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Windows Explorer thinks the file you’re trying to delete is still open, but it’s not? This commonly happens with video files that were played back in Windows Media Player but it can happen with any other file, too. The file is either running in the background or it wasn’t closed properly. You can even run into this issue with files you haven’t opened in years! Fortunately, this can be resolved in a few different ways.

File In Use

Did You Close The Program?

Let’s start with the obvious. Did you just open the file and not close it? If the file is closed, but the program is still running, close it too, then try again.

Have You Tried Rebooting?

Rebooting solves most issues Why Does Rebooting Your Computer Fix So Many Issues? Why Does Rebooting Your Computer Fix So Many Issues? "Have you tried rebooting?" It's technical advice that gets thrown around a lot, but there's a reason: it works. Not just for PCs, but a wide range of devices. We explain why. Read More and it will most certainly solve this one. While it can be inconvenient, it requires zero skills or fiddling with stuff like the Task Manager or third party tools. Rebooting also clears your RAM and possibly fixes other nuisances in one go. So try this if you can’t be bothered to look into the cause.

Reboot Computer

If you have already tried rebooting and it didn’t help, skip the following steps and go straight to third party tools.

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End The Application Via The Task Manager

The reason rebooting helps is because the system will start from scratch and — among other things — all processes currently running in the Task Manager Mysteries Of The Windows 7 Task Manager: Why You Don't Need an Alternative Mysteries Of The Windows 7 Task Manager: Why You Don't Need an Alternative This might seem contrary to what you read about throughout the Internet, but the Windows Task Manager is fine as it is – it doesn’t need a replacement. You could interpret that as a simple... Read More will be closed. Instead of rebooting, you can also try to manually end the process or application that holds your file hostage.

The super quick way to open the Task Manager is to click CTRL + SHIFT + ESC. Alternatively, you can right-click the Taskbar or click CTRL + ALT + DEL anywhere in Windows and select Start Task Manager. Switch to the Processes tab, then browse for the application that was used to open it. For example, if you were viewing a video, look for Windows Media Player.

Task Manager Processes

Once you find the process, right-click it and select End Process Tree. This will close all instances of the program, as some — like Chrome — might run more than one. If you cannot seem to find the process, have you tried rebooting, yet?

Unlock The File Using A Third Party Tool

Sometimes, the file remains locked, even though it shouldn’t be. You could manually unlock the file by closing Windows Explorer 3 Advanced Tips & Tricks For Using Windows Explorer 3 Advanced Tips & Tricks For Using Windows Explorer Windows Explorer is the default Windows file manager. Last week I introduced you to 3 easy ways to improve Windows 7 Explorer by tweaking features and using it to its full potential. In this article,... Read More , then deleting it via the command line A Beginners Guide To The Windows Command Line A Beginners Guide To The Windows Command Line Read More . But why do any of the hard work, if you can use a tool?

The tool of choice here is Unlocker. Be sure to go with a custom installation 7 Common Computer Mistakes You Can Avoid 7 Common Computer Mistakes You Can Avoid Nobody is perfect. Despite all the advice available online, many of us make silly mistakes. Don't want to be caught acting like a computer noob? Consult this list of usual slip-ups to avoid. Read More , so you can opt out of the bloatware Begin The Fight Back Against Toolbar Installer Bloatware! [Opinion] Begin The Fight Back Against Toolbar Installer Bloatware! [Opinion] Recently I had cause to install some free video conversion software and was amazed to find so many attempts to fool me into installing additional software, not to mention attempts to upsell at the end... Read More that is otherwise installed, in this case the Iminent Toolbar.

Unlocker adds itself to the Windows context menu. Right-click the file/s and select Unlocker from the menu. This will load the file/s into Unlocker. Here you can — but you don’t have to — choose an action from a drop-down menu, including copy, move, rename, and delete. Next, click Kill Process or Unlock / Unlock All. Killing the process will also close the application. That should fix whatever issue you were struggling with.

Unlocker

You could also use Microsoft’s own Process Explorer (our review Process Explorer - The Most Powerful Task Manager Replacement [Windows] Process Explorer - The Most Powerful Task Manager Replacement [Windows] Let’s be honest, the Windows Task Manager isn’t that great for understanding and managing the processes running on your computer. Even on Windows 8, where it’s much-improved, the task manager can’t come close to the... Read More ). Another tool for deleting locked files FilExile: A Simple Tool To Delete Locked Files FilExile: A Simple Tool To Delete Locked Files Read More is FilExile. Instead of adding itself to the context menu, you open the file via this application. FilExile can also delete files if the path is too long.

Boot Into Safe Mode

If the above didn’t work or if you’re not interested in installing software, there is one last thing you can try: booting into Safe Mode How To Start In Windows Safe Mode & Its Uses How To Start In Windows Safe Mode & Its Uses Read More . The file you’re trying to delete may automatically be loaded by another application. Unlockers should still work if that’s the case, but if malware is involved 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More or if you don’t want to deal with third party tools, this is an alternative route you can take.

If you’re running Windows 7 or below, reboot your computer and repeatedly tab the F8 key until you see advanced boot options.

Windows Safe Mode

Windows 8 users click the key combination Windows + i to open the sidebar menu, then click the Power button and hold SHIFT while you press the Restart option. Then click through > Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Settings and select Enable Safe Mode before you click the Restart button.

Once you’re in Safe Mode, navigate to the file in question and try your luck.

Did It Work?

Were you able to get rid of the locked file? What type of file was it and which method worked for you? Please share your solution with the rest of us!

Now if none of these strategies worked, please consult our team at MakeUseOf Answers for more advanced advice.

Image Credits: Delete Key Via Shutterstock

  1. raisa222
    October 20, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Long path error is a very common problem in Windows users face. Try using Long Path Tool if your computer is giving errors like, “Path too long”, “Path too long – aborting (error code 80/1)”, 0x80010135 Path too long”, “Error cannot delete file: cannot read from source file or disk” or “File cannot be copied”. You can use Long Path Tool to resolve these problems. Get support of this product by subscribing it online.

    • Tina Sieber
      October 23, 2016 at 10:39 am

      Thanks for the input, Raisa.

      WOT marks the Long Path Tool website as not trustworthy. Comments indicate that the site has been spamming forums and the tool has been spreading malware. Would you like to comment on that?

      • raisa222
        October 24, 2016 at 7:50 am

        Well Tina, I honestly don't know about that but I have been using this software for a long time. It works really well for me.

  2. webb123
    August 8, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Use "Long path tool" to solve the error. It helps to delete the long file, rename the long file, etc.....

    • Tina Sieber
      August 8, 2016 at 9:18 pm

      This tool appears to be a scam that contains malware. It's also known as a forum spammer. AVOID!

  3. abhiram
    August 3, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    yes it worked thanks

    • Tina Sieber
      August 4, 2016 at 7:05 am

      Thank you for the feedback, Abhiram!

  4. Elizabeth Croney
    May 26, 2016 at 1:44 am

    Thank You!!! The task manager was exactly what I needed:) Now if only I could commit that keyboard shortcut to memory:)

    • Tina Sieber
      May 26, 2016 at 8:14 am

      You mean CTRL + SHIFT + ESC? How about this to memorize it: The Task Manager allows you to control your sh*t and escape. :)

      • Elizabeth Croney
        May 27, 2016 at 2:06 pm

        I love it!!!! Thank you!!!:) That will work just fine:)

  5. Kevin
    February 1, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    I've found in Windows 10 Explorer, closing the Preview pane works most of the time.

    • brudloff
      April 13, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      Thank you, thank you Kevin! So simple and so easy AND it worked!!

    • vq
      May 13, 2016 at 3:55 am

      I closed the preview pane and I can now delete files. Thank You!

  6. Court
    January 26, 2016 at 1:37 am

    THANK YOU! Fixed (Y)

  7. Bruce Smith
    August 13, 2015 at 3:54 am

    Thanks. Displaying ALL processes (not just User) allowed me to locate and end the problem app; after that a successful uninstall completed this task. Also, ctl-shft-esc...who knew? Nice.

  8. amit bhatnagar
    July 4, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    hello friends,use long path tool ,its awesome

  9. NZBrutalDeathMetal66
    June 8, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Thanks for the write up team, Unlocker worked for me, Saved me from pulling my hair out haha

  10. zxz zxw
    May 26, 2015 at 7:02 am

    There are much simpler ways overide windows privilages and delete any and all files in use. The methods provided here are a waste of people's time! MAKE USE OF THAT info before you post such crap! I'm not providing the info on how to do this because I am pissed off at how stupid so many people are in the Tech World. UPDATE THIS PAGE with the methods of bypassing windows bullshit to delete files! OR I guess be a miserable little lemming troll like the rest of the vomitus vile and wretched unsightly disgusting parasitic piece's of satans shitty ass in the tech world!

    • zxz zxw
      May 26, 2015 at 7:09 am

      angrily written.

    • Power
      November 26, 2015 at 8:46 am

      So your idea of helping is complaining, not directly saying how to do it for the people coming here, and maybe being diplomatic enough for him to take you seriously? Good job.

  11. John Paul Erazo
    May 18, 2015 at 9:27 am

    thank you very much. this helped me a lot, i finally get rid of the file that causes to pop an ads on my browser and i cant really see what i'm browsing. the Ctrl+Shift+Esc the task manager menu is the one i use

  12. Techjunkie
    May 8, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    This information is FREE!!!! I see some people complaining in an extremely rude manner and it is uncalled for. Reading some of these comments, one would think that these aholes payed $ for these tips. Hey a-holes, don't you remember your mother's words of advice "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything" ? Grow up children you didn't pay for this helpful information.
    Helped me. Thank you Tina for putting in your valuable time even if other people are ungrateful.

  13. Lithakazi
    April 23, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    I found the artitle helpful and informative

  14. Carolyn
    April 9, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    This works perfectly and was very useful indeed. I appreciate this very much. Thank you.

  15. Joseph Dunn
    April 8, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    DON'T YOU DARE TELL PEOPLE TO USE THE F8 METHOD THERE ARE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES IN DOING THIS. THE ONLY METHOD I USED TO UNLATCH ANY PROGRAM IS RESTARTING WINDOWS-THIS IS THE ONLY WAY. I TRIED GOING TO THE COMMAND PROMPT AND ENTERING
    CD ETC ETC(I PUT THE URL OF THE FILE'S DIRECTORY HERE) THEN DID
    RMDIR ETC ETC METHOD MANY HAVE RECOMMENDED BUT THIS TOO DOESN'T WORK. TIME FOR ALL TO GO TO THE DRAWING BOARD.

  16. juliaop
    February 13, 2015 at 6:39 am

    i'm using Long path Tool For everything like this.

  17. Lianna
    January 14, 2015 at 5:42 am

    for me it says "The action can't be completed because the file is open in CANT BE DELETED ;("

    and none of these things work for me :(

  18. Hamzah
    January 7, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    for the name of god
    THANK YOU SOO MUCH

  19. jack
    March 28, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    u can use file schredder which is freeware, and it will secure delete the file even if its in use!

  20. Todd
    March 25, 2014 at 1:29 am

    Often a file gets locked by Windows Explorer when it's attempting to load meta-data regarding an .avi file that may not be properly created either missing the data or having a wrong extension meaning it doesn't have the corresponding meta-data. Terminating Windows Explorer through the task manager and then going to a System Prompt usually cures the problem.

  21. Navanski
    March 24, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    Linux Live CD and you can rummage around and delete what you want.

    • Bill_Board
      March 27, 2014 at 7:08 pm

      I 2nd that especially for those pesky "access denied" files even tho you are Admin...

  22. np
    March 24, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    You can also use Process Explorer from Microsoft:
    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896653.aspx
    Right-click PE icon-> Run As Administrator

    Find -> Find Handle or DLL
    Will then show the process that has it opened in the main window. Wait for a bit even after the first results appear as it still searches.
    If the Type is "File" you can right-click and close the handle

  23. x64.bits
    March 24, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    i use lock Hunter (http://lockhunter.com) since Unlocker doesn't work in Windows 7 (64 bit)

  24. AJ
    March 24, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Thanks for the article Tina.
    I have been using Unlocker for many years now. It has always worked for me bang-on 98 times out of 100. The other 2 times it offers to delete the file at next reboot. And it does so, at the next reboot.
    It is one of those tools that I wish Microsoft builds right into the File Explorer.
    The other being:
    A bulk file renamer like File Renamer Turbo.
    A versatile image viewer/ browser/editor/converter like FastStone Image Viewer
    A directory printing application like Karens Directory Printer

  25. RK
    March 24, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Ha, as always in windows, reboot is the cure for a whole host of PC problems lol.

  26. Emily
    March 24, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    pmshah, thanks for the tip.

  27. pmshah
    March 24, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Unlocker is the best tool. It can also forcibly close the related application. If this fails your best bet is to live boot XP or Win 7 and delete the files.

  28. Emily
    March 24, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Helpful information, thanks. Is there a similar way to address the problem of thumb drives that can't be 'removed safely' because they are 'in use' an hour after their work has been finished ?

    • pmshah
      March 24, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      There is a third party "USBSafelyRemove.exe" utility by Crystal Rich on the net. It is the only one that works every time.

  29. Sunpreet Rathor
    March 24, 2014 at 3:22 am

    You could also do the following:
    1. Start Task Manager
    2. Kill explorer.exe process tree
    3. Start cmd as the only process
    4. Type the command del filename and press Enter

    Worked for me most of the time. After that start explorer.exe as a new process.

  30. Ran L
    March 22, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    You can end explorer.exe, then start it again within Task Manager.

  31. J Lingruen
    March 22, 2014 at 9:10 am

    This is the only way I can get through to you. How the hell did you get my name. I am royally pissed off and appalled . I have not have an active computer since 2009. I see my name with nasty comments dated 2011. I just got my computer 2014. What is this crap about Mr. Pantyhose, 7s need to check herself, crystal says hi and self abuse. Are you kidding me.???? This is the only way I can get through to you. Better find out who the scum is who is using my name and have them checked out!!!! I will NEVER join another chat group or download any such crap anymore. I better see my name deleted because I'm not that disgusting person.

    • Tina S
      March 24, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      Hello J,

      I'm not sure what you are referring to. Could it be that one of the 7 billion other people on this planet has your name and is using it on the Internet? Tough luck.

      If you point me to the offending comment/s, however, I may be able to do something about that. You'll find my email address on our About page.

  32. Phil E.
    March 22, 2014 at 5:03 am

    I ran into this problem because I had the "preview pane" open in Windows Explorer. Something to check before you go all task manager on it.

  33. Anthony
    March 22, 2014 at 4:58 am

    It would seem the fastest method is just restarting and eliminating the file lock. I've heard it called a Schema Lock, but I don't know if that's right.

  34. TokyoDesu
    March 22, 2014 at 12:24 am

    i have 2 folders without name and don't delete DX is bad xD

  35. Xantes
    March 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    There are zillion other third party software... but I ain't gonna tell you anything about them since your article was written for no other reason but to increase your site's rating! It didn't show 5 INDEED ways to delete files while they're in use!

    • Ed
      March 21, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      I found the article informative, but have to agree that the article is really about resolving the "This action can't be completed because the file is open in another program" warning rather than 5 individual methods for deleting an in-use file.

      Thank you for the information Tina.

      Ed

    • Mike
      January 13, 2015 at 3:51 am

      I agree with you completely!!!!!! this was worthless!!!

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