Posted on April 15, 2013 10:30 am

Spring Cleaning: How to Speed Up, Clean Up, and Revive All Your Tech

The sun is shining and the bees are buzzing, which can only mean one thing: spring is here, and with that comes spring cleaning. In between emptying closets and decluttering your basement, give yourself some time to clean up your computer and smartphone, too. Here are some simple tips for speeding up and optimizing your Mac, Windows PC, iPhone, and Android phone.

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The weather’s turning warmer in our neck of the woods, which means it’s time to start thinking about spring cleaning. While you’re emptying your closets, decluttering, and getting rid of the bloat in your life, why not do the same for your Mac? Here are some simple, easy to follow tips to give your trusted Mac a little spring cleaning of its own.

5404360892_b535deb980_zClean It Out

Let’s start with the outside of your system. Turn it off, unplug everything, and move it out from where you normally have it set up. Give the area around your Mac, whether it’s an iMac on your desk, or a Mac Pro under your desk, a good cleaning—there’s probably dust and grime built up around it. Apple has specific guidelines to cleaning your gear, and while each system is a little different, it’s always a safe bet to take a microfiber cloth to the surface of your device to wipe away the dust and any smudges or oils that may be lingering on your screen or case. Apple suggests a damp, lint-free cloth to do the job, but even a dry microfiber cloth will get he job done—especially on displays and screens where you absolutely don’t want to use harsh chemicals of any kind. Photo by Cheon Fong Liew.

Even though it’s not officially recommended by Apple, a little compressed air will go a long way towards getting the dust out of the cracks, crevices, and exhaust vents. If you have a Mac Pro, you can crack the case open and attack the inside with the same cloth and compressed air.

If your case or keyboard are seriously gunky, we highly recommend attacking the filth with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, but keep in mind that they—and other melamine sponges—are slightly abrasive, so you may be rubbing away grease and dirt, but if you keep scrubbing you can wear away the top layer of the finish as well.

Tame Your Cable Clutter

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Before you set your Mac back up, go ahead and take some time to tame the cable clutter that may have accumulated under your desk over months of use. Now is a good time to learn how to wrap those cables so they don’t take up so much space, or order some velcro cable ties, twist ties, or zip ties to help you keep everything coming out of the back of your computer neat and tidy, and maybe even label them with milk jug labels or bread tags. If it’s really bad, you can always repurpose a rain gutter, use a flower pot, or find another container to keep the cables and their slack out of sight.

software-updateGet Up to Date

If you’re setting some time aside to tidy up your Mac for the spring, the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure you have all of the latest patches, security updates, and application updates available via Software Update. If you’re running a really old version of Mac OS and you’ve been thinking about upgrading, there’s no time like the present to get on board with OS 10.8 “Mountain Lion.” Even if you stick to Snow Leopard, or newer verisons of Mac OS aren’t supported on your hardware, it’s worth using Software Update to make sure your system is as up to date as it can be.

appcleanerUninstall Unnecessary Apps

After you’ve made sure your system is all up to date, it’s time to dig into your Applications folder and start uninstalling programs that you know you no longer need. In most cases, uninstalling a Mac app is as simple as dragging the app to the trash, but doing just that can leave orphaned preferences files from those uninstalled apps on your computer. We’d suggest using an actual uninstaller, like our current favorite, AppCleaner, which is completely free. If you’re willing to spend some coin ($13, to be exact), AppZapper has a prettier UI and a few more options, but in the end they both do the same thing. If you use one of these apps to remove those unwanted programs from your system, you can be sure you’re getting rid of all of their associated files as well. Finally, head into System Preferences, click on Accounts, and clean out the Login Items tab of any applications that you don’t want to run on startup. Sometimes even uninstalled apps leave entries behind, and it’s a good idea to tidy up your startup items anyway.

diskinventoryxReclaim Hard Drive Space

If you’ve been following along, you’ve cleaned up your Mac on the outside, your Mac is up to date, and you’ve uninstalled the programs you no longer use or need on your system. Now it’s time to finish cleaning your Mac up on the inside and get back the hard drive space that’s probably being wasted by old VirtualBox images, video game screenshots, or other assorted files you didn’t know were lurking on your system.

The venerable Disk Inventory X is a great tool that will scan your drives and show you what’s eating up all of your space in an easy to understand view, and it’s completely free. Alternatively, $10, if you have it to spend, will buy you a copy of Daisy Disk, an app that many of you preferred because it allows you to not just see the contents of your drive in multiple views, but go ahead and delete, compress, and organize your drive quickly—and automatically, without you having to lift a finger. Just make sure you empty your trash when you’re through with everything to really get the space back.

disk-utilDo Some Maintenance and Optimize Your System

Now that you’ve cleaned out the mess from your Mac, it’s time to give OS X a little TLC. Head into Disk Utility and click “Verify Disk.” It shouldn’t take too long, and if you see any errors, wait for it to finish and click “Repair Disk.” It’s always a good idea to verify your disk every few months, just to make sure you’re not missing some creeping issue with your hard drive or your OS X installation. You may also notice that you can verify or repair disk permissions. It doesn’t hurt if you do it, but whether or not it’s actually useful as a troubleshooting step is hotly debated. All-things-Mac writer John Gruber says it’s voodoo, and honestly, he’s right—it’s not very useful for regular troubleshooting. However, Dwight Silverman says it’s saved his bacon, although he had to dig deeper to fix his issue. Apple still reccomends repairing permissions for specific issues and references it in its knowledgebase. Your mileage may vary.

Beyond Disk Utility , you may also want to look into a system optimization utility like Onyx, our favorite system tweaker for Mac. Alternatively, previously mentioned cleaning utility iBoostUp does a great job of tidying up your system, as does the newly released CCleaner for Mac.

crashplanBack Up Your Refreshed Mac

These steps are all well and good to keep your Mac running smoothly, and even for periodic cleanups like these to get everything back in top shape. That said, they’re all but wasted if you’re not backing up your system. If you need help getting started, here’s how to set up a bulletproof backup system using our favorite tool, CrashPlan. I use it personally to keep both my Mac and Windows systems backed up, and once it’s set up, it really is fire and forget—and you get to sleep at night knowing all of your data is safely backed up to another computer, external drives, or—if you have the money to spend—an offsite location.

You may also consider taking a disk image of your freshly tidied Mac in case you need to restore later after a hard drive upgrade or replacement. You can do this in Disk Utility, but our favorite disk cloning tool for Mac is Carbon Copy Cloner, which is a bit more robust and reliable.


That’s all there is to it. Macs usually don’t need much in the way of maintenance, but they can definitely use some cleanup from time to time, especially after heavy use. Apple doesn’t ship too much in the way of tweaking or optimization tools for your Mac, but there are plenty out there for all versions of Mac OS, so don’t be shy when it comes to giving your ailing Mac a tune-up. After all, it’s spring, and now’s the perfect time to declutter and clean up your Mac as well as the rest of your life.

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Flowers are blooming and birds are chirping, which means it’s time to start your yearly spring cleaning extravaganza. While you’re emptying your closets, decluttering, and getting rid of the bloat in your life, why not do the same for your computer? Here are some simple, easy to follow tips to give your trusted Windows PC a little spring cleaning of its own.

Clean Up Your Hardware

 

We’ll start with the outside of your machine, since you probably have all those cleaning products out for your household cleaning anyway (right? right?). Turn it off, unplug everything, and find an open area where you can easily reach everything. Whether you have a laptop or a desktop, your main priority is probably going to be the keyboard and mouse or trackpad. Luckily, you can clean them pretty easily with just a few household objects. If they’re looking a little greasy, you can always clean them up with a Mr. Clean magic eraser, too.

You’ll also want to get inside your computer’s case and clean any dust out of the fans to keep everything running cool and quiet. We’ve shown you how to do this on a desktop before, and all you need is a little compressed air to do a pretty thorough job. Laptops, unfortunately, usually require a lot more work. You’ll have to refer to your computer’s instruction manual for more information on how to take it apart.

Tame Your Cable Clutter

As you head back to your desk to replace your newly-cleaned computer, take some time to organize your cables first. We’ve shared a number of ways to do this, from simple cable shortening techniques to full workspace solutions. I can personally vouch for both the rain gutter method and the IKEA Signum cable manager, though you can experiment with your workspace to see what works best. If you’re using a laptop, slapping a couple binder clips on your desk is just about the greatest way to save them from falling on the floor whenever you go mobile, too.

Get Up to Date

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Alright, so you’ve plugged your machine back in at your pristine workspace, and now it’s time to get down to the good stuff: software. Before you do anything else, head to Windows Update and make sure all your software is up to date—drivers, service packs, security updates, and so on. If you’re still on Windows 7, it might be a good time to consider an upgrade. Windows 8 has been out for awhile now, and it’s really not as bad as everyone says it is—in fact, it’s pretty great. It’s faster, more secure, and has a number of useful new features. Even though Windows 8’s metro interface isn’t that great, you can easily get rid of it and make it more like Windows 7 in all the annoying spots, while keeping the great features Windows 8 brings to the table.

Uninstall Unnecessary Apps

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If you’ve followed our advice about being conservative with the apps you install, you shouldn’t have too many unnecessary ones floating around—but no matter how careful you are, it’s bound to happen. Skip Windows’ built-in Add/Remove Programs dialog and use something like Revo Uninstaller for quicker, more thorough uninstallations. This is also a great time to de-crapify your printer or scanner setup, as it undoubtedly contributes a few unnecessary apps to your hard drive.

You might also want to take a look at your startup items in msconfig and uncheck options you don’t need. This’ll decrease your computer’s boot time significantly, not to mention free up a few resources. If you’re having trouble deciding what to disable, we highly recommend checking out previously mentioned Soluto, which will help guide you through the process.

Reclaim Hard Drive Space

medium704If you’re starting to run out of space on your drive, it’s time to take a really good look at what might be causing it. That means ditching Windows’ built-in Disk Cleanup app (which is fine, but probably won’t net you a ton of space savings) and check out something like WinDirStat or Disk Space Fan. They’ll show you exactly what’s taking up so much space on your machine, organized by folder, file type, and more. Armed with that information, you can start deleting stuff you don’t need and getting some of that disk space back. For more information, check out our feature on how to analyze, clean out, and free space on your hard drive.

Do Some Maintenance and Optimize Your System

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Now it’s time to really dig in and start cleaning up the cruft that can slow down your machine. If you don’t already have the fantastic CCleaner maintenance tool, download it now and run through its cleaning process. This should clean up some of those extra caches, temporary files, log files, and other things strewn about your system. While you’re at it, set it to run on a schedule so you don’t have to worry about it ever again.

Apart from that, the only maintenance you need to do (besides the other things mentioned in this post) is keep your antivirus program turned on and up to date. We recommend Avast Free Antivirus: It’s good at killing viruses, and pretty simple to use. Most users shouldn’t have to do much more than this—Windows 7 and above deoesn’t need to defragment, clean their registry, mess with Windows prefetching, or do anything else you’ve been told to do over the years. Check out our guide to Windows maintenance for more info.

Back Up Your Refreshed PC

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Lastly, it’s time to back up your newly cleaned PC. Hopefully, you had a backup system in place before this whole thing, but if not, we recommend setting up a bulletproof, offsite backup system with CrashPlan. Once you set it up, you never really have to think about it again. Alternatively, you can always just back up to an external drive using the built-in Windows Backup—I personally use this to back up to my NAS—but we’d still recommend backing up your super important files to something like Dropbox, since this won’t protect you from things like fires, earthquakes, drive failures, or anything else that could destroy your backup.

Alternative: Do a Clean Install

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It’s worth mentioning, since it’s such a popular option, that some people just prefer to reinstall Windows every once in a while to keep everything running smoothly. This is totally fine—I do it myself, in fact, just because I’m a bit OCD that way—but you really don’t have to. As long as you take care of your computer, it should run just as quickly, smoothly, and cleanly as a freshly minted installation.

If you do want to do a clean install, then I highly recommend checking out how to do a clean install without losing your files, settings and tweaks. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier. You can also customize your Windows installation with RT Se7en Lite and create the OS of your dreams by removing unnecessary Windows components, adding service packs to your installer, and even automatically installing all your favorite apps in one fell swoop (though you could always use something like Ninite, too). As you go through the process, be sure to check out our Lifehacker Pack for Windows to make sure you get all the essential apps installed on your new machine.


That’s all there is to it. Windows doesn’t need quite as much maintenance as it did in the old days, but there will always be a few things you can do from time to time to keep it clean and fast.

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With the sun shining and bees buzzing in celebration of spring you’ve likely started decluttering your closets and basements. If you need a break from all that indoor work, it might be time to step away and do the same for your iPhone. Here are some easy tips to give your trusted iPhone a spring cleaning of its own.

Reclaim Hard Drive Space

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Generally, cleaning up your iPhone (or iPod Touch, or iPad) is a pretty straight-forward process where you check and tinker with your hard drive consumption. We haven’t seen a hard statistic for how much space it’s good to keep free on your iPhone, but as a general rule, it’s good to leave at least 500 MB-1GB of free space when you can. This frees up enough room for apps to store data so you don’t have to worry about crashes.

If you’re running short on data storage on your iPhone, it’s time to clean up and take a look at which apps are taking up the most space and why. On your phone, tap Settings > General > Usage. Here you’ll find a list of your apps and how much space they’re taking up.

In the screenshot on the right you can see that the Camera+ app is taking up 273 MB of storage. Why? It has its own built-in camera roll. This means the app is storing a second set of photos on top of the default photo app. Tap through each of your apps that are taking up a lot of space and you’ll likely find a few more offending apps. Twitter, for instance, is a 13.5 MB app, but somehow manages to take up 383 MB of documents and data.

The solution? For apps like cameras you can go into the app itself and delete all the extra pictures. However, for Twitter your only option is to delete and reinstall the app. Once you do, the usage will drop to around 10 MB and start climbing up again over time.

Overhaul the Settings on Your iPhone

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If your iPhone is struggling with battery life the easiest fixes are available in your Settings menu. We’ve gone through a the biggest offenders on your iPhone’s battery life before and disabling the following settings can increase your battery life significantly:

  • Push notifications for email (Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars).
  • Push notifications for apps (Settings > Notifications).
  • Location Services (Settings > Location Services).
  • Disable Ping (Settings > General >Restrictions > Ping).

You can enable and disable most of the above settings on a per-app basis, so if you like having one or two apps sending you notifications you can keep them, but you don’t need notifications for everything.

Overhaul Your Settings in iTunes

It’s a good idea to take a look back at your iTunes syncing settings when you’re cleaning up your phone. This is especially the case if you’ve started using alternatives to the default apps. For instance, if you’ve picked up our favorite podcast manager for iPhone, Downcast, you don’t need to continue syncing the podcasts you download in iTunes at the same time.

The same goes for calendars, email, contacts, and the rest of the default apps. Uncheck any boxes that don’t apply to you to help speed up the syncing process. For instance, if you don’t use the default calendar you have no reason to sync it every time you plug in your phone. The same goes for Safari bookmarks, contacts, and mail.

Uninstall Unnecessary Apps

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A lot of iPhone users are a bit addicted to apps. We’ve gone over a few ways to clean up your app usage by creating a most used page and a second holding bin page to test new apps. If you’re the type to download and try tons of apps on a daily basis it’s probably necessary to clean up your home screen and take a close look at all the apps you didn’t end up liking. Delete them and free up hard drive space and declutter your home screen in one simple step.

Remove and Clean Your Case (If You Use One)

We’ve shown you how to clean and disinfect your gadgets before and if you’re busy optimizing the insides of your iPhone, you might as well clean up the outside too. This is especially important if you use a case because over time dust and dirt get trapped in-between the case and iPhone. The dust can end up scratching the back of your iPhone if you’re not careful. If you have a rubber case you can clean it with a solution of water and Windex.


In general iPhones don’t need a lot of maintenance, but hard drives fill up quickly and that’s the biggest cause of problems further down the line. As always, when you’re cleaning everything above don’t forget that a good old hard reset (hold home button and power button until it restarts) can do wonders for your iPhone’s speed.

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We’re all decluttering our closets and basements in celebration of spring, but it’s time for a break. Kick back on the couch, pull up your Android phone, and act like you’re still being productive by giving it some spring cleaning of its own.

Reclaim Drive and SD Card Space

medium711Most Android devices have two different storage spaces: your internal space (where apps are stored) and your SD card (where your music, photos, and many of your apps’ settings are stored). The SD card is easy to clean up—just delete any music, photos, and videos you don’t need. If you see any folders that look like settings for apps you’ve removed, you can delete those too. If you’re rooted (which is really easy to do), you can even use an app like previously mentioned SD Maid or the root-free Clean Master to clean up all that cruft for you.

Cleaning up your internal storage is also pretty simple: just uninstall unnecessary apps. Chances are you have a few apps you don’t use anymore, not to mention games you don’t play—they’ll take up the most space—and you can just uninstall them from the Play Store to free up that space and, hopefully, speed up your phone a little bit. If your phone is starved for internal storage and you can’t spare any of your hard-earned apps, you can try moving them to your SD card instead (at least, if you’re running Android 2.3 or earlier). This will free up that internal space and speed up your phone, but keep all your apps close at hand. To do this, just head to Settings > Applications > Manage Applications. Select an app, and tap the “Move to SD Card” button to move it. Some apps won’t have this ability, but you should find that lots of your space-hogging apps have no problem living on your SD card. You can read more about this process here.

Of course, if you don’t have an SD card in your phone, you’ll just have to delete files and uninstall apps if you’re running out of space.

Give It a Battery Boost

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Lots of Android phones are notorious for sucking battery life quickly. If you haven’t dug through your settings in awhile, this is a good time to make sure you’re getting the most out of your battery as possible. This means turning the brightness down, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off when not in use, and turning off any eye candy (not to mention uninstalling apps that constantly use up your data). Tweak these settings yourself or automate them with a program like Tasker or JuiceDefender for an easy, hassle-free battery life boost. I’m always an advocate of getting a second battery, too—just keep it in your glove box or in your desk drawer for those emergencies where your phone is about to die.

Speed It Up with Some Settings Tweaks

medium712If your phone is a bit older, or it’s just feeling sluggish, there are a number of things you can do to make it feel a little smoother. Trying a new home screen launcher is always good for a bit of speed, as is lowering your number of home screens and ditching all those widgets. If you’re rooted, you can even overclock or install a custom ROM for even more speed. And, if you really want to get technical, there are some advanced settings you can play with to eke every bit of speed out of your phone possible. For more info on how to speed up your phone, check out our in-depth guide. Just don’t use a Task Killer, whatever you do (unless you’re on a really, really old version of Android—like, 1.6 old).

Remove and Clean Your Case (If You Use One)

Of course, the inside of your phone isn’t the only thing that needs cleaning. If your phone has gotten a bit dirty over the past year—which is even more likely if you have a dirt-trapping case on it—you might want to take it off and clean it up. The case shouldn’t be too hard to clean, but make sure you don’t clean your phone with anything that’ll harm the screen. We’ve gone through how to safely clean and disinfect your gadgets before, so check out that guide for more info.


Unfortunately, Android devices are finicky, and can take a lot of maintenance to work well—especially the older ones. Be sure to check out our more in-depth guides above, and you should be able to get your phone running as optimally as possible.