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.


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:

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.


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.

Jessica Carrell

Jessica is the content manager at AnySoftwareTools. She is a lover of photography, technology, teaching, and learning. Recently she's keen on following news related to tech giants and SaaS startups in bay area.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 18 comments