How do I force delete an old Windows folder?

Over time, Windows computers can accumulate old, unused folders that take up disk space. Sometimes, you may want to permanently delete these folders, but Windows won’t allow you to because the folder is in use or marked as read-only. Thankfully, there are a few different techniques you can use to force delete folders in Windows, even if they appear stuck.

What Methods Can Force Delete a Folder?

Here are some of the main methods for force deleting a stubborn Windows folder:

  • Take Ownership – This gives you full control over the folder, overriding any permissions issues.
  • Unlock Folder – Unlocks read-only folders so you can delete them.
  • End Processes – Ends any processes that may be locking the folder.
  • Delete in Safe Mode – Deleting in safe mode avoids files being locked.
  • Use Unlocker – Unlocker is a free utility that force deletes locked files.
  • Delete via Command Prompt – The CMD del and rmdir commands can often force delete folders.

The best method depends on why the folder won’t delete normally. Read on for more details on each technique.

Take Ownership to Override Permissions

One reason a Windows folder may resist deletion is because you don’t have full permissions to delete it. An administrator or other user may have denied your account delete rights.

Taking ownership of the folder gives you full control to delete it:

  1. Right-click on the file/folder and select Properties.
  2. Go to the Security tab and click Advanced.
  3. Click the Owner tab and select your user account.
  4. Check the box to replace the owner on all child objects and containers.
  5. Click OK to apply the changes.

Now retry deleting the file/folder – you should have permission to remove it permanently.

Unlock Read-Only Folders

Sometimes folders become marked as read-only, which prevents modification or deletion. Here’s how to unlock read-only folders in Windows:

  1. Open File Explorer and navigate to the read-only folder.
  2. Right-click on the folder, select Properties, and click the General tab.
  3. Uncheck the Read-only box.
  4. Click Apply and OK to save the changes.

The folder should no longer be read-only. Try deleting it again.

End Processes Locking the Folder

Running programs and processes can lock folders, making them undeletable. You may see error messages like “The action can’t be completed because the folder is open in another program” when trying to delete locked folders.

To find and end locking processes:

  1. Open the Task Manager in Windows (Ctrl+Shift+Esc).
  2. Click More details if needed.
  3. Go to the Processes tab.
  4. Look for any processes that might be using the stuck folder.
  5. Highlight the process and click End task.
  6. Retry deleting the folder.

Ending processes can unlock folders in use. Just be cautious, as force ending some processes abruptly may have unintended consequences.

Delete in Safe Mode

Booting into Windows Safe Mode starts your computer with only the bare essential drivers and services. This prevents most programs from running, minimizing the chance of files being locked.

To delete a folder using Safe Mode:

  1. Access the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE). For example, hold Shift and click Restart in Windows 10.
  2. On the Choose an option screen, select Troubleshoot.
  3. Go to Advanced options > Startup Settings.
  4. Click Restart.
  5. On the Startup Settings screen, press 4 or F4 to boot into Safe Mode.
  6. Log into your account.
  7. Navigate to the stuck folder and delete it.
  8. Restart your PC to exit Safe Mode.

With most processes disabled, you should be able to easily delete the problematic folder.

Use Unlocker Software

Unlocker is a free utility designed specifically for force deleting locked files and folders in Windows.

To use it:

  1. Download and install Unlocker.
  2. Right-click on the locked folder and select Unlocker.
  3. Unlocker analyzes the folder and shows you any handles, processes or locks.
  4. Click Unlock All to release the locks.
  5. Retry deleting the folder – it should now succeed.

Unlocker makes it easy to find exactly what’s locking a folder and stop it. If Unlocker can’t delete the folder itself, it will tell you the steps required.

Delete from an Elevated Command Prompt

Using the Command Prompt can sometimes force delete files and folders that Explorer struggles with. The CMD commands del and rmdir have some extra deletion powers.

To try this:

  1. Search for cmd in the Windows search box.
  2. Right-click Command Prompt and Run as Administrator.
  3. Type the path to the locked folder, e.g. C:\Files\StuckFolder.
  4. Use the del command to delete files, e.g. del stuckfile.txt
  5. Use rmdir to remove directories, e.g. rmdir StuckFolder

The CMD commands can often force delete folders with extra effectiveness compared to Explorer. Using an admin Command Prompt ensures maximum permissions.

Reset Folder Permissions

If other methods don’t work, you can completely reset permissions on a stuck folder:

  1. Open Command Prompt as admin and go to the parent folder.
  2. Run takeown /f FolderName /r /d y
  3. Run icacls FolderName /grant administrators:F /t

This takes ownership of the folder, then grants full access rights to administrators. Resetting permissions like this should delete any stubborn folder.


Windows doesn’t make it easy to delete protected system folders. But with the right tools and techniques, you can break through restrictions to force delete folders. Taking ownership, unlocking read-only status, ending locking processes, booting in Safe Mode, using Unlocker, the Command Prompt, or resetting permissions can all help erase unwanted folders. Just take care, as force deletion can potentially cause issues like broken shortcuts or programs losing access to required files. Back up data and proceed with caution.

Other Questions

What types of folders tend to get stuck?

Some common examples of undeletable folders in Windows include:

  • System folders like Program Files, Users, and Windows.
  • Folders currently open or in use by a running program.
  • User profile folders, e.g. Documents, Pictures.
  • Folders marked read-only, hidden, or with restricted permissions.
  • Folders owned by TrustedInstaller.
  • Folders containing locked system files.

Anything in a protected Windows folder structure or currently being accessed has potential to resist deletion.

Why can’t I delete a folder that’s open in another program?

Windows protects against deleting or modifying files and folders that are currently being accessed by a running process. Otherwise, randomly deleting items could crash programs or corrupt data they rely on. So when a folder is open elsewhere, Windows blocks deletion until it’s closed.

Is it safe to force delete system folders?

Use extreme caution with deleting Windows system folders. Deleting the wrong thing can render your entire operating system unstable or unable to boot. Make backups before deleting anything critical, and don’t remove protected system files you don’t understand. For non-vital folders, the methods here should safely force delete them.

Can I recover a folder after force deleting it?

It depends. If you simply emptied the Recycle Bin, you can restore deleted folders from there. If you used permanent deletion techniques like Unlocker or the Command Prompt,Recovery may be possible from backups or shadow copies, but otherwise force deletion is difficult to undo. So be certain before permanently force deleting any folders.


Stubborn folders refusing to delete are a common headache with Windows. By taking ownership, unlocking permissions, stopping locking processes, using Safe Mode or unlock tools, and resetting permissions, you can override the normal deletion rules and force erase folders. Be mindful of system stability, and back up important data first. With care, these tricks can help clean up unwanted folders on your hard drive.