Sometimes you might come across a file that simply won’t delete, no matter how many times you hit the Delete key or drag it to the Recycle Bin. This can be for a number of reasons, but the upshot is the same - it’s incredibly frustrating. To overcome this situation we’ve put together five different approaches that can finally rid you of these meddlesome files.
Just bear in mind that Windows system files are usually protected against deletion, as this can cause problems with the operating system, so be sure you’re not trying to get rid of these. Of course, it’s always wise to run a full backup in case anything goes wrong, so you’ll want to read our How to back up Windows 10 guide before you begin.
Often, the problem of a file that can't be deleted can be caused by an app that is currently using the file. You might not know that the software in question is doing this, but the simplest way to fix things is to close down all the open applications on your PC.
Once everything is shut down, try deleting the file and hopefully you’ll find that it will now disappear without further problems.
Close Windows Explorer
While closing all of your apps can often do the trick, it’s also possible that the thing blocking deletion of the file is Windows Explorer - also called File Explorer.
To close this you’ll need to open Task Manager (right click on the taskbar and then select it from the pop-up menu) and scroll down until you find Windows Explorer. Right click on it and then select End task from the menu.
Another thing to try before tackling more advanced methods is rebooting your PC. It’s hardly scientific, but from time to time apps or even Windows itself can get into a weird state that affects how things work. In many cases, a quick reboot can clear these issues.
Use Safe Mode
If none of the methods above have given you any joy, the next option is to use Safe Mode in Windows. This only loads up the OS itself and a bare minimum of files and drivers. So, if the file you’re trying to delete has been locked somehow, Safe Mode could make it available once more.
Follow our How to start Windows 10 in Safe Mode for more details, or if you’re using Windows 7 then simply reboot your machine and keep pressing F8 as it restarts.
Now navigate to the file and try deleting it. If things go well then it should accept its banishment with no complaints.
Use a dedicated app
If the file remains resolutely undeletable then it might be time to invest in a third-party app that specialises in this area. Some options are File Assassin, Long Path Tool, and Microsoft’s own Process Explorer.
The latter is free and is generally regarded as an excellent tool for unlocking files in order to delete them. Download Process Explorer from Microsoft's site, then install it on your PC.
Launch the app and you’ll see a window that looks very much like the standard Windows Explorer. Go to File in the upper left corner, then select Show Details for All Processes.
You can now either scroll through the list until you find the file, but the faster way is to click on the Find option in the menu bar at the top on the window, then select Find Handle or DLL.
Type the name of the file into the search bar, click Search and if the file name appears click on it and you’ll see the details open up in the other Process Explorer window.
Now, right-click on the file listing in the Process Explorer window and you’ll be presented with two choices: Close Handle and Properties.
Select Close Handle and the file will be unlocked from the app using it. You might need to repeat this final step if multiple apps are holding the file.
Once that’s done you should now be able to finally delete the file.