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Clean and Maintain Your Windows Computer for Free

Written by Matt Jabs - 38 Comments

Bank Deal: Earn 1.00% APY on an FDIC-insured savings account at Barclays Bank.

Is it really necessary to buy software programs to clean and/or protect your Windows computer? And either way… Which ones should you use?

“Yesterday it worked, today it is not working, Windows is like that.”

-Margaret Segall

Why take advice from me?

Though I do not speak of it often I am an Information Technology Manager (a.k.a. “computer guy”) by trade, and have been cleaning and maintaining desktop PCs, laptops, and servers for almost 10 years now. What have I learned? A ton…

But rather than bore you with a lot of useless information, today I will focus on one topic that you do care about: How to maintain the speed and cleanliness of your computer using nothing but free software.

As you may well know I carefully filter all of my spending decisions, so my preference for free software should come as no surprise. While there are certain programs that must be purchased, the ones needed to clean and maintain your computer do not have to fall into that category. In fact, I have found that free software is 100% effective when it comes to cleaning computers.

Today my goal is to give non-techies a quick, easy, and free way to clean and maintaing their own PCs. Who knows, this could even be the start of a new career for you!!!

All the cool kids use Firefox

I will start with a maintenance tip since prevention is always the best medicine — use Firefox as your Internet browser. This it is your single best defense against getting infected with viruses, spyware, malware, etc.

I recommend Firefox not only because the majority of spyware, malware, and viruses out there today are developed to exploit the security holes in Internet Explorer (IE), but also because it provides a superior browsing experience to that of IE.

If you are already infected to the point where you have time to go knit a sweater between mouse clicks, you can clean it yourself – for free – using the arsenal of geek love below.

Five free products you need

Here is a brief description of the products you will need as well as a link to each:

  • Firefox – As noted above, this is a free Internet browser that has been taking market share from IE for years now. The majority of IT professionals use Firefox as their default browser, so be wise and use what the geeks-in-the-know use.
  • MalwareBytes Anti-Malware – A free and extremely effective spyware/malware removal program that I install on every computer in my home and in my corporate network. Another free option (which I haven’t used, so I can’t vouch for it) is SuperAntiSpyware. Why not pay for one of the “professional” spyware removal programs? Because you don’t need to.
  • Avast Antivirus – Hallelujah… A full featured antivirus software for free! The free edition is only intended for non-commercial and home use, so make sure you meet those requirements. Two other popular (and free) options are Grisoft AVG Free and Avira AntiVir.
  • Ccleaner – This cool little freebie offers an easy way to clean unnecessary temp files and also provides a registry clean up tool. It does a lot of things that many PC technicians used to have to do manually, and has been an invaluable tool in my IT apps arsenal.
  • Defraggler – Use this tool last… After you have already installed and employed all the previous programs. Made by the same company as Ccleaner, Defraggler will help speed up your PC by defragmenting the files on your hard drive. I use it because it is superior to the built-in Windows defrag utility. I suggest setting up a monthly automatic defrag (to run while you’re sleeping) for best results.

Don’t forget… Now that you’ve cleaned your PC, make sure you start using Firefox as your default browser!

Now don’t be selfish

If this post did help you clean up your PC, be kind and pass it along to friends, family, and coworkers, you computer technician, you. Heck, after awhile, you may even be able to start charging people to do this for them. Don’t say I never gave you any useful, income-generating ideas!

Happy cleaning!

Published on October 8th, 2009 - 38 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. I’d be nothing without my Ace Utilities… that software is a life saver!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 9:32 am
  2. I use all the same software as what you mentioned up above, except I use AVG anti-virus as my anti-virus software. I love it! I’ve never had a virus or spyware get by it!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 9:36 am
  3. Good info on keep the computer healthy, and thank you!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 9:36 am
  4. I usually install both avast and avg on my computers. I also like using the NoScript addon for Firefox, it takes a while to configure it for the sites you trust, but completely worth it in my opinion.

    I’ve heard good things about Ccleaner and Defragger, but have never used them. I’ll also have to try out MalwareBytes.

    Thanks for the list!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 9:41 am
  5. You might like to look into the recently released Microsoft Security Essentials to add to your arsenal of free antivirus / antispyware / antimalware tools.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 11:03 am
  6. No mention of Comodo?

    Great free antivirus now, also includes free personal firewall.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 11:19 am
  7. Good list…thanks. Any thoughts on spybot? Will one of the suggested software be work instead?

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 11:21 am
  8. I have been using Firefox for over year & really like it. Unfortunately, I ended up with one of the worst viruses I have ever seen. Even my local computer guy was surprised by this one. After cleaning out my laptop he installed MalwareBytes & Avast anti-virus. He also installed XoftSpySE, a free spyware program which works great. Knock on wood, haven’t had a problem since.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 1:15 pm
  9. Great list of programs. Another thing I like about a lot of this free software… it often doesn’t bog down your pc like the more bloated software you could pay for. I switched from Norton to Avast, huge speed improvement.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 2:49 pm
  10. Posts like these are why computer idiots (like me) are always uber friendly with the computer geniuses (like you)!

    Thanks MattJabs!!!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 3:05 pm
  11. Another free program that’s effective for reducing spyware is Spybot Search and Destroy.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 3:09 pm
  12. I’m with you on using freeware applications. There are some very good ones out there. I’ve got a few to add to the list of recommended freeware:
    1) Online Armor- firewall protection & a good alternative to Comodo
    2) Avira- quick & thorough anti-virus protection
    3) Recuva- file recovery from the folks at CCleaner
    4) Smart Defrag- works better for me than Defraggler
    5) Spybot Search & Destroy- old reliable
    6) SIW (System Information for Windows)- everything you want and need to know about your computer

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 3:58 pm
  13. I know everything on that list…guess I’m on the right track!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 8:06 pm
  14. I use all the same except I use IOBit Smart Defrag instead of Defraggler. I use Ccleaner to clean up temps, but for a registry cleaner I use EasyCleaner because I feel Ccleaner and the others are too liberal. I’ve never seen any entries that EasyCleaner finds that I wouldn’t want to get rid of. And you left out a firewall, for which I use Online Armor.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 8:30 pm
  15. So all this talk about maintenance and no mention of running Windows update or setting your computer to automatically download and install critical updates.

    That would close more holes than anything.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 9:24 pm
  16. I’m going to second the use of No Script with Firefox. It really takes a great browser and makes it almost impenetrable! Great add on.

    Avast is a great AV and pretty much annually outdoes Norton in virus detection. I think this past year Norton detected 95% of virii in a test and Avast detected like 99.7%. Or something. I just remember it was A LOT better.

    A few tips for the readers in re: to your defragging advice:
    1) Do not expect to see a noticeable performance increase unless you do a lot of installing/uninstalling, deleting, etc and your drive is old. However, it will make less work for the drive which could lengthen it’s life.
    2) Run Scan Disk first. Otherwise read/write errors can show up during the defrag and cause issues. If there are file system errors and scan disk fixes them, otherwise usable files may become unusable. So you should try and do a scan disk every once in a while to keep things on the up and up.
    3) Again: data corruption can result. It’s an accepted risk of moving gigabytes of data around on a drive.
    4) The above issue could be remedied using a real time defragmenter (I know Diskeeper has one, I used it at one time), but then you are sacrificing performance.

    Can’t have your cake and eat it too! 🙂

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 8th 2009 @ 9:38 pm
  17. does anyone still use IE?? i have the browser installed but every time i open it, it crashes. i use mozilla and i think that microsoft is in real big trouble

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 9th 2009 @ 6:47 am
  18. I’m not a kid and I never was cool, but I recommend Firefox. I had a big problem using Explorer – had some sort of virus. I was really frustrated and couldn’t get it off without paying for someone to do it and I would lose use of my computer for a few days, at least. I downloaded Firefox and have been using it ever since. Its been 2 years and no problems. That nasty Explorer virus is still on here somewhere, but I haven’t had a problem…because I don’t use Explorer anymore. My computer runs as well as it did when it was new (3 years ago).

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 9th 2009 @ 11:22 am
  19. Great list. I also swear by Firefox as the browser ne plus ultra.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 9th 2009 @ 3:14 pm
  20. All the cool kids use Firefox? Maybe, but all the others are using IE, well at least the ones visiting our corporate website where IE has over 80% of the share, and Firefox with less than 10%.

    What’s important is not the browser you use, but rather the browsing habits you develop.

    Signed Un-cool IT Manager
    a.k.a. Computer Nerd.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 9th 2009 @ 6:07 pm
  21. Thanks for the list! I like freeware, but being computer clueless made it hard to identify good ones to use. My computer has already started to run faster just from peeling off Mcafee (the resource hog that it was!)

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 9th 2009 @ 8:21 pm
  22. Are there problems with Google Chrome vs using Firefox? I’ve really enjoyed my experience with Chrome over my limited time with Firefox?

    Just Curious…

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 10th 2009 @ 3:31 pm
  23. I really enjoyed this list. Thanks much. I would like your impression of Chrome. I have been using for 6 months now and love it. I am downloading FireFox now, per your instructions, but would like a write up on Chrome.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 10th 2009 @ 6:06 pm
  24. Matt:

    Great list, I will be trying some of the recomendations.

    Recently I was hit with a virus while running Norton. It failed to pick it up. I found Avast while dealing with the situation and loaded it. Not only did it pick up the virus in question, it also found 4 more on my machine.

    I have to admit however, that Norton refunded my over $100 when I complained! It never hurts to ask!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 11th 2009 @ 3:50 pm
  25. It is difficult to take your advice to heart when you seem to insist that Firefox is more secure than Internet Explorer.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 11th 2009 @ 11:42 pm
  26. (El Cid) It’s an emotional interest… or could it be a financial interest in Firefox? Nah, I doubt it. Some folks take to things so strong that they want everyone to share their passion–sort of like a religion. I enjoy Nickels’ financial column; but as a website designer bent on compatible web design for any browser, I bristle when someone uses their platform to promote a particular browser. Like I said, it’s the browsing habits, not the browser that causes the problems.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 12th 2009 @ 9:48 pm
  27. Thank you so much for this great list! It has been a lifesaver for those of us who are not techies. Just to let you know I’m spreading this link around to my friends. Again, thanks!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 14th 2009 @ 12:52 pm
  28. @El Cid: There’s no question that IE is _the_ prime entry point for viruses and such. Ask any knowledgeable computer guy, especially if he’s involved in network security.

    My browser of choice is Opera, which is free and which predates Firefox by several years. IMO, it’s more developed. It’s also designed for those of us who prefer the keyboard to the mouse.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 15th 2009 @ 1:59 pm
  29. I cleaned my Windows PC for good– because I was tired of doing virus and adware scans, defrags, etc.– and replaced Windows with Ubuntu Linux. Best move I ever made. Everything is free. Browse with Firefox, Opera, and Google Chrome, whichever strikes my fancy. Not to mention the immense satisfaction of giving Windows the flush. Life’s an adventure. Dive in the water’s fine.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 16th 2009 @ 8:52 pm
  30. Enough is enough: #28 “Ask any knowledgeable computer guy… especially if he’s…” WOW! That was sexist!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 17th 2009 @ 11:50 am
  31. what’s the best way to start cleaning out an affected pc?

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 22nd 2009 @ 4:53 pm
  32. How about just getting a Mac?

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 24th 2009 @ 8:51 am
  33. Hi,
    Thanks for the tips, I really appreciate them. I use just about everything you listed except I also use Zone Alarm on my XP and I just use the Windows Firewall on my Vista (it just seems to work better for me I guess. I don’t have to wonder if I should allow or deny something, Windows does it for me, is this ok?) Anyway, I also use AVG, but it does slow my computer down a bit, is Avast any better at that? There are I think two others you mentioned that I need to check into, but still I do appreciate your information.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 26th 2009 @ 9:13 pm
  34. PS-I have wondered about Linux for a very long time now, how would one go about switching from Windows to Linux? Actually I’d love a Mac, but can’t afford it at the moment. I’d appreciate any comments anyone could offer about Linux.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 26th 2009 @ 9:14 pm
  35. Don’t forget nCleaner 2nd for turning off widows firewall and windows defender…also use the start up manager to only have essentials start up with your computer. It seems like every program you install wants on the startup list.

    Comment by Anonymous — Nov 7th 2009 @ 1:28 pm
  36. @Peter – If you seriously think IE is as secure as Firefox, you don’t need to be in IT.

    @Rory – I think the purpose of the post was to make the computer work better, not to obtain one that freezes more than Windows Vista and, even on its best days, can’t do what a PC can. Drink all the Mac kool-aid you can find. (Psst…it’s actually anti-freeze!)

    @Hope – Zone Alarm causes strange issues. Avast is faster than AVG 8, though AVG 9 promises to fix that. Ubuntu Linux is only for those who do zero gaming and are okay with learning alternatives to pretty much every office app in existence. For browsing, it’s great. For everything else, it takes a lot of work to get it doing what you want it to do.

    Comment by Anonymous — Nov 8th 2009 @ 4:37 am
  37. hi im stephanie and i need to know how to clean out my computer

    Comment by Anonymous — Apr 26th 2010 @ 5:57 pm
  38. Wonder why people who use AVG don’t find a virus? Because it is worse than Nortons. Avast wont let you down, put that with MS security essentials & you will be more than ok. AVG cant catch a cold.

    But someone mentioned updates…. best idea yet. Patch the holes before you try to fix it other ways.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 3rd 2011 @ 12:53 am

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