FIXED! Can’t Format USB Flash Drive Error on Windows


Formatting USB flash drives regularly is crucial especially when you use them often and connect them to multiple devices. This is because a drive can get infected or corrupt after rigorous use and if such files are left on the drive for long, it may even malfunction. But what do you do if you can’t format the drive and get “Windows was unable to complete the format?” 

The error explains that there is an issue with the drive you are using. It can be frustrating when you want to empty the drive urgently for further use but the PC won’t allow you.

But what does it mean? Why can’t Windows format the USB flash drive? The core reason behind this issue is usually the corrupt files and bad sectors on the USB. 

In this post, let us look at the probable reasons that cause the error and how you can fix them. 

Why can’t Windows format the USB flash drive?

Whenever you want to empty a flash drive all at once, you simply use the Format option available in the context menu (Right-Click options). However, the problem arises when that option shows the error “Windows was unable to complete the format.” At the surface level, it appears to be a connection error. However, several issues may be causing it. 

Some of the common reasons why Windows can’t format USB flash drives are – 

  1. Corrupt Files on the USB Drive
  2. Bad Sectors on USB
  3. Virus/Malware Issues
  4. File System Crash/Error
  5. Physical Damage/Hardware Limitation

The issues can be endless, as a USB flash drive is prone to several errors. Even when you eject a USB drive abruptly, it hurts the capacity of it to perform. Hence, you should be careful while using your flash drives. Fortunately, all these issues can be easily resolved if you know the appropriate fixes and have the necessary tools. 

Check out the next section, where we have listed a bunch of fixes that may help you fix the can’t format USB flash drive error on Windows.

Effective Ways to Troubleshoot “Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format” Error

When you encounter the error, the first thing you should do is check whether the flash drive you are trying to use is open in another window or a file from the drive is being used in a running application. If that is the case, shut the process down and try again later. Other than this, there are a few more basic issues that you should address before moving to troubleshooting methods. These include – 

  1. Ensure that the USB flash drive is connected properly.
  2. Check if any physical locks/sliders/buttons are present that may be stopping the system from formatting it. If present, toggle them off. 
  3. Try switching ports when you face the can’t format error. This will help you identify if the issue lies in the drive or the port that you have connected it to. 
  4. It is also recommended that you try opening the drive manually and deleting the files/folders one after the other. By doing so, you may come across the exact file, causing hindrances in the format process. 

After trying these preliminary steps, try formatting your drive again. If it works, good for you. If it does not, don’t worry, as we have more troubleshooting methods available. Find them below!

Method 1 – Remove Write Protection

If you are unable to perform any operation on your USB flash drive, then there are chances that it is protected. If one of your reasons for formatting the drive was to be able to delete things, then this is the issue to address. Here’s what you need to do – 

Step 1 – Press the start button and search for CMD.
Step 2 – The search results will fetch a command prompt on your computer. Click on run as administrator to launch it.

Command Prompt_Admin

Step 3 – In the command prompt, use the command – Diskpart and hit enter.

command - Diskpart

Step 4 – Then, type Select Disk x and use the number (x)to denote your USB flash drive.

command List Disk

Step 5 – After selecting the disk, use the command – attributes disk clear read-only

With these commands, you can remove the write protection, which means you can now format the drive without issues.

Learn more ways to access a disk that is write-protected

Method 2 – Fix File System & Bad Sectors

Keeping your flash drive’s file system healthy ensures the drive does not develop any bad sectors. You can use your USB for as long as you like if there is no deterioration in the file system or its storage indexes. Unfortunately, not every user knows how to manage the drive’s health, which results in an inability to format the drive and other related issues. 

If you want to check the health of your drive and ensure that it has zero errors, we recommend you use the Advanced System Optimizer. It has dedicated modules for disk optimization, allowing you to use the best tools and keep your flash drives healthy. Here’s what you should do – 

Step 1 – Click the Download button below to install the Advanced System Optimizer on your PC. 

Step 2 – After installing the app, launch the app and use the left column to find the Disk Cleaner & Optimizer module.

disk cleaner and optimizer module - Advanced system optimizer

Step 3 – From this module, click on Disk Tools to enter the dedicated Disk Doctor tool that scans your drive for issues and shows you all the insights about it.

select disk cleaner and optimizers option

Step 4 – Select the USB flash drive that says Windows could not complete the format and click on Start Scan Now. disk doctor welcome screen

Step 5 – This Scan will check your drive for potential issues and errors. It will also look for bad sectors and allow you to resolve the issues.

analyze option -Advanced system optimizer

Step 6 – Select the Normal analysis and ensure that no file is opened from the drive as it requires exclusive access to the drive.
Step 7 – Once the issue is found, the tool will resolve and fix it for you. 

After trying these steps, simply restart your PC and try to format the drive again. This time, it will work like a charm!

Method 3 – Try Formatting the Drive Using CMD

If you are looking for another way to format your drive instead of eliminating the issue, you can do so by invoking the command prompt. Here are the steps –

Step 1 – Press the start button and search for CMD.
Step 2 – The search results will fetch a command prompt on your computer. Click on Run as administrator to launch it.
Step 3 – In the command prompt, use the command – Diskpart and hit enter.

command - Diskpart
Step 4 – Next, use the command List Disk, and it will do the exact same for you, i.e., list all the drives.

command List Disk
Step 5 – Select the drive you want to format from the list using the command – select disk x, where x is the drive number.

drive selected to format
Step 6 – After selecting the drive, use these two commands one after the other – 


create partition primary

Step 7- These two commands will clear everything on the drive and format it for you. 

The method is typical to understand and remember as not everyone is fluent with commands. You can try to follow the steps to use this method. 

Format Your USB Flash Drive Without Errors!

With all these methods and preliminary checks, you can eliminate the can’t format USB flash drive error on Windows. Try them all out, and in case you feel stuck on a step, reach out to us via the comments section. Using your drive for longer is only possible if it stays healthy; hence, we recommend you download and use the Advanced System Optimizer, even if your drives are fine. As they say, prevention is always better than cure! 

Thanks for reading. Good luck!

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About The Author

Dishank Sharma
Dishank Sharma

A creative tech-writer who loves to explore latest tech-trends & convey them to his readers in the simplest way possible. He loves to blend the crispness of technology with a pinch of creativity while curating best practices for the readers. In his free time, he likes to scribble poetry, listen to rap & travel.

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