Thanks to a new tool that Microsoft pushed out in 2013, it’s very easy to clean up after Windows Update and free up a bunch of disk space.
In 2013, Microsoft released a new Disk Cleanup tool. Click your start button and type “Disk Cleanup” to launch it. If you see a new option called “Clean Up System files,” you got the update. If you don’t see it, visit this page (Internet Explorer-only, unfortunately) to grab it.
Click that button, and Windows deletes the obsolete backup files from the WinSxS directory. In my case, I had about 4 GB of old updates to purge. If you run Windows on an SSD like I do, you’re going to want that space back.
Now if you’d like to automate the process, the knowledge base entry linked above has instructions for a corporate environment. For a standalone machine, it’s a little simpler.
Open an administrative command prompt and enter this:
Now select your cleanup options (be sure to include Windows Update Cleanup).
Now, any time you issue this command:
Windows will clean up its old update files.
Create a scheduled task to run this command occasionally, keeping some distance from the second Tuesday of the month just in case Microsoft releases a patch you need to reverse (rare, but not unheard of), and you’ll keep more of that space free.
How often do you need to run it? I built this system in question in November 2010, using a completely slipstreamed copy of Windows, so 4 GB represents about three years’ worth of updates. So, based on that, a month’s worth of update backups consumes about 113 MB of disk space. I think I would run it every two months at most, for safety’s sake.