Every time you switch to a new version of Windows – be it one of Windows 10’s feature updates or a whole new OS – Microsoft keeps a record of the previous version. This includes data on all your installed programs and settings, stored within a folder known simply as ‘Windows.old’.

This can be found in File Explorer, but you can’t delete it like any regular folder. Microsoft blocks the usual right-click or drag and drop methods, presumably to stop people from removing it accidentally.

Windows.old can take up many gigabytes of system storage, particularly if you’ve moved to a brand-new version of Windows. But is it safe to delete, and how should you go about it? Here’s everything you need to know.

Should you delete the Windows.old folder?

Provided you have no intention of ever going back to the previous version, it’s totally safe to remove the Windows.old folder. It’ll have no effect on either your current Windows 10 experience or any future updates.

However, to make sure there are no unintended consequences, meeting the following criteria is also recommended:

  • It’s been more than 10 days since you’ve installed the current version, so the option to ‘go back to the previous version’ in Settings is no longer available
  • You already perform a full backup of Windows regularly, so can install earlier versions in an emergency anyway
  • All your personal documents and settings were correctly carried over when you installed Windows 10

How to remove the Windows.old folder in Settings

Provided you’re running version 1903 (May 2019) of Windows 10 or later, the easiest method is via Settings:

  1. Head to Settings > System and choose ‘Storage’ from the left pane
  2. Turn on the ‘Storage Sense’ toggle if you haven’t already, then choose ‘Configure Storage Sense or run it now’
    Windows 10 remove Windows.old
  3. Scroll down to the ‘Free up space now’ sub-heading and click ‘Clean now’
    Windows 10 remove Windows.old
  4. After a few seconds, this will remove any files that your device isn’t using (including Windows.old)

Provided Storage Sense remains turned on, the Windows.old folder will be deleted shortly after any new version is installed.

How to remove the Windows.old folder from File Explorer

Storage Sense should be your first port of call, but File Explorer offers a way to specifically target files from previous installations:

  1. Open File Explorer
  2. Locate Local Disk (C:) drive (where Windows is usually installed). Right-click it and choose ‘Properties’
    Windows 10 remove Windows.old
  3. From the window that appears, click ‘Disk Clean-up' from the ‘General’ tab
    Windows 10 remove Windows.old
  4. Click ‘Clean up system files’ and wait for a few seconds
  5. You’ll now see a vertical scrolling list of the files that can be deleted. All these files can be uninstalled, but those under 'Windows Update Clean-up' or ‘Previous Windows installation (s)’ refer to the Windows.old folder
  6. Select those you’d like to uninstall and click ‘OK’
    Windows 10 remove Windows.old
  7. From the pop-up window, click ‘Delete Files’ to confirm removal
    Windows 10 remove Windows.old
  8. After a few seconds, the files will be permanently deleted

It’s worth following these steps shortly after installing a new update if you want to minimise the amount of space they take up. Just make sure the update is stable and bug-free first. For most people, setting up Storage Sense to run regularly in the background will be sufficient.

Claiming back storage is especially important for anyone considering updating their device to Windows 11. Microsoft will begin rolling out the free upgrades for Windows 10 users with eligible hardware from 5 October, but it’ll require at least 64GB of storage to install. If you have a 128GB or 256GB SSD, removing the Windows.old folder could make all the difference.

A version of this article was originally published in German on our sister site, PC-Welt.

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