When handing out a used workstation, either for a new user or to replace an existing user’s machine, it’s not uncommon for there to be a fossil record of old user profiles built up on the hard drive. This is something you want to avoid for at least two good reasons:
- Could compromise sensitive data. If prior users saved sensitive data to their profile and those files remain on the machine, that’s simply another opening for accidental exposure or malicious exploitation. This is especially concerning in HIPAA or FINRA-compliant environments, wherein simply forgetting that such files were on a machine is not a sufficient excuse in cases of abuse.
- Needlessly takes up space. I once worked with a user complaining of “C: is full” messages on her “new” workstation, which was a used workstation that had replaced her old one. Upon investigation, I found that the PC had belonged to a user who worked heavily with images and had saved a whopping 350GB to their profile. (To be honest, I’m not even sure profiles are supposed to be able to get that big – but it happened.)
Therefore, it’s best practice to delete old profiles whenever repurposing a used workstation for someone else in the workplace.
In theory, you could eliminate old profiles by smashing the computer with a sledgehammer – obviously not ideal, although maybe more fun. Also, you could “nuke” the computer using a free tool like DBAN, which will completely strip the HD of all data – which actually might not be a bad idea, depending on the compliance environment. But if that’s not necessary, then it’s a needlessly long process and not suitable for a typically fast-paced modern work environment.
But in a general sense, removing old profiles from a PC doesn’t have to be difficult and can be completed within minutes. First, let me say this: No, simply deleting the user profile folder from C:\Users is not going to work – not work well, anyway. This will delete user data but not the cached profile – various registry entries and other bits of data for the user will remain, presenting an ongoing security and performance concern.
To safely, quickly, and efficiently remove old user profiles from a Windows 10 computer, follow these steps:
1. Go to the Start Menu, search for “Run”, and open the Run app.
2. Within Run, type SystemPropertiesAdvanced and hit enter.
3. This will open the Advanced System Properties window; select the Settings button.
4. Select a user profile and hit Delete; confirm at the prompt.
5. The profile will be removed. Hit OK to exit when complete. **NOTE: Do not delete the Default Profile! Leave this on your machine.
6. In some cases, you may get a warning message stating the user profile folder could not be deleted because “the directory was not empty”. There are various reasons why this might happen – but it means you’ll still see the user folder in C:\Users, albeit with most everything deleted except a few items. Right-click and delete the remaining folder, then go back into the User Profiles window – if the account is still there, or has suddenly been redesignated as “Account Unknown”, select and delete what remains.
…And that’s it! All of that user’s data will be removed and the profile cleaned off the machine. A good way to quickly and easily remove profiles in an environment where wiping the entire drive is not necessary for compliance or security reasons. Happy cleaning!