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How do I get rid of a ghost window?

What is a Ghost Window?

A ghost window, also known as a phantom window, is a window that appears on your desktop even though the application it belongs to is not open. It is essentially an empty window frame that shows up without any content inside.

Ghost windows usually occur when an application crashes or fails to close properly. Parts of the application may still be running in the background, causing the window to still appear on screen. However, since the program is not fully responsive, you cannot interact with the window at all.

Ghost windows can be frustrating because they take up space on your desktop and can overlap or obscure other open windows. Thankfully, getting rid of a ghost window is usually simple. Here are the common causes of ghost windows and how to remove them for good.

Common Causes of Ghost Windows

There are a few common culprits that tend to produce ghost windows on computers:

  • Application crashes or hangs: If an application encounters an error or hangs, it may not close out its windows properly. This leaves behind empty ghost windows.
  • Improperly closed apps: Force quitting an application or using Task Manager to end a process can sometimes leave windows dangling.
  • Display driver issues: Faulty or outdated graphics drivers can cause glitches that lead to ghost windows.
  • Multiple displays: On multi-monitor setups, an app window may get stranded on the wrong display.
  • Malware/spyware: Rarely, ghost windows may be caused by malicious software installing unwanted programs.

So if you notice a persistent ghost window after an application crashes or hangs, that is likely the source of the problem. Other times, it may not be clear what app the window belonged to.

How to Get Rid of a Ghost Window

Here are some step-by-step methods to try removing a stubborn ghost window from your desktop:

Method 1: Restart the Associated Application

If you can identify the application that the ghost window is coming from, restarting the app is worth a try:

  1. Right click on the ghost window and choose Close Window.
  2. Open Task Manager by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Esc (on Windows) or Command + Option + Esc (on Mac).
  3. Look for the associated application under the Processes tab.
  4. Select the application process and click End Task to force quit it.
  5. Reopen the application normally and see if the ghost window is gone.

Restarting the app essentially forces it to reload which may clear out any stuck windows. This method works well if you know which application the window is associated with.

Method 2: Log Out and Back In

If you cannot identify the source application or restarting it did not work, logging out and back into your account often helps:

  1. Save any open work and close any programs.
  2. Click the Start menu or Apple menu and select Log Out, Sign Out, or a similar option.
  3. At the login screen, sign back into your user account as normal.
  4. Once logged back in, check if the ghost window still appears.

Logging out resets the entire user session and clears out any stuck application processes when you log back in. Just make sure to save your work first.

Method 3: Use Task Manager to End Processes

Task Manager provides a way to view and force quit any processes associated with a ghost window:

  1. Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open Task Manager on Windows or Command + Option + Esc on Mac.
  2. Click on More Details if needed to expand Task Manager.
  3. Go to the Processes tab.
  4. Look for any application process that could be related to the ghost window.
  5. Select the process and click End Task to terminate it.
  6. Repeat for any other suspicious processes.

Ending the process from Task Manager can close orphaned windows if rebooting the app itself does not work.

Method 4: Update or Reinstall Display Drivers

On Windows, faulty display drivers are a common source of ghost windows. Updating them may help:

  1. Open Device Manager by right-clicking the Start menu and choosing it.
  2. Expand the Display adapters section.
  3. Right click on your graphics card driver and select Update driver.
  4. Allow Windows to automatically search and install an updated driver.
  5. Restart your computer after the driver update.

If updating does not work, try uninstalling the display driver completely, rebooting, and reinstalling the latest driver from the manufacturer’s website.

On Macs, graphics driver issues are less common, but you can try downloading the latest macOS updates which may contain fixes.

Method 5: Reset Window Manager

The window manager is what keeps track of open application windows. Resetting it may clear out phantom windows:

**On Windows:**

  1. Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open Task Manager.
  2. Go to the Details tab.
  3. Find the process called explorer.exe.
  4. Select it and click Restart to restart the process.

**On Mac:**

  1. Open Activity Monitor in /Applications/Utilities/
  2. Search for WindowServer under Process Name.
  3. Select it and click the “X” icon to force quit it.

Restarting the window manager essentially reloads the list of open windows which may eliminate any ghost windows.

Method 6: Check for Malware

While less likely, malware or adware could potentially cause ghost windows to appear as unwanted programs load.

Run a full system antivirus scan to check for any infections. On Windows, use built-in Microsoft Defender or third-party software like Malwarebytes. On Mac, try built-in tools like XProtect or MalwareBytes for Mac.

Removing any malware or unwanted programs can clear up ghost windows happening due to malicious software.

How to Prevent Ghost Windows

To avoid dealing with ghost windows in the first place, here are some tips:

  • Close apps properly: Always use the Close button or Quit/Exit command instead of forcing apps to close.
  • Update apps/OS: Keep your applications and operating system updated to avoid crashes.
  • Don’t overload system resources: Ghost windows can appear if you have too many intensive apps open at once.
  • Check for driver/software conflicts: Conflicts between software and drivers can cause glitches leading to ghost windows.
  • Use a task manager: Use Task Manager or Activity Monitor to periodically end unwanted processes.
  • Reboot regularly: Reboot your computer every few days to clear out any stuck processes.

Following general computer maintenance best practices can go a long way towards avoiding ghost window issues.


Ghost windows are harmless, but can get in the way by cluttering up your desktop. Thankfully, they are usually easy to banish.

Try restarting the associated app, logging out and back in, closing processes in Task Manager, updating drivers, or resetting the window manager. For prevention, always close programs properly, keep software updated, avoid overloading your system, and reboot regularly.

With the right technique, you can exorcise ghost windows and restore a clean desktop. Just be patient and persistent until you find the solution that works. The phantom window will soon disappear so you can get back to uninterrupted productivity.