Having been first released six years ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that Windows 10 is now out out date. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Microsoft rolls out monthly security patches and feature updates twice a year for its desktop operating system, while bug fixes are released as soon as they’re available.

That’s great news for the 1 billion+ Windows 10 users, but what if your PC won’t let you install the update? One of the most common reasons Microsoft blocks the installation of an update is a lack of free storage space. All new versions require some capacity on the hard drive (or SSD), while the 20H2 update needed at least 32GB free.

If left unchecked, this could leave you unable to download the big ‘Sun Valley' update or patch a potentially serious bug. Here’s how to avoid the ‘Windows needs space...’ message next time you go to update.

Clear your Recycle Bin

It might sound obvious, but there are almost certainly files stored on your device that you no longer need. It’s not a good idea to just delete any files you don’t recognise (some of these are required for the operating system to run effectively), but there are some methods you can use to safely delete unnecessary files.

The best place to start is the Recycle Bin. By default, deleted files remain here for 30 days, or until they’re taking up more than 10% of your device’s available space. This could make all the difference when it comes to downloading an available update.

The Recycle Bin icon is usually available on the desktop, or you can search for it next to the Start Menu. Once the program is open, click the button the top-left corner of the window marked ‘Empty Recycle Bin’ and then confirm.

Update Windows 10 when low on space

Once that’s taken care of, it’s worth customising the Recycle Bin options to avoid a repeat scenario. Right-click the icon on the desktop and choose ‘Properties’.

Update Windows 10 when low on space

From the window that appears, you’ll see two options under ‘Settings for selected location’. You can set a custom maximum size for the Recycle Bin, after which the oldest files will be deleted. This is currently set to 25.6GB in the example below (10% of the full capacity of the SSD). If you’d rather not deal with the Recycle Bin at all, choose the ‘Don’t move files to the Recycle Bin...’ option.

Update Windows 10 when low on space

However, as it goes on to say, this means the files are permanently removed from your PC once deleted. It’ll be difficult to get them back, unless you’ve already backed up to the cloud.

Whichever option you choose, just make sure to hit ‘Apply’ and then ‘OK’ to ensure any changes are saved. See more in our guide on how to skip the Recycle Bin on Windows 10.

Delete your downloads folder

The downloads folder should be your next port of call. Unless you delete them, everything you’ve ever downloaded will appear here. This can include apps, videos and installation software, all of which can take up a lot of space.

To access your downloads folder, head to File Explorer and choose ‘Downloads’ from the left pane. Unlike some other areas of File Explorer, you can delete everything here. Any installation packages or setup programs can easily be downloaded again if needed. To do so, hold Ctrl + A to select all and then click the arrow below ‘Delete’ and ‘Permanently delete’.

Update Windows 10 when low on space

If you set Windows 10 to bypass the Recycle Bin in the previous step, you can just click ‘Delete’ without using the drop-down menu.

Remove unwanted Temporary Files

Once those key location have been taken care of, it’s worth diving into Settings to find more files that can be deleted. One such area is ‘Temporary Files’, accessible via Settings > System > Storage.

Update Windows 10 when low on space

From the screen that appears, click ‘Temporary Files’ and Windows 10 will briefly scan for files that are eligible for removal. You can delete as much or as little as you like here, but it’s worth proceeding with caution – only the pre-selected options are recommended.

Update Windows 10 when low on space

Connect an external storage device

If you’ve tried all the steps above to no avail, there’s one surefire way to make sure you have enough space to download that update. Simply connect an external hard drive or SSD and move all your files over there until the update has installed. Once that’s been completed, simply transfer back all the data that you’d like to stay on your PC.

You won’t be able to transfer absolutely everything back to your device, making it a great time to audit all your personal files. It’s highly unlikely you’ll need them all to be stored locally, especially considering cloud storage services allow you to access and download them from anywhere.

As you can see, a ‘Windows needs space to update’ message doesn’t mean you can’t install the update anytime soon. If you’re not encountering such issues, here’s how to use automatic updates in Windows 10.