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How to Customize the Windows 7 Notification Area (System Tray)

If you have been annoyed by the clutter of icons that always seems to be in the Windows notification area (system tray), there is relief in Windows 7. Microsoft added a way to remove some system icons or to hide icons that are not in regular use. If you’d like to tidy up your notification area, here is the procedure:

Customize notification area

  1. In the notification area of the taskbar, find the small upward-pointing triangle and click it. Alternatively use this two-step keyboard shortcut: Windows key+B, Enter
  2. A small window (shown on the right) will open. Click “Customize”.
  3. A dialog box with a list of notification area entries will open. An example is shown in the figure below.
  4. Each entry has a drop-down menu on its right where you can select from three choices:  “Show icon and notifications” or “Hide icon and notifications” or “Only show notifications”.
  5. After making your selections, click “OK”.

For those who don’t mind a little typing, there is an alternate route that leads directly to step 3 above. Type “notification” (without quotes) in the Start search bar and click “Notification area icons” in the list that appears. This will open the dialog box below and you can proceed to step 4 above.

Configure notification area

If you want to be entirely rid of some of the system icons, click “Turn system icons on or off” in the dialog box. The new dialog shown below will open. Make your selection of “on” or “off” and click “OK”.

If you make changes and then wish you hadn’t, you can click “Restore default icon behaviors” and then click “OK”.

Turn system icons on or off

How to Remove Old Windows 7 Notification Area  Icons

Are you having trouble removing a program icon from the notification area of the taskbar even after the program has been uninstalled? Old program icons can be deleted by editing the Windows Registry or with software.

If you are familiar with editing the Registry (see this article), here is the procedure for clearing the tray icon cache where the program icons are stored:

  1. Back up the Registry before you do anything else
  2. Open the Registry Editor
  3. Navigate to this Registry key: HKCU \Software \Classes \LocalSettings \Software \Microsoft \Windows \CurrentVersion \TrayNotify
  4. In the right side pane of Regedit, delete the value IconStreams
  5. Also in the right side pane, delete the  value PastIconsStream
  6. Log off and back on for the Registry edit to take effect. Alternatively stop and restart Explorer.exe if you are familiar with that process.

If you are not used to Registry editing, there are software possibilities. CCleaner has a function to clean the tray icon cache. It is labeled Tray Notification Cache and is in the Windows advanced section. You may have to run CCleaner as administrator.

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.

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by trscot (not verified) on 1. August 2012 - 16:34  (97024)

Your article is well written, useful and much appreciated.

I didn't mean to cause confusion, so thanks for the clarification.

Maybe I'm confused, but I think instructions to customize the notification area are incomplete without the start-up aspect being addressed, because it is so important toward attaining a neat and tidy area, but much more important than being neat and tidy is to control and minimize the number of running programs.

After-all isn't the main purpose of the notification area
to expose what programs are running in the background
so that you can decide how to handle them?

I never yet had an "old" icon, but I look forward to killing'em
with your instructions if any ever do show up.

by v.laurie on 1. August 2012 - 16:59  (97027)

"After-all isn't the main purpose of the notification area
to expose what programs are running in the background
so that you can decide how to handle them?"

Actually, many programs run in the background without placing an icon in the notification area. Theoretically, this area is for applications that may sometimes need to "notify" you about something such as an update being available or a battery running low. It is also used to give quick access to system services that may need frequent attention like volume control and network connections. Unfortunately, some applications that don't really belong there also stick themselves in the notification area.

by v.laurie on 1. August 2012 - 14:41  (97018)

I want to make sure that we don't confuse two different situations concerning program icons in the tray.

One situation is when a program has been uninstalled but its icon is still in the tray. That is what I refer to as an "old" icon and the article tells how to remove old icons by flushing the icon cache.

A different situation is when the icon is for a program that is still installed. As one commenter points out, removing the program from Start Up may help keep its icon out of the tray. But some programs stick entries in the Registry that will keep putting the icon in the tray. The only way to deal with that is to remove that Registry entry. That requires some care and expertise.

It is also conceivable that uninstalling a program still leaves behind a Registry entry for a tray icon. Then you may need a good uninstaller program ( or if you know what you are doing, a Registry cleaner.

by trscot (not verified) on 1. August 2012 - 13:38  (97013)

Extra icons are there because many programs configure themselves during installation to start automatically and run in the background but they are not needed which impacts speed. Prevent them from starting by typing msconfig in the start menu search box then un-check all unneeded programs under the startup tab. Doing so removes icons and speeds up your computer. Also right click a blank area of the notification area and uncheck unwanted items under tools.
Another route to customize the notification area is to right click the start button and click properties and then click customize under the taskbar tab.

by AnonymousJumbo (not verified) on 31. July 2012 - 22:42  (96970)

I have always opened When required it is an easy click to open and use them a folder on the desktop, and push all the program shortcuts in it.When required it is only a click ti find the one that you need.

by BearPup (not verified) on 31. July 2012 - 14:05  (96942)

TO Shawnwhite: the behavior you speak of is a defect in the Win 7 OS that only affects certain programs, usually shareware / freeware. The same thing occurs with Online Armour Firewall. Its a pain, but its a Microsoft issue, there is nothing us humble users can do about it.

Now my comment: How does one get rid of notifications listed in the Customize window once a program has been uninstalled? Or is this also an OS error?

by v.laurie on 31. July 2012 - 14:19  (96943)

If you have CCleaner installed, try using it to empty the Tray Notifications Cache.

by BearPup (not verified) on 31. July 2012 - 16:08  (96947)

I tried CCleaner as you suggested, but it made no difference. In fact, after double checking that the Tray Notification Cache was checked, I ran the cleaner twice, and neither time were any files listed for the Cache as having been cleaned.

I also checked the Customized section of the Tray and all of the 'old' notification icons are still showing up in the Customized listing. Any other suggestions?

by Olad (not verified) on 31. July 2012 - 18:28  (96954)

I can confirm that CCleaner does NOT work. I would appreciate if this can be checked out also by others.

by v.laurie on 31. July 2012 - 20:39  (96965)

Does running CCleaner as administrator ( make any difference?

by BearPup (not verified) on 31. July 2012 - 21:54  (96969)

Nope. No difference. The Notification Tray Cache doesn't show up during the clean, even run as Administrator. All the old icons are still there.

by MidnightCowboy on 1. August 2012 - 5:41  (96992)

Maybe not the case, but do you have an antivirus or firewall with HIPS component that might be blocking CCleaner's access to these files?

by BearPup (not verified) on 1. August 2012 - 9:16  (96999)

I use Avast 7 antivirus and PrivateFirewall 7, and neither program mentions a HIPS component.

by MidnightCowboy on 1. August 2012 - 10:17  (97004)

Private firewall contains one of the most powerful and effective HIPS in the business, and to my understanding Avast! contains an auto sandbox. Both of these can and will affect how your installed software reacts (or is allowed to) with Windows components depending on how you have it configured and/or respond to the alerts. Any kind of HIPS component needs a considerable knowledge of Windows to manage effectively. IMO you might be better off to consider something like this instead which I use myself.

You may also find this interesting:

by BearPup (not verified) on 1. August 2012 - 13:22  (97010)

Here is my security software in use without conflict or slowing down my system:
Windows Defender
Windows Firewall
TinyWall 2 to control Defender
Private Firewall v. 7
Avast Free v. 7 (Sandbox not used - I don't use unknown / unrated programs)
Threatfire v. 4.7
Malwarebytes Free (on demand scanner)

Your viewpoint....

by MidnightCowboy on 1. August 2012 - 13:27  (97011)

There is a certain amount of redundancy here and the potential for conflicts running Threatfire and Privatefirewall together. Plus, with Privatefirewall installed, Windows firewall is either disabled or bypassed (can't remember which) :)
Please move this discussion now into our forum if you need additional responses becaues this is off topic here and we need to reserve this space for Vic's own comments.

by BearPup (not verified) on 1. August 2012 - 13:49  (97015)

Didn't mean to go off topic....this discussion started because I was trying to remove icons from the Notification Tray - which I would still like to do!

by v.laurie on 31. July 2012 - 17:59  (96951)

Your question has made me decide to add a section to the article about the problem of old icons. I hope it helps.

by PaulMcDonald (not verified) on 31. July 2012 - 13:21  (96939)

One thing you can do as well is left click on one of the icons and then drag it either into the hidden area (ie the upward arrow area) or into the seen area.

If I am working on a family computer I always do this for Microsoft Security Essentials and that way mum can see the reassuring green icon with the white tick :-)

by shawnwhite (not verified) on 31. July 2012 - 12:22  (96936)

Ya know. I have a few apps that reset their value i set them to. Tomboy, for example, will not always stay shown after a reboot. I keep having to go into customize & set it back to "show icon & notifications".