Get Rid of Phantom Workflows

On many older lists and workflows I have worked with, I have noticed many workflows that continue to be triggered long after they have been deleted or unactivated. It appears that these phantom workflows continue to be triggered when lists are created from list templates (from an .stp file). I suspect a SharePoint bug is responsible for this annoying, and difficult to diagnose behavior. This rogue workflow problem came from a standard, OOTB SharePoint list and workflow (no Nintex or other third-party products.)

I tried solving this by opening up the list with SharePoint Designer, searching for all the site workflows, and deleting all associated workflows to the list. After all this, the steady stream of email notifications the phantom workflow generated continued.

I finally solved this problem by opening up the list columns in SP Designer, and clicking “Read Only Fields”. This will show several read only fields, such as ID, Created, Created By, Modified, etc., that are automatically populated by SharePoint. Workflows will also appear in Read Only Mode, and the types of these are “Workflow Status”.

Next, click the phantom workflow that has refused to die, and click “Delete”. Save the list changes. You should receive an error message like the one below:

Click OK to dismiss the alert. Despite the error message, the list should save properly, and the phantom workflow finally disappeared.

*I do not promise this trick will work for all “phantom workflow” problems, but it certainly worked for me after countless failed attempts.