How to Unformat a Hard Drive and Recover Data?

There is NOT such unformat or undo-formatting function. Once you reformat a hard drive, everything on the disk is erased and you’ll release full storage space immediately. If you want to recover data from the formatted hard drive, you will need to use a data recovery tool to save your information.

Accidentally formatting a hard drive full of important information can be a terrifying experience. If you have no backup, you could potentially lose important things like photos, files, programs, and more.

While you might think all of that data is lost forever, that may not actually be the case. Read on to learn more about how to unformat a hard drive.

Key Takeaways

  • Unformatting a hard drive simply refers to recovering the data you lost when you formatted the drive. There is no way to actually reverse the formatting process.
  • The way to unformat a hard drive and save data that you accidentally deleted is to use some sort of data recovery tool or software. There are several options, so make sure to do your homework to decide which is the best choice for you.
  • However, before you purchase and use a data recovery tool, you need to make sure your data is actually recoverable. If not, you could end up wasting time and money.

Why Recovering a Formatted Hard Drive is Possible

When you format a disk drive, the “real data” contained in the files are not erased immediately. All it does is zero out the index of the items you’ve saved on the disk, telling the file system that the space those files used to occupy is now available to re-use.

But the real data remain intact until they are fully written over. Eventually, that will happen with additional data writing activities you generate on the hard drive.

The good part is that if you use an HDD (hard disk drive), it can take a decent amount of time, e.g. days even months for your lost data to be overwritten.

However, if you use an SSD, it’s another story due to the way SSDs manage files. The moment you remove something from the drive, new data may immediately occupy the space your lost files originally take. Once overwritten, there’s no way to retrieve the data.

The Solution: Using a Data Recovery Tool

Companies like Microsoft don’t currently offer a method to unformat your drives. As a result, if you want to unformat a hard drive, you need to use a third-party data recovery tool of some kind. You can read our review of the best options for Windows and macOS.

Once you have found the right one, you need to download and install it. For this unformatting process to work, you need to ensure that the hard drive is connected to your computer. The following are general steps to follow, as the exact ones will depend on the tool you choose.

The first step is to make sure you select the right hard drive from the provided list, and then begin the scan. The software will begin to work its magic and discover all of the recoverable files on the drive.

When the scan is done, you will be greeted with a list of files you can recover. You can review the list and choose the ones you want to recover. Many tools will also let you filter the results so you can easily find the type of file or document you are looking for.

When you have chosen everything you want to restore, you can click the Recover (or equivalent) button. Make sure to choose a new and different location to store the files. Once this is done, your important data and files will be saved.

Also, we feel it’s important to note that you don’t actually “unformat” a hard drive or reverse the formatting process, you just recover data that was on the hard drive before it was formatted.

Note: if you are using an SSD (solid-state drive), once you format it or delete something from it, the data will be permanently erased right away. You can’t recover the data unless you have backups.

Will It Work?

While it is possible to unformat a hard drive and recover data that was lost in some cases, it won’t always work. As a result, be sure that you know your situation well, as what you did and when you formatted the drive can determine whether or not the data can be recovered.

If you just did a quick format, you will likely be able to recover the data as it is not actually deleted yet, only hidden. It will eventually be overwritten, but the files will still exist on the drive for now. If you did a full format, these files are immediately overwritten and truly erased.

Check out this video to learn more about quick vs. full (or non-quick) formatting:

But even if you only did a quick format, if it has been a while since you formatted the drive and you have been using it, there is a chance the data you wanted to recover could already be overwritten.

As a result, consider trying to unformat a hard drive as soon as possible to give yourself the best chance of recovering your files.


Here are a few commonly asked questions about formatting hard drives, as well as their answers.

What is formatting a hard drive?

When you format a hard drive, you are essentially deleting all of the data held on it. This frees up all the space on the drive for future use, and takes it back to its original status. Full formats erase everything instantly, while quick formats hide the files and overwrite them over time.

How to choose which tool to use to recover the contents of a formatted hard drive?

In order to choose the best data recovery tool, you should consider how much it costs (some may be free), the features it includes, and how well others have rated it. If a tool has a lot of positive reviews and happy customers, it is a good sign that it is worth considering.

Final Thoughts

Accidentally formatting a hard drive (or you have to do so due to some weird formatting errors) that contained important files can be heartbreaking and land you in a lot of trouble.

Though there is no such unformat or reverse option, it’s often possible to get the data back as long as you act quickly and take proper steps. In many cases, using a data recovery tool will be able to help you recover this information.

Once again, before you use any unformat software, DO NOT attempt to save more files to the formatted drive to avoid decreasing chances of recovery due to data overwriting.

Is there anything else you think that this guide should have included or covered? If so, don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below.

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  • Luigi Rosolin

    Thanks for the inside are very helpful. Cheers

  • Philip Taylor

    Very helpful but should be updated to reflect current norms — where it currently says “e.g. it can take a few hours to [scan] a 500GB external HDD”, in 2019 that should probably read “e.g. it can take a few days to [scan] an 8TB external HDD”.

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      AnySoftwareTools Team

      You are probably right 🙂