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3 Genius Ways to Delete a File in Use in Windows

Wondershare Recoverit Authors

Jan 15, 2024 • Filed to: Recover Files • Proven solutions

When working on Microsoft Windows, how many times have you seen a message telling that the particular file you are attempting to delete is already in use and that the program using the file must be stopped before Windows allows you to remove the file from the PC?

Annoying!! Isn’t it?

Well, not anymore.

Here are the three genius ways that you can use to force delete a file that is in use and Windows doesn’t allow you to remove it normally.

Solution 1. Force Deleting a File in Use in Windows

This method works most of the time. All you need to do is to force terminate the program that is using the file. Assuming that you already know which program is using the file that you want to remove, this is how you delete the file:

Note: Windows 7 is used here as a reference PC.

Force terminating a process shuts down the entire program and you may lose any unsaved data that any other file that relies on the program may have. It is advisable to save all your work progress before proceeding.

1. On your desktop screen, right-click the taskbar.

2. From the context menu that appears, click Start Task Manager.

Delete a File in Use in Windows

3. In the Task Manager box, if not already there, go to the Processes tab.

4. From the displayed list of running processes, right-click the one that you know is using the file that you want to delete.

5. From the context menu, click End Process or End Process Tree. (End process tree is clicked here.)

End Process Tree

6. On the confirmation box that pops up, click the End process tree button from the bottom.

End Process to Delete a File in Use in Windows

7. Once the process has been forcefully terminated, you can easily remove the file as it is no longer used until the process starts running again.

Note: In some cases, you need to be quick in deleting the file after force terminating the process. This is because some processes are stubborn and even if you terminate them forcefully, they restart automatically after a few seconds.

Solution 2. Delete Files in Use From Command Prompt

This method requires you to open Command Prompt on your Windows PC. For the files used by some local processes (the processes that can be started and closed by a standard – non-administrator user account), opening Command Prompt on a standard user account would suffice. However, if the file is used by any system process, the elevated Command Prompt must be initialized. An elevated Command Prompt is the command window that has all the administrator rights and all the administrative tasks can be performed via commands in its interface.

This is what you need to do:

Note: A Windows 7 PC is used in this example.

1. On your Windows PC, locate the folder that contains the file in use that you want to delete. (Do not enter into the folder.)

2. Shift + right-click the folder.

3. From the advanced context menu that appears, click the Open command window here or press the W key on the keyboard.

open command window here to Delete a File in Use in Windows

Note: This method does not allow you to open an elevated command window.

Note: To start elevated Command Prompt, click the Start button, type CMD in the search box at the bottom of the Start menu, right-click CMD from the suggested programs’ list, click Run as administrator from the context menu, and on the User Account Control confirmation box, type the password for the admin account (or click Yes if Windows doesn’t ask you for the password) to provide your consent to continue. After the elevated command window opens up, you must use the DOS commands like CD and DIR to locate the directory where the file you want to delete is placed and to check the presence of the file respectively.

4. In the command window, type the DEL /F file name command and press Enter to force delete the file that is in use.

Note: In the above command, the file name must be replaced by the name of the file along with its extension that you want to delete. For example del /f TestFile.txt.

WARNING!! – A file deleted using the DEL command does not move it to the Recycle Bin but deletes it permanently. Use the DEL command with caution.

Use Command Prompt to Delete a File in Use in Windows

5. Once the file is deleted, you can close Command Prompt by clicking the Close button from the top-right corner of the window or by typing EXIT in the command window and pressing Enter.

Solution 3. Delete Files in Use with a Third-Party Tool – Unlocker

Even though you can use any of the two methods described above to remove a file that is in use, a third-party tool such as Unlocker makes your task extremely simple. The best part is that Unlocker is a freeware and is free to download and use. This is how Unlocker works:

Note: A Windows 7 computer is used for reference.

1. Log on to your Windows PC.

2. Ensure that it is connected to the Internet.

3. Open any web browser of your choice and open your preferred search engine. (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.)

4. Using the search engine, search for Unlocker.

5. Once found, download Unlocker’s installable file and install the program using the normal installation method, or get its portable version.

Note: Unlocker is installed on this reference PC.

6. After this, locate the file that you want to delete but is in use.

7. Right-click the file.

8. From the context menu that is displayed, click Unlocker.

Use Unlocker to Delete a File in Use in Windows

9. On the User Account Control confirmation box, click Yes to provide your consent to continue launching the program.

10. On the displayed interface, from the available list of files in use, click to select the one that you want to unlock.

11. From the bottom of the interface, click Unlock to unlock the file while leaving the corresponding application open. Alternatively, you can also click the Kill Process button to force terminate the running process that is responsible for engaging the file.

3 Genius Ways to Delete a File in Use in Windows

12. Once the file is unlocked, you can right-click the file and click Delete from the context menu.

13. Click Yes on the Delete File confirmation box when/if displayed.

How to Restore a File If It Has Been Deleted Accidentally

Even if the file has been forcefully unlocked using any of the methods, it is moved to the Recycle Bin when deleted (except for when deleted using the command line). That being said, restoring the file from the Recycle Bin is simple. This is what you need to do.

1. On your Windows desktop screen, double-click the Recycle Bin’s icon.

2. Once inside the Recycle Bin, right-click the file that you want to restore.

3. From the context menu, click Restore.

Restore deleted files

Note: If a file has been deleted permanently (e.g. when removed with the DEL command), you need an efficient file recovery software such as Recoverit Data Recovery to recover the file back.

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Although the above-mentioned tricks work almost every time, you must take the utmost care while deleting any file that is in use. Deleting a wrong file may cause consequences like permanent or temporary system failure or data loss. To avoid this, before force deleting your files, make sure you have thoroughly verified the following:

  1. The file in use does not contain any important data.
  2. Force terminating the process to unlock the file doesn’t cause any permanent damage to its corresponding program.
  3. You have backed up the file before deleting it.
  4. You have tried (and failed) other ways to do what you want to do, and that force deleting the file is the only option left.


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