10 essential monthly Windows maintenance tasks for PCs

To keep your PC running smoothly and problem-free, there are essential Windows maintenance tasks that should be performed. Are you doing them or are you heading for PC problems?

Computers are generally quite reliable and they often work for many years without problems, but this is not always the case and small issues can grow into big ones that can then become serious. A few simple maintenance tasks can avoid problems and stop minor issues from becoming worse.

Let’s take a look at the tasks you should be performing each month to keep your Windows PC running smoothly.

1 Check the drive for errors

Drives can function for many years without problems and faults do not occur very often. Don’t get too complacent though, check the drive once a month to make sure minor problems are fixed before they grow worse. Here’s how to check the filing system:

  1. Open Explorer and select This PC in the sidebar
  2. Right click the C: drive and select Properties on the menu
  3. Select the Tools tab and click Check
  4. Scan the drive even if it says you don’t need to

An alternative way to check the disk, but it is for experts only, is to click Start and enter ‘command’. Click the option to run Command Prompt as an administrator. Enter chkdsk c: /f and then press Y when asked if you want to check the disk the next time the computer is started. Type exit to quit the command prompt window and restart Windows.

Either way, errors are automatically fixed if any are found and it is an essential Windows maintenance task.

2 Optimize the drive

Most modern computers have solid state drives (SSDs) and do not need to be defragmented. However, they still need to perform a retrim, which optimizes the drive. It takes only a second or two, unlike defragmenting a hard disk drive (HDD), which could take an hour or more.

If your desktop PC does have a HDD, Windows defragments it automatically in the background and should require no action on your part. If you have a laptop computer and always use it on battery power, especially with Battery Saver mode or power saving mode enabled, maintenance tasks like defragging may be put off and never get done. Run it manually once a month.

Repair or optimize the disk in Windows
Drive properties window
  1. For SSD and HDD, open Explorer and select This PC in the sidebar
  2. Right click the C: drive and select Properties on the menu
  3. Select the Tools tab and click Optimize
  4. Select the C: drive and click Optimize

3 Clean up the disk

Junk, temporary and unnecessary files build up on the drive over time and may affect the speed of old-style mechanical drives. They don’t slow down solid state drives, but they do use up space and space is sometimes limited on SSDs. Some budget Windows laptops have very small SSDs that are easily filled, so clean up the junk once a month.

Windows 11 and 10 have features that automatically clean up the disk.

  1. In Windows 11, open the Settings app
  2. Click System in the sidebar
  3. Click Storage on the right.
  4. Click the > button to the right of Storage Sense
  5. Turn on the switch, Automatic user content cleanup
  6. Set the frequency to clean up under Run Storage Sense to Weekly
  7. Set the recycle bin to 30 days
  8. Choose whether to delete files in the Downloads folder
  9. Click the Run Storage Sense now button at the bottom

There is an old, but very good clean-up tool in all versions of Windows called Disk Clean-up and I prefer it because it has more options. Sometimes several gigabytes of space can be saved, mostly by emptying the recycle bin and deleting old Windows updates.

Windows Disk Clean-up utility
Disk clean-up utility in Windows
  1. Click the Start button and type ‘disk clean’
  2. Click the option to run Disk Clean-up as an administrator
  3. When the window reappears, select everything and click OK

4 Check automatic maintenance

Your computer should automatically run Windows maintenance tasks at periodic intervals, but is it? How do you know? Maybe for some unknown reason, this feature has become disabled. Check that automatic maintenance is running. This works in Windows 11 and 10.

Windows maintenance in the Control Panel
Maintenance in the Windows Control Panel
  1. Click the Start button, type Control Panel and open it
  2. In small icons view, click Security and Maintenance
  3. Expand the Maintenance section and check the date under Automatic Maintenance
  4. If it has not recently run, click Start maintenance
  5. If it has not recently run, click Change maintenance settings to set a time for daily maintenance

5 Scan for malware

Windows Security or whatever security software you are using has real-time protection that checks files as they are written to or read from the disk. However, it is still useful to run a thorough check of every file on the disk once a month.

Whatever your security software, open it and run a thorough or deep scan. If a quick scan is available, avoid it and do a thorough scan instead.

Windows Security scan options
Windows Security scan options in Windows 11

If you use Windows Security in Windows 11 or 10:

  1. Click the Windows Security icon at the right side of the taskbar (hidden in the pop-up panel)
  2. Click Virus and threat protection in the sidebar
  3. Click the link, Scan options
  4. Select the Full scan option
  5. Click the Scan now button at the bottom

It could take an hour or more to complete and the PC will run slowly while it scans, so do it when you don’t have anything important to do.

6 Check Windows updates

It is hard to stop Windows from updating these days and it automatically checks for updates, downloads them and installs them, sometimes at inconvenient times, but that is another story.

Although updates should be happening, are they, or are they stuck? Sometimes one or more updates will not install or the same one keeps trying to install every day or every week and failing.

  1. Press Windows+I to open the Settings app
  2. Click Windows Update or Update & Security then Windows Update
  3. Make sure that the last update check was fairly recent
  4. Click the Update history link
  5. Check that each update has installed successfully
  6. Click Advanced options
  7. Click Optional updates
  8. See if any optional updates are needed for your computer

If there are any failures, they need investigating and Windows Update may need repairing.

7 Back up the disk

Backups are essential and you should not assume that a computer will work perfectly forever. It won’t. If you are lucky, it will work until you decide to replace it with a new one, but sometimes computers fail and you should be prepared for that day.

Backups are best with an external USB drive. It is possible to back up online, but USB drives are speedy and cheap in comparison.

Click the Start button and type ‘control panel’. Open the Control Panel and click File History. This backs up files in your personal folders – Documents, Pictures, Music and Videos. These usually contain important and often irreplaceable files. Windows and applications can be reinstalled if necessary and are less of a worry.

File History backup utility in Windows 10
Use File History to back up your personal files

Don’t rely on a file backup like File History alone. At least once a month, perform a full system backup using backup software like Backupper or EaseUS Todo Backup. Free versions are available, so it won’t cost anything.

They create an exact image of the disk and provide an alternative way to start the computer (CD or USB thumb drive) if the disk drive fails. It can restore the original disk contents to a new drive or the old drive after it has been repaired or formatted.

8 Clean up your email

There are many tempting offers on the web that can be obtained in return for providing your email address, including newsletters, free software and services and so on.

Go through your email inbox and unsubscribe from anything you do not need or read. At the bottom of email subscriptions there is nearly always an unsubscribe link and it nearly always works. Use it. Spammers tend not to include unsubscribe links, so just delete them.

9 Uninstall unused apps

If you often download and install software from the web, you should go to Settings > Apps > Installed apps or open Programs and Features in the Control Panel and see if there are any applications that you don’t use. Uninstall them by clicking the three dots for a menu in Settings or double click a program in Control Panel.

Uninstall software using Programs and Features in the Control Panel in Windows
Uninstall software you no longer use in the Control Panel

Windows 11 and 10 apps on the Start menu can be uninstalled by right clicking the Start menu item.

The free version of IObit Uninstaller is a useful tool because it cleans up leftover files and registry entries when software is uninstalled. Be careful not to install any optional extras bundled with it.

10 Check Windows files

Windows has a built in tool that checks that all files are present and correct. It is useful to run it once a month just to check that everything is OK rather than wait for a major problem to occur and then try and fix it.

  1. Click Start and enter ‘command prompt’
  2. Right click it in the search results and select Run as administrator
  3. At the command prompt, enter sfc /scannow

It takes many minutes to complete, so be patient. It will automatically try to fix any problems it finds.