Can’t Format USB Drive on Windows? How to Fix It (Step-by-Step)

Last updated: Apr. 4, 2018

Previously, we've taught you how to format a USB drive on Windows 10. The process is very straightforward and shouldn't take more than a minute to complete, and you are supposed to get this success message:

But, there may be times you are unable to format your flash drive.

For example, you plugged your USB drive into the port of a PC, right-click the disk icon and select "Format", but it popped up an error saying "Windows was unable to complete the format".

Other times you may face this message: "The disk is write protected"...So, what's wrong? Does that mean your thumb drive is broken?

Not necessarily!

In this article, we are going to show you how to fix this kind of weird USB not formatting error. All you need to do is just follow the step-by-step instructions.

Typical Errors When You're Unable to Format USB

Depending on the operating systems (Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, XP) you are using, the error messages may vary from case to case.

Here are a few common ones:

  • "The disk is write protected."
  • "The USB disk is not formatted, do you want to format it now?"
  • "The USB drive is not initialized."
  • "The operation did not complete because the media is write protected."
  • "There is no disk in the drive. Insert the disk and then try again."
  • Windows refuses to format your USB key or access files.
  • And others.

The possible causes for those formatting errors also vary a lot. For example, the flash drive is corrupted after improper ejection or an unexpected PC shutdown during data transfer. There might be compatibility issues between your flash drive and the PC.

Another common reason for that is file system error. For example, normally a new flash drive is initiated with FAT-32. It's possible that you (or the person who uses it) might have reformatted it into NTFS or another file system.

Why file system matters? You might wonder. We'd like to use an analogy a reader shared with us earlier 🙂

"A flash drive is essentially like a book, the data is the words in the book, the format is the paper that the words are printed on – different book publishers use different kinds of paper."

Now you understand. Let's go back to the topic.

Before You Start Formatting

Make sure that you already backed up the data stored on your flash drive. If you haven't done so and the files stored inside are important to you, try using a data recovery software to see if it helps. Just connect your USB drive to the PC, then let a recovery program scan your USB drive to seek any recoverable items.

Also, if you happen to have access to another computer, the first attempt you should take is try inserting the USB drive to that PC and then see if the drive can be accessed or formatted successfully. Sometimes this helps clear the compatibility or buffer issues. If that doesn't help, follow the guide below.

How to Fix It When "Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format"

Simply put, you go to Disk Management and re-initiate the volume. Here's how to do it:

  1. Insert your flash drive into a PC.
  2. Move the cursor to the bottom left corner. Right-click on the Windows icon.
  3. Select Disk Management.
  4. Highlight the disk your flash drive represents, right click and choose New Simple Volume.
  5. Now select the formatting options, make sure under File system you choose FAT32 or exFAT.
  6. Click "Next" to complete the rest procedure.

If this doesn't work out, use the command line to initiate the drive. This video has more:

How to Format Your USB When Windows Says "The Disk is Write Protected"

Note: our PC is running Windows 10 and the screenshot below is taken based on Windows 10. If you're on Windows 8.1, 7, Vista, or XP, a slight difference may apply.

Step 1: In the search bar, type "regedit" and click the regedit app icon to run it.

Step 2: In Registry Editor, go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SYSTEM > CurrentControlSet > Control.

Step 3: Right click Control folder, select New > Key.

Step 4: Now rename the New Key #1 folder into StorageDevicePolicies.

Step 5: Right-click on StorageDevicePolicies folder, select New, and QWORD (64-bit) Value if your PC is running with a 64-bit version, or DWORD (32-bit) Value if it's with 32-bit.

Hint: see this Microsoft article for how to determine whether a computer is running a 32-bit version or 64-bit version of the Windows operating system.

Step 6: Now rename the New Value #1 folder into WriteProtect.

Step 7: Double click the WriteProtect folder, change the Value data: into "0" and Base to "Hexadecimal", click "OK."

Step 8: Close RegEdit by clicking the "X" icon.

Step 9: Open "This PC" (Windows 10) or "My Computer" (Windows Vista/XP), and refresh it 5 times without doing anything to your USB drive, and properly eject the flash drive.

Step 10: Now plug your USB drive again into your computer and format it to exFAT instead of FAT32.

Done!

Still Didn't Work?

It's time to use a third-party formatting utility now. We recommend using this one called HP USB Disk Format Tool, a program also recommended by SanDisk actually (see here).

First off, you need to download the utility from CNET. Here is the URL:

http://download.cnet.com/HP-USB-Disk-Storage-Format-Tool/3000-2094_4-10974082.html

Then, install the utility on your Windows PC. Run the program and follow the tutorial in this video:

Note: formatting with the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool will restore your flash drive to the original capacity and every bit of data will be erased permanently.

Feedback

So that's all we wanted to share in this article.

How do you like this troubleshooting guide? Have you managed to fix the USB error and make your flash drive usable again?

Let us know which formatting method worked for you, or which step you are stuck in.

Either way, leave a comment below.

Influenced by the startup culture in the Silicon Valley, Jessica loves building things from zero to one and is keen on following news related to the Big Five tech giants and many SaaS startups.

18 thoughts on “Can’t Format USB Drive on Windows? How to Fix It (Step-by-Step)

  1. I tried all procedures herein publicated but nothing worked up. when USB is plugin the icon is shown for a while then disappear. Al time there is no volume to work with.

  2. G’day Jess!
    No joy with any of the above alas.
    I had to to re-format a Lexar16gb USB-drive from FAT32 to NTSF to accommodate a large video file and play on TV. Now my Alienware WIN7 Pro laptop will not recognise the USB apart from displaying it in My Computer, Device Manager, Computer Management lists as Removable Disk (G:).
    I have tried checking n re-formating this USB in another Win7 PC. I have tried checking n re-formating this USB in another Win7 PC, XP Pro laptop n MacBook Pro laptop with no success.
    Cheers!

  3. Hi Jessica, I have a Toshiba laptop. I can’t seem to get into my computer. I can’t remember my password and it won’t let me reset my password. A message that says: No Drive this feature requires removable media, such as a USB Flash Drive. please connect a USB Flash Drive, and then try again. I have never used a flash drive to this computer. Did someone use a flash drive and did not take it out properly. How do I fix this problem?

    P.S thank you, for listening can you help me or is better to buy a new computer?

  4. Hello, Ihave tried all of your explanations, before I read this site. But still no result,, Okey, here is my usb case,, Its not detect on win7, end the winows massage is “There is an i/o error “, And I have tried to fix it wiyh diskpart command but it doesnt work for me.?? My flashdisk is not detectn and the volume is LBA 0, Can anyone tell me how to recover data from that broken flashdisk.??.Thank you..guys.

  5. I wanted to do the step 4 but i did not manage to find new simple volume after right clicking on the driver i wanted to open. Would you help please. I am using windows 10 computer.

  6. It did not work for me, :c
    it just says “the device is write protected”
    but that is not true because that USB memory does not have that function

  7. I recently purchased a USB flashdrive, I formatted it and stored files on it. Problem now is, it’s asking I re-format. I have tried all methods; disk management, it doesn’t see any volumes, command; when its time to clean disk, it doesnt recognise the drive; on EaseUS, it keeps indicating ‘unallocated’
    What should I do?

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