Why is file delete not working?

If you are having trouble deleting a file, there are a few common reasons why this may be happening. Here are some quick answers to frequent questions about file deletion issues:

Is the file open or in use?

One of the most common reasons a file can’t be deleted is because it is still open or being used by a program. If the file is open in an application, it will be locked and unable to be deleted until it is closed. Try closing any programs that may be using the file before attempting to delete it.

Do you have permission to delete the file?

Some files may require administrator or root permissions to delete, especially system files. Make sure you have the proper permissions to delete the file. If it is located in a restricted folder like Program Files or Windows, you may need admin access.

Is the file read-only?

Read-only files cannot be deleted until the read-only attribute is removed. This is often the case with files that have been downloaded from the internet, replicated from a CD/DVD, or made read-only to protect them from modification. Uncheck the read-only box in the file properties to delete it.

Is the file too large?

Very large files can sometimes fail to be deleted properly. Breaking them into smaller pieces before deletion may help. You can also try deleting from an elevated command prompt if simple deletion fails.

Is the storage full or corrupted?

If the disk or drive you are deleting from is either full or corrupted, files may fail to delete properly. Try freeing up space or running a disk check before reattempting the file deletion.

Common Causes of File Deletion Failure

Now that we’ve covered some quick troubleshooting steps, let’s dive deeper into the most frequent reasons file deletion may not work as expected in Windows.

The File is in Use or Open

One of the most common roadblocks when attempting to delete a file is that the file is still open or in use by another application. When a file is opened by a program, it locks the file and prevents any changes from being made to it until closed. This includes making a deletion.

How to Fix Files in Use

Before attempting to delete files, close all programs that may be accessing them. Steps to take:

  • Close any apps using the file, like Microsoft Word if deleting a .docx file
  • End background processes that may be keeping the file open, like antivirus scans
  • Reboot your computer which will close all open applications
  • Use Task Manager’s “End Task” to forcibly stop processes using the file

Once all programs utilizing the file have been shut down, try deleting again before reopening the apps.

Insufficient Permissions and Access

If you receive an “Access Denied” error when trying to delete a file, the most likely culprit is a lack of permissions. System files and folders in Windows are protected from modification or deletion to prevent damage.

How to Handle Permissions Issues

If the file you want to delete is in a protected folder like Windows, Program Files, or Users, you will need elevated admin permissions. Options include:

  • Open File Explorer as an admin by right-clicking and selecting “Run as administrator”
  • Take ownership of the file you want to delete
  • Use the elevated Command Prompt to delete the file

You can also check the Security tab in file Properties to see your level of access and modify as needed.

Read-Only Attribute is Enabled

Files that have the read-only attribute enabled cannot be deleted until it is unchecked. This is usually the case for files copied or downloaded from disks and the internet.

Removing the Read-Only Status

To remove read-only status and delete a file:

  1. Right-click the file and select Properties
  2. Uncheck the box next to Read-only
  3. Click Apply and OK
  4. Try deleting the file again

You can also use the Attributes tab in file Properties to view and change read-only status.

File is Too Large to Delete

In rare cases, extremely large files may have trouble being deleted through normal means. This is due to file size limitations in the various Windows deletion functions.

Managing Overly Large Files

To remove massive files, you have a couple options:

  • Use a third party delete tool without size restrictions
  • Break the file into smaller pieces before deletion
  • Delete from an elevated Command Prompt

You can also use the DEL /F command to forcibly delete the file if standard delete fails.

Disk Errors or Corruption

If the disk or drive containing the file has errors or corruption issues, it can interfere with proper file deletion. This prevents the file table from being updated after removal.

Fixing Drive Errors to Delete Files

Before you can successfully delete files from a problematic disk, any filesystem errors need to be repaired. Steps include:

  1. Run CHKDSK in Command Prompt to detect and fix logical file system errors
  2. Check the drive for bad sectors and attempt repairs using tools like chkdsk, scandisk, or third party software
  3. Defragment highly fragmented hard drives that may be slowing deletion

Rebooting and trying deletion again after fixes often resolves the problem.

How to Force Delete Any File in Windows

When standard delete methods fail, there are some additional steps you can take to force the removal of any file from a Windows system. Here are a few ways to force delete when needed:

Delete from Elevated Command Prompt

Opening an administrative Command Prompt gives you elevated privileges to delete system files you may not have access to in File Explorer. To do this:

  1. Open the Start menu and search for “Command Prompt”
  2. Right-click Command Prompt and choose Run as Administrator
  3. Type the path to the file or just drag the file into the window
  4. Use the DEL command to delete the focused file

Take Ownership Before Deletion

Gaining ownership over a restricted system file will grant you full rights to delete it. To become owner:

  1. Right-click the file and choose Properties
  2. Go to the Security tab and click Advanced
  3. Click the Owner tab and change ownership to your account
  4. Grant yourself Full Control permissions

After gaining ownership, you will have the access to delete the file.

Use the DEL /F Command

DEL /F will forcibly and unconditionally delete a file, ignoring any permission issues or errors. Use caution with this destructive command.

To use:

  1. Open Command Prompt as admin
  2. Navigate to the target file’s directory
  3. Type DEL /F “filename.ext” (use quotes around file)
  4. Press Enter to force deletion

Delete at Next Reboot

You can use the /F switch with DEL to schedule a file to be deleted at the next system restart. This is useful for removing locked system files.

Use this command in Admin Command Prompt:

DEL /F “filename.ext” /F

The file will be permanently deleted when the PC reboots.

Recovering Deleted Files

If you find yourself needing to restore a deleted file, all hope is not lost. Here are some ways to attempt recovery of removed files:

Restore from Recycle Bin

If a file was recently deleted through File Explorer, it will be moved to the Recycle Bin instead of removed permanently. To restore:

  1. Open the Recycle Bin icon on your Desktop
  2. Locate the deleted file and right-click it
  3. Choose Restore to original location

Use Previous File Versions

For files deleted from your user profile folders, Windows may have archived a previous version that can be restored:

  1. Navigate to the original file location
  2. Right-click and select Restore previous versions
  3. Choose a previous version to restore

Recover with Data Recovery Software

When above options fail, a deleted file can still be recovered from the hard drive using dedicated data recovery software as long as it has not been overwritten. Some programs to try:

  • Recuva
  • EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
  • Stellar Data Recovery
  • Disk Drill

These tools scan the drive and resurrect recoverable files.

Preventing File Deletion Issues

While undeletable files can be frustrating, there are some ways you can avoid these issues proactively:

  • Close open files before attempting to delete
  • Make backups of important files
  • Manage hard drive errors and corruption
  • Don’t save files to system folders like Program Files
  • Clean out large, old files regularly
  • Check permissions issues on restricted files
  • Use the Recycle Bin to avoid permanent deletion

Following best practices for file management and storage will keep deletion issues to a minimum.


While file deletion failures may be annoying, understanding what causes them and how to overcome the obstacles can save significant time and frustration. In most cases, the problem comes down to simple issues like applications locking files while open, permissions barriers, and disk errors. Knowing the techniques to force deletion as a last resort can also help rescue any file removal effort.

With the right insights on circumventing deletion problems, you can maintain a smoothly-running system and recover when files refuse removal. Keep these troubleshooting steps and force delete options handy for those inevitable times when the normal delete function just won’t cooperate!