USB Flash Drive Data Recovery Guide (8 Common Issues)

So you just accidentally deleted a batch of files on your USB drive? Or do the files get hidden or missing for some reason? Or worse yet, your flash drive couldn’t be detected by your computer?

In this guide, we are going to show you how to recover your deleted or lost files from a flash drive, no matter what data loss scenario you are facing.

To make it easier for you to browse, we break down all USB data loss situations into 8 different scenarios, so you can quickly match your situation and find the fix solutions.

Issue 1: Accidentally Deleted Files

You may have removed some files from your disk, thinking they would go to the Recycle Bin or Trash. But the fact is those items will bypass the Recycle Bin or Trash.

When you delete something from a flash drive, it’s similar to emptying Recycle Bin or Trash on your computer. But there is still a way to retrieve them.

How to recover: the best way is to use a USB data recovery program (see Issue 6 below). Beware that recovery software can only recover your deleted files that are not overwritten yet, meaning you should stop using your flash drive immediately.

Issue 2: Formatted Your Flash Drive

Sometimes you want to free up more disk space, so you formatted the USB drive without thinking much about the data stored inside. The operation is irreversible meaning there is no such unformat function. Fortunately, it’s still quite possible to recover the data.

How to recover: once again, by using a USB data recovery software (see Issue 6 below). A quick disk formatting won’t erase the data stored inside immediately.

In fact, the data will remain intact there for quite a while depending on how large its volume is and how quickly you generate new data. Similar to accidental deletion, these formatted files are recoverable only when they are not fully over-written.

Issue 3: All Files and Folders Became Shortcuts

If all your files become shortcuts when you connect your flash drive to a PC, most likely your drive has been infected by certain viruses or malware. All the folders and items are now turned into shortcuts, usually a few kilobytes (KBs) in size.

This has been a known issue for years, but you can restore your folders and files in a couple of steps.

How to fix: we’ve covered this in another article on how to fix file folders become shortcuts, check it out there.

Issue 4: Disk Shows Formatting Error

If you plug your USB drive into a Windows computer and click on it, a pop-up window shows “the disk is not formatted, do you want to format it now?” or it says “the drive can’t be initiated”, it’s very likely that your flash drive is corrupted or crashed.

How to fix: refer to this article on how to fix USB not formatted error for detailed instructions on recovering your data and making the device work again.

Issue 5: USB Drive Not Recognized

There are two main reasons for this: the file system or device driver issues, or your USB is physically damaged. Either way, you may still be able to make it work again and access the data normally. However, be prepared to spend a bit more time.

How to fix: first follow the guide in this article to update USB drivers or partition them correctly. If you suspect that your flash disk is damaged, watch this video for how to get the files out of a damaged USB stick.

Issue 6: USB Data Recovery Software

Note that you’ll need to rely on a computer to run the recovery software to retrieve your deleted or inaccessible files. And it’s not 100% guaranteed that you’ll get all your data back, but it’s worth a try.

Issue 7: USB Data Recovery Guide

  1. Turn on your computer, and open a web browser such as Edge, Chrome or Safari. Get a USB data recovery program we recommended above and install it on your computer.
  2. Now insert your flash drive into the USB port on your computer. Open “This PC” (in Windows) or “Disk Utility” (for Mac) to check and make sure the disk can be recognized.
  3. Now launch the data recovery software. Follow the instructions on the screen to select the right drive or file types to conduct a scan. The scanning process can take several minutes depending upon your disk volume.
  4. When the scan is complete. Preview the found files and recover those items you want.

Issue 8: Additional Tips

  • If you’ve deleted files from a USB drive or formatted it, stop using the device right away. Any additional data writing activities to the disk may overwrite the old files thus decreasing the recovery rate.
  • Always put your flash disk in a safe environment — meaning less possible to suffer statics, water damage, or physical drop.
  • Back up the data regularly. All digital devices will fail eventually and you never know when that will happen, backup is king to keep your data safe.
  • Try not to plug your USB key into a computer that you’re not familiar with, especially those in public places. You never know if the computer has a virus or not.

Hope you find this USB data recovery guide useful. Good luck recovering your lost files. If you have any further questions or suggestions, leave a comment below and let us know.

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  • Yamil Domenech

    Hi! Yamil Here.
    How can I create a new Volume and Partition for a USB drive that has None at ALL?
    The usb is Brand New and it works it just not being recognized by the Laptop but in cmd prompt it appears as a Drive “G” or Disk 1 Ican see it I just cant Format it because it says it has no media! I downloaded HP USB storage Tool and it shows up I just can’t do anything since it has no Media , Volume or Partitions in that matter at all!
    Any Ideas ? It does not have any data to loose since i got because I believe I Accidently Erased Everything on it including the data that was in it when it came new.
    Any Ideas will be good! Thanks a Bunch even if we don’t get to work again!

  • Neil Robinson

    I plugged a USB1.1 flashdrive into a 1.1 port. A messaage appeared which informed me that the flashdrive could perform faster in a USB2.0 port, so I moved it to a 2.0 port. It searched for drivers, then a message appeared that I needed to format the flashdrive before using it. I now cannot see the files that were on the flashdrive, even if I place it into a 1.1 port. It seems to have changed the description on the flashdrive to “USB Disk 30X”. I need to revert back to a standard flashdrive with the data available. Please help?