The myth of refreshing the desktop

“Do you refresh your desktop?”. Ask this to any Windows user and 9 out of 10 will reply with a “yes”. Sometimes you might need to refresh the desktop but the majority of people who refresh their desktop don’t even know why they are doing it. Refreshing the desktop is perhaps the biggest computer myth among all Windows users.

refresh desktop cartoon

Every single person I have met does this or at least used to do it. The legacy of this remarkably useless trick, unfortunately, could not be traced back to the genius who invented it, but it has been handed down since them from one generation of clueless Windows users to the next. Most new users learn this trick from other users without attempting to find out what it achieves. Some do it just because others do it. Some even have weird explanations for it.

Some people assumes that it refreshes the RAM, while some others believe that doing it will somehow keep their PCs running smooth and easy. I have seen users obsessed with refreshing the desktop, doing it every 30 seconds or so. They have even learnt the keyboard shortcut – F5 (just to mention, these are the people who never use keyboard shortcuts). They would press the key and hold it down for a long time, sending the desktop into a frenzy of refreshes.

What does a desktop refresh actually do? Refreshing the desktop simply redraws the icons on the desktop. That’s it! It doesn’t refreshes the RAM. It doesn’t clean your PC. It doesn’t refreshes your computer the way it refreshes you when you wake up from a nap. Refreshing the desktop has absolutely no effect on the performance of the computer.

So why is the tool there? As I said, refresh is used to re-display or redraw the icons on the desktop. Sometimes when you make changes to the desktop icons and the change doesn’t get reflected instantly, you have to refresh the desktop. Say, you have the desktop icons set to arrange themselves alphabetically on your desktop. When you add a new item to the desktop, this item might not get arranged alphabetically and instead appear at the bottom of icon list on the desktop. When you refresh the desktop the newly added item would go to its proper position and all the icons would once more be sorted alphabetically. This is what refresh is for. It is to re-display the desktop. Refresh does the same thing when done inside Windows explorer.

So, if you are in the habit of refreshing the desktop, stop it. You are just wasting your time and effort. And the next time you see a person doing it, don’t forget to explain to him the futility of this action.

This Article Has 33 Comments
  1. Unknown Reply

    Wow, I learned something new today. I have never before heard of anyone refreshing their desktop, but if I find out that anyone I know is doing it, I will certainly tell them to stop being dumb.

  2. Thiruppullani Raguveeradayal Reply

    Then what happens when a website is “refreshed”? Quite often Gmail advises to refresh when the mail is slow to open or takes very long time to load? After your explanation I understand that refreshing desktop is different from refreshing a website. A note on my doubt will be most helpful

  3. Kaushik Patowary Reply

    Refreshing a website is completely different from refreshing a desktop. Refreshing a website reloads the page. It’s the same thing as re-opening the page. Sometimes due to high traffic a page might not load timely or stop loading altogether. In that case you have to reload the website. Refreshing the page is the easiest way to reload a site.

  4. Anonymous Reply

    This is where i went wrong. I had been telling my friends same thing about the referesh is meant for freeing RAM. Now I’m Wrong.
    Thanks a lot!

    {Vipin), KSA – Chip.In Member

  5. gopi Reply

    Gopi – Thanks for the valuable information. I used to do it a lot of times with my system.I have a question to ask. Some times my system gets stuck up and at that moment i used to refresh the desktop a lot. This effects in some improvement of systems response time. Is their any particular reason for this.


  6. Kaushik Patowary Reply

    @gopi: Your system might seem to get stuck because it is doing something else, like maybe your anti virus program is scanning some files in background. Or some open program is using the CPU. If you just wait for a few seconds the PC will become responsive again. Pehaps that is what is happening with your PC. Refreshing the desktop does not improve system performance in any way.

  7. gopi Reply


    Thanks kaushik.


  8. Anonymous Reply


  9. Anonymous Reply

    only idiots refresh their desktop.

    with that said…mine wont stop refreshing. ive been working on it for about a week now.

  10. Anonymous Reply

    when your windows xp will stop refreshing the desktop for itself the f5 button/refresh will be your friends again :).

  11. Anonymous Reply

    yes it is a stupid myth. i dunno from where it starts. But here in Indonesia almost every computer newbie doing it!
    I've tried to tell them that "refreshing desktop won't accelerate the internet connection"
    but they simply ignored it. And keep F5-ing the desktop >:(

  12. Anonymous Reply

    Well… I refresh it only when photoshop freezes and stop working with my tablet, after the refreshing, it works perfectly.

  13. Anonymous Reply

    That was a refreshing update. I have long been one of those idiots, who kept doing this despite not really knowing what exactly it does. (I guess, i should blame my 'Monica Geller' syndrome, which makes me happy just by thinking, "something is getting all freshened and cleaned up". I am stupid beyond limit is all I have to say.

    Nonetheless, I will, henceforth, refrain myself and others too from doing this unnecessarily.

  14. Anonymous Reply

    I was with my friend a while ago. I was explaining the same thing to him… but he is such a stubborn… So, I googled and got to this page and now he is also clear about this myth… He said, "F5 is the most free key in my key-board". He is home now. And, I m feeling gr8…

  15. Anonymous Reply

    honestly i never knew this,my friend told me it makes the computer smoother. i guess not……………damn, it would deffinately help in my case. my laptop has a 3GB ram but its still slower than my pc, which is about years older.

  16. Anonymous Reply

    Actually i realized that the first time i'am refreshing, the context menu takes longer to appear. And then it appear quickly at the subsequent attemps, which i believed improve the speed of my computer, then how can you explain this?

  17. Kaushik Patowary Reply

    @Anonymous: The next time, open the context menu on the desktop and then do nothing or choose any other option like Properties. Try it again, you will observe that the menu appears quicker (depending on the computer, of course). This has nothing to do with Refresh.

  18. Haresh Reply

    Well, I guess a small fraction of people use refresh to check whether the system responds fine i.e. if the desktop doesn't take much time to refresh itself, they'll start working on what they want too.

    Just a guess 😉

  19. Refresh Reply

    Well said, I already started telling people 😉

  20. Anonymous Reply

    It does reset the text under the icons,so you can clearly see the icons below.

  21. Anonymous Reply

    I've been using computers since '82 and I never heard of this until i met my wife 2 years ago. She does this about 5 times in a roll between running any program. She said all her friends back in china are taught this to make it run faster.

  22. aman Reply

    most of us have developed a habit of refreshing

  23. James Reply

    This was soo funny but useful at the same time thanks!

  24. Anonymous Reply

    Didn't windows used to have a "live" desktop option? You know with weather, stock ticker, etc… Maybe that's when the refresh got invented.

  25. Anonymous Reply

    I never heard of this. I was told to go to run and type in "ping" and that would help system run faster. I cam looking for a friend who wanted to know if there is a prog to automatically refresh your desktop. I just sent hin this article .

  26. Abhishek Reply

    Your Website theme seems to be messed up (at the moment when I am writing this). I hope it is temporary.

  27. Unknown Reply

    I am a victim of this. Why then does the computer works fine when you refresh for a number of times?

  28. Anonymous Reply

    😛 Was just going to start doing this, glad I researched it first. Cheers.

  29. Byan Reply

    well said article, i interested with what actually the refresh button do. you said , refresh button will re-arrange the un-ordered icon on desktop, but i'm trying to disorganized my desktop then refresh it.. then the icon is not re-arranged as u said on this blog.. :/

    i want to ask again, what actually this refresh do besides redraw the icon back?

    • CFWhitman Reply

      What "Refresh" actually does is re-read the contents of your "Desktop" directory and display the results of that read on the screen. This will only re-arrange icons if your settings for the desktop require a certain arrangement (some kind of sorting or auto-arrange is turned on). That is, "Refresh" makes what's in memory match what's actually on the disk.

      An example of when "Refresh" might actually be useful is if you have installed a program and set it to put a shortcut on the desktop or you have manually put a file or icon in your desktop directory and it hasn't shown up. Then you can hit "Refresh" to make sure you're actually seeing what's currently in your "Desktop" directory so you know whether the operation really failed or your desktop just wasn't updated to reflect the change.

      Normally the your desktop is updated on the fly or automatically refreshed after any change that affects the contents of your "Desktop" directory. Occasionally this doesn't happen for some reason. Only then will "Refresh" actually accomplish something.

  30. Anonymous Reply

    a refreshing piece of news to me

  31. Anonymous Reply

    Refresh everything! -Der Schrifiröfer

  32. Unknown Reply

    thanks for the information

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