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How to Recover Data from Flash Drive That Needs to Be Formatted

Home > HowTos > File Recovery Tips Updated by William on Apr 22, 2024 | Approved by Nancy

Losing critical data on our flash drives is a nightmare that every digital user dreads. Picture this: you plug in your USB, ready to access your project files or treasured photos, only to be met with a gut-wrenching prompt that reads, "You need to format the disk before you can use it." or "Flash Drive Not Formatted. Format Now?" This can trigger panic as it is a drastic measure that may wipe away valuable data.

However, the good news is that it is often possible to recover data from a flash drive that needs to be formatted with the right methods and tools. This in-depth guide will provide multiple ways to rescue your data and tips to fix this error and prevent similar problems.

Understanding the Problem

Before you rush to USB flash drive recovery without formatting, understand the underlying reasons for this demand. There are several reasons why this error might occur:

Understanding these issues allows users to be more considerate and cautious in their next steps.

Risks of Immediate Formatting

Formatting it without first attempting to recover files from USB that needs formatting poses significant risks, like irreversible data loss. You should know that formatting essentially resets the file system of a flash drive, erasing all existing files and data structures. Doing this without a backup may cause the files it stores to disappear forever.

How to Recover Data from a Flash Drive that Needs to be Formatted

There are several paths to restoring files from a flash drive asking for format, ranging from user-friendly software to more technical solutions and professional services. Here, we explore each avenue, detailing the processes, requirements, and outcomes.

Method 1: A First-Line Solution - Utilizing Data Recovery Software

It is one of the most effective ways to recover data from USB that needs formatting. Although many reputable tools can accomplish this task, to save you time, here, we will list 3 popular options:

Options A: iBeesoft Data Recovery (Windows and Mac)

It is a comprehensive solution designed to help users resume lost or inaccessible files from various storage devices. Furthermore, it has built-in functionality to repair corrupted files to maximize the chances of providing flash drive recovery, even if access is denied, not showing up in File Explorer, or other glitches.

Here are steps to recover files from a USB drive that needs to be formatted:

  1. Connect your drive to a computer.
  2. Download and Installation iBeesoft application.

    Download for Windows Download for macOS

  3. launch it and select the flash drive as the target for the scan.

  4. After the scan is completed, preview recoverable files and select the ones you need.

  5. Click "Recover" and choose a safe destination to save them.

Options B: Windows File Recovery Tool (Only PC)

It is a command-line utility introduced by Microsoft, designed to help users retrieve items that have been inadvertently lost for various reasons. Here's a guide on how to recover files on a flash drive before formatting in Windows 10/11 for free:

  1. Download and install it from the Microsoft Store.
  2. Open Command Prompt as an administrator.
  3. Type "winfr E: C:\RecoveryFolder /n *.JPEG."

    "E" is your flash drive letter
    "C:\RecoveryFolder" is the location where recoverable files are saved
    "JPEG" is the file extension you lost.

Options C: TestDisk (Windows, Linux, and macOS)

It is a reliable open-source software that is capable of finding lost volumes and files for various file systems, including FAT, NTFS, exFAT, ext2/ext3/ext4, and more. It can also fix damaged partition tables and rebuild or repair boot sectors, ensuring the flash drive's ability to start up properly. Here is a wizard to recover data from a USB flash drive without formatting:

  1. Download TestDisk from its official website and extract the program.
  2. Run it and choose "Create a new log file."

  3. Select the USB drive you want to recover.

  4. Choose the type of partition table.

  5. Choose "Analyse" and follow the instructions to proceed with recovery.

Method 2: When All Else Fails – Seeking Professional Help

If the above methods do not yield results and the files are precious, professional data recovery services may be your last resort. They can reclaim your data from physically damaged flash drives or from logical errors that are too complex for standard software to handle. These services are expensive and should be utilized only if the lost data's value exceeds the recovery cost significantly. If you want their help, search for a service provider near you.

Fix Corrupted USB Flash Drive Without Formatting

If you don't want to use tools or services to recover data from a flash drive that needs to be formatted, you can also use the following methods to fix this error without formatting.

For Windows:

Method 1: Use the Windows Error Checking Tool

Windows has a built-in tool for checking and fixing disk errors, which can sometimes resolve the flash drive that needs to be formatted.

  1. Open File Explorer and select your USB drive in the left panel.
  2. Right-click your drive and click "Properties."
  3. Choose the "Tools" tab and click the "Check" button.

  4. Follow the prompts to let Windows scan and fix the drive.

Method 2: Try CHKDSK Command

It can also be used in Command Prompt to fix file system errors and recover readable information.

  1. Click the "Start" and type "PowerShell."
  2. Select "Windows PowerShell" and click "Run as administrator."
  3. Type "chkdsk /X /f <drive letter>:" and press Enter. Replace "<drive letter>" with the actual letter assigned to your USB drive.

For Mac:

It is a built-in program in macOS that can not only repair damaged drives but also speed up USB transfer on Mac.

  1. Open Disk Utility.
  2. Select your flash drive on the left and click the "First Aid" button.

  3. Follow the instructions to repair the flash drive requiring formatting.

The above methods should keep your data safe without formatting. If that fails, you can also check out more solutions to fix the USB access denied in Windows 11, 10, and Mac.

Preventative Measures

Once your data is safe, you'll want to ensure this doesn't happen again. We list some best practices and habits for maintaining your flash drives' security and safeguarding your files.


Navigating your flash drive's "format now" prompt can be distressing, but it needn't be the end of your data. With the help of data recovery software or professional services, restoring your precious data is often possible. Remember, recovering data from a flash drive that needs to be formatted is a race against time, and swift, informed action is your best ally.


  • When a USB drive spontaneously asks for formatting, it can stem from various issues, such as corrupt file systems, partition errors, bad sectors, or physical damage. However, this means you'll lose all data on the drive. It's a last resort, so data recovery can be the first step.

  • Before a USB flash drive becomes unusable or unrecognizable by the system, it might show some signs of failing. You might notice unusually slow read or write speeds, corrupted files, or the drive spontaneously ejecting. If you encounter any of these symptoms, back up your data immediately.

  • In most cases, it is not advisable to format a pen drive immediately when prompted. Formatting erases everything on it, making data recovery almost impossible. First, try to assess the situation, understand the risks, and explore data recovery methods before deciding whether formatting is a last resort.

  • Contrary to popular belief, formatting a drive only sometimes erases data. Quick formats don't erase the data; they remove the pointers. However, a full format will wipe the data out. Regardless, format recovery is often possible with the correct Windows or Mac data recovery software and steps, especially if you haven't written new data to the USB drive after the format.

  • Yes, you can. Various tools like iBeesoft Data Recovery can be used to retrieve data. But before starting, please stop using it to avoid further file loss.

  • If the data is extremely important and you cannot recover files from USB drive that needs formatting, you may need professional help from a data recovery service. These services have specialized tools and clean room environments for difficult-to-retrieve data.