How do I recover lost files from a flash drive?

What causes files to be lost or deleted from a flash drive?

There are several common reasons why you may experience lost or deleted files from your flash or thumb drive:

  • Accidental deletion – Files may be accidentally deleted by the user, either by highlighting files and pressing delete or using the delete option when right-clicking on files.
  • Corruption – A flash drive may experience corruption of the file system or corruption of the individual files stored on it. This can make files inaccessible.
  • Physical damage – Physical damage to the flash drive from being dropped, bent, exposed to liquids, etc. can cause data loss.
  • Malware infection – Viruses or malware may infect the flash drive and alter, corrupt or delete files.
  • Improper ejection – Removing the flash drive from a computer without properly ejecting it can lead to file corruption.
  • Formatting – If the flash drive is formatted, this will delete all files on the drive.

Knowing the cause of data loss can help determine the best recovery method to use to get your files back.

How can I recover deleted files from a flash drive?

If you’ve accidentally deleted files from your flash drive, you may be able to recover them using data recovery software as long as the deleted files have not been overwritten by new data saved to the drive. Here are some options:

  • Use recovery software – Specialized data recovery programs can scan your drive and recover deleted files. Popular software options include Recuva, TestDisk, and EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard.
  • Restore from backups – If you have backed up your flash drive data elsewhere, you can restore the missing files from your backup.
  • Recover from the Recycle Bin – On Windows computers, deleted files go to the Recycle Bin and may be restored from there if not emptied.
  • Use Shadow Explorer – If System Restore/Volume Snapshot Service is enabled, Shadow Explorer can find and restore older versions of deleted files.

The sooner you attempt data recovery, the better chance you have of getting your files back. Avoid saving new data onto the flash drive before recovery.

How can I recover corrupted files from a flash drive?

If your files have become corrupted on the flash drive for whatever reason, recovery is still often possible:

  • Use recovery software – As mentioned above, data recovery programs are designed to retrieve corrupted files from storage devices. They can reconstruct the files bit-by-bit.
  • Format the drive – In some cases, formatting the corrupted drive can fix file system errors and make files accessible again. Note this will delete all data so recover files first.
  • Repair errors – On a Windows PC, running CHKDSK can detect and repair logical file system errors, restoring access to corrupted files.
  • Low level format – A low-level format removes all data but also repairs physical errors on the disk that may be causing corruption.

The specific steps to recover a corrupted file often depend on the error itself. But data recovery software gives the best chance of getting important files back intact.

How do I recover files from a physically damaged flash drive?

If your flash drive has physical damage, here are some recovery tips:

  • Repair the port – If the USB connector is damaged, carefully repair it or take it to a repair shop to fix electrical issues.
  • Use external adapter – A USB-to-SATA or USB-to-IDE adapter lets you access the drive internals and get files off it even with outer casing damage.
  • Professional data recovery service – For significant physical damage like disk platters scratched or motors seized, a professional recovery lab may be able to repair and recover your data.
  • Extract the memory chips – As a last resort, the flash memory chips can be carefully removed and read using specialized equipment to recover data.

The more damage the drive sustains, the lower the chances of DIY file recovery. But professionals with specialized tools can often recover data from drives even with catastrophic physical damage.

Can files be recovered after a flash drive is formatted?

If a flash drive is formatted or repartitioned, the file system structure is erased and the drive appears empty. But your files are usually still there in full until being overwritten.

  • Use recovery software – Data recovery software looks at the raw data level, so it can find all files on a formatted drive as long as they have not yet been overwritten.
  • Recover old partitions – TestDisk can scan for deleted partitions and reconstruct them to access the old file system and files.
  • Send to a professional – If DIY software cannot see past the format to recover files, a professional lab may be able to repair the file system enough to recover files.

The tips above for undeleting and corrupted file recovery also apply for a formatted flash drive. The sooner you act and the less you have rewritten to the drive, the better your chances.

Can lost files be recovered from an infected flash drive?

A flash drive infected by a virus or malware may have corrupted, altered, encrypted, or deleted files. Recovery options include:

  • Use antivirus software – Run an updated antivirus scanner on the infected drive to clean any malware. This may restore some damaged components.
  • Try data recovery software – If antivirus cannot repair the damage, data recovery tools may still find old file versions and recover them.
  • Format the drive – Formatting the drive erases malware but also deletes all data, so recover files first.
  • Restore from backups – Backups made before the infection can restore lost files if recovery fails.

The earlier the detection, the less damage is likely to have occurred. So install robust antivirus on all your devices and regularly scan external drives.

How can I recover files after improperly ejecting a flash drive?

If you disconnect a flash drive without ejecting it first, file corruption can occur. Try these tips:

  • Reconnect the drive – In some cases, simply reconnecting the same drive properly may restore access.
  • Restart your computer – A restart can clear any issues and allow detecting the drive correctly again.
  • Use recovery software – Data recovery tools can restore corrupted files caused by improper ejection.
  • Format the drive – As a last resort, formatting returns the drive to a usable state, but erases all data first.

Proper ejection flushes cached writes and disconnects the drive safely. Always eject external drives or do a safe hardware disconnect to avoid file damage.

Is it possible to recover permanently deleted files?

When a file is permanently deleted, the following happens:

  1. The file system marks the disk space occupied by the file as available for use.
  2. The file entry in the file system directory is removed.

The actual file contents remain on the disk until overwritten by new data. Therefore, recovery is possible:

  • Recovery software can scan the disk and reconstruct files marked as deleted.
  • If the file system was reformatted, recovery gets more difficult but may still be possible in some cases.
  • If the file’s disk space is overwritten by new data, permanent deletion occurs as contents are unrecoverable.

So for successful recovery of permanently deleted files, it is vital to avoid writing any new data to the flash drive before running data recovery tools.

How long do erased files stay recoverable?

A deleted file remains recoverable from a flash drive only until its storage space is overwritten by new data. This depends on several factors:

  • Drive capacity – The larger the drive, the longer before all space is reused.
  • Drive usage – A rarely used drive delays overwriting deleted files.
  • File size – Large files take up more space that is later overwritten.
  • File system – Some file systems reuse space faster than others.

In general, recoverability can extend from days up to months if space is not reused. But action is required before that overwriting happens.

Can you recover short video clips deleted from a flash drive?

Yes, deleted video files stored on a flash drive can often be recovered with the right approach:

  • Use video recovery software – Specialized tools like Recoverit Video Recovery maximize chances to restore deleted videos.
  • Avoid overwriting data – Don’t record new videos onto the drive to prevent overwriting the deleted ones.
  • Re-enable the flash drive – If the drive is disabled, carefully reconnect it on a Windows PC and assign a drive letter.
  • Try multiple recovery tools – If one doesn’t find the video, another tool may be able to reconstruct it.

The smaller the video clip, the less disk space it uses, reducing the chance of an overwrite. So recovering short clips has a good success rate if acted upon quickly.

What are the chances of recovering an overwritten file?

If a deleted file has had its disk space overwritten by new data, recovery becomes close to impossible, for these reasons:

  • The original content has been destroyed – Any sections overwritten no longer contain recoverable data.
  • No record of the file remains – The file system no longer tracks it or points to it.
  • No way to reconstruct – Without any remaining pieces, recovery tools have nothing to rebuild the file from.

While a few advanced specialist methods may recover fragments, heavily overwritten files are generally unrecoverable. Preventing the overwrite is key.

Can you recover files after a quick format of a flash drive?

A quick format simply erases the file system structure on the drive but does not overwrite existing data. So file recovery is normally possible:

  • Recovery tools scan the raw data level to recover files after a quick format.
  • Different software tries different reconstruction techniques, so try multiple tools.
  • Files remain recoverable until the space they occupy is reused and overwritten.
  • A full format or repartition erases all data and makes recovery unlikely.

So when dealing with a quick-formatted drive, avoid writing new data to it and use data recovery software right away for the best results.

Is there free file recovery software that works?

Yes, these free solutions can recover lost files in many cases:

  • Recuva – Scans hard drives and external drives to undelete files with a simple interface. Windows only.
  • TestDisk – More advanced open source tool that can also rebuild damaged partitions. Works on Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • Photorec – Companion to TestDisk focused on recovering image, video, document, and audio files from any type of disk. Cross-platform.

While paid solutions like EaseUS and Stellar have some more sophisticated capabilities, free tools work well for basic quick and accidental file deletion recovery cases.

Should I replace the flash drive if files are corrupted or lost?

It depends on the scope of the issue:

  • For minor corruption, recovery software should restore your files. No replacement needed.
  • If physical damage caused the problem, then a replacement drive will likely be required.
  • A new flash drive won’t have your lost files – attempt recovery from the old drive instead.
  • For widespread data loss, consider a new drive and attempt recovery from the old one separately.

Hardware failure requiring replacement is less common than software errors that recovery tools can fix. Don’t throw away the old drive until recovered files.

How can I avoid needing file recovery in the future?

Some best practices to avoid file loss requiring recovery include:

  • Always safely eject the flash drive before removing it.
  • Create backups of your important flash drive data.
  • Keep antivirus software updated to catch malware before it damages files.
  • Physically protect the drive from damage that can cause data loss.
  • Avoid fully formatting drives when a quick format will do.

Following these precautions reduces the risk of file corruption, deletion, and other issues that might require data recovery to resolve. Prevention is the best medicine.


While file recovery from flash drives can often be successful, it involves specific techniques based on the cause of data loss. Understanding the options for undeleting, repairing corruption, handling physical damage, and addressing other issues lets you select the right approach. Data recovery tools paired with avoiding overwriting lost files offer the best chance to restore access to important documents and media. Following some simple precautions can also reduce your risk of needing recovery in the first place.