Ctrl-Alt-Hell: Windows 7 Disk Cleanup killed my PC.

(A cautionary tale)

TLDR: Don’t use disk cleanup on Windows 7 and be sure to backup regularly.

Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of Paper


I wanted my computer to load games a little bit faster. It was all working fine but I just wanted faster! I used windows explorer to see how full my system drive was and it was pretty full. I clicked ‘Disk Cleanup’ to make some room and I chose ‘Clean up system files’ to get extra space back. Then I ticked some options that it made sense to remove and ‘OK’ to free up many Gigabytes.

It ran for a while, supposedly removing temporary files that are no longer needed but after it finished there wasn’t much more space showing on the drive. If your PC isn’t working right the first thing to try is a re-boot, so that’s what I did, only to be told ‘Your computer was unable to start’.


This automated repair function was unable to fix my PC though. I rebooted again and again, every time getting the same screen. Each time I was getting more worried and confused. Why can’t it start? What went wrong? My computer was stuck in this loop and unusable, broken. It was only giving me this unfriendly, unhelpful screen that doesn’t repair anything and doesn’t tell me why. What is ‘Startup Repair’?

It’s the nightmare scenario. I can’t use my PC. I can’t get at my photos, my documents, my emails. It all seems to be gone. I’m in ‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete Hell’ and I don’t know how to fix it. I decided to try the ‘System Recovery Options’ screen I’m presented with next.


System restore! That should work but it says there are no system restore points. I’m sure I had system restore points but they seem to be gone. Did Disk Cleanup destroy all of those? It definitely shouldn’t do that!

OK, lets look at ‘System Image Recovery’. Did I do a back-up recently? The only system image is from five long years ago. That’s not going to be great. I wasn’t in a hurry to go back to 2010! Lesson learned: Back up your computer regularly. Both a system drive image and copies of all the files that matter to you, photos, emails, documents, videos etc..

Luckily these days I have my phone, my tablet, even another PC so I can look these problems up on the internet. I found this and tried all the things but none of them fixed it: https://neosmart.net/wiki/startup-repair-infinite-loop/ . I looked up several other websites explaining how to fix the startup repair problem. I learned lots about the Windows Bootstrap but there was probably nothing wrong with that.

I needed to find out why Windows was not booting, why this repair screen was being invoked, what was basically wrong with my PC. What was not working most visibly and not telling me why? I needed to disable ‘Startup Repair’ itself, stop it from running. I found a couple of forum threads on how to do that:


“At the Command prompt enter the following:

bcdedit /set {default} recoveryenabled No

This will disable Startup Repair from automatically booting when there is a problem.”

So I restart again and I get a screen like the one below, telling me that Windows/system/winload.exe is missing or bad, error status 0xc0000428. When I looked into the drive, that file was not there, so I get a good copy of that file from one of my old system images and insert that in the correct place. (This isn’t easy to do). I reboot for the umpteenth time.




That seemed to have worked but there is now another file missing, Ntoskrnl.exe. I replace that and another file is gone. I go through this with several files, Hal.dll, Kdcom.dll, Pshed.dll, Clfs.sys, CI.dll, were all missing and more. I still haven’t fixed my PC.

It seems that disk clean-up has deleted lots of essential system files that should be protected as well as all system restore points and who knows what else. It’s killed windows. Here is a page I found about windows 7 disk cleanup breaking computers due to a registry problem.


The only way I can fix my PC now is to do a clean install or restore from a backup. I restored that 5 year old backup and I’m back up and running. I’ve lost lots of files and applications from my PC and I’ve wasted lots of time trying to fix something that can’t be fixed. The moral of this story is: Don’t use disk cleanup on Windows 7 and be sure to backup regularly.

You can use windows back-up to save a system drive image to an external hard drive.

  1. Open Backup and Restore by clicking the Start button , clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking Backup and Restore.
  2. Do one of the following: If you’ve never used Windows Backup before, click Set up backup, and then follow the steps in the wizard.

Backing up your files – Windows Help

You can buy a 1TB USB3 external hard drive for about £40. I want to get one of these:

Amazon: Seagate Expansion USB 3.0 Portable 2.5 inch External Hard Drive

I’m also going to get around the backing up the files that matter to me to the cloud for safety. I’m not an expert on the cloud but you can get online storage at amazon, so that’s an easy place to start: Amazon prime

I hope you make some back-ups now and I hope you don’t use windows disk-cleanup from now on! 🙂