Windows 10 Storage Sense Could Delete Your Downloads

Storage Sense may not be as sensible as it sounds

Windows10 - another logoStorage Sense is the Windows 10 method of automatically freeing up space by emptying the recycle bin, deleting temporary files, deleting local copies of files held in the cloud, and – crucially – removing items from your Downloads folder.

When I am delivering basic Windows training to my IT clients, I usually mention that it is thought “best practice” not to leave important files solely in your Downloads folder. Instead, move (or copy) them to somewhere more appropriate. This doesn’t usually matter for programs that you have downloaded as the downloaded files are just installation files. Deleting the installation file won’t delete the program itself once it has been installed. It is a different matter, though, if you are downloading data files that you don’t subsequently copy or move somewhere else.

This is not very sound organisational practice as the files could be of very different types – email attachments of all types, all sorts of website downloads (programs, images, pdf files). Another reason for not leaving the only copy of data files in the Downloads folder is that you could accidentally delete them if you run the Windows “Disk Cleanup” utility. But at least in Disk Cleanup, there is an option to deselect the Downloads folder – and it stays deselected between sessions of Disk Cleanup.

There is a more dangerous utility in Windows called “Storage Sense”. Depending on how it is set (and I can’t remember whether the default is to run every day, week, month, or just when disk space is low), this will run periodically to delete a load of the clag that Windows computers accrue. Crucially, it will also (by default) delete items in your Downloads folder.

Storage Sense 01
Yes – it does say Storage Sense is off, but it will still run if disk space is low

Now, the dangerous aspect is this. There is a slider switch that suggests that you can turn Storage Sense off. You may think that turning it off would mean that you don’t have to worry about any of the settings within Storage Sense because it is, well, turned off. Not so. Storage Sense might run even if it is turned off. Yes, that’s right. If your disk space runs low (I think it is triggered when disk space falls below 10%) then Storage Sense will run whether it is switched on or off. And it applies the settings you might have thought were irrelevant because it was turned off – including emptying the contents of your Downloads folder and deleting local copies of files that are also held in the cloud in OneDrive (or Skydrive as it chooses to call it here).

Storage Sense 02
If you don’t want Storage Sense to delete your Downloads, select “Never”

“Oh well, that doesn’t bother me because I’ve got a new computer and it must have loads of space”, you might say. But if you’ve got a solid state drive of modest proportions (say, 256gb or less) and if Windows has just stolen over 20gb of your space to store your old version of Windows (which it does for 10 days after installing a major update to Windows), then it is quite possible to trigger Storage Sense unexpectedly on a relatively new machine.

What can you do about it?

  • Click on the Start Button
  • Type in “Storage Settings” (without the quotes)
  • Click on “open” when offered Storage Settings in the Start Menu
  • Click on “Change how we free up space automatically”
  • Change your options about what it touches and when
  • Choose whether to let Storage Sense run in circumstances other than low disk space by sliding the switch under “Storage Sense” on or off

For more information on how Storage Sense turns itself on and how it deals with locally stored OneDrive files see this Microsoft page (or, to put it another way, if you don’t believe me, check it out with Microsoft).