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If you have a personal computer, you know that you need to run virus and spyware scans on a weekly basis in order to keep your computer “clean.” Viruses, spyware, and malware can fester inside your computer, wreaking havoc behind the scenes. What you may not know is that some of the very programs that are meant to keep your computer clean can actually be infecting your machine. Before you install any computer cleaning software, it’s important that you know what you’re downloading. Here are five computer cleaning programs that are guaranteed to be both useful and safe:

1. nCleaner

If you are looking for a user-friendly, effective, free cleaner, then this is the one. nCleaner will clean your system, adjust your settings, and manage your computer’s startup. Rather than installing several programs to get the job done, this software does everything in one shot. This can be helpful, especially if you tend to forget to clean your computer on a weekly basis. Not only will nCleaner help you adjust your settings, but it will tell you what settings are recommended and let you tweak them from there.

2. AVG Free

AVG Free is probably the most popular free anti-virus software available today. Though the software only offers the most basic of protection, if you are smart with your web-browsing, it should be enough for the average user. If, on the other hand, your surfing habits leave something to be desired, you may need a piece of software that’s a bit more powerful. If you choose to download AVG Free, make sure that you check for updates at least once a month to be sure that you are receiving the full amount of protection that it offers.

3. Defraggler

If you know what defragging is, you should download this software. Defragging is essentially the act of removing unnecessary files and compressing the spaces in between to give you more room on your hard drive. While the Windows defragging tool is sufficient for most users, this software runs more quickly and allows you to choose which files you want to leave alone. The software is useful if you have files on your computer that you don’t want touched, like videos you have transcoded from the internet with a handbrake download, as the Windows defragging tool does not provide this option.

4. Ad-Aware

Ad-Aware is a great tool for removing malware from your system. The software has been around for years and consistently receives high reviews from users and IT professionals alike. When combined with Spybot-Search & Destroy, you’ve got a one-two punch when it comes to malicious software.

5. Spybot-Search & Destroy

This handy bit of software will find and remove spyware from your system that is compromising your computer’s performance. Every time you open your browser, you are at risk for downloading spyware that is attached to emails and websites. You can run Spybot once a week if you like, but running the tool every night before you shut down will ensure optimal system security and performance.

Before you download any cleaning software to your computer, you should know that you will never be solicited by a reputable company. If you get a pop-up telling you that your computer has been infected, and the notification is from a company that you’ve never heard of, close out of the window immediately. These pop-ups are malicious pieces of software designed to trick you into installing them on your system. If you are looking for a safe way to clean your computer, stick with the five free programs listed above.

Image via: antivirusprotectionsoftware.org

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About the author: Amy Nielson is a freelance blogger. You can follow her on Twitter @NielsonAmy.