How to Fix It When Windows 10 Desktop Icons are Missing

There are many solutions, and all are simple

Many people make heavy use of their desktop to keep important shortcuts to applications and files they use often. When those desktop icons disappear, it can really impact your productivity.

We compiled potential causes and solutions to missing desktop icons in Windows 10, including configuration settings to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Causes of Missing Desktop Icons

There are several reasons that your desktop icons could go missing. These include:

  • Inadvertently configuring your desktop to hide all desktop icons.
  • Your computer is in Tablet mode
  • Caching issues
  • Corrupt system files

Troubleshoot Missing Desktop Icons

We'll look at the easiest and most common solutions first, and then move on to the more advanced ones.

  1. Restart your PC. When in doubt, restart, especially if you haven't powered down your computer in a while.

  2. Enable Windows 10 desktop visibility. You might have configured your desktop to hide all desktop icons. If this setting changes accidentally or due to other installed software, setting it back to normal is fairly easy.

    Right-click anywhere in the Windows desktop area and select View from the menu that appears. You'll see a list of items to customized desktop icons. At the bottom, you'll see Show desktop icons. If it isn't enabled already, that's the reason icons have disappeared from your Windows 10 desktop.

    Show desktop icons submenu item.
  3. Disable Windows 10 Tablet mode. The easiest way is to Select the Action Center icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, then click Tablet mode.

  4. Update Windows 10. If there has been a recent Windows 10 update, it could be that your missing desktop icons are related to a vulnerability patch contained in that update. A final fix to try to resolve the issue is to make sure you update your Windows 10 system to the latest release.

  5. Use the system file checker to repair system files. Another issue that can lead to missing Windows 10 desktop icons is when system files become corrupt due to viruses, malware, or anything else. Thankfully, the System File Checker utility (also known as "sfc") lets you scan your computer for corrupt system files and automatically repair them.

  6. Rebuild the icon cache with a command prompt. The Windows 10 OS maintains which icons to display on your desktop via cache files. At times this cache can fall out of sync with the actual icons you created on your desktop. You can force Windows to rebuild these cache files by deleting them.

    See instructions below.

  7. Reset your PC to factory settings if all else fails. If nothing else works, consider resetting your PC and starting from scratch. Be sure you've backed up your Windows 10 PC first.

How to Rebuild the Icon Cache With Command Prompt

The Windows 10 OS maintains which icons to display on your desktop via cache files. At times this cache can fall out of sync with the actual icons you created on your desktop. You can force Windows to rebuild these cache files by deleting them.

  1. Select the Start menu and type cmd. Right-click the Command Prompt app and select Run as administrator. This will launch the Command Prompt window in Administrator mode. You will need to select Yes to confirm that Command Prompt can make changes on your device.

    Launching Command Prompt in administrator mode in Windows 10.

    After typing cmd, you can also use the Ctrl + Shift + Enter keyboard shortcut to launch Command Prompt in Administrator mode.

  2. You'll need to type five lines of commands pressing Enter after each. These commands will kill the explorer.exe app that manages icons, delete the icon cache, and then restart explorer.exe.

    1. taskkill /F /IM explorer.exe
    2. cd /d %userprofile%\AppData\Local
    3. attrib -h IconCache.db
    4. del IconCache.db
    5. start explorer.exe
    Screenshot of clearing icon cache

    After typing the command to kill explorer.exe, you will notice the entire background will go black. This can be slightly shocking, but the command prompt window will continue working, and you can continue typing all commands in sequence. Once you type the start explorer.exe command, the background and icons will return back to normal.

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