Using PowerShell to Delete Files [All the Ways]

June Castillote

June Castillote

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Maintaining free disk space is crucial when managing servers and systems. As admins, you wouldn’t want to get caught unaware of a ‘disk full’ situation. We all know where that situation leads – dismounted database, stopped services, inaccessible website, and the list goes on.

One crucial task of maintaining disk space is what admins refer to as housekeeping. Housekeeping often involves deleting old, unused, and useless files. There are many ways to perform housekeeping, but automation should always be the preferred way unless automation really isn’t an option.

Using PowerShell to delete files is an efficient way to perform disk space maintenance. Because with PowerShell, the housekeeping task can be automated using scripts. The logic for filtering or error handling can be added for a more controlled process of deleting files.

In this article, you will learn how to make use of the WMI delete method and the Remove-Item cmdlet to delete files using PowerShell.

Prerequisites

This article presents examples using PowerShell, and if you plan to follow along, you will need the following.

Get-CimInstance and Invoke-CimMethod: Deleting Files using WMI in PowerShell

PowerShell comes with support for WMI. And support for WMI means that WMI queries and methods can be called from within PowerShell. Yes, WMI is not just for Visual Basic scripts that admins used in the earlier days of Windows.

The WMI-specific CIM cmdlets were released in PowerShell 3.0. The CIM cmdlets that will be used to delete files are the Get-CimInstance and Invoke-CimMethod.

In PowerShell 2.0, the first WMI cmdlets were released, which are not mentioned in this article in favor of the CIM cmdlets. To learn more, please visit Should I use CIM or WMI with Windows PowerShell?

Example 1: Using PowerShell to Delete a File (WMI)

This example assumes that you know the path of the specific file to delete. The Get-CimInstance cmdlet with the Cim_DataFile class is used to retrieve the information about the file to delete which is C:\Temp\random.txt.

PS> $file2delete = Get-CimInstance -ClassName Cim_DataFile -Filter "Name = 'C:\\Temp\\random.txt'"
PS> $file2delete

In the above code, the -Filter parameter accepts a WQL format query. Using WQL requires that some characters are escaped including the backslash. And, since the WQL escape character is also the backslash, resulting in the double-backslash characters – \\.

Running the code above produces the result shown in the demonstration below. The information about C:\Temp\random.txt is saved to the $file2delete variable

Getting a file using WMI query and PowerShell
Getting a file using WMI query and PowerShell

Now that the information for the file C:\Temp\random.txt is retrieved, the resulting object in the $file2delete variable can be piped to the Invoke-CimMethod cmdlet. The Invoke-CimMethod cmdlet has a parameter called -Name, which represents the name of the method of the Cim_DataFile class.

$file2delete | Invoke-CimMethod -Name Delete

The result of the command above is shown below. As you see in the screenshot below, the ReturnValue shows 0, which means that the command was successful.

File successfully deleted using WMI and PowerShell
File successfully deleted using WMI and PowerShell

To know about the possible ReturnValue codes, please refer to this link – Delete method of the CIM_DataFile class

Additionally, the screenshot below shows that after running the Invoke-CimMethod Delete method, only the C:\Temp\random.txt file was deleted. All the other files are left untouched.

C:\Temp\random.txt file was deleted
C:\Temp\random.txt file was deleted

Example 2: Using PowerShell to Delete All Files in Folder (WMI)

In this next example, show you how to delete all files in a folder using PowerShell and WMI. The same cmdlets used in the previous example, which are Get-CimInstance and Invoke-CimMethod, will be used. But, this time, the WQL query will retrieve all files in the folder instead of just one specific file.

In this next code, the Get-CimInstance cmdlet retrieves all files located in C:\temp. As you can see below, the query filters the Drive and Path properties of the Cim_DataFile class.

$file2delete = Get-CimInstance -ClassName Cim_DataFile -Filter "Drive = 'c:' AND Path = '\\temp\\'"

Running the code above saves the retrieved information about the files in C:\temp in the $file2delete variable. Viewing the value(s) of the $file2delete variable shows the output below.

List of all folders found in c:\temp using WMI
List of all folders found in c:\temp using WMI

Now, the values stored in the $file2delete variable can be piped to the Invoke-CimMethod to delete all files in c:\temp.

$file2delete | Invoke-CimMethod -Name Delete

After running the command above in PowerShell, the result is shown below. Remember, the ReturnValue code of 0 means successful, and for each file that the delete method was called on will have its own ReturnValue code.

All files in c:\temp deleted using WMI
All files in c:\temp deleted using WMI

Example 3: Using PowerShell to Delete Files By Extension (WMI)

You’ve seen in the previous example how to delete all files in a folder regardless of extension. However, control over which files get deleted based on extension can also be achieved.

You’ll notice in the code below, this time the query has an added condition (Name LIKE '%.log). This added condition means that only files that match the .LOG extension is returned. The percent (%) sign is a WQL LIKE operator that means “A string of zero or more characters”. In programming terms, the %is the equivalent of a wildcard, which is the asterisk (*) character.

PS> $file2delete = Get-CimInstance -ClassName cim_datafile `
-Filter "Drive = 'c:' AND Path = '\\temp\\' AND Name LIKE '%.log'"

PS> $file2delete | Invoke-CimMethod -Name Delete

The demonstration below shows that before the code above is executed, there are nine *.LOG files and only one *.TXT file. Once the code is done running, the *.LOG files are deleted and the *.TXT file is the only file left in the folder.

Deleting files by extension using WMI
Deleting files by extension using WMI

Get-ChildItem and Remove-Item: The PowerShell Way to Delete Files

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are two ways to delete files in PowerShell that you will learn here. You’ve already gone through the first one which is using the WMI delete method using the CIM cmdlets Get-CimInstance and Invoke-CimMethod.

In this section, you will learn about the cmdlet that is specifically for deleting items in PowerShell, the Remove-Item cmdlet. Another cmdlet that works hand in hand with Remove-Item is the Get-ChildItem cmdlet, which is used to retrieve the list of files and folders.

Did you know that the Remove-Item cmdlet has an alias by the name of del? When working in PowerShell, using Remove-Item or del will run the same command.

WMI vs. Get-ChildItem and Remove-Item

As you start to learn about the Remove-Item cmdlet and how to use it to delete files, you will notice that it is a lot easier to use than using the CIM cmdlets with WMI. Easier to use because instead of creating WQL queries, there are parameters available that help you control the delete operation.

Additionally, using a built-in cmdlet in PowerShell to retrieve file information and then delete them is much faster than when using WMI. The example below shows the comparison when using WMI and the built-in PowerShell cmdlet to get the list of files under the C:\windows\web directory and its sub-directories.

# List all files in C:\Windows\Web\ recursively using Get-ChildItem
Measure-Command { Get-ChildItem C:\Windows\Web\ -Recurse}
# List all files in C:\Windows\Web\ recursively using Get-CimInstance and WMI Query
Measure-Command { Get-CimInstance -ClassName Cim_DataFile -Filter "Drive = 'c:' AND Path = '\\windows\\web\\%'"}

When you run the code above in PowerShell, you’ll see the output similar below.

Get-ChildItem vs. Get-CimInstance with WMI Query
Get-ChildItem vs. Get-CimInstance with WMI Query

As you can see from the output shown above, listing the files in C:\windows\web almost took ten times longer using Get-CimInstance than the time it took for Get-ChildItem to complete.

Also, did you notice how the Get-ChildItem line is much shorter than Get-CimInstance? Not only you get faster execution using Get-ChildItem, but you also benefit from a cleaner and shorter code.

Example 1: Using PowerShell to Delete a File

The first example that would be most useful is the most basic – that is, deleting a single file. To delete just a single file, you only need to use the command below. The code below deletes the file C:\temp\random.txt.

Remove-Item -Path C:\temp\random.txt

Running the code above in PowerShell would not show anything on the screen unless an error was encountered.

Example 2: Using PowerShell to Delete All Files in Folder

In this example, the code below will delete all files in a folder. The Get-ChildItem cmdlet targets  C:\temp with the -Path parameter. The -Fileparameter indicates that the only type of item to be included are files. Folders are ignored.

Get-ChildItem -Path C:\temp -File | Remove-Item -Verbose

As mentioned, the code above deletes all files in the C:\temp folder. The output should look like this screenshot below.

Successfully deleted all files in a folder
Successfully deleted all files in a folder

Example 3: Using PowerShell to Delete All Files Recursively and Dealing with the Long Path Problem

In the previous example, only the files in the directory C:\temp are deleted. If you need to also delete the files inside every sub-directory, you need to add the -Recurse switch to the Get-ChildItem cmdlet to get all files recursively.

Get-ChildItem -Path C:\temp -File -Recurse | Remove-Item -Verbose

Running the above code forces PowerShell to look into all sub-folders and retrieve all the list of files. The output below shows that the code was able to delete files in the top folder; however, it failed to retrieve the files in the sub-folders.

Failed to retrieve files in sub-folders
Failed to retrieve files in sub-folders

The error shown above indicates that the PowerShell “could not find a part of the path”. That error is indicative that the path the cmdlet is trying to get to does not exist – which is misleading. In this case, the error was because the path that the Get-ChildItem is trying to read exceeds the maximum path length of 260 characters.

The screenshot below shows that the path or directory and its sub-directories exist and that there is one text file named InTooDeep.txt located in the bottom-most sub-directory. The combination of all the characters that make up the nested directory names creates a long path problem.

Nested directories creating a long path name
Nested directories creating a long path name

In Windows PowerShell 5.1, there is a workaround to the long path name problem. The workaround is to use the Unicode version of the path. Instead of specifying the path like this – C:\temp, use the Unicode version like this – ‘\\?\C:\temp’ for folders located locally, or ‘\\?\UNC\<computername>\<share>\Temp’ if the folder is located in a UNC path.

Get-ChildItem -Path '\\?\C:\temp' -File -Recurse | Remove-Item -Verbose

Using the modified code above that caters to the long path name, the output below shows that PowerShell was able to read the deeply nested path name successfully and deleted the file.

Deleted the file with a long path name
Deleted the file with a long path name

Note that the long path name problem does not affect PowerShell 7.0. With PowerShell 7.0, there is no need to use the Unicode version of the path because it already has built-in support for long path names.

If the folders need to be deleted, too, just remove the -File parameter from the Get-ChildItem cmdlet, and PowerShell should delete all items, including files and folders.

Example 4: Using PowerShell to Delete Files Older Than x Days

Another typical example of disk space housekeeping is deleting files that are older than a specific number of days. I can tell from experience that this example is useful for removing old log files, like those generated by IIS web servers, to free up disk space.

In this example, there are files in c:\temp that are older than 14 days. Using the script below, the Name, CreationTIme, and AgeInDays of each file in c:\temp is shown.

Get-ChildItem c:\temp | `
Select-Object Name,CreationTime,@{n='AgeInDays';e={(New-TimeSpan -Start $PSItem.CreationTime).Days}}

As you can see in the screenshot below, there are files that are 15 days old, 7 days old, and 0 days old.

List of files in c:\temp
List of files in c:\temp

Now that the files are confirmed and that there are files older than 14 days, a script can be created to only delete files that are older than a specific number of days – in this case, older than 14 days.

In this example script below, files in C:\temp whose CreationTime value is older than the set threshold will be deleted.

The first line defines the path where the files will be searched. The path is saved in the $path variable. Then, the second line is where the threshold is specified. The value of the $threshold the age in days that the file to be deleted must be.

The next line of code after the $threshold variable will:

  • Get the collection of files located in the folder specified in the $path variable. In this example, the path is C:\temp.
  • Filter the output to include only files whose CreationTime value is older than the number of days saved in the $threshold variable. In this example, the threshold is 14 days.
  • Pipe the filtered list of files to the Remove-Item value to perform deletion of those files.
$path = 'C:\Temp'
$threshold = 14
Get-ChildItem -Path $path -File | Where-Object {$PSItem.CreationTime -lt (Get-Date).AddDays(-$threshold)} |Remove-Item -Verbose

When the script above is run in PowerShell, the screenshot below shows the expected output.

The script deleted the files older than 14 days
The script deleted the files older than 14 days

Notice that from the screenshot above, based on the verbose message, the script only deleted five files that are older than 14 days. To confirm that files newer than 14 days are left untouched, run the code below to list them again

Get-ChildItem c:\temp | `
Select-Object Name,CreationTime,@{n='AgeInDays';e={(New-TimeSpan -Start $PSItem.CreationTime).Days}}

The result below confirms that newer files were not deleted.

Newer files are left untouched
Newer files are left untouched

Example 5: Using PowerShell to Delete Selected Files

Deleting all files, regardless of name, type, or extension is not always the best approach. Sometimes certain files may need to be explicitly excluded or included in the deletion process.

This next example below shows how to delete the files that match *.LOG filename. One way of doing it by using the Remove-Item cmdlet directly with the use of the -Include parameter, as shown below.

Remove-Item -Path C:\temp\* -Include *.log

Another way is, perhaps, the cautious approach is to use Get-ChildItem first to collect the list of files to be deleted. Only when you’re satisfied with the list of files for deletion, you can finally pipe the collection to the Remove-Item cmdlet.

For example, the code below gets that *.LOG files in c:\temp.

Get-ChildItem -Path C:\temp\* -Include *.log

As a result of the code above, the list of files matching the – *.LOG filename is returned, like the output below.

Only files matching the *.log filename is returned
Only files matching the *.log filename is returned

But, what if you want to exclude a file that contains the number 5 in its name? You can do so by adding the -Exclude parameter like this next code.

Get-ChildItem -Path C:\temp\* -Include *.log -Exclude *5*

And since the file with the number 5 is excluded, the result now will be different. Specifically, the file File_5.log is no longer on the list, as shown below.

The file File_5.log was excluded
The file File_5.log was excluded

When you’re already satisfied with the collection of files that your code creates, then you can pipe the files collection to the Remove-Item cmdlet to finally delete those files.

Get-ChildItem -Path C:\temp\* -Include *.log -Exclude *5* | Remove-Item -Verbose

After running your final code, you will have achieved your goal of deleting only the files you selected.

Deleting selected files
Deleting selected files

Conclusion

In this article, you’ve seen the two different ways you can use PowerShell to delete files. These two ways are by using the CIM cmdlet with the WMI delete method, and the Remove-Item coupled with the Get-ChildItem cmdlet.

You’ve learned how these two methods are different from each other. In the end, using the Get-ChildItem and Remove-Item cmdlet proved to be more flexible, easier, and faster to use than when using WMI.

The possible combinations of strategies to use PowerShell for deleting files are just too vast to cover in a single article. However, by following the examples provided in this article, I hope you were able to gain a better understanding of the different ways to delete files in PowerShell.

I urge you to try to come up with a script that can perform the disk space housekeeping for you. Sure some scripts already exist for that purpose; by all means, use them as a reference, but if you’re willing to practice and learn, you should try to create your own.

Perhaps you can add improvements like instructing PowerShell to delete a file if it exists or add event logging with an email report. That’d be really cool!

Further Reading

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