Are Registry Cleaners Safe to Use?

People ask me all of the time if registry cleaning software is safe to use, and which one I would recommend. The truth of the matter is I don’t recommend using any of them! I did a video about this last year, with the help of some very knowledgeable people.

As most of you know, my assistant Kat is considered an expert in the field of malware removal and Windows security in general. In fact, she has been awarded the prestigious Microsoft MVP award four years in a row now. She’s been removing malware on huge sites like GeeksToGo for more than six years, and is a site administrator there. She also teaches malware removal in its free training program.

Over the years, Kat has helped literally thousands of people online to clean and fix up their computers. It’s something she has a lot of passion for, and is very good at. She answers questions like this every day, and recently posted a blog on Geeks about this very question. The information she posted is gleaned from her own experience with users, as well as many of the other experts she works with. I asked her permission to copy it here, so that more of you might be able to read her advice, and even add to the discussion.

Programs like CCleaner can be very dangerous to your computer. No registry “cleaner” is completely safe. There is also no hard evidence that “cleaning” out the registry has any effect on the overall speed of a machine. It will speed up searches within the registry itself, but has no effect on overall performance.

There are a few misunderstandings about the registry. People seem to think that “cleaning” the registry will make it smaller and easier to manage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. What you are doing is creating mini gaps in the registry’s file. These gaps will be reused by new data that inserts itself into your registry. The end result is that the registry becomes fragmented. Searching the data in a fragmented file is way slower than it is within an optimized file. In short, the only way to speed up the handling of the registry is by completely rewriting the file(s)… and even that is marginal at best.

Registry cleaning will not improve your system speed. Even though there are a lot of orphaned keys and/or values present, you won’t notice a difference in your system speed. The only difference you’ll notice is when actually searching your registry. Do you even ever do that? I know I don’t.

To be quite frank, if you “clean” your registry often enough, it will become fragmented. That will result in slower system performance… quite the opposite of what you were trying to accomplish in the first place. I think I’d rather have orphaned keys in my registry instead of deleting something by a so-called “cleaner” that should have never been touched.

That’s the problem with programs like these. They will miss entries that are “bad,” and mark good entries for removal. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times over the years. A novice or “normal” computer user hoses their system completely, simply by deleting everything a program such as CCleaner told them to.

If you must do something with your registry, do it manually. If you don’t know how, leave it alone! You honestly never need to do anything in there. If you have a case of malware that attacks your registry, I urge you to seek help from someone trained to know how to properly remove it. Also, even if you consider yourself to be an expert on the registry, I beg you to take a few extra minutes to make a backup before you begin. I promise you’ll thank me later.

Last, I know there will be people who argue with me. There will be those who swear up and down that CCleaner is a wonderful program. They’ve never had a problem with it! Maybe you’re a tech who uses it in your line of work. Good for you! I’m glad you’ve never had a problem — yet. Even when you know exactly what you’re doing, programs like this still occasionally can and will completely hose a system. I sincerely hope it never happens to you.

credit to Sari and Bobbi_Flekman for some of the wording of this writing.

Kat makes excellent points in the above writing. I hope everyone will take the time to ponder what she’s written, and even add your own thoughts to the mix. If you’re using something like CCleaner to clean out your temporary files, stop it now. There are some excellent free alternatives that are much safer for your machine, such as ATF Cleaner or even TFC. Both are very safe, and very effective.