How to Fix “Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format” Error

Windows cannot format usb drive

Previously, we showed 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. After formatting, you are supposed to get this success message:

But, there may be times when Windows cannot format your flash drive. For example, you plug your drive into the port of a computer, you right click on the disk icon and select “Format”, but it popped up an error:

“Windows was unable to complete the format”

So, what’s wrong? Does that mean your USB drive is broken? Not really!

In this article, we are going to show you how to fix this weird Windows can’t format USB error. All you need to do is follow the step-by-step instructions below.

Typical Errors When Windows Can’t 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 the common ones:

  • Windows was unable to complete the format.
  • 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.
  • Other force format error messages.

Possible causes for those formatting errors also vary. For example, the flash drive is corrupted due to improper ejection or an unexpected PC shutdown. There might also be compatibility issues between your flash drive and the PC.

Another common reason 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 Formatting Your USB Drive

Make sure that you’ve 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 USB 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, 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 need to go to Disk Management and re-format the drive. 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 FAT-32 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 USB When Windows Says Disk is Write Protected

Note: our PC is running Windows 10 thus all the screenshots below are taken based on Windows 10. If you’re on Windows 8.1, 7, Vista, or XP, they will look slightly different.

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 to check whether your computer is running a 32-bit version or 64-bit version.

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

Note: Using 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.

One more thing: USB drives are easy to go wrong. If you have important files to save, it’s best to use an external drive for backup and storage.

So that’s all we wanted to share in this article. How do you like this troubleshooting guide? Have you managed to fix the Windows unable to complete the format error on your USB? Let us know which formatting method worked for you, or which step you are stuck in. Leave a comment below.

55 thoughts on “How to Fix “Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format” Error”

  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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • so that means that the actual usb slot in your pc is broken. you gotta take it to a repair shop or buy a new pc.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  8. Failed at the first hurdle, I’m afraid. There was no Disk Management option when I right clicked the windows icon.

    Reply
  9. Hello. I followed each step exactly as you stated, including having to use the third -arty formatting. Still get that, “Windows could not complete format, USB drive is write protected”. Help!. I have a 29GB USB and a 16GB USB having the same problem.

    Reply
  10. i cannot format my usb dvice windows shows that it was unable to format it so what should i do next please could your help me because there are very important work on it

    Reply
  11. sorry guys any of those methods worked for me, still the device tell me that is write protected, and appears in the administration windows with RAW format

    Reply
  12. when ever i tried formatting my usb it says “windows was not able to complete the action”. And if i tried formatting using cmd then it gets ejected automatically.
    i’m using win 8.1 please help me.

    Reply
  13. I tried everything you said and it starts to work , but then it says there is no volume and therefore no partition, at least it shows up on CMD prompt and it allows me to see the USB drive but there are no Volumes or partition in it how can I fix this in cmd prompt . I downloeaded the tool but it does not see any media in the selected usb drive any ideas how can I create a partition and volume for it ? Just in case I have Win 7 on a Dell Laptop!

    Reply
  14. i did everything step by step and i still get error: unable to write data to disk. tried to clean it up, then it says is write protected…

    Reply
  15. Thank you bro PC show me can’t format pen drive but after watching your helpful video I Slove this problem and pen drive working perfectly?

    Reply
  16. right click and open onkingston USB gives following error
    please insert a disk into removable disk z
    formatting a usb gives the following error
    there is no disk in drive z
    insert a disk, and then try again.

    running command prompt in administrator mode(in Normal and Safe mode)
    entering diskpart
    then enter list disk
    then enter select disk
    then enter make partition primary
    then enter clean gives the following error message
    virtual disk error
    there is no media in the device.

    is it possible to solve this problem?

    Reply
  17. No luck. Followed regedit procedure and still got
    device (NEXXTECH 64GB thumb drive) is write protected. Then downloaded HPUSBDisk.exe and ran it. No change. Still get same message when I format. Drive has 10 files which I no longer need and want to reuse the drive. Files 2 -10 seem to be readable but 1st file seems corrupted. Because of write protect I can’t delete it or remove by reformatting the drive.

    Reply
  18. Hy Jessica Carrell
    I am Muhammad Iqbal from Lahore Pakistan and request you to please guide me that some of my USBs creating problem i.e. “Not Formatting” or “Write Protector”. I have used all ways of your but in vain.
    Please guide me as soon as possible
    Thanks a lot
    May Allah Bless on You

    Reply
  19. The hpusbdisk didn’t wotk for me. My usb is 128gb. I tried formatting it in ubuntu which didn’t work also. Please help. And thanks in advance

    Reply
  20. Tried your 10 steps, and other 3rd party and other methods and still it says the USB is write protected. I have tried on 3 separate computers so it is nothing to do with the USB Port. Patriot 256GB, hispec. Just became unreadable after a year of problem free use. It was encrypted. Don’t need to recover the data just want to format it and start using it again. Any thoughts?

    Reply
  21. Hi, I have lg 32gb otg flashdrive, I forgot it inserted on my vivo phone overnight on the next day, ist not working anymore. I tried to format my otg flashdrive many times still not working, I did the same to my phine yet its still not working. My otg flashdrivs is recognize by computers it has 7gb used space yet the drive is empty. Can you help me how to fix it?

    Reply

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