How to Fix ‘Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format’ (6 Ways)

The ‘unable to format pen drive or SD card’ error can hit you like a sledgehammer when trying to format one of these storage drives. Whether you were trying to format your memory card or USB for use, erase data, or fix errors, you can’t finish formatting unless you fix this error.

But first, you must know why ‘Windows was unable to complete the format SD card‘ problem happens in the first place. For your convenience, we’ll discuss the reasons behind this issue and then spell out 6 proven ways to fix it accordingly. So, don’t stop scrolling!

Error message when formatting drive

Reasons Behind ‘Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format’ Error

Before we discuss how to fix the ‘Windows was unable to complete the format SD card‘ error, let’s consider why it might happen in the first place. Understanding the reasons behind its occurrence can help you find a suitable solution. Here are some common causes of this error:

  • The storage drive might be write-protected to prevent changes.
  • Viruses or malware infecting the drive can disrupt formatting.
  • Trying to format a drive without any partitions can also cause issues.
  • Physical damage to the drive, such as bad sectors or corruption.

What to Do Before Fixing the Error

Some USBs and memory cards come with a switch on them referred to as “Write Protection.” When it’s enabled, it makes the drive read-only, leading to the ‘Windows was unable to format USB/SD card’ error. This is because you can see files on the drive, but you can’t change them; you can’t add new files, delete old ones, or edit anything.

Therefore, before trying any solution, you must find out whether your storage drive has read-write protection turned on. If it has, switch it off. For example, if you have a mini SD card, put it into an SD adapter and switch the write-protection switch to the off position.

6 Ways to Fix the Error

Here are 6 ways you can try to fix the ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error and format your SD card or USB successfully. Attempt each method individually, based on its cause and your skill level:

Fix 1: Format with 4DDiG Partition Manager

When you get the ‘Windows was unable to complete the format flash drive‘ error, it could be due to corruption. If that’s the case, you can try a reliable third-party tool like 4DDiG Partition Manager to format the drive properly. This tool can also restore formatted partitions, recover deleted partitions, and repair RAW partitions. Additionally, it offers a variety of features such as:

  • Resize, shrink, split, merge, create, delete, or format partitions.
  • Clone your whole hard drive to save your data.
  • Fix damaged EFI/MBR and disks that won’t boot.
  • Move Windows to SSD without reinstalling.
  • Change MBR to GPT and upgrade to a bigger hard drive without losing data.
  • Change drive letters, and create a bootable WinPE media.

Here’s how to use this tool to fix the ‘Windows was unable to format USB/SD card‘ error by completely formatting your drive:

  1. Download and install the partition manager tool on your computer. Then, connect the SD card or USB to your PC and launch the tool.
  2. Choose “Partition Management.” Next, right-click the partition you want to format. Select “Format” from the left.
  3. Selecting format option in 4DDiG Partition Manager
  4. Adjust the volume label, file system, and cluster size for the storage partition. Hit “OK.” Then, press “Yes” to confirm the formatting process. Wait, then click “Done” when the formatting finishes.
  5. Confirmation of formatting settings
  6. Preview the formatting result. If you’re fine with it, hit “Execute 1 Task(s).” Click “OK” to proceed with the formatting process.
  7. Executing the formatting task
Fix 2: Use CHKDSK to Repair Disk Errors

Faulty sectors in your storage drive can cause the ‘Windows was unable to complete the format flash drive‘ error. You can run Windows’s built-in CHKDSK tool to scan and repair those bad sectors. To do so:

  1. Type cmd in the Windows search bar. Then, choose “Command Prompt” and run it with admin privileges.
  2. Type the following command: chkdsk [drive letter]: /f /r /x. Press “Enter.”
  3. Entering CHKDSK command in Command Prompt
  4. Open “File Explorer.” Right-click on the storage drive you want to format. Select “Format.”
  5. Choose “NTFS” as the file system, and tick “Quick Format.” Click “Start.”
Fix 3: Format with Command Prompt

Besides running CHKDSK from Command Prompt, you can also use the “format” command to fix the ‘unable to format pen drive/SD card’ error. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Type cmd in the Windows search bar. Then, choose “Command Prompt” and run it with admin privileges.
  2. Type one of the following commands with the specific drive letter and the type of file system you want: e.g. format /FS:FAT32 [drive letter] or format /FS:NTFS [drive letter]. Then, press “Enter.”
  3. Entering format command in Command Prompt
Fix 4: Format with Disk Management

You can also use Windows’s built-in Disk Management utility to format a drive that’s giving you a ‘Windows was unable to complete the format SD card‘ error. It enables you to allocate drive letters and create, remove, format, and organize partitions on your drives. You can also see details about all your storage devices, like their health, capacity, and free space. To do so:

  1. Right-click the “Start” menu. Then, choose “Disk Management” and open it.
  2. Select your SD card or USB drive you want to format. Right-click on it and press “Format.”
  3. Choosing drive to format in Disk Management
  4. Pick the “volume label,” “file system,” and “allocation size” for your SD card or USB. Next, make sure to tick the box next to “Perform a quick format.” Hit “OK.”
  5. Entering volume label and other details
Fix 5: Scan for Viruses

Sometimes, the ‘Windows was unable to format USB‘ error doesn’t happen due to your drive but because of your computer. Your PC might have a virus or malware infection that’s preventing formatting and causing an ‘unable to format pen drive/memory card‘ error.

If that’s the case, run a full scan with Microsoft Defender Antivirus. It’s a built-in Windows tool for finding and eradicating any viruses or malware. Follow the steps below to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format‘ with Windows Defender:

  1. Type “Windows Security” in the Windows search bar, then click on it to open it.
  2. Choose “Virus & threat protection” from the left and then click on “Scan options.”
  3. Choosing scan options in Windows Security
  4. Select the “Full Scan” option. Then, click “Scan now.”
  5. Starting full scan in Windows Security
Fix 6: Use SD Memory Card Formatter

Usually, the formatting tools that come with Windows can work on different types of storage, but they might not be the best for SD cards. Using them could make your memory card work slower. To fix the ‘Windows was unable to complete the format SD card‘ error completely, use the “SD Memory Card Formatter.”

It’s a special tool made by the SD Association, an organization that sets rules for SD cards. This tool does a more detailed job at formatting than what Windows does. Here is how to use it:

  1. Download “SD Memory Card Formatter” on your computer and plug in your SD Card into your PC.
  2. Open “SD Memory Card Formatter” and choose the memory card you want to format. If the program doesn’t recognize the card, click “Refresh.”
  3. Refreshing SD card selection in SD Memory Card Formatter
  4. Decide between “Quick format” or “Overwrite format.” Overwriting files is safer but takes longer, especially if you’re giving the card to someone else.
  5. Choosing overwrite format option in SD Memory Card Formatter
  6. Turn on CHS format size adjustment if needed. This can fix issues with unrecognized SD cards and make them work better with different devices.
  7. Give your SD card a name. Then, press “Format” and confirm.