How to Remove Icons From Your Windows Desktop

Delete files, apps, and shortcut icons to clean up your Windows 10 desktop

What to Know

  • To delete a Windows 10 desktop icon, right-click it and select Delete.
  • You can also delete desktop icons by dragging them to the Windows 10 Recycle Bin.
  • Files and shortcuts can both live on the Windows 10 desktop, so be careful when deleting them.

This article is a guide to deleting icons from the Windows 10 desktop, with additional information on how to tell the difference between a file and a shortcut icon and what to do when you accidentally delete an icon.

How to Delete All Desktop Icons on Windows 10

Removing icons is one of the best and easiest ways to clean and speed up your Windows 10 desktop.

You can delete all Windows 10 desktop icons in a matter of seconds with just a few mouse clicks. All you need to do is right-click the icon on your Windows 10 desktop and select Delete from the popup menu.

Windows 10 desktop with the Delete icon menu option highlighted.

Only do this IF your icon is a shortcut to the file. If the file is stored on the desktop then this deletes the file itself (and that's likely not what you are trying to do).

Alternatively, you can delete desktop icons by dragging them to the Recycle Bin icon (which should also be on the desktop).

A Windows 10 desktop icon being dragged to the Recycle Bin.

Want to delete all desktop icons on Windows 10 at once? Highlight all of the icons with your mouse by dragging the cursor over them. Once they’re all highlighted, right-click one of them and select Delete or drag them all to the Recycle Bin.

Three icons being selected on a Windows 10 desktop.

How Do I Remove an Icon From My Desktop Without Deleting It?

If you don’t want to delete any files or shortcuts from your Windows 10 desktop, but you still want to move them out of the way while you work, you have a couple of options.

The first option is to hide the icons from view. To do this, right-click your desktop, select View, and uncheck Show desktop icons.

Windows 10 desktop with Show desktop icons menu option showing.

This is a great choice for those who like their Windows 10 desktop icons’ aesthetic but don’t want to see them all of the time.

To make your desktop icons visible again, repeat the above instructions.

Your second option is to move the icons to another location on your Windows 10 device. You can do this very quickly by dragging the icons into another folder location.

You can also right-click the icons, select Cut, and then right-click and select Paste in the target folder.

Windows 10 desktop with the Cut option highlighted in a pop-up menu.

Understanding Desktop Files and Shortcut Icons

A Windows 10 desktop can store both files and shortcuts to files. The former is the actual file, while the latter is a tiny file that links to another file or program’s location elsewhere on your computer or tablet.

While desktop shortcuts and files can appear similar, you can easily spot a shortcut by looking for the small arrow in the icon’s lower-left corner.

An image file and a shortcut icon on a Windows 10 desktop.

If the icon doesn’t have this arrow, it’s the full file. If it does, it’s a shortcut.

Windows 10 desktop shortcuts have an arrow in the lower-left of their image.

It means when you delete a file’s icon from the desktop on Windows 10, you’ll delete the whole file. If you delete a shortcut icon, you’re just deleting the shortcut to the file.

If you want to uninstall or delete the program entirely, you’ll need to uninstall it the same way you would other Windows 10 apps.

How to Undo a Windows 10 Desktop Icon Deletion

Any deleted desktop icons can be undeleted as long as you haven't emptied the Recycle Bin. If you have cleared out the Recycle Bin, you can create a new desktop shortcut icon or attempt to retrieve the deleted Windows 10 file via various proven strategies.

  • How do I remove icons from a desktop that won't delete?

    Users sometimes encounter a folder, shortcut, or file icon that won't delete. You may get a "File Access Denied" or "File in Use" message or another error. There are several ways to troubleshoot this issue. First, try rebooting your system, and then try to remove the icon again. If you get a "File in Use" message, check to see if the file or folder is open and in use; if it is, exit the application. If you're unable to delete a file due to its permissions, right-click on it and select Properties > Security > Advanced. Next to Owner, enter the username you want to be the file's owner, then try deleting the icon, file, or folder again. Another option: try rebooting in Safe Mode, then try to delete the problematic file.

  • How do I remove icons from a Mac desktop?

    To easily remove an icon from a Mac desktop, right-click on the icon and select Move to Trash. You can also hold down the Shift key, select multiple icons, then drag them to the Trash. To hide all your desktop icons without deleting any files or folders, open Terminal and type in: defaults write CreateDesktop false killall Finder. To make your icons reappear, type defaults write CreateDesktop true killall Finder into Terminal. 

  • How do I remove icons from the desktop if I'm running Windows 7?

    To remove icons on a Windows 7 desktop, right-click and select Delete, just as you would on a Windows 10 desktop.

  • How do I remove checkmarks from desktop icons?

    If you're not a fan of the checkboxes that show up when you select a file or folder in Windows 10, it's easy to remove them. Launch File Explorer and select View. In the Show/Hide area, uncheck the box next to Item check boxes.

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