How To: Buy a registry cleaner

Registry health warning!

Read this before buying RegZooka and other heavily promoted registry cleaners.

  • Buying the wrong registry cleaner could harm your computer or be a waste of money.
  • Most registry cleaner review sites are biased in favor of the product that pays the highest sales commission to the site owner.
  • Many registry cleaners are "scareware" that create alarm over harmless issues in order to encourage purchase and are ineffective at dealing with serious registry problems.

This article explains what a registry cleaner does and tells you why it's best to choose a product that has been around for years even though it is rarely featured on "top registry cleaner" review sites.

What is the registry?

The Registry is a database in which Windows stores vital information about the hardware and software in your computer, together with user preferences and other settings. You can read more about it in our article The Windows Registry. It's an unfortunate fact of a Windows PC's life that the more a computer gets used, the more redundant data is left to accumulate in the Registry database, wasting space and increasing the time it takes to access essential data.

Registry data may become invalid for a variety of reasons such as changes made to files on disk without corresponding changes being made to the registry. In some cases this invalid data can cause system crashes and other malfunctions. For the most part, though, the only problems caused by an unmaintained registry are a bit of wasted disk space and a gradual slowing in the performance of the system.

What is a registry cleaner?

The most effective way to deal with this gradual deterioration of performance is to wipe the hard disk and reinstall Windows. But that takes time and can be a lot of trouble. Because of this, software developers created tools called registry cleaners that can clean and repair the registry and have the computer running like new again without the need to back up all your data and reinstall the operating system.

The best registry cleaners do a good job, but there are a lot products on the market that have been created just to take money from people who don't know enough about computers to know they are being scammed. These products are ineffective against serious registry errors, but display alarming warnings about relatively minor issues and require immediate purchase before they will repair the trouble.

At the other extreme there are registry cleaners developed by enthusiastic amateur programmers that can be too aggressive and end up removing vital information and damaging your computer. So how do you pick the best registry cleaner?

Avoid registry cleaner review sites

Contrary to expectations, you will not get trustworthy advice by visiting registry cleaner review websites. Registry cleaners are a lucrative type of software for website owners to promote. You can download a trial version, which reports the worrying information that it found a vast number of errors in the registry. You then have to pay for an activation code to get the software to fix the problems. If a user doesn't know whether an error is serious, or how to fix it manually, the chances are they will pay up. It's easy money!

Nearly all of the review sites we found when searching for "best registry cleaner" and similar terms are biased in favor of products that pay a high commission - up to 70% - on each sale. These products are poor value for money because they are "scareware" - programs developed simply to find enough "problems" to scare a user who tries them into purchasing a license. They have not benefited from the years of development needed to create a safe but effective and useful product.

As a general rule, if a website contains nothing but registry cleaner reviews, or does not include a review of the long established, top selling product Registry Mechanic, its recommendations are probably biased. Registry Mechanic is rarely the top recommended registry cleaner on these biased review sites because its developer, PC Tools, does not offer such generous incentives for promotion.

What to look for in a registry cleaner

A good registry cleaner must be thorough enough to make a difference to the performance of your computer. But it should also be careful to avoid removing data that is needed by the system, because this can destroy the system and cause serious errors, or make Windows unbootable.

I have tested numerous registry cleaners over the years and have damaged my test system on several occasions. The leading commercial products are now sufficiently well tested that they can be regarded as safe. But even unbiased review sources such as computer magazine reviews can sometimes make bad recommendations.

Computer magazine review rating systems encourage registry cleaners to be dangerously aggressive by scoring them on the number of problems they claim to deal with. This may seem like a good thing. But the more aggressive a registry cleaner is, the greater the likelihood that it may remove registry data that is essential to some system or program. Magazine reviewers typically test software on one or a very small number of computers, and therefore are unlikely to encounter the problems.

Because of the risk of removing needed information, most registry cleaners now incorporate a backup facility that can make a copy of registry data before it is removed. Many even force a System Restore point to be taken before making changes to the Registry. These are both essential features of a registry cleaner. But bear in mind that both of these types of backup require Windows to be working in order that you can restore from them, and over-aggressive registry cleaners can easily render a system unusable.

Finding the best registry cleaner

The only way to really find out which is the best registry cleaner is to get feedback from a large number of real users. A few years ago I worked for a computer magazine where I had the job of helping readers with their computer problems. One month a reviewer recommended a certain free registry cleaner, and shortly afterwards I had many emails from distressed readers who had tried this product and now were unable to start Windows! It was quite a stressful time, as most of them blamed the magazine for their problems. Consequently I am very conscious of the responsibility to recommend products that are safe as well as effective.

Our recommendation

Not all registry cleaners are scareware, and has a selection of products that we have found to be safe and reliable. However, there is one registry cleaner that I have recommended over the years which has actually resulted in positive feedback from the people I recommended it to.

Why should you trust our recommendation more than other sites on the Internet?'s owner and author of all the reviews and articles, Julian Moss, is a former computer magazine journalist and Tech-Pro Limited is a British registered limited company. You can find out more about us on the About Us page. Don't trust reviews if you don't know the reviewer!