Computer Maintenance Steps

Tech guy talking to customer on phone

If your computer or Windows device is starting to feel slow, busy, or unresponsive, try following the computer maintenance steps on this page. They will be especially helpful if you have an older Windows device that you haven’t cleaned up in a while, but they can help with new Windows devices too. These tips include the use of third-party computer maintenance tools. If you’re using Windows 10, and you only want to use Windows 10’s built-in maintenance tools, please see¬†Windows 10 maintenance.

Keep Windows, security, and apps up to date

Proper computer maintenance means keeping Windows, your apps, and your security software up to date. To get your computer or Windows device running fast and smoothly, follow some of the computer maintenance tips on this page.

1. Run Windows Update

Keep Windows up to date by running Windows Update. If you can, set it to update automatically. Of course, the computer needs to be online (connected to the internet). To run Windows Update, do the following:

In Windows 10:

Press the Windows key + I to open the Settings.

Windows + I –¬†Settings
Windows key (Windows 10)plusIWindows key + I - Settings

Then click on ‘Update & Security’, then click on ‘Check for updates’.

In Windows 8:

Press the Windows key + C to access the charms bar.

Windows + C –¬†Access Charms bar
Windows key (Windows 8)plusC(Windows 8) Windows key + C - Access Charms bar

Then click on ‘Settings’, then click on ‘Change PC Settings’. Then click on ‘Windows Update’. Then click on ‘Check for updates now’.

In Windows 7:

Windows 7 is no longer supported. See Stop using Windows 7.


2. Update and check your Internet Security

Windows 10 comes with Windows Security (formerly called Windows Defender) built-in. Keep Windows up to date, and the security will update too. For more info on how to check that it’s working, see here: Check your security is up to date.

You can install a paid or different free security app if you choose.

Whichever security app you have, keep it up to date, and periodically run a full system security scan, allowing the software to find and delete (or quarantine) unwanted stuff.

Windows security


Set updates to automatic

Set Windows, your security software, and your apps to update automatically. Doing so means that you needn’t worry about remembering to update manually, and updated programs are more secure. Again the computer needs to be online (connected to the internet) for any updating to take place.


3. Run CCleaner (optional)

Especially with old, unmaintained computers. Ask anyone about computer maintenance, and you will probably hear the name CCleaner. CCleaner is a free program to help you remove clutter and free up disc space. It offers easy one-click removal of unwanted and unnecessary temporary files, browser history, cookies, and old and unused registry entries. You can get it here.

See thoughts about CCleaner (below).

Piriform CCleaner - Computer maintenance


4. Empty the Recycle Bin

Recycle bin - Computer maintenance

(The above ‘Run CCleaner’ step will also empty your recycle bin.)

Some people are unaware that simply deleting a file will not remove it from your hard drive, which in turn removes clutter and creates space. The recycle bin needs to be ’emptied’. To do this, simply find the recycle bin icon on your desktop and right-click it. Then choose ‘Empty Recycle Bin’. Then select ‘Yes’. That’s it.


5. Uninstall old, unused, and out-of-date apps

To keep your computer or Windows device well maintained, I recommend uninstalling old, unused, or out-of-date apps. These types of programs can lead to incompatibility issues, potentially use up resources, and are an unnecessary security risk to your system.

To remove apps in¬†Windows, press the Windows key and¬†type `Apps‘, and click on Apps & features from the Best match list. On the Apps & features page, choose any applications from the list that you don’t need or foresee yourself using, and click Uninstall. For screenshots of these steps, see Easy Windows 10 Maintenance (To remove programs, you can use the Uninstall tab¬†within the¬†Tools¬†section in¬†CCleaner.)

If you are not sure what something is, leave it alone for now and find out more about it online later. As you get started, uninstall any programs that you don’t need. Searching online for program names (and versions) should help you to recognize most of the leading applications.


6. Check that your apps have the latest updates

You can install a free app updater program, like Patch My PC Updater, to check that the apps on your PC are up to date.

Patch My PC Updater - Computer maintenance

7. Check drives are optimized

Be sure to optimize your drives or have Windows regularly keep your drives optimized with the Optimize Drives app. This app will defragment traditional hard drives or trigger Trim for SSDs.

Click the image below for a screenshot.

Optimize Drives - Computer maintenance

Analyze your drives and Optimize them if Windows recommends it. Set the optimization frequency to weekly.

To find the Optimize Drives app, do the following:

For Windows 10:

Press the Windows key + S to open Search.

Windows + S –¬†Search
Windows key (Windows 10)plusSWindows key + S - Search (Cortana keyboard)

Then type ‘optimize’. Then click on ‘Defragment and Optimize Drives’ to open up the Optimize Drives app.

For Windows 8.1:

Press the Windows key + S (or Q) to open Search.

Windows + S –¬†Search
Windows key (Windows 8)plusQ(Windows 8) Windows key + Q - Search Apps

Then type ‘Defragment’. Then click on ‘Defragment and Optimize Drives’ to open up the Optimize Drives app.

For Windows 7:

Press the Windows key + E to show the computer drives.

Windows + E –¬†Show computer drives
Windows keyplusE(Windows 7) Windows key + E - Show computer drives / Libraries

Then right-click a drive and choose Properties – Tools – Optimize.


8. Clean your computer, dust filters, and inside your case

People sometimes forget that dust, fluff and animal fur, etc., can get inside the computer case. Over time, this debris builds up and sticks to dust filters, fan blades, heatsinks, vents, breather holes, and just about everything, causing the device to overheat.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to periodically clean inside and around your computer case to keep everything neat and dust-free. Better airflow will keep the computer and its components cooler.

For Desktop PCs:

Simply switch off and unplug your PC. Open the case (usually by taking off a side or top panel). Try not to touch electrical components inside the computer case in case you accidentally damage them from any static electricity you have in your body (from carpet, clothes, etc.). To minimize this possibility, touch the metal frame of your case to discharge any static you might have or wear an anti-static wrist strap.

Then simply vacuum out your case. Wipe and vacuum close to all fans and stationary heatsinks. Gently wipe all fan blades, too, if you can access them, and you can check that they can spin freely.

For Laptop PCs:

Switch off and unplug your laptop. Vacuum all of the vents or breather holes to remove as much dust and dirt as you can.

When you do use your laptop, make sure you use it on a hard flat surface, as opposed to a carpet, so that air can easily flow underneath and up into the vents to keep it cool.


9. Check for malware

You can’t have a computer maintenance page without mentioning the word malware. Malware, short for malicious software, is any software used to disrupt computer operations, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems.

Windows Security does a good job of keeping malware at bay. If you want an extra line of defense, you can try popular second opinion anti-malware apps like Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free. (If you scan your PC and Malwarebytes finds anything important which you’d like to remove, you could then consider buying the full version.)

To keep my computer healthy, I run the full version of Malwarebytes Premium in Windows 10, alongside Windows Security. Windows Security doesn’t need any help, but I do notice Malwarebytes occasionally blocking sites or connections in the background, which is nice to see. Once in a while, I’ll do a scan with HitmanPro.


10. Remove malicious browser add-ons, extensions, or plugins

If you are getting popup windows or adverts, unexpected toolbars, or your browser keeps opening an unwanted webpage, then you might have an unwanted web browser add-on, extension, or plugin which needs to be uninstalled. To do so, follow these steps:

1.¬†First, we need to remove the main program on the PC. As written above in ‘Uninstall old and unused programs’, to remove programs, you can use the¬†Uninstall tab¬†within the¬†Tools¬†section in¬†CCleaner, or if you prefer to do it within¬†Windows,¬†go to¬†Start Menu¬†–¬†Control Panel¬†–¬†Add/Remove Programs¬†or¬†Programs and Features.

Then click on any old programs in the list you don’t want or you suspect to be browser add-ons and click Uninstall. (If you are not sure what something is, then Bing it or Google it to find out more.

2.¬†Remove the malicious browser add-on, extension, or plugin within the browser. (Because they don’t always get removed when the main program is uninstalled.)

For Internet Explorer:

In Internet Explorer, the offending browser add-on, extension, or plugin is usually removed along with the main program. To check anyway, click on the Gear icon or press Alt+X. Then click on Manage add-ons.

Internet Explorer - Manage add-ons - Computer maintenance

Then go to the Toolbars and Extensions tab. Click on any unwanted extension in the list (if you have any) and click on the Disable button (if it shows up). Then you can close the window and click OK. Click the image below for a screenshot.

Manage Internet Explorer Add-ons - Computer maintenance

For Firefox:

In Firefox, click on Open Menu or Main Menu, then Add-ons.

Firefox menu - Computer maintenance

Click on the Extensions tab. Click on any unwanted listed extension and then click the Disable button. Click the image below for a screenshot.

Firefox Add-ons Manager - Computer maintenance

For Chrome:

In Chrome, click on the Main Menu icon and choose Settings.

Chrome menu - Computer maintenance

Click on Extensions listed on the left. Choose any unwanted extension and click on the trashcan icon to remove the extension. If prompted, click Remove.

Chrome Extensions manager - Computer maintenance


11. Remove Bloatware

(See also step 5.) Many boxed PCs come with unnecessary apps or bloatware intended to help make PC makers money. If you’d like to remove these unnecessary apps, you can try the free program PC Decrapifier. You can see the top items removed by their users¬†on their site.


12. Windows Recovery – Reset this PC (Last resort) (for advanced users)

If you’re having problems with Windows and you prefer to start all over again, you can reset the PC or Windows device via the Windows Settings – Recovery option. Resetting is similar to reinstalling Windows, so be careful when choosing this option. Before using Recovery, I recommend that you back up (save) any essential files to a separate storage device for safekeeping first, if you can.

To access Recovery, go to Windows Settings – Update & Security – Recovery.

Windows Recovery - Computer maintenance

13. Reset this PC (Last resort)

Clicking the above Reset this PC – Get started option will give you the choice of resetting your PC while keeping your files or resetting your PC while removing your files. Both options remove your apps and Windows settings.

Reset this PC - Computer maintenance

If you choose to go ahead with one of these Recovery options, follow the steps, and Windows will reinstall and recover itself. From there, you will need to reinstall your apps again if you need them and set up some settings in Windows.


14. If all else fails – Reformat and do a clean Windows reinstall (for advanced users)

(My favorite computer maintenance, from a software perspective.)

For ADVANCED users:

If all else fails and you ask someone for computer maintenance advice, you might well hear the word ‘reformat’. Reformat means wiping your hard drive and reinstalling Windows from scratch.

Reformatting is a little similar to the above recovery option; only it reinstalls Windows from scratch.

Although this can be a time-consuming process for beginners, in most cases, it means that you end up with a cleanly installed and smoothly running Operating System.

Please Note:

Reformatting deletes all data on the hard drive. So, back up (save) any files you want to keep to a separate USB drive or device before you reformat.


PC Troubleshooting:

Monitor LED goes green then orange

Monitor light turns green and then immediately back to orange with no picture.

Assuming the monitor is the only thing not working.

1. Check connection to PC and video card.

2. Switch the computer off at the wall and make sure the video card is seated correctly on the motherboard. It might take various attempts depending on alignment.

3. Press the reset CMOS button on the motherboard. If this then allows the PC to reboot into the bios and the monitor comes on, you might just need a new CMOS battery for the motherboard.

Games and videos stutter

Games, videos, etc., are stuttering, and the computer seems to be struggling to play them, whereas, in the past, there was no problem.

1. Check your graphics card. If it has a fan, check it is clean, unclogged of debris, and freely able to spin. Check that the airflow inside the case is OK too. Clean all cooling fans, vents, and dust filters.
Nowadays, many online videos are a higher definition. Be aware that old computers will struggle more than newer ones.

2. (Check your CPU is adequately cooled.
Do you have a hairdryer that can blow out cold air to test? It might be time to upgrade the cooler or heatsink on it.)

3. Update your graphics drivers.

4. If it’s the first time playing a game, turn down the in-game video settings or use the ‘recommended’ video settings and see if the in-game stuttering stops.

I cannot install Windows. PC reboots

The PC reboots at the wrong time or switches off when installing the operating system (Windows).

1. Check all connections inside the case.

2. Unplug all unnecessary non-essential hardware and USB devices.

3. Check CPU is getting enough air and nothing is overheating. (Try extra cooling – like blowing cold air with a hairdryer onto the CPU to test.)

6. If the motherboard is not new, consider changing its CMOS battery. (The small, flat, round battery that clips onto the motherboard.)

Unfortunately, this can be a very hit-and-miss issue.

Cannot get an internet connection

Is your internet cable connected to your modem and your computer? Is the modem switched on and active? Remember to set up the internet connection in Windows and enter your login info and password, as required and supplied by your internet service provider.

Reboot the computer and the modem.

If you still can’t get a connection or the connection fails to show up in Windows, look for a driver CD that came with your motherboard. Windows might simply need the appropriate ethernet drivers for your motherboard. A driver CD is often supplied by the motherboard manufacturer to support various things, including the ethernet (internet connections) on the motherboard.

Install any supplied ethernet drivers. Reboot both the computer and the modem again, and try setting up the internet connection in Windows again if necessary.

System keeps rebooting

If the system keeps rebooting before Windows has fully started up, what is the last message (from the bios) which appears on the screen before it reboots?

Have you changed, updated, installed, or plugged in anything recently just before this problem? Does reversing that action and then rebooting fix the problem?

Is the PC busy when it keeps rebooting? (Is it overheating?) Is the weather much warmer, and are your cooling fans, including the CPU and video card fans spinning? Check your PSU (Power Supply) and make sure it is clean and its fan is clean and able to spin freely. Has your security software been working and kept up to date?

Unwanted rebooting issues are tricky to diagnose, as there are many variables and possible causes. Is the date or time showing on the PC anywhere incorrect? If so, consider replacing the CMOS battery (the small round flat battery on the motherboard). (These batteries are sold in convenience stores.)

The system fails to POST

POST (power-on-self-test)

The computer turns on, and the case fans and video card fans spin. However, the Hard drive fails to spin up, and the system doesn’t reach POST, and the monitor powers down. Switch PC off. Check all connections. Then try resetting the BIOS by removing the CMOS battery on the motherboard for a few seconds and then putting it back. If the system then reaches POST when you turn it on, consider getting a new CMOS battery. (These batteries can be found in convenience stores. Be sure to get the same or correct type.)

Computer asks me about Virus Definitions and Security Updates

Security software needs to update what is known as virus definitions. Virus definitions are updates that can recognize the latest viruses, spyware, or other unwanted internet junk. If your security program (not some other internet popup window) is advising you to update your definitions, then go ahead and update them.

It is advisable to set your security software to update automatically. (Make sure that it is the security application telling you to update and not some online internet message, advertisement, or other browser popup window.)

You could skip or close the open window which contains the message, if you are not sure about it, and go straight to the security application, open that and update virus definitions or security updates from there.

Cannot play a media file type

Sometimes we come across a file type that the PC cannot play correctly, be it music or probably video. More often than not, it is because the computer doesn’t have the appropriate codec. If you download and install a codec pack like K-Lite Codec Pack¬†and then restart your computer, then¬†most¬†file types should be recognized and play OK.

I accidentally deleted some files

If you delete a file or some files accidentally, then you have a few options available to try to get those files back. If you haven’t emptied the recycle bin, then the data is probably still there, in which case right-click the recycle bin and choose Open to view any files. Right-clicking and restoring or dragging those files to another place will make them available to you again.

If you have emptied the bin, then you could still be able to access any lost files depending on how much computing you have done since.

When a file is deleted (when the bin is emptied), the space that the file occupies is labeled as available space for Windows to use. If Windows uses that space by, for example, writing another file, then it will be more difficult (or impossible) to get to the original file.

So if you have deleted files, try to do as little computing as possible and don’t save any other data to the same drive that the files were on if you can help it.

Recovery apps

Then consider these free programs, which can sometimes help you find lost or deleted files. Recuva / Disk Drill / and others. Try to install any of these programs to a different drive than the drive where the files were lost.


Thoughts about CCleaner – Jan 20, 2020

I stayed away from CCleaner for about a year, as I felt that Windows 10 seems to do an excellent job of staying healthy nowadays, and I questioned whether a third-party maintenance app was necessary for Windows computer maintenance anymore.

As chance would have it, I had a few issues recently where Windows 10 wouldn’t shut down properly. We’re always happy to back up our files and do a clean reinstall of Windows whenever Microsoft releases a major Windows update.

So, I decided to chance CCleaner again to clean the PC and fix the registry (I made a registry backup just in case).  Sure enough, CCleaner safely removed a bunch of files and set the registry, and now the PC shuts down quickly, as it should. So, I decided to keep CCleaner listed on this Computer Maintenance page.


The computer maintenance tips on this page will help you have a smoother running PC or Windows device. Remember that Microsoft no longer supports Windows 7. Any recommended apps or extensions here have good reputations and are free to use.

When it comes to security apps, I prefer to use Windows 10’s Windows Security and¬†I keep Windows 10 and all apps up to date. I occasionally do a scan with HitmanPro.

So, how about you? Do you have any computer maintenance tips? Let us know in the comments so that we can add any suggestions to this page.

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