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What are Thumbs.db Files and Can I Delete Them? (Windows)

Got thumbs.db in Windows Explorer? Here's what they are and what you can safely do with them.

I spend a good amount of time in Windows Explorer doing various tasks. Every now and then I run across a file I'm not familiar with and I'm not sure what to do with. Thumbs.db is a good example, it has an odd extension: .db.
You won't see any thumbs.db files unless you've checked "Show Hidden Files and Folders" in the Folder Options panel and are using the icon mode in Explorer, so if you haven't seen them that's probably why. :)
Thumbs.db is much like it's name. It stores graphics, movie, and some document files then generates a preview of the folder contents using a thumbnail cache.
These folders are generated automatically by Windows so that folder content doesn't need to be recalculated every time the folder is viewed.

You can disable thumbs.db from being created, which can be useful if you are low on disk space. I've used both modes (enabled and disabled) extensively and haven't noticed any system slow down or increased speed in viewing files. I usually have them disabled because, well, I don't like seeing them when I'm in Windows Explorer. :)
You can safely delete any thumbs.db file although Windows will automatically recreate it unless thumbs.db is disabled.

Here's how you can disable thumbs.db:

For Windows XP:

  • Open My Computer
  • Click on Tools
  • Click Folder Options
  • Click the View tab
  • Put a check in the box next to "Do not cache thumbnails"
  • Click on OK

You're done. :)
(you can close My Computer if you like)

For Windows Vista and Windows 7:

  • Click the Start button
  • Click on Control Panel
  • Click on Folder Options
  • Click on the View tab
  • Under the Files and Folders section check the button next to "Always show icons, never thumbnails"
  • Click on Apply
  • Click on OK

You may need to run Disk Cleanup in Vista or Windows 7 to remove any thumbs.db files that have already been created.
Here's how:

  • Go to Start
  • Go to Accessories
  • Go to System Tools
  • Go to Disk Cleanup
  • In Disk Cleanup: Drive Selection make sure the (C:) drive is showing
  • Click OK (disk cleanup will run a brief calculation and then end)
  • On the Disk Cleanup Menu make sure there's a check next to the Thumbnails entry.
  • Click OK, then on the Delete Files pop up - the files you selected will be cleaned, and you're done.

Off for now,

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by movestill on 10. June 2013 - 0:49  (108429)

Just came here to say what Killjoy999 mentioned. Bravo

"So, it's a good habit if you don't know the app and it just becomes automatic after a decade or so."

by Tejas (not verified) on 26. November 2012 - 3:44  (102909)

Should I delete it even though the thumbnail document is an important presentation for class? I was just wondering because I do not want to lose it.

by rhiannon on 26. November 2012 - 17:21  (102946)

The thumbnail is a small image of the document generated by Windows. As long as you have the original document the thumbnails can be safely deleted. :)

by BrainDigger (not verified) on 26. October 2012 - 17:23  (101402)

I thought I'd test this setting... And so I went and browsed around the Pictures library on Large Icons view... And it showed me thumbnails and everything... What makes me curious is that it created a Thumbs.db file every time I entered a folder that wasn't cached before but when I tried to delete it, instead of the usual "thumbs.db is being used by Windows Explorer" message, it told me that the file no longer exists and it would then disappear upon refreshing the folder.

Would anyone care to explain the situation? Are the files somehow hidden from me or are they really created and automatically deleted somehow?

by rhiannon on 26. October 2012 - 19:09  (101409)


The thumbs.db are system files (little database files). They are created and/or recreated when folders that contain images are viewed using the thumbnail view setting, and then changed to another view setting later.
You can only see them if you have the "Show Hidden Files" option turned on.
If you turn off the option to view thumbs.db, any existing thumbs.db files will still be there.
They have to be deleted manually if you want them gone.
I hope that answers your question. =)

by BrainDigger (not verified) on 27. October 2012 - 23:05  (101478)

I turned all "hide" functions off in the Folder Options window. That's not the situation. The thing is that when ever I go into an un-cached folder, as in a folder that hasn't had a Thumbs.db file in it before, After a second of looking at the folder, a Thumbs.db file would appear. Then if I tried to delete the file, I would get a message telling me that the file isn't there anymore.
If I refreshed the folder, the file would no longer appear. I'm just wondering if Windows is ignoring my settings and is creating these files in a way that's hidden from me or if it actually creates them and immediately deletes them afterwards.

Oh well, I guess it doesn't matter much as it doesn't happen the second time I come into the same folder...

by Fool4UAnyway (not verified) on 9. April 2012 - 13:04  (91803)

Yesterday I started installing my new Windows 7 pc, after having used XP satisfactorily for 9 years.

First thing I did was browse to this website to download recommended security tools, utilities etc.

Next thing are the worries about "how do I make this feature work like in XP".

I spent an hour or so to get rid off "access denied" messages, with no effect, but ended up here, finding the Folder Options that I can't find in the Explorer (I have Home Premium). You just have to open them via the Control Panel... And then finally, there is this button "Make all folders look like this (one)". What folder is this?! OMG, this is such a crappy OS when you are used to a rather pleasant one as XP...

I am already so frustrated about Win7, but thanks to this page, at least I have overcome one issue...

by BrainDigger (not verified) on 26. October 2012 - 14:34  (101388)

I didn't know that opening Folder Options from Control Panel was possible. I also moved to Windows 7 from XP and what I did is this: When you open Windows Explorer clock Organize, then Layout and then turn Menu Bar on... Now let out a big sigh of relief. Now everything is like in XP. Click Tools and then Folder Options like you're used to.

You're welcome.

Also, moving from XP to Win7 isn't half as bad as moving from 2000 to XP or from 98 to 2000. When I used XP for the first time I just immediately asked "Why does my computer think I'm an idiot?!". All these default settings in "new" Windows systems are meant to prevent new users, also known as complete idiots, from screwing their computer over... And save work for Microsoft tech support staff.

by rhiannon on 26. October 2012 - 17:12  (101399)

I'm with you on the Explorer/Organize/Layout/Menu Bar, it's one of those settings that I don't want to live without. =)

by rhiannon on 9. April 2012 - 20:15  (91817)

Fool4UAnyway; Going from XP to Windows is a bit of a shock, no doubt about it.
I'm not sure where you are when you see the "Make all folders look like this".
If you are in Folder Options (via the explorer toolbar) using that setting will cause all the folders to be grouped and sorted the way they are in the open window.
The other "make all folders look like this" will change the folder icons.

If you haven't checked out the site forums you might want to head over there, it's a great place to ask (and answer) questions with some top notch people. :)

by Fool4UAnyway (not verified) on 9. April 2012 - 22:28  (91818)

... where I am? See the steps above in this article. That's how I got there. It's kind of nonsense to make all folders look like this, when you aren't in any folder at all. That's what I meant.

I didn't find the option in Windows Explorer itself. The Options button didn't reveal any indication for it, and I REALLY don't know where else to look.

After several hours I am getting even more and more frustrated about the whole UAC. I applied the net ... active=yes "trick" and now I think I am getting even more warnings and blocks when writing files to roots of disks with my user account. I guess that's because the Administrator logon separated some of my privileges. I DON'T KNOW. I can't write files to the root of a drive directly anymore. I can move them from other folders and have to confirm. If I export bookmarks (to check if importing them was done correctly), I just get a message saying it didn't succeed (completely). This again is because I write to a root folder, but I get no indication at all that writing the file itself was the problem.

I wanted to allow my user account to do anything, everything, and get rid of all those annoying UAC messages, keeping those that may be useful. But this is really going into the wrong direction. Earlier I tried to "unindex" all files on my C: drive, but then I got messages about denied file access. What the halo! I am just unchecking a file property...

I am sorry to post this here, because it may seem irrelevant, but that is just what it is: this whole user/administrator blocking make no sense at all. But that is the Microsoft way, isn't it?

by AnonymousLDP (not verified) on 22. September 2011 - 0:31  (80071)

Thank you!!

by rhiannon on 22. September 2011 - 1:24  (80074)

@AnonymousLDP; You're welcome. :)

by danielhughes1987 on 14. June 2011 - 10:50  (73778)

I Was cleaning my picture folder and this file had over 9MB so I was trying to get rid of the bigger file like this. Yet windows kept telling me it was being used by a program, but, being windows it does not tell you which one! So trying to figure out and close the thing was driving me nuts. Great job for posting this article dude! :)

by rhiannon on 15. June 2011 - 3:34  (73812)

danielhughes1987: I'm glad the info came in handy. :)

by Ikbenhet (not verified) on 29. May 2011 - 0:54  (72883)

I did a search for *.db and besides a few "thumbs" it produces nearly 60 other files. Are there any others I can safely delete? I'm awfully low on discspace.
Thanks for the great articles

by rhiannon on 29. May 2011 - 4:18  (72892)

Ikbenhet: There are several files you can normally delete with no problem - Windows native disk cleaner does a good job of identifying files that it's ok to delete. These are usually temp files, some installation files left from downloads, and a handful of others.
For instance, if you've installed a service pack on a version of Windows and everything is going smoothly and you are sure you won't need them anymore you can usually delete those files.

Another option is to compress (or zip) files and store them that way, they take up less space.

I usually use Ccleaner to clean files on my system - I wouldn't use the registry clean part of it if you aren't comfortable with the registry. The file cleaning part is good - it allows you to check what files you do and do not want deleted. I don't delete any of the files listed in grey.

You can also check to see if you have flash cookies in your browser(s), they tend to take up a lot of space and can slow down browsing. I use a small utility called KFC (Kill Flash Cookies). It's portable and works with Firefox, Chrome, and IE.

by pauljustturned46 (not verified) on 29. May 2011 - 8:16  (72895)


Also you can go into add/remove programs in the Control Panel and see if there are any programs installed that you never use.

Just be careful though as you could end up removing things you need unless you are sure of what you are doing.

As an example, I had 9 versions of Java installed. I uninstalled all except for the latest one and saved tons of space.

I also had a huge trial of Microsoft Office. I use Libre Office so I uninstalled that.

I then googled stuff I wasn't sure of and managed all up to reclaim 10Gb of space. Yeah!

Good luck,


by rhiannon on 29. May 2011 - 23:27  (72911)

pauljustturned46: Good suggestion for freeing up disk. I use Revo Uninstaller to remove most programs, it seems to do a better job than the native Windows function. It does clean out registry entries associated with a program so if your aren't familiar with registry keys then stick with the Built-In or Safe mode.
There are two other uninstall modes, Moderate and Advanced. They are good if you have some experience with the registry.

by Christophe (not verified) on 27. May 2011 - 13:08  (72782)

I thought that thumbs is saving all the info about your picture. For example I add to a picture a geo tag "Italy". So are you saying now that when I delete thee thumbs I still will have all my geo tags, face recognition related to each picture?

by rhiannon on 28. May 2011 - 3:58  (72825)

Christophe: The thumbs.db has information about what's in each folder so that the information will display faster (though I've never noticed a slow down using them).
Anything you've added to your photos like geo tags will still be there. The thumbs.db just catalogs and displays what's in any given folder, it doesn't do anything to the folders contents.

by Urbane.Tiger on 27. May 2011 - 10:56  (72773)

I thought Vista & Windows 7 kept its thumbnail cache centrally, I never see any thumbs.db files. AFAIK they're in %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer, with names like thumbcache_96.db

And you turn them on & off via the Local Policy Editor - type gpedit.msc in start, then drill down to:-

User Configuration->Administrative Templates->Windows Components->Windows Explorer

At the top of the list are the three settings that control thumbnails, the Extended Tab will display details of what they each do.

by rhiannon on 28. May 2011 - 4:09  (72826)

Urbane Tiger: You would not see any thumbs.db files unless you've checked "Show Hidden Files and Folders" in the Folder Options panel, and, are also using the icon mode in Windows Explorer.

You can change these settings (and a lot more )in the Local Policy Editor if your Windows 7 edition supports it.

The Local Policy Editor is only available these Windows 7 versions:
- Professional
- Ultimate
- Enterprise

Local Policy Editor is not included in these Windows 7 versions:
- Windows 7 Starter
- Home Basic
- Home Premium editions.

by Anonymoussssssss (not verified) on 27. May 2011 - 10:03  (72771)

Thx alot, those files were always bugging me:

"Are you sure you want to delete thumbs.db... blabla"

cheers from Belgium

by Hoddo1812 (not verified) on 27. May 2011 - 8:59  (72768)

Fab thanks.

by Phylis Sophical on 26. May 2011 - 5:12  (72690)

Interesting. I always thought it had to do with generating thumbnails of photo's, .jpg and the like. Just to be clear, if I disable thumbs.db, I can still view my photo's as thumbnails?

by rhiannon on 26. May 2011 - 23:44  (72738)

Phylis Sophical: In Windows 7, if you disable thumbs.db, images such as .jpg and .png aren't viewable as thumbnails in Windows Explorer. What you see is the Windows default icon for that image type.

I don't have an XP machine around at the moment to test on, maybe someone else can answer?

by man0000 on 27. May 2011 - 9:42  (72769)

I run W7USP1 and thumbs.db deactivated. I see images (jpg, png, gif, etc...) without problems in explorer (from Medium Icons to Extra Large Icons visualization modes).

by rhiannon on 28. May 2011 - 4:14  (72827)

man0000: Huh, I get the generic icon. I haven't installed SP1 yet but that may not have anything to do with it. I'll do some experimenting and see what I come up with. :)

by Killjoy999 (not verified) on 26. May 2011 - 4:26  (72689)

Why click 'Apply'?

If he's like me it's an old habit from way back. Settings screens in many applications, including Microsoft sometimes don't 'Apply' the settings changes if you hit 'OK'. I believe that the standard is to make it work that way and usually does these days but it doesn't always work that way.

So, it's a good habit if you don't know the app and it just becomes automatic after a decade or so.