What You Said: Have Registry Cleaners Helped Your Computer… Ever?

By Jason Fitzpatrick on April 1st, 2011

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Earlier this week we asked you to share your experiences with Windows registry cleaning applications. You responded with hundreds of replies and now we’re back with a roundup of the key ideas and reader experiences.

Windows registry cleaning applications are a bit of a gray area when it comes to computing maintenance. Many people swear by them, many more deride them, and quite a few less knowledgeable users get duped by malware posing as a must-have registry cleaner. We asked you to weigh in with your experiences and you all quickly formed into two distinct camps.

No Way, Not on My Computer!

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Many readers had very strong opinions about the dubious and outright ill effects of using a registry cleaner. Reader Tynen writes:

I used to use registry cleaners. But after breaking my computer so many times i stopped. I personally believe they’re completely useless. I’d rather re-build my computer.

Allen follows up with:

I haven’t used one in years; and that is my commentary on how useful they are.

Parahumanoid recommends against them but suggests a way you can clean up after lazy applications:

Tried them. Pointless and dangerous. The best you can do is use a registry monitor to log your installation process, so that you can clean up after uninstall by checking the keys left behind.

The ovewhelming sentiment across the “Not on my computer!” responses was that they do more harm than good, they’re too powerful for inexperienced users to be running around with, and that boosts in performance were either minimal or outright imagined.

I Use Them, Cautiously.

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Other readers saw the value in using registry cleaners but only if you were very cautious in using them. Ashutosh writes:

I do occasionally use the registry cleaner available in CCleaner. I have noticed that it’s not as aggressive as some of the other registry cleaners out there, and so the chances of something important getting deleted is really less (there’s still a backup option, in case something happens).

I have, of course, never seen any speed improvements. It’s just the cleaning of unwanted clutter that makes me a little happy every time I run it.

We had to chuckle a little at his last sentence, sometimes computer maintenance is just to satisfy the OCD geek in all of us.

Dave cautions us to be even more careful:

Unless you understand what your messing with and can fix it, I recommend leaving it alone. I never make a blanket decision on what a given tool offers, only what I recognize. I know some of the newer uninstallers are incorporating removal of items from registry, but still us with caution (and a backup)

Solid advice; the Windows registry is enormously complex and it isn’t very human-readable. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, don’t trust the application that just scanned your registry to know either.

Other readers had moved away from using general registry cleaners and limited their work to applications that focused only on removing registry entries for the programs they were uninstalling. Brian writes:

CCleaner has been fine for cleaning out junk from uninstalled apps. But recently I found even this unnecessary as I now use Revo Uninstaller, which does a good job of removing the old app gunk.

This is a great way to play it safe. Revo lists only the registry keys that are related to the app you are uninstalling and allows you to cherry pick which ones it will remove. It’s very hard to go wrong with this kind of guarded cleaning.

Many of the readers who used them indicated that they saw the most improvement on older machines and those with lots of applications installed (or recently removed). Mike Kluczan writes:

Yes, I’ve used them although you don`t want one too aggressive. I’ve notice improvements from almost nothing to incredible. These were, by the way, all on old to very old computers or computers that were almost topped out (200 – 300 programs installed etc. ). They do make a difference if the computer doesn’t have much reserve but don`t get one too aggressive or it’ll clean up things you don`t want cleaned up.

Reader cmo999 echoed that sentiment:

CCleaner is the way to go. I believe there is an improvement in performance from keeping the registry clean, but my computer is fairly old and someone mentioned earlier that it won’t make a difference on newer computers.

Kevin had similar experiences:

Only when I’m working on older computers I see a big difference in speed but that’s about it.

For more insights on registry cleaning in a variety of settings, hit up the comments on the original post to see when your fellow readers leave their computers alone, when they roll out their tool box, and when it’s time to just upgrade a machine and go for the big performance gains.

Have a question you want to put before the HTG staff and readership? Shoot us an email at tips@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to give it the attention it deserves.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/1/11
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