Registry Cleanup

Category: Windows

If your computer is starting up slowly or it sometimes hangs for several seconds, geeky friends will ask if you have cleaned your registry lately. Registry cleanup is one of the standard prescriptions for computer performance problems. But what is the Windows registry, and is registry cleanup really necessary? Can it be dangerous to your computer's health? Here's the scoop...

Cleaning the Registry

The Windows registry is a huge database of program settings, file pointers, and other information about how your computer is configured and where things reside on your hard drive. A home user's registry may contain hundreds of thousands of entries. The registry contains entries about fairly trivial things, such as what wallpaper and theme to use. It also contains entries about vital stuff like what programs to load at startup time, and where to find critical Windows system files.

Over time, entries in the registry become obsolete; you may delete a theme or program but its registry entry remains. Hiccups in disk drive read/write operations may corrupt registry entries so that, for instance, Windows can no longer read the entry that tells it where to find Explorer. Some registry flaws can slow down your computer or even cause it to freeze until the flaw is fixed.
Registry Cleanup

Registry flaws slow down Windows startup because Windows wastes time trying to read a flawed entry, can't find the file it references, and then must go look for it the hard way. That's not a critical problem. A program may freeze because the registry entry that points to a DLL or other supplemental file it needs cannot be found. That is a critical problem!

Registry cleaners try to identify and delete or fix flawed registry entries. Cleaning up non-critical flaws improves performance a bit. Cleaning up critical flaws can restore the use of a program you really need. But registry cleanup is a bit hazardous, say some critics, because registry cleaners are not always right about what entries to keep or remove.

The Baby or the Bath Water?

A registry cleaner may delete a setting that you really need, causing Windows to lock up or not start at all. It may change your file/view settings in ways you don't want. It may delete a critical entry so that a program you need won't run. These mistakes happen rarely, but when they happen they result in hours of troubleshooting and re-configuring.

Some tech experts argue that registry cleanup isn't worth the trouble or risk overall. Running a registry cleaner takes time and does not improve performance by more than a second or two during an average day, they say. Others argue that regular registry cleanups make a significant difference in overall performance.

If you want to clean up your registry, make a backup copy of the existing registry first. The best way to do this is to create a System Restore Point, a snapshot disk image of your system's current configuration. If things go wrong with the registry cleanup, you can restore the system to its earlier condition. See my related article on using System Restore for more info.

Avoid overly aggressive registry cleaning. If in doubt about a registry entry's usefulness, leave it alone. Some registry cleaner programs group the flaws they identify into "safe to delete", "questionable", and "dangerous to delete" categories. Stick with "safe" unless you know what you're doing.

Want to try a registry cleaner? See my related article on Free Registry Cleaners and pick one that seems best for your needs and skill set.

Do you have something to say about registry cleaners? Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Registry Cleanup"

Posted by:

17 Dec 2010

I have used Registry Mechanic from PC Tools for quite a few years, and presently use the current version I have never experienced any problem with this program which has always worked flawlessly through all of its versions - just one little niggle with the current version is the splash screen that shows on screen at boot and will not go away until X-ed.

It is highly configurable including the option to create a restore point prior to a registry clean (recommended). Scan results can be examined in more detail by a double-click on a result (which then opens all results for examination) and priority is indicated both by text and by a graduated colour bar. Any 'problems' found can be deselected from deletion. Overall, a time-saver that reduces registry bloat, and affords a great deal of peace of mind on a cleaning process that the majority of us users would be shy about tackling manually.

The modest annual licence equates to peanuts in respect of time saved and performance enhancement

Posted by:

17 Dec 2010

I have been remiss in not writing to you earlier and thanking you very much for your free service.

I am on the pension in Australia, and it does not permit me to spending money on computor things, as much as I would like to, but your service is second to none, and from an old man who is learning all the time, thank you very much

William. Australia

Posted by:

17 Dec 2010

hi Bob, came across this by accident.
1. Sound stuff, if a bit fence-sitting,but it is hard to know which side to get down. Nothing is foolproof and no program like this can get things right all the time.
2. As a novice I was very impressed with uniblue, but it is my impression in recent years that they don't really do very much beyond finding stray dlls and emptying the re-cycle bin. I am sure they work very hard, but... Auslogics is a reasonable lightweight cleaner that does no harm
3. If you know about ERUNT then you will also know about NTREGOPT. These are now the only things I would let near my registry. The problem for Windows 7 is that you have to turn off account control (and disconnect from the internet) and reboot, and then do the same ting afterwwards to turn user account control back on. but it is worth it every 4 weeks or so.
Best wishes, Andrew

Posted by:

Matthew Swisher
18 Dec 2010

Hi Bob,

I have tried several free and premium registry cleaners over the years, and the only one that has not messed up my computer is Registry Mechanic (RM). The first thing I do is install RM, when I purchase a new computer. As far as I am concerned, this software cannot be beat for any price.


Posted by:

18 Dec 2010

I notice Easy Clean doesn't list Windows 7 as being supported. Which is the best of the free register cleaners (that don't require expert knowledge) that does?

Posted by:

munsif ali from pakistan
18 Dec 2010

i was trying to open system configuration utility through help and support program. to load all basic devices, and it was bob rankin's advice in his earlier advice. One contents of help and support were not working, i downloaded winaso registry optimizer and things got fine. but at the moment i have a problem of missing system file i.e. COMDLG32.OCX, This problem did not occur due to using winaso registry optimizer, but i encountered it after i downloaded debut video capture software to take pictures from my web cam, which i could not initialize, and notification of above missing file appeared, i have tried hard through the web to download the file but it did not work, this file uses dll viewer program for installation, however if someone has any remedy, kindly let me know.

Posted by:

M.C. Cannon
18 Dec 2010

For what it is worth I am very happy with CCleaner. It works well with my 2 XP machines and my Win 7 machine. I am sure there may be more aggressive cleaners out there and I may be retaining stuff I do not need, but for what I see being removed I am content. Best part CCleaner is free !!

Best Wishes and Happy Computing,
Matthew :-)

Posted by:

19 Dec 2010

C'mon folks. Registry Cleaners are not "repair" tools. At their very best, they may be useful "maintenance" if the machine is already in top shape and you use them to clean up known references after install/uninstall of applications programs you may be trying out. Even then, you should already be familiar with registry entries so that you can select from the list recommended by your registry cleaner tool in order to allow only those related to the specific uninstall you have just performed. Setting a Restore Point before installing an application or utility is an essential move, but often not enough. Neither is it enough, IMO, to use native export of the Registry as backup. Learn to become good friends with Erunt for registry backup and restore. You'll be glad you did.

Posted by:

Bob Seeberger
19 Dec 2010

My experience with Registry Smart has been incredibly favorable. Didn't cost an arm and a leg but I felt better using a paid-for ap in lieu of a freebie. Once it did its major cleaning, it is primarily finding and eliminating empty registry keys nearly every day. I would undoubtedly like to know what causes them to replicate like rabbits, but when they are eliminated, web navigation is greatly improved.
Thanks Bob for you site here and the op to communicate.

Posted by:

06 Jan 2011

Short note: I have been using RegVac Registry Cleaner for a few years and have been happy with results so far. Does seem to make my computer speed up. Thanks for your helpful articles.

Posted by:

06 Jan 2011

I've used PC Pitstop Optimize on a daily basis for the past several years and it has never caused me one headache that I know of. However, I tried PowerTools Lite from Macecraft software and, after running it just once, had the infamous "File does not have a program associated with it" error message and now I have to go through My Computer to open just about everything. Thus far, I haven't found a fix for this problem. Thanks, Bob, for the chance to communicate. It's most helpful!

Posted by:

06 Jan 2011

Another great article. Bottom line, when you DO your PC maintenance programs regularly, you have less problems. I try to at least DeFrag, using Glary's Disk SpeedUp, check for Malware/Spyware using Malware Bytes, keep my Anti-Virus program Avast! updated, use Glarysoft's Glary Utilities and use CCleaner, at least once a week. If, I have been doing a LOT of Internet research, then I DO my maintenance routine, every couple of days or so.

Now, this may seem like a lot to others, but I maintain that this routine keeps my PC 'clean and functioning'. I can't tell you when I last had a Virus or Infection. Plus, every program that I use is FREE!!! Now, some of these programs may not work with Windows 7, but I have found that by now, most programs have 'upgraded/updated' their programs to run on Windows 7, while still running on Windows 2000, Windows XP and Vista. The one issue that I have found with several of these programs, is whether or not they will run on a 64 bit Windows OS.

How to solve all of the possible issues, simply go to their websites and READ, READ, READ. Check out the Support area and the Forum area, you can find so many of your answers there, to help you. I for one, simply can NOT afford to pay for a gazillion programs, I am on a fixed income, but am completely aware of the consequences of NOT doing maintenance on your PC.

Posted by:

Thomas Scott
06 Jan 2011

Hi, I have been using CCleaner's Registry program for a couple years monthly with no problems. It automatically backs up the registry before it removes anything.

Posted by:

06 Jan 2011

I use JV16 Power Tools for registry maintenance. I have NEVER had a failure because of it. XP SP3, 5 year old installation.

Posted by:

20 Sep 2011

I used the registry cleaner in Ccleaner recently. I like Ccleaner for deleting my history, cache, and all that. Anybody have any feedback about Ccleaner?

Posted by:

John Walter
15 Sep 2012

Thank you for the effort of sharing this helpful information to us. Many of us are actually having problems with our PC and we need this. Keeping a registry clean can be a somewhat difficult task especially when done manually which is why even experienced computer users opt to keep their registry clean through the use of software specifically designed for this purpose. If you keep your registry clean of conflicts and errors, then your system's performance will be good.

For problems with my PC I cannot deny that I used other registry cleaner like Regcure and it helped me with my PC problems. For those of you who want more information about cleaning up your PC, I find this resource helpful:

This does not talk solely about about Regcure as what its name says. You may find several posts on it about speeding up PC and fixing problems in it. Anyone of you can send me a message if this does not answer your question.

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