Windows 10 Desktop Icons Missing: Here’s How to Fix Desktop Icons Not Showing

The desktop is a real location on your drive and you can save files and folders to it. The desktop is easy to get to on Windows 10; tap the Win+D or swipe down with four fingers (if you have a precision touchpad) and you’ll be taken to the desktop.

It’s because the desktop is so easy to access that many people put important files and folders, or shortcuts to them on the desktop. If you can’t see icons on the desktop though, the desktop loses most of its utility. 

Windows 10 Desktop Icons Missing

Windows 10 Desktop Icons Missing

If you do not see desktop icons on your Windows 10 desktop, you may have turned them off, they may have been hidden by an app you’ve installed, you may actually be seeing the fullscreen Start menu or the Start screen, or you may not have any icons on the desktop.

Desktop icons not showing in Windows 10

Here are a few things you can try to fix desktop icons not showing.

1. Enable desktop icons

A lot of people like to put items on the desktop but they do not like looking at the mess. Windows 10 has an option to hide desktop icons which, if enabled, may be the reason you don’t see any icons on the desktop.

  1. Go to your desktop.
  2. Right-click anywhere.
  3. From the context menu, select View>Show desktop icons.
  4. Check if the desktop icons appear.

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2. Restart Explorer.exe

Explorer.exe isn’t just File Explorer or Windows Explorer. It handles lots of other functions on your system e.g., if there’s a problem with it, the taskbar may not work correctly or you may not see desktop icons.

  1. Right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager from the context menu.
  2. Go to the Processes tab and look for Windows Explorer.
  3. Select it, and click Restart at the bottom right.

If you’re having trouble opening Task Manager, there are different methods you can try to open it.

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3. Disable/Uninstall UI modifying apps and themes

The Windows 10 UI can be modified with third-party apps and themes. The modifications can be extensive though you, as user, may simply see a new skin applied to the OS.

To give your OS a new/different look, apps and themes may disable certain features so if you have anything like that installed e.g. UXthemepatcher, disable or uninstall it. 

Restart the system and check if your desktop icons appear.

4. Toggle projection mode

If you have a multi-monitor set up or you used a second (or third) monitor at some point, it may still be detected as a phantom display and that’s where the icons may be hiding.

  1. Tap the Win+P keyboard shortcut.
  2. In the panel on the right, select PC screen only
  3. Check if the icons show up. If they do, you can set the projection mode back to whatever it was before.

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5. Rebuild icon cache

If the icon cache is corrupt, the desktop may not be able to load icons for the various files and folders that you’ve saved to it.

  1. Open File Explorer and go to the View tab.
  2. Enable the ‘Hidden items’ check box.
  3. Navigate to the following location (replace Username with your own user name).
C:UsersUsernameAppDataLocal
  1. Look for a file called IconCache.db.
  2. Select it and tap Shift+Delete.
  3. Restart the system.

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6. Turn off Tablet Mode

Windows 10 doesn’t just run on desktops. It also runs on tablets and, its UI is slightly different for tablets to make it easier to use on the device. On a desktop, users have the option to enable Tablet mode if they want but it will change how certain things work.

  1. Open the Settings app (Win+i keyboard shortcut).
  2. Go to System>Tablet.
  3. Open the When I sign in dropdown and select ‘Never use tablet mode’.
  4. If you have a 2-in-1 device i.e., a touch screen device, open the ‘When I use this device as a tablet’ dropdown and select ‘Don’t switch to tablet mode’.

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7. Turn off Start menu fullscreen

The Start menu has two different modes; the column view that most people like and that is close to the Windows 7 Start menu, and fullscreen mode.

  1. Open the Settings app (Win+I keyboard shortcut).
  2. Go to Personalization>Start.
  3. Turn the Use Start full screen switch off.

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Conclusion

The desktop is one of the more solid, well-built features on Windows 10. It’s rare for it to run into problems that can’t be fixed and often, when something goes wrong with it, UI modifying apps are to blame. If you like to modify your OS, make sure you create a restore point first and that you use only tried/trusted apps to modify it.

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