Windows updates are valuable features that assure users their systems are running with the latest security and performance features.
However, these updates may not go as smoothly as you wish, and you may experience setbacks occasionally.
One of these issues is an error message that says Windows is cleaning up, but it seems stuck there.
No matter how long you wait, the message won’t go away, and the update won’t be complete.
Let’s take a look at what to do with this error message and when your Windows updates face other setbacks.
Windows Update Says “Cleaning Up” (What It Means)
The “Cleaning up, please don’t turn off your system” message doesn’t indicate any specific issues and shows that your system is getting ready to install new updates.
It may take a while as it’s looking for the junk files inside your system and getting rid of them to make your computer operations more streamlined.
In addition, major updates may leave large junk files that the system needs to remove before finishing the update process.
However, it may get problematic if it gets stuck for more than 15 minutes, although it also depends on the number of junk files and how clean your system is.
If it’s been a while since you haven’t performed a disk cleanup and your hard disk is almost full, this process may take longer.
You should wait, even for a couple of hours, until the disk cleanup utility can do its job.
It’s worth the wait as the utility helps you get more storage after it does its job.
That’s why it’s advisable to schedule the updates, especially feature updates that take longer, to download and install when you’re not using your computer.
If the updates are done overnight, you won’t notice the lengthy process and won’t need to take action to speed it up.
However, it may indicate issues if it takes unusually long without any progress.
What To Do If The Update Is Stuck On Cleanup?
If Windows is stuck on the disk cleanup message, although you’ve waited a few hours, you’re left with no choice but to turn off your computer.
However, some experts recommend waiting for a day and then turning off your system.
Turning off the system in the middle of an update may leave the system unstable and corrupt the files.
If you’re lucky, nothing will happen, and Windows will resume updates without issues.
In most cases, the system will find a previous good state and boot based on that.
However, if you can’t start Windows normally, there are different solutions that you can try.
Here are the main ones:
1. Automatic Start Repair
The automatic startup repair is a Windows tool that allows you to enter the troubleshooting utility by restarting your computer.
If your computer has a specific button to restart, press it, and when the system is booting up, press F8.
You can also use the Start menu’s shutdown options and restart your system.
If this option doesn’t work, you can access it via Windows Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Restart now.
When the computer boots up, it will open an Advanced Startup Options window in which you should select Troubleshoot > Startup Repair.
These simple steps will get the system to automatically detect issues and repair them so that you can sign in normally.
2. System Restore
If this method doesn’t work, you can use another option in the Advanced Startup window: System Restore.
This option will return your system to a restore point already set, undoing all the updates and changes made after that point.
To perform a system restore, go to the Advanced options menu and select System Restore through the abovementioned steps.
3. Safe Mode
If Windows doesn’t boot at all so that you can go to the Advanced options menu normally, you can use your power button.
Here’s how to do it:
Turn on your computer and immediately shut it down when you see the Windows logo.
Repeat this process until the Advanced Startup options menu appears (normally, it takes two to four efforts).
And if the computer won’t start to the Windows logo, you need a Windows installation media and connect it to the USB ports.
Once it boots up, you’ll see the Windows Setup dialog box.
After setting the time, input, and keyboard, go to the next window and select Repair your computer > Troubleshoot.
This will open the Advanced startup options menu.
When you’re in the Advanced options menu, you can boot into Safe mode and install new updates.
While in this mode, your system will boot with minimal software required for operating Windows, and you can install updates without issues since the disk cleanup utility won’t launch.
Plus, any interruption, corrupt files, or other issues that meddled with the update process will be absent in Safe mode.
Other Windows Update Issues
The cleanup phase is the last step after the windows updates are installed.
So, if the system is stuck at this phase, you can nothing but turn off the computer.
However, the system may get stuck at any step while downloading and installing the updates.
Although the latest versions of Windows (10 and 11) have offered major improvements and bug fixes, leading to a highly stable and reliable OS, things can happen.
Many factors are at work during the update process, which can go wrong and prevent the updates from getting installed properly.
However, before installing the new updates, check if there are many of them available.
Some users prefer to install all available updates at once, no matter how many.
Doing so will prevent Windows from running smoothly and installing the updates without issues.
Installing updates one at a time, starting with the latest ones, is better.
This way, you won’t burden the system, helping it run smoothly.
Here are some major factors and what you can do to troubleshoot them.
1. Slow Operating System
If your computer is old, it can’t work as quickly as you’d expect, even if you have the latest software and OS updates.
These conflicts may further slow down the computer because the hardware can’t handle the new software.
In such cases, the best thing to do is give your system enough time until it finishes the process.
In most situations, Windows can complete the update if you give it enough time, even if it means leaving your system on overnight.
However, if the update is stuck at a specific percentage for a few hours, you should look for other solutions.
You can ensure the update is ongoing by checking the SoftwareDistribution folder, which temporarily stores the files needed for installing Windows updates.
Go to C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Downloads, and you’ll see files are gradually being added to this folder, which shows the update is going on, however slowly.
2. Slow Internet Connection
Windows updates require a reliable internet connection to download and install new patches.
If the internet connection gets interrupted, the updates will also stop.
Make sure nothing is slowing down your connection, check all the cables and plugs, and stop downloading anything except the updates to avoid taking up the bandwidth.
You may also want to connect your computer to the router via an ethernet cable for a more reliable connection.
Another issue related to internet connections, reported by some users, is the Metered connection option.
If this option is enabled, your data usage will be limited.
In such cases, the updates will either not download or pause halfway through.
If your updates are stuck, check if this feature is on.
To check Metered connection in Windows 10 and 11, right-click the Start button and select Settings.
Go to Network & Internet and select Wi-Fi on the left pane.
In the new window, click on your wi-fi network and select Properties.
You can see the Metered connection option in the new window and disable it if it’s on.
3. Problematic Programs
Third-party apps can cause a wide range of issues within the operating system.
They may interfere with the OS update process, making it get stuck at a certain point.
You can fix this issue with a simple solution: disable all third-party non-Microsoft apps to let the system run on the most basic apps and install updates.
To do so, open the Run dialog box by pressing the Windows key and R together.
Type in msconfig and press Enter.
Go to the Services tab and click Hide all Microsoft services by checking the box next to it.
Hit the Disable all button to leave essential Microsoft apps running.
Now, you can resume downloading updates and see if it completes this time.
After the updates are installed, reverse the above steps to enable all third-party apps.
4. Windows Firewall
Another factor that can block or interfere with downloading or installing Windows updates is the Windows firewall.
While it’s highly unlikely, the firewall may consider the updates as potential threats and prevent them from installing.
You could try disabling the firewall temporarily and see if it helps speed up the update process.
Here’s how to do it:
Go to Control Panel and click on Windows Defender Firewall.
On the left side of the window, look for the Turn Windows Defender Firewall on or off link and click on it.
Select Turn off Windows Defender Firewall (not recommended) for both public and private network settings.
Click Ok to save changes and resume Windows updates.
It’s vital to turn on the firewall again after the updates are complete.
Otherwise, you’ll leave your system vulnerable to threats.
Interestingly, some users have reported that the opposite of this solution has worked for them.
The reason is that some features of Windows updates won’t work if the firewall is off.
If you’ve disabled the Windows Defender Firewall because you use another firewall, your updates may get stuck.
Check the firewall and enable it if you’ve turned it off.
5. Problematic Folders And Files
Some old folders, mostly related to Windows updates, cause issues while users try to update Windows.
Deleting these folders helps speed up the update and helps the system complete the process.
Here’s what to do:
Open a Run dialog box by pressing the Windows key and R together and type in services.msc.
Scroll down to Windows Update, right-click it, and select Stop.
The folder that you should delete is the SoftwareDistribution file, which you can find in the following directory: C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution.
Open the folder and delete every file that you can remove.
Next, go back to the Windows update service by typing services.msc in the run box.
Right-click it, and select Start.
Another folder that you can delete to help with the stuck update process is the Windows.old folder.
It’s a folder that keeps older versions of Windows.
It’s a large folder that stores important data necessary for System Restore.
If you haven’t activated system restore, you can’t see it.
You can delete the contents of this folder as they may be corrupt and prevent Windows from getting updated.
Open the File Explorer and go to C:\Windows.old.
Select all the files inside the folder and delete them.
6. Viruses And Antivirus Tools
If your system is infected with viruses and malware, you may experience issues with new Windows updates.
You could run a virus scan to ensure your system is clean and virus-free.
Then, try disabling the antivirus tool, like the firewall, as it may prevent the updates from installing.
After disabling the antivirus tool, resume the updates and wait for a few minutes to see how things go.
Remember to enable the tool after installing the updates to ensure your system is safe.
7. Proxy Settings
Another factor that may prevent updates from getting downloaded and installed is the proxy settings.
The easier solution is to disable the proxy to stop downloading updates via the proxy.
Go to Settings > Network & Internet > Proxy.
Under Manual Proxy setup, turn off Use a proxy server.
Alternatively, you could change the manual proxy settings to allow Windows to download updates.
Here’s a useful article by Microsoft Support Team that shows how to change these settings.
8. Run The Troubleshooter
If you’ve tried all the above methods and still can’t figure out why Windows can’t finish installing new updates, you can rely on its built-in troubleshooter.
This tool automatically searches for these issues and fixes them.
To run the troubleshooter, go to Settings > Updated & Security > Troubleshoot.
Click on Additional Troubleshooters and select Windows Update under Get up and running.
Click the Run the troubleshooter button and follow the on-screen prompts.
If Windows finds any issues, check the problem and read the instructions to fix them.
9. Factory Reset The PC
You may use this option as the last resort as it removes your data and files.
However, it’s a useful tool for erasing any error preventing Windows from getting updated.
The good news is that you get to keep all the files you have added to the system.
Windows gives you two options before the factory reset: Remove everything or Keep my files.
If you choose the Keep my files option, you’ll only lose the apps and programs you’ve installed but keep your personal files.
You can factory reset your computer by going to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery.
The first option in the Recovery window is Reset this PC, under which you can see a Get started button.
After choosing what files to keep, hit the button to start the reset process.
Follow the on-screen prompts to finish the process.
If you can’t access the reset feature from Windows, you’ll need to access the Advanced Startup options described in previous sections.
What’s Disk Cleanup?
Your computer is constantly producing junk files that don’t help with the system’s performance and only use up the resources.
These files can be temporary files created by apps and programs, offline files, window upgrade logs, cache and junk files created by web browsers, or even the files inside your recycle bin.
These junk files can affect and slow down your system, so it’s recommended not to keep them inside the system.
While you could look for these files manually and delete them one by one, it’s time-consuming.
Plus, you may not do a thorough job and leave some junk files behind.
To make things automatic, Windows has a built-in utility that cleans junk files, temporary files, and other unnecessary files and folders to free up space and improve performance and speed.
Many experts recommend running this utility monthly as a regular maintenance measure to keep your system in tip-top conditions.
You can access this utility via Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Disk Cleanup.
After you double-click the utility, it prompts you to choose the disk you want to clean.
Next, you should select the drive parts to clean up and see how much space each part has occupied in your storage.
You can check the boxes next to each option and click Next to start the cleanup process.
While this utility is a useful tool that you can use manually to clean up your disk space, it runs automatically in some other situations.