Do you have an unusable USB stick? If it’s stopped working for any reason, you will either find the memory all used up even though there are no files on it, or Windows just won’t let you format the drive. In the worst case, the pen drive name refuses to show on your computer. There are many reasons you may experience these issues. Sometimes it’s just partition errors eating up the pen drive’s storage space. Follow the detailed steps in this Windows guide to fix an unformattable and unusable USB drive.
Tip: Learn how to enable quick removal of USB drives in Windows.
Find Out If Your USB Drive is Worth Saving
We have to be clear about the difference between an “unformattable, unusable” USB drive and a “corrupt/damaged” one. When the stick is damaged beyond repair, there’s no option but to replace it. On the other hand, if you were just unable to detect or use the removable media, then it can be repaired using the steps shown here.
Let’s take the typical situation where your computer/laptop is able to easily detect the USB drive, and you just want to know whether it’s been corrupted.
- Open File Explorer and find your drive under “This PC” on the left.
- Select the “Properties” of the drive folder and check the “hardware” status. If it says “This device is working properly,” the USB drive is definitely worth saving.
- You may also use
chkdsk /*Drive Name*/: /f /xin Command Prompt or the newly launched Windows Terminal to locate and solve any errors. It mainly comprises the drive letter of your USB after
chkdskentry, which you can find in File Explorer.
/frefers to any attempts to fix the errors on the USB drive, and
/xwill force the USB drive to be dismounted before attempting any scan.
As shown below,
chkdsk shows there are no errors or bad sectors in the USB drive. This means it’s not corrupted.
In case you’re unable to see the USB drive folder itself, that’s not a reason to worry either. Pay close attention to the next two steps, as they will easily make the drive identifiable and reusable.
1. Wipe the USB Drive Clean with Diskpart Command Line Tool
Windows comes with a built-in format disk option to erase everything from a USB flash drive. This is accessible from a simple right-click, but at this stage, it probably won’t work.
If you no longer need the data in the removable media, the command-line tool is a better way to help you get to the root of the problem and fix the storage space issues once and for all.
- On Windows, go to the search button and run the Command Prompt as an Administrator. Make sure the USB drive is inserted already.
- As soon as it starts, enter
diskpart. It will soon load a program called “Diskpart,” which is basically Microsoft’s disk-partitioning utility. It allows you to view, create, delete or modify any disk.
- Next to “Diskpart,” enter
list disk. This will provide a list of each and every disk connected to your computer. Here you can quickly identify your USB drive by its size.
Note: Sometimes the disk for USB may show “no media” and 0 bytes, which is normal. As long as “Disk 1” shows properly, there is a USB drive in the system.
- Next, enter
select disk #. Instead of #, you have to insert the numerical value of the removable drive as shown below. You should see a success status message: “Disk # is now the selected disk.”
Warning: do not accidentally select your computer’s hard drive number – in this case it’s “0.” It can erase your main hard disk completely, so proceed with caution.
- To wipe your removable media clean, enter
clean. This will empty the contents of the USB drive completely.
- You can again check for freed space using
list disk. Now the USB drive is ready for further modifications. Type
exitto leave the Command Prompt window.
Even after you wipe your USB drive clean, your computer will not be able to view it. The next step will correct this problem.
Good to know: Your USB 3.0 ports aren’t working? Try these tips to restore functionality to them.
2. Reallocate the USB Drive Volume from Disk Management Console
We will reallocate the USB drive volume from the previous section using the Disk Management Console, which is easily accessible from the search menu.
- Pres Win + R to open the Run command. Type
- As soon as the console window is open, you can see the disk number for your USB drive. Right-click on it and select “New simple volume.” In some Windows versions, it may be available as “Create simple volume.”
- It will lead to a “New simple volume wizard” pop-up window. Click “Next”.
- Specify the volume size for the pen drive. Select the maximum volume, which is shown as a default unit in MB.
- Select “Assign the following drive letter.” We chose “F” as shown here.
- Format the partition in the next step. This may be just an extra step because you have already wiped the data clean. But it is always better to be sure.
- You can rename the USB drive under the “Volume label.”
- Click “Finish” to complete the wizard.
- After you reallocate the unallocated USB drive space, you will be able to view the USB drive storage in Windows 11 File Explorer tabs.
- The USB drive is visible in the form of a healthy partition when you open Disk Management again.
Tip: Need to back up your data? You can opt to create an USB image.
3. Third-party options
Here are some of the best third-party tools to fix and format USB drives that seem to be unusable.
1. HDD LLF Low Level Format
An oldie but a goldie, HDD LLF has been around for a long time and supports low-level formats like USB, SATA, and other forms of hard drive.
Low-level formatting means that the format will bypass the filesystem layer completely, eradicating all data on the drive and giving you a fresh start. So if your flash drive was rendered unformattable due to bad sectors or dodgy files, this tool will have you covered.
2. JetFlash Recovery Tool
Designed specifically for the formatting of Transcend JetFlash USB drives, JetFlash stands out for its simplicity and actually works with other brands of USB drives too.
If your flash drive can’t be read or is bringing back bad sectors, then JetFlash is capable of brute-forcing the format process and giving your seemingly borked flash drive a new lease of life.
3. HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool
HP USB Disk Format Tool has an extremely easy-to-use interface that can achieve quick formatting of any problematic USB drive. You can view the removable media drive. Go for a quick format to remove any conflicts with the hard drive.
Everything happens in just a few quick steps. The formatting will restore your USB drive to its full available space. Once done, you can start using it just as when it was in mint condition.
Tip: Need a new USB flash drive? Here are some worthy options to consider.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does it mean when a USB drive is corrupted?
When a USB drive is corrupted, it means there is a physical problem with the memory chip. That usually happens when a USB is removed without being ejected first. A truly corrupted USB drive cannot be recovered easily.
Why is my USB drive not showing files and folders?
Unless there is a malware attack, you should always be able to view the files and folders on a USB drive. However, if you still cannot see those, open Command Prompt with Administrator permissions and type
diskpart, followed by
list disk, selecting the USB drive using
select disk #, and cleaning it up.
Should you throw away an unusable USB drive?
If you just found your USB drive unusable and unformattable, don’t throw it away. Try the above methods to diagnose the problem and recover it. There are some other methods you can use to fix corrupted USB storage, such as File Explorer, PowerShell, and freemium tools.
Image credit: Jacqueline Macou from Pixabay. All screenshots by Sayak Boral.
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