Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

How do I UNinstall a program that's not in the add/remove list?


How do I remove a program that is not on the Add/Remove programs list? It is
on the All Programs list but doesn’t have an uninstall option. I have searched
all over but can’t see how.

Unfortunately this can get complicated.

Some programs don’t require an uninstaller – all you need do is delete them
(I’ll show you how to do that for most).

Some programs should have an uninstall option and don’t. That’s
where things can get messy.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

I want to start out with a big caveat: if a program does not include an
uninstall utility we have to start making assumptions. Lots of assumptions. And
when we make assumptions, sometimes they’ll be wrong. Most of the time the
steps below will work, but sometimes they won’t. Sometimes a program won’t be
completely uninstalled, and sometimes something else you didn’t plan on will be
affected by the uninstall.

Before you begin any of this, make sure you have a current backup of your
entire system. These are computers: something will go wrong.

And yes, with that big a caveat to begin with, you might consider
not uninstalling whatever it is you’re considering. If it’s not
causing a problem, and it’s not taking excessive disk space, then sometimes just
leaving it all alone until the next reformat is the safer thing to do.

“… sometimes just leaving it all alone until the next
reformat is the safer thing to do.”

Not all programs add themselves to the Add/Remove programs list in Control Panel. Be sure
and check on the Start Menu to see if the program you want to install has placed its uninstall
option there instead.

I’ll start with the simple case: programs that have no uninstaller because
they don’t need one. In these cases the program can be “uninstalled” simply by
locating where the program is installed and deleting it.

Some very simple (in terms of installation) programs just come as a
single “.exe” file. All you need to do is locate and delete that file and
you’re done. A lot of utilities like Process Explorer, which I refer to a lot, fall into this

However, most programs install to “C:\Program Files” and do so by creating
a folder therein names either either for the program, or perhaps for the
company that made it. For example if you’ve installed some program called
“Leo’s Power Widget” and decided you no longer needed it, you might find:

C:\Program Files\Leo’s Power Widget

You can probably just delete that folder and its contents to “uninstall” the

One safety note: if you’re not sure, rename that folder, reboot,
and use your machine for a while. If no errors pop up because the software or
other components couldn’t be found, then that’s an additional indicator that
deleting might be safe.

“But what about the shortcut that’s left in the start menu?” I hear some of
you asking.

If you didn’t put that there manually, then this is a case of a program that
should have had an uninstall program, but doesn’t. I can think of several
reasons this might be but none of them are, in my opinion, acceptable.

When a program starts making changes elsewhere in your system – to places
other than where it installed – then in my opinion it requires an uninstall
program to clean those changes up. Changes include menu items, folders and data
files elsewhere on your hard drive (such as “Documents and Settings”), and of
course the ever popular registry.

If you want to force an uninstall of a program that does any of these
things, then this is the approach I would take:

  • Backup your machine. Make sure that if the worst happens
    you can restore to a known state. And yes, when playing with some of these
    uninstall options “the worst” means rendering your machine unbootable from the
    hard drive. Unlikely, but possible.

  • Locate and Rename the folder containing the program you
    want to uninstall, reboot, and run your machine for a while. If you get errors
    because of the rename, then something is still depending on that software being
    installed. It could be a start-up entry, which we can delete later, or it could
    be something more critical which you may not want to play with. You’ll need to
    decide based on the error.

  • Fix any auto-start problems that result by deleting
    auto-start entries from your start menu and registry as needed.

  • Delete the renamed folder. Once again reboot and run your
    machine for a while.

  • Scan for shortcuts to the program you just deleted,
    removing them from your Start Menu, desktop, quick launch bar – wherever they
    may have been installed.

  • Ignore the registry. I know many will disagree with me and
    will advocate instead searching the registry for settings that are related to
    the program and removing them. In my opinion it’s too easy to mess up something
    important, and aside from start-up entries we dealt with already, there’s
    little benefit to actually cleaning this up anyway. If you must, you’re
    probably safer running a registry cleaning utility at this point, but I’m not a
    big fan of those either.

As you can see, it can get messy. It’s one reason that uninstallers exist,
and one reason they’re difficult to get right. But in my opinion it’s also
really bad form for an application to really need one, but not provide it.

My general approach to uninstalling is a little different.

I do, occasionally, uninstall software that appears in my Add/Remove
programs list. As you can imagine I try things, and cruft accumulates, so it’s
a quick and relatively safe way for me to clean up a little.

I also keep an eye on my startup programs. When something gets added, I
evaluate whether I really need it long before I might delete the program. By
the time I do delete something its startup entry, if it had one, is long

I reformat my machine every couple of years. That uninstalls

That may seem harsh and in a sense it is, but particularly for someone who
tries things, who installs and uninstalls, and just generally accumulates
things, “software rot” tends to set in. They system becomes just a little
slower, just a little less stable. It shouldn’t, but it does and after a while
a rebuild and reinstall of all the software is the best way to clean it up.

And as I said, it uninstalls everything whether there’s an uninstall
program or not.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

29 comments on “How do I UNinstall a program that's not in the add/remove list?”

  1. heh.. Your right Leo, I do disagree.. The registry should be dealt with.. By not cleaning the registry, if you ever chose to reinstall the software (possibly because of a missinstall), you have not removed ALL the old entries from the previous install… As you can imagine, this definitely does cause problems as well…
    Not to mention deleting the older folder only and installing a newer version afterwards… That’s 2 places in the registry locking into the same files.. 2 different settings when it should be 1..

  2. Hey Leo,

    Heres a tip: if you HAVE to force a program uninstall do what Leo said and run CCleaner afterwards. It’s a free program that you can download from the internet. Just google “CCleaner” and you should find it.

    It usually finds all of the registry entries and invalid bits-and-pieces on your computer that don’t match and cleans them up. I haven’t had a problem with it and have been using it since its realize.

  3. I have some of the same concerns about uninstalling programs. Specifically, removing “all” registry keys as well. I have a couple programs that, for the most part, remove the program and clean the registry. I have Total Uninstaller and Your Uninstaller. I wish, however, that there was a program/application that “will” get “all” references to a program being uninstalled! I also run Registry Mechanic when uninstalling.

  4. A test for those who are so enamoured with “registry cleaners”: try running them on a brand new installation of Wndows. One that you haven’t installed *anything* on. They will still find and delete a load of keys. That’s your first clue.

    The fact is, there is no reliable way – at all – for a program to tell whether any particular key is junk or not. For example, naively you might think that a key that points to a path that doesn’t resolve to anything is junk. A lot of registry “cleaners” think so. That’s their detriment: it doesn’t take a minute’s thought to conceive of a number of situations where that is not the case.

    And, of course, Windows is closed source. There is no way to tell whether a key is still being used by Windows. None of the registry cleaner makers have seen the Windows source code. They’re just guessing.

    Basically, if you run a registry “cleaner”, you immediately lose all right to complain about Microsoft when your system behaves unexpectedly, crashes randomly, and doesn’t work as it should. It’s your own fault.

    People who immediately assume that a big registry immediately implies bad performance are rather stuck in the 1970s, anyway: even Windows 1.0 only loaded into memory the parts of a file that need to be accessed rather than the whole thing; and the Windows NT line is excellent at it, as are the *nixes.

  5. After clicking on “How do I UNinstall a program……., when one goes to the last link on the page named ‘your own website’ (it’s in blue and double underlined) malware attempts to download immediately. McAfee Site Advisor flags this site in Red, and Spy Sweeper nails it so it can be quarantined. DON’T GO THERE!

  6. Hi Leo.
    Thank you.I followed your advise and backed up the machine,then changed the names of the two programs i wanted to remove.I then shut down and rebooted and used the machine for one day without any problems appearing.The next day I simply deleted the two programs and their two shortcuts.That was two days ago and all is working ok.
    Once again THANKS.

  7. Hi Leo,
    Chances are that the software will have an uninstaller if it is from a a reputable source. I also check internet if there are any complaints about uninstalling problems. Sometimes uninstallers have to be downloaded separately.
    If I’m not sure, I use a utility to check and record the changes made to the registry by the installed software. It takes a couple of minutes only.
    I also use registry cleaners, but always in the manual mode, so I can omit any changes that could require even a new windows installation. This is not a very big problem as I regularly back up my hard disks and keep the operating system only in C:, (somewhere other than c:\windows for added security), which also increases the performance, shortens defragmentation time, etc. If a software insists on installation to c: I set it up and migrate it to another drive later.

  8. One thing you all forgot, alot of times an uninstall will get corrupt for one reason or another and simply reinstalling the program will reinstall the uninstall….then you can unintall it normally….

  9. I downloaded a couple of programs for fun and ran them, MB Zodiac Yoga and MB I Ching, I cannot remove them or uninstall them!!!
    The site offers no help either

  10. Hi there, I ‘m having an issue while trying to boot up my both PCs. One PC is running windows Vista Home Premium and the Other one is running Windows XP Professional.

    The issue is that I have tried to install and uninstall A second operating system in both of them, After successfully uninstall the OS. At any giving time I boot the computer, I still have them as a list to select as an OS, is there any idea about how I can remove them?

    Your answer will be very appreciate.

  11. hi i really need help.i installed microsoft 2007 on my computer. after this i deleted microsoft 2003 from my computer but didnt uninstall it from add or remove program in control pannel .the problem i have is when i use microsoft word and try to download a new type of sheet like a timetable, it brings me through a microsoft genuine thing saying that my microsoft 2003 is not a genuine key .i never use microsft 2003 and so i didnt have a key but now i deleted it and cant use my microsoft 2007 right.i dont really have the same problem in this article because i deleted the file in the first place ,also i not sure if i force uninstall 2003 will it uninstall 2007 .please i not great with computers i need this to be fixed.

    First, it’s Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007. There’s no such thing as “Microsoft 2003” or “Microsoft 2007”.

    I’m fairly certain that deleting Office 2003 without using Add/Remove after having installed Office 2007 is the root of the problem. I would re-install Office 2007 (it may offer to repair, which you can try as well).

    – Leo
  12. I am trying to remove a game that was installed b4 my windows was’s not in add/remove programs. It does show what looks like a piece of paper with a chip on it and reads to uninstall, but when I right click on it to delete a window pops up instead stating it is a ISU program and windows can’t open it! Instead it says windows needs to know what program created it? Then it shows where I can search for something to remove it on the web or I guess my comp. but don’t know what to use! PLEASE HELP!! How to delete it safly so I can reinstall it? And I have another game that I Need to remove so I can add it again but when I try to remove it a bar pops up stating.. \Popunistall.exe is not a valid Win.32 application what do I do I am confused and I am not a comp. pro! PLEASE PLEASE HELP!

  13. I had a system crash, prior to which I had outlook running fine as email, plus other office stuff all ok.The PC did a reset,but had lost sytem restore points, completely.It packard bell running XP. I am trying to reinstasll stuff, and it is ok, but I have lost microsoft office xp(“home use program”, for which I have an installation disc, but it only offers to repair/maintain offfice media, but the program is not in program list, or accessible to use, I would uninstall it. but i can’t see it.I

  14. I have an issue that is baffling me. I have a user who has had both Office 2003 and Office 2007 installed for several months. You can have both programs installed on the same machine. However, for some reason his Office 2003 programs are no longer loading. When I look in the Add/Remove program section, MS Office 2003 is no longer there. MS Office 2007 is still there. However, the MS Office 2003 files are still on the computer. As a last resort, I wanted to uninstall and reinstall both versions again again, but since I can’t find it in the Add/Remove, I just don’t know what to do.

    Actually having both on the machine at the same time would lead to a lot of confusion. I’d give Revo Uninstaller a try.


  15. Leo, I have Windows 7. Would you know if it is safe to delete InstallShield via Windows Explorer, as the program is NOT in my Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs list.
    I tried to install Easy Media Creator Suite 10 last night and ended up uninstalling it. With that Suite was also installed InstallShield on the fly, but InstallShield remains and I get an error message: #5 from InstallShield’s Update Manager every time I boot up. I know I can turn InstallShield off in the StartUp menu, using msconfig, but I want to get rid of it completely, as no other programs are tied to it (yet) on my laptop.

    No, I would not simply delete the files in Windows Explorer. Among other things that’ll leave behind registry settings that are then likely to annoy you even further. You might try Revo Uninstaller.


  16. on two items i want to uninstall on my computer i keep getting file does not exist and i am stuck with them. Any help please.

  17. I am trying to get rid of Tweakui exe sitting on desktop. It will not open except for a temporary flash but I need it to sort out file storage problems. What folder am I to rename?

  18. Hi Leo
    I’ve ,by mistake downloaded this software”security tool”..which was saying in my Laptop there r alot of viruses..but now when I restart the computer..everything on screen goes blank and this soffware giving me pop ups..It doesn’t even let me run task manager and any other program safely..I want to remove it but I can’t find it in add or remove..I m emailing this from my friends PC cause I think this program is not good to go online with…

    OS is Vista

    with Regards

    reply soon

    Yep, you fell for a virus. Try this article: What are (and how do I get rid of) “Antivirus 2010” and “Vista Spyware 2010”?


  19. Hey Leo,
    I downloaded Windows Live Movie Maker few months ago. And when I tried looking for it yesterday, it’s not there, not even in the Control Panel Add/Remove list. But when I tried downloading it, it’s saying I already have it. I tried looking for everywhere, Ive scanned my whole computer with every single words that relates to it and was not successful. I’ve also tried deleting things that has to do with it and still not successful. And I tried downloading the RevoUninstaller and when I searched for the file, it’s not there.

    You’ll probably find Windows Live Essentials in the list. Do an uninstall/change on Windows Live Essentials and I’d bet that Windows Movie Maker can be removed from within there.


  20. Hi Leo,
    I accidentally deleted the files of a program that i meant to uninstall so now i can not uninstall. Is there anyway to do uninstall if the files are gone?
    Please reply

  21. I am uninstalling microsoft office 2007, at the same time my pc shutdown. than my Microsoft office not working. i am trying to install again this software but error show. how do i re install the microsoft offive 2007

  22. hi leo,
    hi i installed world of warcraft for my son on my D drive on my computer since the installation i have been unable to use the computer properly as i get hard drive error messages the programme is not on the uninstall list as this only applies to C drive, please could you tell me how to uninstall this programme many thanks

  23. Hi Leo,
    I had installed adobe illustrator in my f drive and not c drive. Recently i formated my system and now Illustrator is not opening nor can i uninstall it as it doesnt show in control pannel. I have tried deleting the whole folder that also doesnt help. When i am trying to install illustrator again i am not being able to do that as it says its already present.. Please help

  24. Hi,
    I have downloaded a few games from a website that offers free games. The games were on the Add/Remove list a couple of months ago. I went back to uninstall some of the games that were nolonger wanted and they have dissapeared off the Add/Remove list. I don’t know what in the world caused that problem and the games have no unistall extensions under the start button. The games have no effect on the computer if i uninstall them I just wanted to clean my system sine we no longer play them. Any help will be appreciated.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.