If you use a Windows computer, you need to have a little working knowledge of temporary files. Windows and Windows applications create temporary files as they run. Working programs store bits of data in files called temporary or temp files. These are files that can be erased when they are no longer needed.

In an ideal situation, these temp files are deleted when the applications close. Yet poorly written programs, improper shutdowns, program hangs, and computer crashes often leave unneeded temporary files on the hard drive. Over time, these files accumulate, eating up hard disk space and, at times, impairing computer performance. If your computer is acting sluggish, deleting accumulated temp files may help to speed it up. In addition, some shutdown problems and download problems can be cured by cleaning up your temp files.

Disk Cleanup Wizard

Windows 98, Me, 2000, and XP come with a Disk Cleanup Wizard that streamlines the process of clearing out unwanted temp files. First close all running programs. Then access the Wizard, by clicking on the Start button and choosing Programs (All Programs in Windows XP). Go on to choose Accessories, System Tools, and Disk Cleanup. (A shortcut is to click on Start, choose Run, and type in cleanmgr.)

The wizard will give you the option of cleaning up all your hard drive partitions, if you have more than one. It will show you how much space is being consumed by unneeded temporary Internet files, as well as other temporary files, downloaded program files, and offline Web pages. This Disk Cleanup Helper will even empty the Recycle Bin for you. Just check the box in front of the item, click OK, and the wizard will clean up your disk. Get rid of at least the temporary Internet files and other temporary files. Remember that the files in the Recycle Bin take up hard drive space, so you may want to have the wizard empty your trash as well.

Eliminate Windows 95 Temp Files

If you are still using Windows 95, your job is slightly harder, because Windows 95 has no Cleanup Wizard. Start by closing all running programs. Then click on My Computer, open the C drive, and then open the Windows folder. Click on the Temp folder to open it. Delete all of the folders and files by highlighting them and pressing the Delete key. You can delete many of these at the same time by holding down the CTRL key and clicking on several files in succession. Pressing the Delete key will erase all the files that you have highlighted. When deleting these files, you may get a message that a file cannot be deleted or is in use. Just skip that file and move on to the next one. If you have never cleaned out your temp files, you may be surprised to find hundreds or even thousands of temp files. Each will end in .tmp, and some may have a tilde ~ in front of their names. All can be deleted. The Temporary Internet Files folder (typically C:\Windows\Temporary Internet Files) can be accessed and cleaned in the same way. Remember that all of these deleted files will wind up in your Recycle Bin, and you will have to right-click on the Recycle Bin to empty it.

Errant Temp Files

Occasionally, a temporary file will find its way into the root directory of the C drive. These errant files can interfere with the computer’s operations. Every few months, you may want to click on My Computer, click on the C: drive, and scroll down. If you see any files that end in .tmp, you can safely delete them by highlighting and pressing the Delete key. If you see other .tmp files while you are working on your computer, they may be the files that are open on your computer at that time. You will not be able to delete a temp file that is actively being used. If, however, the .tmp file is not being currently used, you can delete it with no adverse consequences.

Helpful Activities

If your entire system still seems sluggish, you might also need to defrag. Defragging also helps to keep things running smoothly. This is another task that should be done on a regular basis. Check out the advice on defragging in How To Defrag Your Hard Drive .

Cleaning out your temporary files on a regular basis will help keep your computer running smoothly. Get in the habit of cleaning up your temp files. You’ll be glad you did.