You have a file you want to delete. Maybe it’s a movie you don’t care to watch any more, or a save file for a game that you don’t need, or even a program you suspect has been compromised by a virus. The reason you want the file gone is irrelevant. What’s important is that when you try to delete the file, you can’t.

Apparently, it’s currently in use.

Don’t worry. You can still get the file off your hard drive. You’re just going to need to do it in a more roundabout way than you ordinarily might. Here’s what you should do:

  1. First, try simply deleting the folder that contains the file. Though there’s a good chance this isn’t going to work, it’s still worth a shot.
  2. If step one doesn’t work, it might be worth attempting to close every program you have open that isn’t Windows Explorer. There’s a good chance that another of your programs might actually be using the file and you’ve simply forgotten that it was open. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’ve actually done this myself, on occasion.
  3. Check to see if the folder/file is read-only. While it’s highly unlikely this would prevent you from deleting the file outright, there’s still a small chance that this might be the cause of your issue. Right click on the file, and click on “properties.”
  4. Start up Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del). Navigate to “Explorer.exe” under processes. End it. If it doesn’t automatically restart after the fact, restart it manually from task manager (click on File->New Task (Run) and then type in “Explorer”). Try once more to delete the file.
  5. Now we’re getting a little desperate. Nothing seems to be working, and the file’s still sitting there, mocking us. Try restarting your computer and deleting the file once you’ve rebooted.
  6. If the data you’re trying to get rid of still refuses to stop freeloading on your hard drive, start Windows in Safe Mode (access the boot menu [will link this to “Six Tasks every Windows User should Know how to do] in order to do so). Navigate to the file’s location, and get rid of it.

Note that any files under the “WINDOWS” folder should be left well enough alone, lest you bork your system beyond repair.