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Create a Shortcut or Hotkey to Turn the Desktop Icons On or Off

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If you’ve got loads of icons cluttering up your desktop, you might want a quick way to turn them off without using the context menu, here’s a quick and easy way to make a shortcut key to turn them on or off.

Note: this article was originally written a couple of years ago, but we figured we’d polish it up and update it for Windows 7 and share it with our readers again.

Create a Shortcut to Toggle the Desktop Icons

The solution comes through a small utility written by one of the Desktop Sidebar programmers (an alternate sidebar with loads of modules). Just so we’re clear, this utility does the same thing as a right-click on the desktop and toggling the “Show Desktop Icons” item.

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Setting Up the Shortcut

The first thing you’ll need to do is download the HideDesktopIcons application and save it somewhere other than the desktop, preferably somewhere where it won’t be deleted—you could put it under your Program Files folder if you wanted to.

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If you’re using Windows 7, all you need to do is right-click on the file and choose Pin to Taskbar or Pin to Start Menu, depending on where you want it. We’ll put it on the Start Menu so we can assign a hotkey to it.

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If you’re using a previous version of Windows and you’d like to put it on the Quick Launch bar, you can do that by opening up Explorer and typing the following into the address bar—just keep in mind that shortcuts on the Quick Launch bar don’t allow shortcut keys, so you’ll need to copy it to the Start Menu as well.

shell:Quick Launch

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Now you have a shortcut that can be used for quick access…

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To assign a hotkey, right-click on the shortcut in the Start Menu and choose Properties to assign a hotkey (I use Ctrl+Alt+D since it’s easy to remember).

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Now you can access the desktop icons through a shortcut icon or shortcut key.

Supporting Files (If Needed)

If you get an error when you try to run this application, you probably need to have the Microsoft C++ runtime installed, which you can get get from the following link:

Microsoft Visual C++ 2005 Redistributable Package (x86)

Download Application

Note: we normally wouldn’t host a download, but the original source appears to be gone.

Download HideDesktopIcons Application (How-To Geek Mirror Copy)

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/10/10

Comments (77)

  1. Joel Thomas

    Oh! This is simpler :)

  2. Stephen

    I prefer to put all of my shortcuts into a folder on the desktop and then create a toolbar that references that folder. Then I move that toolbar either to the side or top of my screen and set it to auto-hide. If you want to create a lot of folders you can potentially be incredibly organized with shortcuts this way.

  3. Eric

    Nice simple tool.
    It works fine with me and so far no problem using the shortcuts.

  4. Keith

    I love your desktop wallpaper, and need it. Please help!

  5. Paul

    This is great, but I’d just like to note that in order for the app to work you have to change the “Start In” field of the shortcut to your desktop (atleast, in my case I did). I put the HideDesktop.exe file in my program files folder and because it started there as default I had to change it to make it work. Not sure if its just me, but I’ll put it out there in case anyone else runs into the same problem (:

  6. tzai

    Here is a one line autohotkey.com script that toggles the desktop icons on/off. Compile it and make a hotkey to the .exe and voila:

    PostMessage, 0×111, 28755,,, ahk_class Progman

  7. Sebas

    Nice how. The wallpaper seems to be nice. do you know where to find it?

  8. The Geek

    I got the desktop wallpaper from here: http://www.desktopgaming.com

  9. Ryei

    Hello. So I’m trying to create the shortcut.. How do I create it? I right clicked the desktop and clicked new shortcut and wrote shell:Quick Launch in the location… it said it didn’t find the location? :)

  10. shelded

    Geek you did well. Exactly what I had in mind, it’s the illusion of cleanliness with little inconvenience. The app works even when other windows are maximized so I can drag desktop icons into my open windows.

  11. Todd Corson

    The AutoHotkey script is cool, but it does something strange on my system. I have dual monitors and I have a large wallpaper file that’s tiled across both displays. When I run the AutoHotkey script, the images on the monitors swap positions! Also, it takes much longer than the utility the Geek gave us, although the wallpaper switching may be what’s slowing it down.

    I actually added a shortcut to the HideDesktopIcons application into my regular AutoHotkeys script. I “overloaded” the Winkey+D function so that pressing it once shows the desktop as usual, but pressing it quickly twice in a row toggles the visibility of my icons. Here’s the code for that if anyone is interested:

    #d::Gosub, WinDLauncher ;Desktop & Desktop Icon controls

    ;SUBROUTINES
    WinDLauncher:
    KeyWait, d ;wait for the d key to be released
    KeyWait, d, D T0.6 ;wait 0.6 seconds to see if d key is pressed again
    if ErrorLevel ;if d wasn’t pressed again
    Send #d ;echo back the Win+D key combination
    else
    Run, %ProgramFiles%\HideDesktopIcons\HideDesktopIcons.exe ;otherwise, show/hide the desktop icons
    Return

    Of course you don’t need to do it as a subroutine, but I like to have all my hotkeys as single lines so they’re easier to manage.

    Have fun!

  12. Stejam02

    I just dragged the program down to the quick launch.
    So now win+8 = hide icons.

  13. Col67

    I did this a few weeks back but I don’t want it now – is there a way to turn it off? Everytime I turn my laptop off my icons are hidden and I have to go into Quicklaunch to unhide them so would I be able to cancel this?

    Thanks

  14. Najkiie

    It worked for me for like 15 minutes then it just refused to work :S

    Im running Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit… any ideas?

  15. John

    Col67

    I did this a few weeks back but I don’t want it now – is there a way to turn it off? Everytime I turn my laptop off my icons are hidden and I have to go into Quicklaunch to unhide them so would I be able to cancel this?

    Thanks

    Shred the file using a secure shredder such as the one in spybot or vcom system suites. Reboot your pc and then delete the folder.

  16. The Geek

    You can simply right-click on the desktop and chose to show the icons, which should stick after reboots.

  17. Liam

    @Najkiie

    It gets messed up if you also have pressed “Show Desktop”. Somehow gets thrown out of sync. Press show desktop again and then the shortcut to get it back working.

  18. najkiie

    @Liam

    oh it worked, thnx alot dude :D

  19. Asi

    You sir are a god amongst men; thanks for the helping hand!

  20. jason

    anyone want to update this to work on windows 7?

  21. Son

    I agree with Jason. Love it, want it to work with Win 7

  22. Alex

    if anyone gets this working on windows 7, please post a comment here; I used pin the shortcut to rocketdock and it worked like a charm, a very clean desktop that could instantly switch to fully functional

  23. Diaboliquin

    It works like a charm, tested in Windows 7 + ObjectDock

    Thanks!!!

  24. Beth

    I have been looking for a solution like this for a while. It worked for my XP laptop but not for my Windows 7 desktop. Well… I just found an amazing little app that hides and restores the desktop icons using ONE keystroke and it works for me on Windows 7 (they claim it works on Vista as well). I love it. Just Google “toggle desktop icons hotkey” and you will find it.

  25. Shabaab

    Some people (myself included) might find it more convenient to download Stardock Fences; whenever it is on, you can double-click the desktop to hide/reveal icons.

  26. relaxed4u

    Thanks, this is realy nice app.
    I find here allways somenthing new and useful… :)

  27. ElQuia

    It works in windows 7 x64 BUT with one caveat: If your theme has multiple wallpapers selected on autochante it does NOT work. If you have a single wallpaper selected, be that with windows personalization applet or as in my case with xnview it DOES work.
    I nearly went crazy until I found out this!!! :)

  28. Paft

    This doesn’t work for me any more… On x86.

  29. Diane

    I had various icons on my desktop before I went to sleep and now they are not there. But they are in the area where you can delete them (uninstall/change program). I have no idea what happened to them. (My kids may have done something to it.) How do I get my icons where they were before? Please help. Thank you for your help.
    Yours Truly,
    Diane McDonald

  30. peter

    this app does absolutely nothing on my win7

  31. Paft

    Yeah, it stopped working…

  32. EQuia

    Guys for me it works:
    If your theme has multiple wallpapers selected on autochange it does NOT work. If you have a single wallpaper selected, be that with windows personalization applet or as in my case with xnview it DOES work.

  33. red

    Works in Windows 7.

    Uninstalled microangelo on-display and fences.

    Ran “HideDesktopIcons.exe” in “Windows Vista” compatibility mode and checked “Run this program as administrator” (Both options changed for all users).

  34. Illuminaut

    Very good work. A good tool for free. Works with my Win 7 installation without any problem.

  35. Soulfinger

    I used this for vista and worked perfectly, I recently installed Windows 7 and now it only works if I select windows 7 basic theme or with the single image windows 7 theme (but occasionally!)

    I actually like the new windows 7 theme in the way it changes desktop background at a set time but really need this handy app.

    Is there a way to use this with Windows 7 or is there an alternative that will work with Windows 7 no matter what settings are?

    Appreciate any response, Cheers!

  36. deanmitc

    I installed this on my laptop with Vista 32 bit. The shortcut icon is in the Quick Launch Bar. When I click on the shortcut nothing happens – the icons do not disappear, an error message does not appear, nothing. What am I doing wrong?

    Dean

  37. Kalle

    I can’t get this to work in win 7 Home Premium. I have a single wallpaper and I have the compatibility changed to vista? nothing is happening when I click the icon in taskbar…

  38. Colin

    Best short-cut I have come across so far. Would be great if there was a similar short-cut to toggle ‘gadgets’ as well. Can this be done do you think?

  39. John

    Hi, can’t get this to work in W7 Pro x64, any new software to download?
    Thanks.

  40. Zeke Lang

    Win7 Pro 64. Worked great for me. Didn’t need Microsoft Visual C++ 2005 Redistributable Package (x86). Just downloaded, extracted the exe file, created a shortcut on the desktop, pinned the shortcut to the taskbar and deleted the desktop shortcut. One click works great, love it.

  41. Mohammad Elsheimy

    Very nice tip, thanks for sharing :)

  42. jon_hill987

    I use the free version of Stardock Fences myself. Double click on empty space and it toggles hide. You can even exclude individual icons from the quick hide, for example if you want the recycle bin to remain visible.

  43. aust

    hm, I can’t get this to work in win 7 ultimate… sometimes works, sometimes not… anyone have a solution?

  44. DoR

    WHY DOES THIS POST OWNED?!!

    (^.^)

  45. Paultx

    It works only if launched directly, not via shortcut on the Superbar or on the Quick Launch taskbar. Win7 Ultimate 64-bit.

  46. The Geek

    Guys, I’ve tested this thoroughly on Windows 7 64-bit, and I can’t duplicate the problem – it always works fine for me.

  47. Paultx

    Weird!!!! I repeated the shortcut creation in the app’s folder then dragged the shortcut to the QL taskbar… and it worked! I’m scared! Anyway, thanks for the tip!

  48. Paultx

    First I thought it had something to do with admin restrictions here at work, but then I now know where is the issue: it doesn’t work if I go to the desktop via Windows+D. If I do, I need to bring some app to the foregorund for the app to work. Test it, please.

  49. jonas

    you should work now…

  50. aust

    i figured out when it doesen’t work.

    when i press show desktop button (bottom right) it won’t respond, but when i press it agan, then it works. any suggestions how to make it work with “show desktop” because i use it all the time?

    I hate that problems with “show desktop”, just like in rocket dock…

  51. Ushindi

    I’m one of the Stardock “Fences” guys – works perfectly to hide or unhide icons, and also lets you “fence” them in. A great little free program.

  52. Shree Mulay

    It worked for me initially. Now it doesn’t at all!??!?!?!??? Seems to have become a common problem. I’m on Windows 7. Any ideas ANYONE????

  53. AcidSpoon

    While I understand the convenience of using built in Windows things to do something like this, I really prefer fences myself. Not only can it do this (just by double-clicking the desktop) but you can also create “fences” to group your icons and files.

  54. vistamike

    Works fine in Win 7 Ult 32 bit. Just makes life a little easier

  55. Hariks

    Just install Fences and double click the desktop to toggle show/hide desktop icons. :)

  56. JeRrYFaR

    Todd Corson:

    You’re AutoHotkey script works great! I added it at the bottom of my script and have no issues. Kudos on this as I too have multiple monitors.

    Mucho apprciato!

  57. chris

    Rt click and un-show desktop icons?

    That was the bleedin trick mate,

    Brilliant !

    I forgot about that one – Ace-o-mongo

    (no need for an app)

  58. Chris

    Awesome – this solves my issues with the icons rearranging when I switch monitor configurations between laptop, dual screens and projectors. I just hide the icons before I switch, then unhide them when I am ready to work. Thank you!

  59. ali

    it’s better way to use “fences public”softwareyou can hids your icons with double click on desktop

  60. vonvon

    100% work

  61. lauris

    Thank you very much.
    it worked perfect fro me,

  62. Andres

    Its not working for me, ive installed the package and ran the exe and nothing happened

  63. Jeff

    It wouldn’t work for me, either, and I figured out why. Seems it won’t work if you’re also running DeskTask by Carthago Software. So, if it’s not working for you, try closing down some other individual programs and try HideDesktopIcons after each one, until you figure out which one is causing the problem. Then, you’ll have to decide which program/utility you like better. For me, I love the functionality and coolness of HideDesktopIcons, but I’ll have to keep DeskTask instead.

  64. jon

    any one with problem of it not doing anything when clicked, just restart. works fine for me now :)

  65. mike

    Doesn’t work for me with Win7 ultimate-32, works on my office PC with XP perfectly.

  66. Flashlite

    Nice tutorial, ny desktop icons look really dull because I have lots of emulators on my computer and some of them are on my desktop, with their icons being ruined by shortcut arrows. Icons actually ruin the entire wallpaper, even when I have just 7 of them on an 1920×1080 screen (with the first three being Recycle Bin, IE (IE9, of course) and Fraps). Thank you! By the way, that wallpaper made me smile.

  67. Paultx

    It stopped working… Now I do the thing right-clicking on the desktop and quickly hitting the underlined letters for View and Show desktop icons…

  68. Dustin BC

    Ya idk why, it could have been a microsoft update or something but this no longer works :’(

    I hope you guys can fix this and send another app out quick… I really like the whole shortcut key thing for hiding my icons

  69. Narges

    works fine for me, thanks

  70. xoxo1011

    You can drag the icon to the toolbar and it will appear :D Thanks! It worked well to me

  71. Вова

    А лучше всего сделать невидимую папку и перетощить всё в неё и воля стол пустой!☺☻♀♪♫

  72. peter

    it’s not working on my win 7 64 bit pc at all,it won’t go through the fire wall,even i allow it<maybe anyone can help?

  73. Chris

    Thanks!

    I’m putting this in a fake virus to scare my little cousin…. When it is all done it will look like it deleted everything! THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME!!!!

  74. Anand

    It worked for the first time when I downloaded it and use the shortcut but after that it is not working. If i have to restart everytime to make this work then its not very useful.

  75. Michael

    I noticed that when I have my original HP theme in place, this utility works fine. But if I switch to a theme called Antartic, then it doesn’t work. When I switch back it works again. So perhaps for some people having problems with this utility, the problem could be theme related.

  76. romic

    thankssssss so muchhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  77. yellowfellow

    NOW THIS GIVES A CLASSY TOUCH TO MY WORKSPACE. THANK YOU REALY MUCH!!

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