A corrupted flash drive can be incredibly frustrating. You may plug it into your computer and find that it’s no longer recognized or doesn’t show up in File Explorer at all. The good news is that there are several methods you can try to fix a corrupted flash drive and recover your data.
What causes a flash drive to become corrupted?
There are a few common causes of flash drive corruption:
- Improperly removing the flash drive – If you don’t safely eject the flash drive before unplugging it, it can lead to corruption.
- File system errors – The file system managing the data on the drive may become corrupted.
- Bad sectors – Over time, parts of the flash memory can go bad leading to corruption.
- Virus or malware infection – Viruses and malware can sometimes corrupt flash drives.
- Physical damage – Dropping or roughly handling the drive can physically damage it.
How to fix a corrupted flash drive
If your flash drive isn’t recognized, won’t open, or you can’t access the files, try these troubleshooting steps:
1. Try another USB port
First, try plugging the flash drive into another USB port on your computer. Sometimes, the USB port itself may cause connection issues. Try different ports to see if the drive is detected.
2. Check for physical damage
Carefully inspect the flash drive for any external physical damage. Look for bent pins, cracks, broken casing, and any other signs of damage. Physical damage can prevent the drive from properly connecting to your computer.
3. Run CHKDSK
CHKDSK (Check Disk) is a built-in Windows utility that scans drives and repairs file system errors. To run CHKDSK:
- Open File Explorer and right-click on the corrupted flash drive.
- Select Properties > Tools > Check.
- Check both boxes for “Automatically fix file system errors” and “Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors”.
- Click Start.
CHKDSK will scan the drive and fix any file system errors it finds. This may take some time to complete.
4. Format the flash drive
If CHKDSK is unable to repair errors, the next step is to completely format the flash drive. This will wipe all data from the drive and restructure the file system. To format:
- Open File Explorer and right-click on the flash drive.
- Select Format…
- Choose FAT32 or exFAT as the file system.
- Check the Quick Format box.
- Click Start.
After formatting, the flash drive should be empty and prepared for new data. Any previous corrupted data will be wiped.
5. Try data recovery software
If you need to recover data from the corrupted flash drive before formatting, try using data recovery software. Programs like Recuva, EaseUS Data Recovery, and Stellar Data Recovery have free versions that may be able to recover your files.
6. Check for bad sectors
Bad sectors are sections of the flash memory that have failed and cannot store data properly. They can contribute to corruption. To scan for bad sectors:
- Open Command Prompt as Administrator.
- Type “chkdsk x: /r” where x is the letter of your flash drive.
- Allow the scan to complete. Damaged areas will be repaired or marked as bad sectors.
7. Update USB drivers
Outdated USB drivers can sometimes cause connection issues with flash drives. Updating to the latest drivers may resolve a corrupted drive not being recognized.
To update drivers, open Device Manager, expand the USB controllers section, right click on each host controller, and select Update driver. Allow Windows to automatically search and install the latest driver software.
8. Try a different computer
Try plugging the corrupted flash drive into a different computer if possible. This can determine if the issue is with the drive itself or a problem with your PC’s USB port or drivers.
If the flash drive works normally on a second computer, it points to an issue with the original system. However, if it remains unrecognized, the drive itself is likely damaged.
Preventing flash drive corruption
You can help avoid corruption by properly ejecting the flash drive before removing it and handling it carefully:
- Safely eject the flash drive – Always use the Safely Remove Hardware option before unplugging.
- Handle gently – Avoid dropping, bending, or rough treatment to prevent physical damage.
- Keep it dry – Don’t get the drive wet which can short circuit components.
- Watch for errors – Occasional read/write errors may indicate impending failure.
- Keep it cool – High heat can damage flash memory and components.
Recovering data from a severely corrupted drive
If the above steps don’t fix a corrupted flash drive, the drive itself may be severely damaged or failed completely. In this case, you will need professional data recovery to attempt retrieving your files.
Data recovery labs open up the physical flash memory chips and use specialized tools to manually read data off the storage components. This is an expensive service costing hundreds of dollars, but can potentially recover data from drives that are completely dead.
Some options for professional flash drive data recovery include:
- Secure Data Recovery
If the data is extremely important, professional recovery may be worth the high cost for retrieving irreplaceable files.
Best practices for flash drive use
Follow these tips for safe flash drive usage and to help avoid corruption:
- Eject properly – Always eject through the system tray before removing.
- Use safely – Don’t force removal when plugged in or handling roughly.
- Handle with care – Avoid drops, liquid exposure, high heat.
- Use quality drives – Choose reputable brands for better quality and longevity.
- Remove safely – Unmount and disconnect from computer before unplugging.
- Encrypt data – Use built-in encryption like BitLocker for sensitive data.
- Backup important data – Keep duplicates of critical files on other drives.
- Check for errors – Periodically scan for bad sectors and errors.
- Avoid overfilling – Leave at least 15% free space to reduce corruption risk.
When to replace a damaged flash drive
If a flash drive becomes frequently corrupted or completely stops working, it’s time to replace it. Signs it may need replacement include:
- Frequent read/write errors
- Not being recognized by computers
- Visible physical damage
- Over 10 years old
- Multiple failed attempts at fixing corruption
- Inability to format or partition
Flash drives are inexpensive and have limited lifespan. An older damaged drive that’s consistently causing problems should be replaced. This avoids wasted time repeatedly fixing corruption issues.
For important data, replace the drive proactively before failure occurs to avoid potential data loss. Check drives regularly for early signs of problems.
Data recovery tips
If you need to recover data from a corrupted flash drive, keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t overwrite data – Don’t save anything new to the drive before recovery.
- Act quickly – The longer you wait, the lower the chances of recovery.
- Try recovery software – Programs like Recuva may retrieve recently lost files.
- Consider professional recovery – For valuable data, a lab may be able to recover more.
- Check repair shops – Local computer shops sometimes offer data recovery services.
- Remove safely – If sending away, safely eject and pack well to avoid further damage.
Taking quick action, avoiding overwriting files, and using the right tools can help successfully recover your important data.
Can corrupted flash drives spread viruses?
Yes, it’s possible for a virus to spread via an infected corrupted flash drive. Some things to watch out for include:
- Autorun viruses – Malware that executes automatically when plugged in.
- Fake drive letters – May add fake removable drives that install malware.
- Booby trapped files – Seemingly normal files that infect when opened.
- Fake error messages – Popups warning of fake corruption that try to spread malware.
To reduce risk of infection:
- Disable autorun – Turn off auto-open on drive insertion.
- Scan with antivirus – Scan drives and files before accessing.
- Watch for suspicious behavior – Unexpected drive letters, popups, etc.
- Safely eject – Eject and disconnect drives after scanning and accessing files.
Stay vigilant when using unknown flash drives to avoid malware infection.
Converting RAW to NTFS
If a flash drive becomes RAW rather than its normal NTFS or FAT32 file system, you can try converting it back to NTFS to resolve corruption issues:
- Open Command Prompt as Administrator
- Type “diskpart” and press Enter
- Type “list disk” to list all connected drives and identify your flash drive
- Type “select disk x” where x is your flash drive number
- Type “clean” to wipe all data and partitions
- Type “create partition primary”
- Type “format fs=ntfs quick” to create an NTFS partition
- Type “assign” to assign a drive letter
- Type “exit” to finish
This will recreate the NTFS file system, potentially fixing the corruption issue. However, all data will be deleted in the process.
Corrupted flash drives are common but can often be repaired using DIY troubleshooting techniques like scanning for errors, reformatting, or updating USB drivers. For valuable data recovery from a severely corrupted drive, professional data recovery services may be required.
Prevention is also key – properly ejecting flash drives, handling them gently, not overfilling them, and regularly checking for problems will help avoid corruption issues in the first place.
With the right tools and techniques, you can hopefully get your corrupted flash drive fixed or recover important files, getting you back up and running again.