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Cleaning Up After Windows

A HelpWithWindows TechFile

By: Arie Slob

I have always known that Microsoft's Internet Explorers implementation of "Temporary Internet Files" (TIF) had been completely broken, and there isn't much temporary about it. No matter what size you specify for the TIF to use in Internet Explorer, the size of the cache will continue growing.

I have also known that using the option to delete your browser history in Internet Explorer does not do the job properly and only delete the TIF partially. So from time to time (once or twice a year, if I remember) I manually delete the TIF to reclaim some space. I decided that it was time again, and wanted to document my exercise this time around.

I started by opening Internet Explorer's Options menu and clicking the Settings button below Browsing history. On this screen you can see the current disk space you have set for the Temporary Internet Files (TIF) to use, but more importantly, you also see listed the current location on the TIF folder (Figure) Temporary Internet Files and History Settings.

Note that clicking the View files button won't get you very far. The TIF folder is a special folder, and no matter how you set Windows Explorer's Folder Options (to show you all hidden and system files), you won't see the TIF files (hidden & system folders). You should still go ahead and from the View tab on Folder Options un-check the Hide protected operating system files (Figure) un-check "Hide protected operating system files".

After clicking the View files button, go up one level to C:\Users\{user account}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows and you'll see the listing for the Temporary Internet Files folder. Right-click and select Properties. Note its size; in my case it was 6.10GB (Figure) Properties of the "Temporary Internet Files" folder. This was after I had Internet Explorer delete my TIF files and after I run Disk Cleanup which claimed an additional 20MB in TIF files had been deleted.

There are two ways to go about cleaning up this mess further: either use (an administrative) command prompt or (the method I used) employ the use of a second administrative (windows user) account.

Next I logged of my normal account in Windows, and logged into my 2nd admin account. I used Windows Explorer to navigate to the location of my main accounts TIF folder as noted above. Note that you have to set Windows Explorer's Folder Options again to show you protected operating system files. Now when you are in the TIF folder you'll see a number of other folders. Internet Explorer's (main) cache folder is called Content.IE5. As you can see from the properties, after supposedly deleting the TIF (with both IE and Disk Cleanup), the folder still contained 2.47GB (Figure) Content.IE5 folder.

Deleting these is now easy: Just hold down the Shift key on your keyboard and when you right-click the folder, select Delete. Holding down the shift key prevents the content from being sent to your recycle bin, they will be permanently deleted instead. You'll receive some warnings for system files being deleted; just acknowledge them all to be deleted. When we log back into our main account Windows will re-create the Content.IE5 folder.

Now as you recall, I noted above that the TIF folder had shown 6.10GB in space, while the actual Internet Cache (Content.IE5) only contained 2.47GB. So I checked a bit, and noted that the Content.Word folder contained 3.23GB (Figure) Content.Word folder. I checked into this folder, and found that it contained temporary Word files going all the way back to August 2009 (Figure) Content.Word files list. (That's when I first installed Windows/Word on this computer). Wow... never knew that Microsoft's Word is also not cleaning up behind itself (I'm using Word 2007). So I gave it the same "treatment" as the Content.IE5 folder: I deleted it.

You may notice some other directories listed. I decided not to get every last bit out of it and try removing those too, so I logged off my 2nd admin account & logged back into my main Windows account. Checking the size of the C:\Users\{user account}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files folder, it now showed as occupying 538MB (Figure) New size of "Temporary Internet Files" folder.

Just in case you think that 5.7GB gained isn't that much, I'm running Windows 7 from a 120GB SSD drive, so I just gained 4.75% in free space (For more information on running Windows 7 on a SSD drive, see my article Optimize Windows 7 for use with a Solid State Drive (SSD).

If instead of using a 2nd Windows account to delete these files you want to use the Windows Command prompt, here are some pointers on which commands to use:

  • You have to use an elevated (administrator) command prompt
  • Use dir /as to show hidden/system files
  • Use rd /S to remove directories (including sub-directories and files)

One file that will not be deleted using this method is the index.dat file in the Content.IE5 folder. The index.dat file is a database file holding a lot of information such as web URLs, search queries and recently opened files. Its purpose is to enable quick access to data used by Internet Explorer. The easy way to delete this file is to use the method described above (using a 2nd Windows account).