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Your computer can display quite an array of messages during either the startup or shutdown sequences. Some of these messages are not things a user needs to pay much attention to, but others are meant to grab one’s attention to avoid any potential problems.

One message that you may have seen on your screen is that the computer is “cleaning up,” and it asks you not to turn the machine off at this time.

We will explain the meanings of this message, when you might encounter some issues related to this message, and what you should do when you see it.

Depositphotos_121453322_S cleaning data concept

What Does It Mean To “Clean Up a Computer”?

Cleaning up a computer can have a few meanings depending on the context. You may have come across some fellow users who suggest certain things to clean up your desktop or laptop yourself. In most cases, it is about how to keep the internal files, storage space, and system “clean” and orderly so that it can all run efficiently. There are multiple steps one might take to do this.

While keeping the digital insides of your computer clean yourself is a good practice to get into, you may not realize that your device also does quite a lot of this, by itself,. There are settings you can check in order to do this at particular times of the day or month, but the computer can also do these things after major changes or alterations that it needs to make to its own system. We’ll be getting into the details of why that is in a later section of our article.

Mostly, you can think of cleaning up a computer the same way you might clean a room or a house. When things are clean and orderly, they tend to run smoothly. If something is out of place in your computer’s system, that disorder could lead to errors, sluggishness, or other problems that might grow bigger later.

While this isn’t usually going to turn into a huge deal, it can still affect the overall performance of your machine negatively.

The good news is, cleaning up a computer is very quick and easy these days, and it mostly involves just waiting for the device to go through the motions by itself.

What Does “Cleaning Up” Mean in Windows Update?

Occasionally, you may get a notification in the window on the side of your taskbar that says the operating system has an update for you. ‘Windows Update’ is a tool that provides the OS with changes to how the framework functions, how the software works, and other things.

You may see ‘cumulative updates’ that are bundles of several updates in one. They could address certain bugs, add features, improve performance, and more. This cumulative style was introduced in Windows 10, but it has since been backported to earlier versions of Windows as well.

Once you’ve run Windows Update and allowed it to do its thing, several things will happen:

1. The system will tell you that it is going to go through a major update, and it will ask you about any open programs you have on your desktop. In general, you should save your work and close any open programs before you allow the system to update.

2. Windows Update will tell you that it will be busy for a while, and it will probably say that it is going to restart more than once during the update process. In these cases, it will perform system restarts by itself, and it will ask you not to do anything.

3. Windows Update will say that it is getting your system ready or display similar messaging when it is finishing up the whole process.

4. After that, it may say that it is cleaning up, and please do not turn off your computer at this time.

The cleanup part always happens as part of getting your computer ready, but smaller updates may not display the specific message about not turning off your computer. When you see this message, it is because the system went through a larger update.

Bigger updates mean that the system may have created a lot of junk files or otherwise left some remnants of old files in the system behind after the update.

If you see a message about cleaning up after you’ve run Windows Update, it means that the tool is trying to locate and cleanup outdated or junk files that would just sit on your computer doing nothing.

In short, it is cleaning house and making things more streamlined by using things that don’t benefit the system anymore.

Why Does It Say “Do Not Turn Off Your Computer”?

Even if you don’t run Windows Update, you may get a similar message about cleaning up the computer, and it will come with a request to not shut off the device while this process is taking place. Your computer may be set to auto-update outside of what it considers normal hours of operation for you.

If your computer needs to do something big and needs to be left alone while doing it, it would prefer to get to work at times of the day or night when it thinks you don’t need to use it.

When you see this message, it means that the computer has processed an update or is otherwise cleaning up system files that it doesn’t need. It needs time to do this, and it needs to make sure you know that it isn’t stuck or ready to be shut off completely.

Speaking of active hours, if you want to make sure that your computer stays current but doesn’t bother you with trying to update itself in the middle of your busy schedule, you can change the active update hours to ones that are better suited to your preferences. It is easy to do if you just follow these steps:

1. The usual active hours for a system like Windows 10 are set between typical business day hours for your region. However, you might work on a different schedule.

2. If you work on different hours, you can alter your system’s active hours. You can find ways to do this right in the system settings.

3. The easiest way to get to the appropriate window is to go to your ‘Start’ menu and type the word ‘hours’ into it. The first result that Windows suggests should be to ‘change active hours’.

Can You Use Your Phone if Disconnected?

4. Click on this option to open the appropriate window in your system. You will see what the current active hours are.

5. You should also see Windows make a recommendation for changing the active hours to particular times based on when you’ve been using your computer regularly.

6. You may find this suggestion to be accurate, but you can select the hours you would prefer manually as well.

7. Doing this will ensure that you can both keep your system updated and work without interruption as well.

How Long Does a Computer Clean Up Take?

The precise answer to this question can depend on your system, its settings, the kinds of files you have stored, how much junk might be on your computer, and how often the operating system has needed to update recently.

However, we can still provide some general knowledge about how long a typical computer cleanup should take under normal circumstances.

What hardware you are running will have some impact on how long the entire process takes. Therefore, the answer will be somewhat different for every user.

There are some possible benchmarks we can set:

1. Cleaning up files from Windows Update will typically take the longest time. These are large files, and the system needs sufficient time to get rid of the stuff that it used during the update but doesn’t need anymore.

2. If your hard disk is full or almost full, any kind of cleanup operation will probably take longer. Precise times would depend on your hardware and its efficiency.

3. Some temporary files could take mere seconds or minutes to clean properly.

4. If it takes more than a day with seemingly no movement in the process, your cleanup could be looping or stuck.

5. In cases where the system might be stuck, you may need to force a restart and figure out what the problem is. However, keep in mind that it is normal for big cleanups to take hours.

Depositphotos_165236554_S 3d files on laptop

What Happens if I Clean Up System Files?

As you might expect from the name, many system files are necessary to help your computer run smoothly and perform its processes without incident.

However, that doesn’t mean that there are never any old system files that you can’t clean up in an effort to have more space or better efficiency. In general, you can use the Disk Cleanup application itself as a good benchmark to know what is safe to delete.

Once Disk Cleanup has run, it will have several categories of files displayed. In most cases, you can delete much of what is there in order to free up space on your hard disk. You may see ‘Windows ESD installation files’ as one category here. These are important files if you ever need to reset your computer for any reason, and we recommend keeping them around.

Some system files are older or no longer used in favor of new ones, but Disk Cleanup itself should be able to find and recommend these for removal. When in doubt, it is better to leave system files alone unless you know your computer won’t use them or notice their absence.

Bottom Line

Some of the messages your computer displays can be confusing. Others can try to stick around for what seems like a really long time, preventing you from using your device for useful things as you stare at the same screen every time you come to check on it.

However, most cleanup operations are doing the hard work for you by getting rid of files that you do not need, and leaving your computer to do this for you is a small price to pay for more space or better performance.