Fix: Gray x’s on Desktop Icons in Windows 10

Looking for a way to remove gray X’s on desktop icons in Windows 10?

Fix: Gray x’s on Desktop Icons in Windows 10

Windows is full of surprises, not all of which are pleasant. 

Recently, several Windows users reported that grey X’s have appeared on their desktop icons randomly. Several users resolved this issue by simply restarting their computer, but many claimed that the signs came back after rebooting the PC. 

We had a look into this matter and compiled a list of practical solutions that might help you get rid of the grey X signs. However, we recommend uninstalling any shortcut managing applications that you use since a corruption error within these applications can cause the issue at hand too. 

Let’s get started!

1. Refresh the File or App.

If the icons on your desktop display the gray X signs, then the first thing you should try doing is refreshing the problematic file or app. 

The Refresh component of Windows marks the files on your screen as faulty and then recreates the screen. Refreshing the desktop will also update the graphical user interface (GUI) of the desktop and retrieve the latest state. 

Refreshing the desktop components, and here is how you can do it:

  1. Go to your desktop and click anywhere on the screen. 
  2. Select Refresh from the list of options available and click on it. 
Fix: Gray x’s on Desktop Icons in Windows 10
  1. Alternatively, you can also click on any empty space on the desktop and click F5

As simple as that! 

Hopefully, refreshing the desktop will remove the grey X’s from the icons. 

2. Right-Click on the Problematic File. 

Another easy method that worked for several users was adjusting the faulty file settings and attempting to launch it using another application. 

If the grey X appears with a file on your desktop, you can try this method. However, if it appears with an application that does not require a platform like Chrome to launch, then you can jump to the next method below. 

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Right-click on the problematic file and locate Open with.
Context menu Windows
  1. Select Choose another app
  2. Finally, click on OK in the next prompt. 

That’s it. Doing so will remove the gray x’s on desktop icons in Windows 10 in no time.

3. Edit the Permissions.

Several apps and programs need specific permissions to work properly in Windows 10. If the apps or folders display the grey X icon, it might be due to invalid permissions. 

A simple solution to this issue is to edit the permissions according to your preferences. 

To manage the problematic app’s permissions, follow the steps mentioned below:

  1. Right-click on the problematic app/file and select Properties.
  2. In the General tab, locate the Security option, and if there is a checkbox against it named Unblock, checkmark it. 
  3. Now check if the issue is resolved. If not, then proceed with the next steps. 
  4. Open the Properties again by following the first step.
  5. Go to the Security tab and click on Advanced
  6. Locate the Disable inheritance button and click on it.
Fix: Gray x’s on Desktop Icons in Windows 10
  1. Close the window and check if the issue is resolved. 

If invalid permissions of the specific app/folder were causing the issue, then editing them will resolve it. If the desktop icon issue persists, proceed to the next method.

4. Remove Cached Files. 

This might be new to you, but icons on your desktop maintain their separate cached files that help Windows draw icons without retrieving an image from the original file. 

While these files help save both time and computational power, they can sometimes get corrupt and cause issues within the application. If a gray X is appearing with your desktop icons, then there is a chance that the corrupt icon cache files might be causing it. 

You can resolve this issue by simply removing the cached files. However, keep in mind that you must rebuild the cached files to prevent other potential issues once the error is resolved. 

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Press Windows + R keys simultaneously to open a Run dialogue box. 
  2. Type ‘%LocalAppData%/’ in the dialogue box and hit Enter.
Remove Cached Files
  1. Locate the IconCache.DB file and delete it. Once done, restart your PC. 
  2. Check if doing so removes the grey X from the icons. If the issue persists, open a Run dialogue box again and type the following location in the text field. 
  1. Delete the following files.
  1. Once done, follow the first three steps again and check if doing so resolved the issue. If not, then type cmd in the search bar and click on Run as administrator
  2. Now type the commands mentioned below one by one and hit Enter after each. We recommend noting these commands down somewhere safe as your computer screen might go blank during the execution. 
ie4uinit.exe -show
taskkill /IM explorer.exe /F
DEL /A /Q "%localappdata%\IconCache.db"
DEL /A /F /Q "%localappdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer\iconcache*"
shutdown /r /f /t 00
  1. Once your system restarts, check if the issue is resolved. 

If the corrupt icon cache files were causing the icon issue in Windows, removing them will resolve it. 

Now that you have removed the cached files, we suggest rebuilding them just to be on the safer side. Don’t worry; the process is simple and will not take a lot of your time. 

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Type cmd in the search bar and click on Run as administrator to open Command Prompt with administrative privileges.
  2. Now copy and paste the commands mentioned below one by one and hit Enter after each. 
ie4uinit.exe -show
taskkill /IM explorer.exe /F
DEL /A /Q "%localappdata%\IconCache.db"
DEL /A /F /Q "%localappdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer\iconcache*"
shutdown /r /f /t 00

That’s it. Your desktop icons should work fine now. 

5. Make Changes in the Registry.

Windows Registry is a database that stores configuration for installed applications and the operating system. It is also a great place to troubleshoot, as it allows users to make changes in the operating system according to their requirements. 

However, we strictly advise you to follow this method carefully as even a slight mistake can cause serious issues in your PC. 

Here is how you can use the Windows Registry to fix grey x’s on desktop icons in Windows 10:

  1. Type Registry Editor in the search bar and click on Run as administrator.
  2. Navigate to the path mentioned below. 
  1. Right-click on Explorer and select New
Fix: Gray x’s on Desktop Icons in Windows 10
  1. Click on Key and name the new key as Shell Icons
  2. Click on the new key and then right-click anywhere in the right pane. 
  3. Select New and then click on String Value
  4. Name it as 29 and by double-clicking, on it, set the value to ‘%windir%\System32\shell32.dll,-16769’. 
Fix: Gray x’s on Desktop Icons in Windows 10
  1. Once done, reboot your PC and check if the error is resolved. 

Hopefully, doing so will remove the grey X’s from your desktop icons. 

6. Try Using CleanMyPC. 

As we mentioned earlier, it is common for corrupt cached files to cause issues like the one at hand. Another effective way to fix the corrupt cached files and other bugs in your system is by using a reliable PC cleaner. 

PC cleaners are a great option to boost your PC’s overall performance and eliminate errors. While there are so many options available in the market, we highly recommend using CleanMyPC

Install CleanMyPC on your PC

CleanMyPC is one of the most efficient cleaners that comes with a wide range of system maintenance tools. All you need to do is run a scan, and it will not just identify but will also attempt to fix the errors found. 

Moreover, it can take care of all your PC-related problems such as privacy issues, junk files, and even the slow speed of your PC!

Try CleanMyPC Now!

7. Disabling Sync or Uninstall Onedrive.

The gray X icons on your desktop can also result from the conflicting overlay applications, especially cloud services. Applications like OneDrive, Dropbox, Syne, and Google Backup were found to be the culprit in most cases. 

Several users have been able to fix the issue by disabling sync or uninstalling the conflicting application from their device, which is why we encourage you to go ahead with this method. However, before proceeding with this method, ensure that all the apps we mentioned above are updated. 

We have taken the example of OneDrive in this method. Each application’s steps may vary, but the basic principle is the same as the OneDrive, so you will do just fine. 

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Locate the OneDrive application on your system tray and right-click on it. 
  2. Click on Help & Settings and select Pause syncing.
Fix: Gray x’s on Desktop Icons in Windows 10
  1. Select duration and then close OneDrive. 
  2. Open it again by following the first step, and this time, click on Resume syncing
  3. Now check if doing so resolved the issue. 

If doing so did not fix the issue, try reinstalling OneDrive. Hopefully, doing so will resolve the issue once and for all. 

This brings us to the end of our guide on fixing gray X’s on desktop icons in Windows 10. We hope one of the solutions mentioned above helped you resolve the issue. If you have any concerns or further questions, please feel free to let us know in the comment section below. We will try our best to assist you. 

If this guide helped you, please share it. 🙂


  • Zainab Falak

    Zainab Falak is a staff writer for Saint and an expert in Microsoft Windows, having authored more than 200 posts. She has a Bachelors in Actuarial Sciences and her passion for computers extends to exploring various aspects, from UI customization to the Windows registry and exploring error codes. Twitter LinkedIn

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1 comment
  1. Thank you so much. I had 300GB of client files and OneDrive (as usual) got itself all confused and many of my files ended up with the grey icon. This prevented files from opening with Adobe saying they were corrupt. A reset of OneDrive failed to resolve the problem. But a refresh of the icon databases (Step 4) seems to have done the trick. Why an icon should affect the validity of the underlying file makes no sense – but its Windows so…
    Anyway thanks again.

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