How to Clean Up a Windows Swap File

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The Windows swap file is a form of "virtual memory," in which the operating system uses the hard drive for temporary storage to get around having a limited amount of physical RAM in the computer. Swap files, because of their nature, may hold information about your computer usage which you would not want others to see. Clean the swap file to prevent others from viewing your sensitive data.

  • Double-click "My Computer," then double-click your hard drive.

  • Click the "Organize" button, then click "Folder and Search Options" if you are running Windows Vista. In Windows XP, click "Tools," then click "Folder Options." In Windows 7, click "Start," "Control Panel," and "Appearance and Personalization." Under "Folder Options," click "Show Hidden Files and Folders."

  • Click the "View" tab. Click the radio button next to "Show hidden files and folders," and uncheck the box labeled "Hide protected operating system files." Click OK.

  • Click the Start button, then click "Control Panel." Double-click "System." Follow Step 5 if you are running Windows Vista or Windows 7, or skip to Step 6 if you are running Windows XP.

  • Click "Advanced System Settings." Click the "Advanced" tab, then click the "Settings" button in the "Performance" category.

  • Click the "Advanced" tab in the "Performance Options" window, then click the "Change" button. Click on your hard drive, then click the "No Paging File" radio button. Click "Set," click "OK" in each window, and restart the computer.

  • Double-click "My Computer," then double-click the hard drive that Windows is installed on (usually "C:"). Delete the file "pagefile.sys." Close the Explorer window, and right click the "Recycle Bin" icon on the desktop. Click "Empty Recycle Bin."

  • Return to the "Virtual Memory" window by repeating the steps described above. Click your hard drive, then click the radio button labeled "System Managed Size" (or specify a size, if you wish). Click the "Set" button, click "OK" in each window, and restart your computer.

Tips & Warnings

  • Cleaning the swap file can deter thieves from being able to access your personal data, but cannot prevent it entirely. In order to truly sanitize a hard drive, the physical drive must be destroyed. As long as the drive is functioning, it may be possible to recover deleted data using forensic tools.
  • If you are cleaning your swap file for performance rather than security reasons, defragment your hard drive before you turn the paging file back on. This will consolidate the free space on your hard drive.

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