How to Format USB Flash Drives on Windows 10

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Suppose the data on your flash drive is corrupted, or you want to make sure it doesn’t have any malicious files. Maybe the file system on the thumb drive is bricked or inaccessible on a different PC. Perhaps you plan to get rid of all the documents and media on the USB stick before giving it to someone else or selling it. Thankfully, Windows 10 offers users the ability to format removable USB-powered storage devices, which comes in handy in various scenarios like this.

Whatever your reason might be, Windows 10 provides a handful of built-in tools that allow you to format all types of storage devices, including USB flash drives and other external mass storage solutions. In fact, erasing contents from a storage device is just a matter of a few steps.

This guide gives you a look at different ways you can format USB flash drives on Windows 10. However, before you proceed to wipe the data off your removable drive, make sure to back up your important files to your local or cloud storage.

Format USB flash drives from File Explorer

The simplest way to format a USB flash drive is to use File Explorer on Windows 10. Check out the following steps:

  1. First, launch File Explorer from your desktop or taskbar, and click This PC in the left pane of the window.
  2. Next, connect your flash drive to your PC or laptop if you haven’t already, and then right-click the new drive that appears under the “Devices and drives” section.
  3. Select the Format option in the following drop-down menu. It will open up a new window.

    Source: TechCodex
  4. Now click the drop-down menu under “File system” and choose the NTFS option.
    Note: For compatibility across Windows and macOS, make sure to select the exFAT option. If you are planning to use the drive on a Linux-based system, we recommend using FAT32, though it will limit you to a maximum of 4 GB file sizes.
  5. Keep the default selection under the “Allocation unit size” option.
  6. Assign a name to your flash drive (e.g., TechCodex) by typing it under the “Volume label” field.
  7. After that, check the box next to the Quick Format option.
    Source: TechCodex

    Note: The “Quick Format” option only deletes the file system table, changes the drive’s file system, and it doesn’t check for bad sectors. Thus, someone else can still recover the data by rebuilding the volume. If you uncheck the option, Windows will perform a full format on the drive, scan for bad sectors, and overwrite all sectors to erase the data. However, the process takes several minutes or more, depending on the drive capacity.

  8. Finally, hit Start at the bottom of the window, followed by clicking Yes.

Once the formatting process is completed, you can safely disconnect your flash drive and use it for storing documents, media, and other files.

Format USB flash drives using Disk Management

You can use the Disk Management tool on Windows 10 to format USB flash drives. Furthermore, if you are facing issues with your removable storage devices, the tool lets you fix them too.

Format USB flash drive

In order to format a USB flash drive using Disk Management, follow the steps below.

  1. First, click the Search box next to the Start menu and type “Disk Management.”
  2. Click the Create and format hard disk partitions result to launch the Disk Management tool.
  3. In the following window, right-click the removable storage drive, then select Format in the drop-down box.

    Source: TechCodex
  4. After that, enter the name for the USB drive in the “Volume label” field.
  5. Click the drop-down box next to the “File system” option and choose NTFS. You can also go with exFAT or FAT32 for drive compatibility across other operating systems.
  6. For “Allocation unit size,” we recommend selecting the Default option.
  7. Now check the box next to Perform a quick format. You can also Enable file and folder compression if you wish to reduce the file sizes on the removable drive.

    Source: TechCodex
  8. Finally, click OK to begin the formatting process.

Once you finish the steps, Disk Management will proceed to erase the data on your USB drive and rebuild its file system. You can then use it to store your files again.

Fix and format USB flash drive

In case you can’t access the USB drive’s root directory or the files are corrupted, you can use Disk Management to clean the drive, create a new partition, and rebuild its file system to get it working again. Here’s how to to do it:

  1. Open the Start menu and start typing “Disk Management,” then click Create and format hard disk partitions in the results to launch the tool.
  2. In the Disk Management window, right-click the USB drive in question and click Delete volume in the drop-down menu. Click Yes to continue.
  3. Now right-click the “Unallocated” area and select the New Simple Volume option in the drop-down menu.
  4. In the following wizard window that appears, click the Next button.
  5. Click Next again to use all the available storage capacity of the drive.
  6. After that, select a letter from the drop-down box next to the “Assign the following drive letter” option, then hit Next.
  7. After that, select the “Format this volume with the following settings” option and make the following changes:
    • Choose NTFS for the drive’s File system. You can also go with FAT32 if you want.
    • Don’t make any changes to the Allocation unit size. We advise keeping it on Default.
    • Give a name to the USB drive by typing it in the empty field next to the Volume label option.
  8. Tick the box next to Perform a quick format, followed by clicking the Next button.
  9. Hit Next to start the reformatting process. Once it’s done, click Finish to close the wizard.

Disk Management will automatically rebuild the file system on the USB drive and set up a new partition on it. It should resolve all the problems you encountered with the removable storage device before, including data corruption and slow transfer speeds.

If the formatting process fails, the drive is probably dead. You may have to consider asking the manufacturer for a replacement (if it’s under warranty) or buying a new one.

Format USB flash drives using Command Prompt

If you can’t format your USB drive from the File Explorer or the Disk Management tool for some reason, try Command Prompt instead. Although the process is a bit more tricky, it will allow you to erase contents from the drive and reformat it with a new file system table.

  1. First, right-click the Start icon in the taskbar and select the Command Prompt (Admin) option.
  2. Connect your USB drive to the PC or laptop if you haven’t already, then type the following command, and press the Enter key to run a quick format:

    format VOLUME: /v:DRIVE-LABEL /fs:FILE-SYSTEM /q

    In the above command, replace the VOLUME with the drive letter assigned to the removable storage device. Make sure to also replace DRIVE-LABEL with the name you want to give to the drive. Furthermore, change FILE-SYSTEM with either NTFS, FAT32, or exFAT. Here’s an example:

    format G: /v:TechCodex /fs:NTFS /q
  3. If you wish to perform a full format, run the following command instead:

    format VOLUME: /v:DRIVE-LABEL /fs:FILE-SYSTEM
    

    Here’s an example of how the command should look like:

    format G: /v:"TechCodex" /fs:NTFS

Upon completion of the formatting process, you can use your USB drive to store data again.

Format USB flash drives using PowerShell

It’s also possible to clean and format a USB flash drive using Windows PowerShell. Here’s what the process looks like:

  1. Open the Start menu and type “PowerShell,” then right-click the top result and select Run as administrator.
  2. To perform a quick format on the connected flash drive, type the following command and press the Enter key:

    Format-Volume -DriveLetter DRIVE-LETTER -FileSystem FILE-SYSTEM -NewFileSystemLabel DRIVE-LABEL

    In the above command, replace DRIVE-LETTER with the letter you wish to assign to the drive, and FILE-SYSTEM for either NTFS, FAT32, or exFAT. Make sure to change DRIVE-LABEL with the name you would like to give to your flash drive.
    This is an example of quick formatting the “G” drive with the NTFS file system:

    Format-Volume -DriveLetter G -FileSystem NTFS -NewFileSystemLabel TechCodex
  3. If you want to perform a full format on the flash drive, run this command in PowerShell instead:

    Format-Volume -DriveLetter DRIVE-LETTER -FileSystem FILE-SYSTEM -Full -Force

    The -Full option is for the full format, and the -Force option is for the override switch.
    This is an example of full formatting the “G” drive:

    Format-Volume -DriveLetter G -FileSystem NTFS -Full -Force

After you go through the steps, PowerShell will erase any information on the removable USB storage device and rebuild the file system table. If you proceed with the full format, it will also check for all the drive sectors and overwrite them to make previously stored data unrecoverable.

To conclude

In this guide, we have shown various ways to format USB flash drives on Windows 10. We recommend using File Explorer most of the time, but you may also go with the Disk Management tool or command-line in case something goes wrong.

For more helpful Windows 10 guides like this, check out our “How to” section. We also cover detailed topics on Android, iOS, macOS, Chromebooks, and more.

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