Clean Up The SoftwareDistribution Folder in Windows to Free Up Disk Space
A PC running Windows 8.1, Windows 8 or Windows 7 regularly performs a Windows Update. The updates improve security, fix bugs and add or change functionality. The files for the update download to a temporary folder from the Windows update site. Once the files have finished downloading in the background the update can be applied to the PC. The temporary folder is called Download under SoftwareDistribution in the Windows directory (unless in some rare occasions Windows is installed to a different directory), i.e. C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download. If trying to view this folder in Windows Explorer you may need to give permission and be logged in as an Administrator, as well as turning on Hidden items in the View menu (or via Organise and Folder and search options in Windows 7).
When the system drive runs low on disk space some free space may be reclaimed by deleting the Windows Update temporary downloads folder. Therefore a full SoftwareDistribution folder delete is not done, just the Download folder in that directory. The SoftwareDistribution\Download folder delete may fix problems that stop the Disk Cleanup utility from finishing. (The Disk Cleanup utility can take quite a while to finish and if still not finished after a few hours if may be stuck due to Windows Update conflicts.)
Apply Any Remaining Windows Updates
If the \Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download folder delete is performed before Windows Update has installed existing download files then those files will download again. To stop this from happening ensure Windows Update has completed. Open Windows Update. In Windows 8 select Settings then Control Menu (or press the Windows key and X and select Control Panel from the menu that appears), enter Update in the search box and select Windows Update. In Windows 7 select Windows Update from All Programs off the Start button (or via Start then Control Panel then System and Security).
Select Check for updates to ensure that “No updates are available“. Otherwise Install Updates. (If low on disk space updates may fail to apply, try emptying the Recycle Bin, Deleting Browsing History in Internet Explorer or running the Disk Cleanup utility.)
Temporarily Stop the Windows Update Service
With all Windows updates applied stop the Windows Update service to safely remove the \Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download folder. Run Task Manager (press the Ctrl-Alt-Delete keys all at once and select Task Manager or Start Task Manager from the menu). Click the Services tab. Sort the list by name (click the Name column). Browse to the wuauserv entry and check the Status column. If it says Running stop the wuauserv service. To stop the service select Open Services at the bottom of Task Manager (or the Services button in Windows 7 Task Manager).
In Services click on the name column to sort the service alphabetically. Locate Windows Update. Select Stop the Service from the left hand column above description, or double-click on Windows Update to open the properties and click the Stop button, then click OK to close the properties.
Using Windows Explorer rename the Download Folder in \Windows\SoftwareDistribution. E.g. bring up the context menu and slect Rename call it something like Download_old. Windows will create a new Download folder when it needs it, it will be empty until new Windows updates are available and are loaded.
On Windows 7 Restart the Windows Update Service
Windows 8 will start the Windows Update service when it needs it. In Windows 7 select Start Service in Services or double-click on Windows Update and select the Start button, click OK to close the properties.
Delete the Renamed Folder
In Windows Explorer delete the renamed Download folder. For example if it was renamed Download_old then delete Download_old. Permission may need to be given to do this, if so click Continue on the message box that appears.
The Windows Update temporary Download folder, under the SoftwareDistribution folder, delete has been completed.