How to Free Up Drive Space By Removing Shadow Copies [Windows]

Have you ever noticed that something other than your files seems to be eating away at your drive space? If you’re an uber-nerd like myself, you may have indeed selected all your folders in explorer, viewed their properties and wondered why the total is lower than the total space in use on the drive. Time to demystify!

When you install new software, run patch updates or setup new devices, Windows may automatically create a system snapshot before making changes to the system. Should something stop working, you then have the option to roll back the changes to one of these snapshots using system restore. Depending on your settings, Windows may also keep copies of files like your documents or pictures, which you can roll back to earlier versions.

The net effect of all of these “backups” is redundancy but less available drive space. If your system is working perfectly and you feel like freeing up some space, it might be time to take the plunge and wipe the shadow copy slate clean. Indeed, you potentially stand to gain many gigabytes of space depending on your settings. For example, on one of my RAID drives, system protection is set to use up to 1% of the drive, but that actually equates to an astounding 37GB!

There are essentially two options for reclaiming this space from the shadow copy void – you can choose to remove all restore points, or you can keep the newer ones and remove only the oldest restore points.

Click the Windows (or Start) button and type cmd into the search box. Press “Ctrl + Shift + Enter” to open a command prompt as Administrator. You may be prompted by UAC – if so, click Yes. At the command prompt type the following:

vssadmin delete shadows /for=c: /oldest

This will wipe the oldest shadow copies on drive C:. If you have another hard drive on which you wish to do the same, simply substitute the drive letter where you see “c:” in the command.

shadow-copies-oldest

Click the Windows (or Start) button and type cmd into the search box. Press “Ctrl + Shift + Enter” to open a command prompt as Administrator. You may be prompted by UAC – if so, click Yes. At the command prompt type the following:

vssadmin delete shadows /for=c: /all

This will wipe all shadow copies on drive C:. If you have another hard drive on which you wish to do the same, simply substitute the drive letter where you see “c:” in the command.

shadow-copies-all

Go to Control Panel, ensure small icons are selected in the top right “View by” pull down, and click on System. Then click System Protection, and select the drive you wish to modify shadow copy settings for. Then click Configure. You can reduce the “max usage” slider (try to leave it at least 600MB to ensure it can create at least one shadow copy). Click OK.

shadow-copies-spaceused

If your system is working fine, you may as well create a current restore point by clicking Create in this window.

shadow-copies-create