Registry Cleaners: Just Say ‘NO!’

Today I’m going to give a little warning about programs that claim to “clean” your Windows registry, or people or products that tell you that you “need” to clean your Windows registry.

But first, a little story. The other day I happened to speak to someone who was having some computer problems – some very strange computer problems, in fact.

A little bit of questioning the user revealed the  problem. This person had recently had some so-called “computer experts” come and take a look at his computer. They apparently told him that he “needed” to “clean” his Windows registry, because it was “full of junk” and that was slowing his computer down.

This brings me to the moral of the story, which is basically that all “registry cleaners” are bunk.

Back in the old days (the Windows 9x days), a “registry cleaner” might have made some sense. Back then, you had to keep your registry small due to memory constraints, etc. A “registry cleaner” could remove some invalid entries and basically clean things up a bit to make the registry smaller. If it did this in a very limited manner, it was generally helpful and safe.

However, things have changed a lot since those days.

First off, there’s no longer any real need to worry about the size of your registry, but another thing to keep in mind is that registry cleaners were originally meant to help reduce the size of your registry. Now, how do you think they did that?

That’s right, they just deleted entries from the registry. And more or less, that’s all that registry “cleaners” do to this day – they aren’t really “cleaners” per se, they are “deleters.” And many of these programs don’t even give you the option to backup the entries they are about to delete – they just go ahead and delete them.

This is akin to trying to “clean up” your Windows installation by just going in and randomly deleting files from your Windows directory. Yeah, it’ll “clean it up” in the sense that it’ll take up less disk space – but more than likely you’ll also end up completely boning your Windows installation to the point where it doesn’t work anymore.

Regularly cleaning your Windows registry (which is something that many users of “registry cleaning” software say you have to do) of invalid/unused entries (say, file associations for programs that don’t exist anymore) isn’t going to make your computer any faster. The registry is already optimized for fast loading (that’s the whole reason there is a registry in the first place, instead of slow INI files), and a few extra entries aren’t going to slow anything down.

In fact, regularly cleaning your registry will end up “fragmenting” the files on disk that hold the registry data itself, and as time goes on, those “gaps” that were “cleaned” will be filled with new data, resulting in a registry that’s all out of order (at least on disk). This will actually slow down access to the registry (or, at least, slow down the initial paging of the registry into main memory).

Realistically, if your registry really does need to be “cleaned,” then you are going to have to do it by hand, because no “registry cleaner” program is going to be able to fix it auto-magically. It’s a bit like expecting a gasoline additive for your car to fix the dent in your bumper or your broken radio – it’s just not going to happen.

There’s another reason to be wary of so-called “registry cleaners” as well, and that’s the fact that if you search for a “registry cleaner” program, you are more likely to end up downloading spyware that’s just pretending to be a registry cleaner. Finding a registry cleaner that isn’t actually some sort of spyware/malware in disguise is, to put it simply, really hard, even for an expert.

The bottom line here is that registry “cleaners” actually have no benefit  at best, and at worst can actually slow down or even royally screw up your computer.

So if someone tells you that you need to “run a registry cleaner” or that you should “clean your registry regularly” or you’re about to download a program that claims to “clean” or “optimize” your registry… just say NO!

Colored blocks icon courtesy of the Crystal Icon Set.

By Keith Survell

A geek, programmer, amateur photographer, anime fan and crazy rabbit person.


  1. Well you’ve set me straight from ever using Ccleaner ever again!!


    I’ve used this 100% free and malware free program for a long time now and it’s always been good to me:)

    It does alot more then just clean ones registry.
    Ccleaner cleans out over a 100 Megabytes of Hotfix Uninstaller files that are totally unneeded after running Windows Update;)

    And why would anyone want to just leave invalid entries and crap just sitting there and expect it to run as well as a cleaned registry?

    You say it’ll fragment it…

    Ever hear of DEfragging?,Lol

    Correct me if I’m wrong but honestly all this animus against registry cleaners is bunk to me.

    I wholeheartedly recommend Ccleaner over any other product.

    1. It is worth noting that CCleaner is not primarily a “registry cleaner,” and in fact its registry-related functions are limited to just removing registry entries that are no longer referenced (e.g., COM class library entries for files that don’t exist anymore). In the grand scheme of “registry cleaners,” this is about as harmless as you can get – and CCleaner actually does a lot of other, unrelated (but very helpful!) things. Don’t get me wrong – I use CCleaner too; I just don’t use it’s registry-related options unless I have a very specific registry problem to go after.

      My point is that the risk of a registry cleaner product doing something wrong and screwing up your computer badly is not worth the very small, almost nothing performance gain you might theoretically get by having a smaller registry.

      Thinking that your computer will run faster with a smaller registry is akin to thinking that your car will go faster if you take the radio antenna off. Technically, yeah, you’re reducing weight and a bit of wind resistance, but it’s a *very* small gain. And now your radio won’t work anymore. So is it worth it?

      I’d argue that it’s not.

  2. You’re quite correct that “cleaning” the registry won’t speed up your computer, but using a reputable repair tool has helped immensely when Windows starts to grow warts and stuff like suddenly wanting to open text files with the Media Player… o_0

    I understand trying to find “reputable” tools is almost futile.
    May I suggest you try Macecraft’s powertools. He’s been coding the ultimate registry fixer for quite some time now.
    Ignore the hype on the front page – as many times as his software has saved my tuckus, he doesn’t need it.
    After doing the fix/clean dance, get Microsoft’s Sysinternals PageDefrag which will defragment the pagefile AND registry hives on boot-up.

    No, it isn’t going to make your computer into some whizbang thing it wasn’t already, but when stuff is mysteriously broken for no good frickin’ reason, try those.
    No spyware included.

    1. You’re right of course – if you are having problems, and you know (or suspect) that the registry is to blame, then a (reputable) registry tool will probably help you. And you’re right, these days it’s really, really hard for the uninitiated to distinguish between reputable software and spyware (at least when it comes to registry cleaners)!

      My main point though still stands – don’t use a registry cleaning program “just because.” If you know you’ve got a problem, then by all means, use the tool to fix it, but don’t just go “cleaning” your registry willy-nilly. On that path lies madness.

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