then decide if it's something you want to delete or not. Obviously the software cannot decide which leftover documents or media files you want, so it will just list what it finds and you have to decide what to delete, so double click and view each if you don't recognize the name, and clean it up as needed with the delete button.

    At this point, close the software as we have now cleaned up alot of old files and are done with the automated computer cleanup section. You can run the software as often as you wish, or anytime in the future if you wish, but for now continue below with the manual items below.

  • 2) Firefox browser cleanups. Open firefox if you have it on your computer and go to the following options below. These are all cleanups that software won't do, as obviously it doesn't know you want to delete your saved passwords or bookmarks, etc.... so these need to be cleaned manually.

    Tools - Clear Recent History (Make sure all options are chosen and click the OK button to clear all these). Note that if you can't find this option, then you may be on a different browser version but the option is nearby. Look through your "Tools" option and find the location to clear everything it can find, especially make sure

    Tools - Options - Security Tab - Saved Passwords Button (Make sure all of these are removed. These are passwords you saved in your browser on your computer so you wouldn't have to worry about remembering or re-entering. (Note that you should never save these in your browser for bank accounts, brokerage accounts, or financial or critical accounts, these should only be saved for things like messageboards or forums, and other sites that are not as important as financial sites). Anyways, you need to clear all these out if you are selling your computer or giving it to someone else, so make sure this is done. Note that if you can't find this option, then you may be on a different browser version but the option is nearby. Look through your options and find this tab and make sure this is cleared.

    Finally, you got most of the critical stuff above. Now go through all the options at the top of your browser and get the "non" critical stuff you may not want to see left behind, especially the "Bookmarks" and "Tools" tab and just browse through all the options there and look for stuff you recognize that you don't want left there. Things like your bookmarks you probably want to remove, but you may not care about your bookmarked websites so its ok to leave it if you don't. Other things like "add ons" if you installed any in your browser, or your homepages you may want cleaned up also. If you are stuck on anything or have questions, feel free to post a detailed question about it here and I will try to answer it for you. Other things like the top on your browser toolbar, don't forget if you have any favorite sites there, you can right click and delete them.

  • 3) Internet Explorer browser cleanups. Open this on your computer and go to the following options below. These are all cleanups that software won't do, as obviously it doesn't know you want to delete your saved passwords or bookmarks, etc.... so these need to be cleaned manually.

    Tools - Internet Options - General Tab - Delete Button (Make sure all items are checked in the boxes, and then click the delete button).

    Tools - Internet Options - Content Tab - Settings Button (Make sure all items are checked in the boxes, and then click the delete button).

    Finally, you got most of the critical stuff above. Now go through all the options at the top of your browser and get the "non" critical stuff you may not want to see left behind, especially the "Bookmarks" and "Tools" options and just browse through all the options there and look for stuff you recognize that you don't want left there. Things like your bookmarks you probably want to remove, but you may not care about your bookmarked websites so its ok to leave it if you don't. Other things like "add ons" if you installed any in your browser, or your homepages you may want cleaned up also. If you are stuck on anything or have questions, feel free to post a detailed question about it here and I will try to answer it for you. Other things like the top on your browser toolbar, don't forget if you have any favorite sites there, you can right click and delete them.

  • 4) Next, go through your installed programs and make sure you don't have passwords saved on them, as most do this to save the trouble of logging on each time. For example, is there any games you play that have the password automatically saved? AOL client software? Email software like outlook or outlook express? Instant messengers? Go through all these on your desktop or start programs manager and clear out all saved passwords so they are no longer there when you open them.

  • 5) Next, open any instant messengers you have, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, or Windows Live Messenger. Go into each and make sure the message logs are cleared out, a double check to make sure you aren't leaving behind any of your chats. Finally, make sure your password and id are cleared out and not saved when you open your IM, so that anyone can't just sign on. You may wonder why we are doing this check when the software check at the top did this. It's because it's a double check, different versions of IM may have been out, etc., so we want to make sure our chats are surely deleted.

  • 6) Next, click the start button and go to programs - accessories - system tools - disk cleanup (Choose all users on this computer if it asks you that). Click OK and let it scan, this may take a while. Now check all boxes shown and click OK and let it run, again this may take a while. At this point you have cleaned up a ton of files already, but this last cleanup will get rid of some system stuff that is no longer needed. Not really critical stuff but might as well clean this up anyways.

  • 7) Next, is there any tax software on your computer like Turbo Tax or Tax Cut? If so, first open all saved documents you have and change your name to J. J. (or something fake and simple like that), change your social security number to all 5's, and your address to something fake. Then save. We will attempt to cleanup and delete all these next, but lets just wipe out that personal info and save it so that no one does have in case you leave it behind. Do this with every years form you have saved. I would actually recommend doing this with every tax year after you file that year, if you computer is stolen they won't have your name and SS# if they look at your taxes.

  • 8) Next, lets get rid of programs that are no longer needed. Don't leave any tax software behind with your tax forms!!! Go the control panel and go the programs and features option to automatically uninstall programs. Look through your list on things you had installed that you may not want. For example, you would want to uninstall any turbo tax or tax cut programs, aol, any games you installed, and just any programs there you don't want. If you don't recognize something then leave it, you are just targeting programs you have used or installed yourself.

  • 9) Finally, lets do a check for folders that you uninstalled, as sometimes they leave stuff behind and the automatic uninstall may not have gotten rid of everything. Go to your users folder, this may vary depending upon which windows version you are running.

    So go to the following folder locations on your computer, and now look for folder names of programs you uninstalled. For example if you uninstalled turbo tax, then right click and delete any folders there named turbo tax (delete entire folder). If you uninstalled the aol client software, or the battlefield game, etc., then you may also see folders there for those, etc. If you unistalled a program, then you can delete the folder remaining with that name as there is no reason for it to be there. Check the following locations, your users folder (older systems the folder was called "documents and settings", but the general idea is the same no matter what windows system you are on). users - owner - documents ...
    users - owner - AppData - local
    users - owner - Roaming

    If you are on a different version of windows like XP or windows 7, etc., these checks should all be done in your users or documents folder, you always just search through them as you wish as different programs install stuff in these areas, so there is no set rule here as far as folder location goes, it could vary. Thats why I list several for you to dig through a bit. Again, if you are confused then feel free to ask for help here and I will try to answer. Although you probably got alot of the documents cleanup up when you used the "Review Media" option of Complete Cleanup above, these are just double checks to get rid of entire folders of garbage that may have been left behind since you uninstalled the programs.

  • 10) One last thing I would do, is do a windows search for any of the following files: *.pdf, *.doc, *.txt, *.rtf, *.wmv, *.jpg, *.avi, and *.mpg. Although you covered most of these above already, this will just make sure you haven't copied something in your own personal folder or test folder, etc., and forgotten about it over the years. It's just another double check for common files types that can contain personal information. Once all this is complete, I would then go back and empty the recycle bin as a final delete (don't forget that as you may have placed stuff there in these steps that can be recovered if you don't empty it. Once done, run your disk defrag (running disk defrag will make it tougher to recover any deleted files). I would also download and run a free file wiper like "No File Recovery", which is a free program you can find by just googling it. These are steps to make sure that deleted files can't be recovered by anyone else even if they wanted to, and its a few more steps to help protect you. Hopefully this helped you out, happy cleaning!

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