Review: BleachBit offers free, comprehensive disk cleaning and privacy protection

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder BleachBit

    PCWorld Rating

    Home users might be better off with an established alternative like CCleaner, but if you're a business user looking to save, BleachBit is an excellent choice

There are so many system cleaners out there, you could pack a Start screen with them. They're not all equally good, though, and some are have restrictions for business use. CCleaner and PC Decrapifier are among the best, but they are not completely free to use in a professional setting. Businesses wishing to use either of these have to pay up. If you're a business user looking for a truly free system cleaner, one interesting option is open-source, cross-platform BleachBit.

BleachBit's text-heavy interface is suited for users who know what they're doing.

BleachBit doesn't have much in the way of a flashy interface. There's a list of items running down the left side of the window, subdivided into categories such as Google Chrome, Flash, Microsoft Office, and so on. There's also a System category for more general cleanups, and a Deep Scan one for tracking down junk files strewn all over the disk (such as .DS_Store and thumbs.db files).

Pick a category, and a quick explanation appears about each of its sub-items. Explanations are usually very brief and assume prior knowledge, though For example, under Firefox, you can opt to clean out something called DOM Storage. If you're not sure what that is, the text informs you that this means it will "Delete HTML5 cookies." If you know what that means, great. If not, you'll have to start searching the Web for answers.

BleachBit is smart enough to know that some operations are going to be more time-consuming than others. For example, when you check the box to remove Temporary Files during a Deep Scan, it pops up an alert telling you that this is going to be a slow operation. Other alerts exist too: Check the box for deleting Backup files, and BleachBit will prompt you to inspect the Preview report for any files you do want to keep.

BleachBit does include single-line descriptions of what each item does, but some of these are laconic.

Once you've decided what you want to clean out, it's time to click the Preview button. This executes a dry run of the options you've checked, outputting a log of planned operations. If this sounds dry and technical, that’s because it is: the output is just a long, long, text dump full of inscrutable paths for temporary files and cookies, and other information. At the end of the report there's a more human-readable summary, letting you know how much disk space would be recovered by the operation, how many files would be deleted, and how many "special operations" would be performed. Special operations include things like securely wiping free disk space.

The log is only marginally useful. Not only is it difficult to read, but if you spot an operation  you wish to exclude (for example, a file you don't want deleted after all), there isn't much you can do about it. You can't exclude it: all you can do is to cancel the whole operation.

Another problem with the log is that it doesn't make it clear which disk drives are affected. For example, when I ran BleachBit, it cleaned out an impressive 18.5GB of files. But it didn’t clarify whether that was on my relatively small SSD, or my roomy 2TB hard drive. It probably cleaned some from both, but the report only stated a total without breaking it down per drive.

BleachBit can free up lots of disk space, but neglects to tell you which drives now have more breathing room.

BleachBit feels like a solid, no-nonsense utility for users who know what they're doing. Being free, open-source, and cross-platform are great advantages, especially in an enterprise environment. If you're just a home user looking for a simple way to clean out your computer, BleachBit doesn't beat CCleaner. But for an office, or a home user who likes to keep their computers clean, BleachBit makes for a lean solution.

Note: The Download button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Home users might be better off with an established alternative like CCleaner, but if you're a business user looking to save, BleachBit is an excellent choice

    Pros

    • Free
    • Extensible
    • Lightweight

    Cons

    • Utilitarian interface
    • Some item descriptions are not informative
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