The best free software uninstallers
Why use a third-party uninstaller?
Software installers are rarely tidy - they spread files throughout your system, and their built-in uninstallers don't always clear it all away afterwards. Sometimes you'll be informed that "some elements could not be removed" as the uninstaller effectively shrugs its shoulders and leaves the mess behind - whether it's temporary files, old shortcuts or broken registry entries.
All this detritus builds up over time, and can slow down your system or cause conflicts further down the line - particularly in the case of security software, which won't run properly if it detects files associated with another tool.
Third-party uninstallers can clear up the mess in a few. If you're already having trouble with a program you thought you'd removed, the tool can scan your drives for files and broken links left over. If you want to uninstall a program thoroughly, the tool will run the program's own uninstaller, then perform a cleanup scan immediately afterwards. More advanced tools will monitor what happens when you install a new program - what files are created and changed - so it can rapidly reverse those changes when you want to remove it.
Uninstallers can be very handy, but some try to offer too many tools at once (like watered-down versions of Piriform's excellent CCleaner), or even attempt to install additional 'optimization' software on your machine, which is the last thing you want. Keep an eye out for potentially unwanted programs while installing a new tool, or try the portable version if one is available.
1. IObit Uninstaller
Thorough and thoughtfully designed - as good as many premium alternatives
IObit Uninstaller gets right down to business, scanning your system for installed software the moment it starts. Its smart, clear interface displays a list of all your installed software, with extra tabs if you're only interested in the newest programs (if you've tried something new and don't like it), and the biggest ones (which will have the greatest impact on system performance). There's a batch processing option for removing multiple programs at once.
If you've already uninstalled a program but suspect it's left mucky footprints across your drive, IObit's deep scanner can hunt down junk including broken shortcuts and caches created when installing software updates.
IObit Uninstaller also takes a look at your web browsers to identify any plugins that could be uninstalled to speed up your surfing. It currently supports Firefox and Internet Explorer, but not Chrome or Edge. Each extension is accompanied by a user rating to help you decide whether to keep it.
There's a file shredder thrown in too, which doesn't really fit with the premise of an uninstaller, but all the other tools are relevant and useful. IObit Uninstaller is well worth keeping on hand, and its thorough scanning makes it the equal of many premium uninstallers.
2. Wise Program Uninstaller
Light as a feather, but less thorough than IObit
Wise Program Uninstaller is a portable app, so you don't have to worry about it leaving mess of its own, though it offers you a free trial of a product called Spyhunter that you might prefer to decline.
It's a very quick and lean little program that scans your system for already installed programs and displays ratings to show you how other users feel about them. You probably already know what you want to erase, but it's a thoughtful touch.
Your choices for each program are Safe and Forced uninstall (some also have a Repair option, but only if it's part of the software in the first place). Safe uninstall is simply a way to access the program's own uninstaller, whereas Forced performs a deep scan to track down scrap files and broken registry entries. It shows you everything it's identified before deleting them, but this doesn't serve much purpose; you're unlikely to be able to pick out an individual Registry entry and say "Hang on, I need that!"
A streamlined little app to mop up messy software
GeekUninstaller is another neat portable uninstaller, weighing in at just 2.5MB. Although a 'Pro' version is advertised on developer's site, this is actually a completely different program called Uninstall Tool - GeekUninstaller is completely free,
It performs a speedy system scan and provides the usual options: regular or forced uninstall. If you don't recognize something, GeekUninstaller will Google it for you - a simple but welcome addition that saves you loading up a browser.
That's pretty much it - there's no deep scan for remnants of previously uninstalled programs, and no monitoring for new installations, but if you're simply after something to clean up as you go, uninstallers don't come smaller and simpler than this. It comes in over 30 languages too, which is undoubtedly a bonus.
4. Ashampoo Uninstaller (trial)
A premium trial to give your system a thorough scouring
This is a time-limited trial of Ashampoo Uninstaller rather than the full program, but is well worth considering if you need to purge your PC of one particularly stubborn piece of software, or want to give it a thorough spring clean. The basic trial lasts 10 days, but you can extend for an extra month by signing up for an account (a standard requirement with Ashampoo's free software).
The uninstaller itself is impressive, as you'd expect from a premium product - it can remove existing applications, and log new ones as you add them. You can set it to start automatically at the same time as Windows, though your startup time might take a knock as a result.
There are also system optimization tools like a file shredder, file restorer, disk defragmenter and even a font manager, but Ashampoo Uninstaller is an excellent tool without these - they are just padding.
5. Revo Uninstaller Free
Effective, but bloated with strange and unnecessary extras
Revo Uninstaller Free's icon-strewn interface is colorful but cluttered, and includes tools like a startup program manager, plus links to Windows' own system tools (including defrag and on-screen keyboard). These really aren't necessary, and just distract from an otherwise solid free uninstaller.
There are four uninstall options: built-in, safe (built-in with additional registry scanning), moderate (with extra scanning of common locations for leftover files) and advanced (moderate mode, followed by a thorough scanning of your whole system). There's also a strange 'Hunter Mode', which lets you uninstall programs by dragging their icons onto a crosshair on your desktop. It's much more work than selecting the program from a list - a metaphor gone rogue.
Unlike some uninstallers, Revo begins by creating a system restore point, which is reassuring. It can't log new installations, though - if you want that, you might like to give Revo's Pro version a whirl for 30 days. It's worlds away from the free edition's late-90s styling, and will give your drives a good scrubbing.