How-To Geek

Make Disk Cleanup Compress Older(or Newer) Files on XP

Using the Disk Cleanup utility in Windows XP is a great way to clean up files and get more hard drive space. One of the options is to “Compress Old Files”, but the default setting is files older than 50 days. This setting can be modified if you only want to compress really old files.

To get to the Disk Cleanup utility, right click on one of your hard drives in My Computer, and choose Properties.

Click on the Disk Cleanup button.

The Disk Cleanup utility will scan your hard drive to determine the amount of space to be saved. Click on “Compress old files” in the list, and you will notice the View Files button change to Options. Click that.

In this resulting window you can change the amount of days to wait for unaccessed files to be compressed. Click OK and you are done.

Brian Burgess worked in IT for 10 years before pursuing his passion for writing. He's been a tech blogger and journalist for the past seven years, and can be found on his about me page or Google+

  • Published 04/26/07

Comments (45)

  1. Lisa Moran

    I cleaned disk with compress old files checked. Now I get windows file protect error of “Files required to run windows properly have been replaced by unrecognizable versions.” and it wants meto put in the win disk. I have HP Presario XP Windows media center and HP did not give me pure windows disk but I made a recovery backup disk. Windows error message does not accept this backup to replace files. I there any way I can undo the “old file compress” and restore the windows files?

  2. mysticgeek


    You should be able to run a system restore and restore your last known good configuration.

    If you are not sure how to do it just click Start \ programs\ Accessories \ System Tools \ System Restore

    A wizard will pop up and follow the instructions.

    I will post a step by step how to restore your system using the System Restore utility.

  3. Jamie Wilson

    I have been losing space on my hard drive , so i went looking around and found that a file called software distribution is one of my major space grabber , can the file be cleaned out or do i have to just let it take space from my hard drive, Also i have windows xp pro ,what files can i manually clean out
    thanks Jamie

  4. mysticgeek


    The Software Distribution folder is where XP SP2 will store software files during Microsoft Updates. If you downloaded and installed SP2 then there will be a lot of junk left behind. I believe this was for uninstalling SP2 if you wanted.

    I am not one to recommend deleting any files unless a backup has been preformed and you are sure of what you’re deleting.

    You can always compress that folder. Right click that folder \ Properties \ Advanced \ select compress contents to save disk space.

  5. Richard H Bickford

    When I run disk cleanup with the compress old files box checked, the old files are no longer removed from the list. Windows XP . What is the problem, plus will this compression of old files improve speed.

  6. Punatik

    Richard, the same thing is happening to me. It started a few months ago and I’m still trying to figure out what to do about it. :-\

  7. mysticgeek


    To answer the question of speed … no your not going to notice any speed boost by compressing old files. It is really just a way to clear space on your Hard Drive.

    As far as the files no longer removed from the list … I would need to look at that … Are you looking at View Files under Description in the Disk Cleanup dialog box?

  8. Staci

    My laptop is runing low on memory. So if I delete all of my compressed old files will that help a little?

  9. Irena

    Ah… I have killed my computer. I compressed old files not really knowing what I was doing and now I am experiencing Lisa’s problem (see 19 May)… unfortunately I cannot restore my computer to an earlier date because there are no ealirer dates that it will let me restore it to. I can’t understand this as I constantly update my computer. I am away on business and so my XP disks are at home. Eek. What can I do? Is there another way of restoring my computer?? Help will be very warmly welcomed. Thanks!

  10. himanshu sharma

    hey..i m having some problem here. few days back my registry files were i re-install the windows xp sp2. when i tried to upgrade some error was there.i made a new installation from the win xpsp2 setup. and give location of that c: drive again. now laptop is working fine but my c: drive is eating space .i checked that ,the windows folder contains another “windows”named folder in it . now i am confused that which folder to delete. ? can you help me ?

  11. Charles Cannon

    I used line 48 on Kellys korner to delete my compress old files link in disk cleanup . How do I get my compress old files on disk clean up back?

  12. whitesites

    Is there anyway to uncompress all files on my C drive? Its causing a performance hit on my system

  13. Sarah

    Please Help!

    I used the Windows disk cleanup to compress older files and it made my computer crash. The only thing that shows up on my screen is a dos window that says it was shut down improperly. Once I press enter the same dos screen keeps popping up. How can I fix this??

    Thanks so much :)

  14. Stu

    My soloution is to just leave the computer alone and make the tea ;-)

  15. mysticgeek

    Kicking back with tea is always great! I need to do that more often!

  16. justmeinne

    I am trying to load a new PC game on the computer for my son. It says I need uncompressed hard drive, I have probably compressed this computer multiple times over the past few years. I”m afraid I will lose to many important things on my C drive if I mess around too much. Help Please.

  17. mike

    how come my laptop dont have “compress old files” in the disk cleanup? HELP!!! THANKS

  18. Peter

    You *can* uncompress all your compressed files. Open a command prompt, go to the root of the hard disk, and type

    compact /u /s /a /q /i

    The problem with compressing your files is that they are always going to take longer to process. Better to connect a big external hard drive :-)

  19. Bilbo

    Would using “compact /u /s /a /q /i” uncompress every partition of my hard drive? Or do I get to choose which partition to uncompress?

  20. ZENNON

    Good HowTo! One question – If one ran a disk clean up and compressed old files is there an easy way uncompressing the compressed files all at once?

    easiest way – which is too slow to be reasonable – is to search for all files in C: and then turning on the attirbutes column – sorting by that and then selecting chucks of files and turning compression of via properties dialog. Like already mentioned – this isn’t really a valid option as I have tens of thousands of files I would like to uncompress.

  21. Larry

    Why not just go to the properties for the drive and uncheck the Compress drive to save disk box.” Works for me.

  22. Rod

    Nice page, I have a question about the last screen shot, I cant understand how to get to that window. “Compress old files” in 120 days, any help would be great!

  23. mysticgeek

    @ Rod:

    You click on “Compress Old Files” so it is highlighted. Then click OK. It will then bring you to the compress after xxx days. You use the drop down to make the days as many or as few as you want.

  24. Rod

    According to your instructions I click “OK” the next window that comes up is disk clean up for (c:)
    in which the OS asks me,
    “Are you sure you want to perform these actions?”
    Yes………….No buttons respectivily.

    Please note I have 2 PC’s here and they are both XP and they both do the same thing, On mine “the one I’m writing through” I have changed the “number of days” in the past, works great BTW,
    But now I cant find that window,
    please help

  25. mysticgeek

    @ Rod:

    Sorry about that … I explained that completely wrong. Actually what you want to do is click on “Compress old Files” AND THEN … You click the “Options” button. That will bring up the number of days screen.

    From the Article:
    “Click on “Compress old files” in the list, and you will notice the View Files button change to Options. Click that.”


  26. Rod

    Internet Options Window > General Tab > “Click” Browsing History settings button.
    At the bottom of that new window “History” will be listed in days, the lower the number the more disc space you gain, and your ability to delete when you clear your disc.

  27. Rick

    There is NO option to compress old files on this particular XP3 Pro System. Don’t use file indexing and drive is formatted in Fat 32. Is there something I haven’t installed ??

  28. Ben

    IMHO, “compress old files” is mostly useless, most files which take lots of space (mp3, video, pics) don’t compress. instead, it just hangs your pc while scanning all files.

    TIP: to delete “compress old files” go to the registry,
    “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Compress old files”
    delete all (3?) entries in that folder.

    as always, be careful while editing the registry

  29. dennis

    I want to know if deleting “compress old files” from the registry increase your system’s performance again after you previously compressed your drive?

  30. Edmond

    It would be helpful to locate these compressed files and review if they should be deleted or continued to be saved on disc. Could you please advise if these files can be located and where to search for them on the PC’s hard drive.

  31. Computer Guy

    first 2 things make sure under “system properties>Hardware Tab>device manager>IDE ATA controllers>Primary IDE Channel” is not set to Pio mode under current transfer mode. If it is uninstall device restart & your computer will automatically reinstall the device. You want Ultra DMA mode 5 or something similar, just not Pio. 2nd try Bart PE to run uncompress command from custom boot CD created with Bart PE. Safe mode still uses some system 32 files & cannot uncompress them so they stay compressed. On a different note, does any one know of any good Bart PE plugins that help people to access their C Drive? Please only speak from actual experience. Thanks.

  32. Computer Guy

    Oh and for space problems, just buy a new hard drive, they are cheap. Don’t mess around to much with your computer unless you are ready to face the consequences. try to avoid compression command in future. You may possible face a performance hit on your computer when it has to try to open files by uncompressing the file first, that have been previously compressed. Just more strain on you computers processing power.

  33. mark

    i need some help i’m trying to delete compressed files and i’m noticing that even when i check off the compressed files box on disk clean up it won’t slean it. i keep activating disk cleanup but still the file size under compressed files stays the same. what should i do?

  34. Wamter Temmerman

    I saw a lot of questions about compressed files – (I have several files that I no longer can use)
    I saw one good answer
    Peter said:
    You *can* uncompress all your compressed files. Open a command prompt, go to the root of the hard disk, and type -> compact /u /s /a /q /i
    -1- I checked it with “help” on the command promt: He is right.
    -2- i did it => it works great. No more “c attribute” related problems.
    p.s.: You need some patience, the program has to check ALL your files. AND obviously you need enogh free space on the drive.


    Hi I have a computer that I am trying to fix for my mom. I bought about 6 years ago. It has windows xp with a celeron processor. No matter how many times I try to delete the old compressed file they do not erase at all.I was wondering if there is programs that could help me out or is the hard drive too old and need a new one.

  36. Nicole

    I am having a similar problem. When I do run disk cleanup, it says I can compress 185,400K by compressing old files. When I run the cleanup, none of the files are compressed. That number remains the same immediatly after. I am low on disk space in drive C so it would help to compress those files. Nothing I do seems to help it.

  37. sri

    i tried cleaning the old compressed files…first it said some important windows xp files have been replaced with unrecognised files do u still want to continue..and i did continue… again i tried disk clean up for old compressed files now everything is cleaned up…. but my comp just works the same i am not facing any trouble because it xp files have been replaced with unrecognised files do u still want to continue…infact its working a bit faster than before.. any suggestions

  38. leroy

    i am seeing two hard drives C: and I:drive MY c:drive has lots of memory but everytime i down load it access i:drive and fills it up ,HOw can i access c:drive first and not I:drive

  39. Aaron

    I keep having to do a disk cleanup on my laptop, nearly everytime i connect to the internet my compressed old files build up to huge ammounts ,but when i try to clean it it is now leaving behind 26000kb which just will not be removed anymore, this box ‘compressed old files’ always used to leave behind only 127kb, how do i go about removing these stuborn extra files?
    Thanks Aaron.

  40. Floyd Brooks

    I tried numerous times to transfer My Documents to my new computer before I found out that my USB port on the old computer was bad and so I couldn’t do this with a flash drive. I then tried burning to CD but I was informed that there was too much info stored in the Transfer Wizard to burn it to disk. Please help!!!

  41. hnelson

    I used disk cleanup on my external hard-drive (ebook) and now lost access to my files. Not sure what went wrong but I cannot access any of my old files anymore (tells me to reformat). I took the drive to a local computer technician who was not able to retrieve any of the data.

    I also know that the windows backup is not retrievable (found out the hard way years ago), I do have a limited backup of my lost files.

    What makes me mad is that I only used the MS utilities and lost all my files!!!

  42. esther ngai

    how come my pc dont have “compress old files” in the disk cleanup? HELP!!! THANK

  43. Ronaldinho

    I am having a problem with my disk space. I do not have much left and I try to delete by going to my disk clean up option but it does not remove anything under the compressed file. It says I am going to gain a bunch of space but nothing happens. It goes through the process of deleting it but when I go back to the disk clean up, the file is still there. Any help would be appreciated! Thank you

  44. imag33k (the 3 is for the e)

    well it didn’t solve my problems because my compressed old files just get stuck there dosen’t freeze its fully scanned the free space just gets stuck webclient/publishertemporaryfiles gets stuck also

  45. imag33k (the 3 is for the e)

    well i got the same problem as ronaldhino up there

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