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Persistent Windows.old Folder Surrenders to Command Line Prompt

Among my various desktops, laptops, and tablets, I’ve got an 16-month-old Surface Pro 3 purchased in August 2014. In working with the boot/sys drive recently I noticed I still had a windows.old folder hanging around, courtesy of my September upgrade to Windows 10 on that machine. “Hmmmm,” thought I to myself “that’s interesting: I thought I’d run CCleaner on that drive, and I *always* check the ‘Old Windows installation folder cleaning’ option therein when it shows up.” So I ran CCleaner again, and observed that the Windows.old folder on the Surface only included 400-odd MB of files (normally, for Windows 10, it runs somewhere above the 12-14 GB mark). Sure enough, although the program claimed to have cleaned-up Windows.old, it persisted past its supposed deletion size unchanged.

To make a long and somewhat tedious story as short and to the point as possible, I was also unable to remove Windows.old from the Surface using either the built-in Disk Clean-up utility, nor did the usually capable Unlocker program prove equal to the task of deleting the folder, either. Somewhat unpleasantly, I also observed that the latest Unlocker version comes chock-full of “bundleware,” including a search engine and home page replacement to some site that Norton disallows because of the presence of spyware and potential malware at that address. That’s why I’m no longer recommending the program to readers, and will have to find some more benign program to take over its role of resetting Windows file locks and overriding the strongest of read-only permissions.

Rd is the abbreviated form of the built-in “Remove directory” command at the Windows command line.

Once I cleaned up the small messes that Unlocker left behind on the Surface, I turned to the Windows 10 forums ( to their Tutorial entitled “Windows.old Folder — Delete in Windows 10.” That’s where I was reminded that, if all else fails, you can boot to a recovery/repair drive (which I always keep handy on a clearly labeled 8 GB USB 3.0 flash drive) and get rid of persistent files and folders at the command line. Here’s what I did to make that happen:

1. Shut down the Surface
2. Inserted the recovery/repair UFD into the USB port
3. Push the Volume Down button, briefly press the power on button, and hold Volume Down until the Surface logo appears on-screen
4. When the device boots into the recovery/repair disk, click through the first install screen, then elect repair on the second screen, and make your way into Troubleshoot, Advanced, and ultimately, Command Line Prompt
5. At the command line, run diskpart list volume to get the drive letter for your boot/sys drive (it won’t always stay the same when you boot into the WinPE image on a recovery/repair UFD, though mine did
6. Enter the following command to remove the persistent folder: rd /s /q C:\windows.old (substitute the correct drive letter to match your boot/sys drive as shown in the preceding diskpart command)

That’s all there is to it! Just goes to show that where there’s a will, there’s almost always a way to get things done in Windows, but also that getting there may not be as simple and straightforward as you might like. Such is life in Windows-Land!