How to recover data from USB after format?

Formatting a USB drive erases all the data on it, but that doesn’t mean the data is gone forever. With the right tools and techniques, it is often possible to recover formatted data from a USB drive. This guide will walk you through the steps for recovering lost files from a formatted USB flash drive.

Can you recover formatted USB data?

Yes, in many cases it is possible to recover formatted data from a USB drive. When you format a drive, the file system information telling the operating system where your files are located is erased, but the actual data itself often remains intact until being overwritten by new data. As long as the original data hasn’t been overwritten, data recovery software can scan the USB drive and rebuild the file system to regain access to formatted data.

Factors that affect USB data recovery

Several factors influence whether or not formatted data can be recovered from a USB drive:

  • Time since formatting – The less time that has passed since formatting, the higher the chance of recovery success.
  • Overwrite activity – If large amounts of new data have been saved to the drive since formatting, overwritten data will be unrecoverable.
  • Drive capacity – Data on smaller USB drives has less area to be overwritten compared to larger drives.
  • File system – The FAT32 file system has higher recovery success rates than NTFS or exFAT.
  • Physical damage – Any physical damage to the USB drive can cause data loss.

Generally speaking, if a USB drive was recently formatted and hasn’t had much new data written to it, the prospects for formatted data recovery are good. Attempting recovery sooner rather than later is advised.

Steps to recover formatted USB drive data

Here are the key steps to take to recover your data after accidentally formatting a USB flash drive:

  1. Avoid writing new data to the drive – After a format, avoid saving any new files to the USB drive. Any new data could overwrite and destroy your lost files.
  2. Connect the USB to a computer – Connect the formatted USB drive directly to your computer via a USB port. Avoid any USB hubs.
  3. Download data recovery software – Download and install a reliable, quality data recovery program.
  4. Scan the drive – Run the data recovery tool and scan the USB drive to search for recoverable files.
  5. Preview found files – Browse and preview the files found by the software to assess their integrity.
  6. Recover data to another drive – Choose the files to recover and restore them to another clean drive, not the formatted USB.

Let’s look at these steps in more detail.

1. Avoid writing new data to the formatted drive

This is the most important step after accidentally formatting your drive. Any new data written to the USB stick could overwrite and destroy traces of your deleted files. Avoid saving any new files, images, videos, or other data to the formatted drive. Also, don’t attempt to reformat it again.

2. Connect the USB drive to your computer

Connect your formatted USB drive directly to your desktop or laptop computer using a USB port. Do not use a USB hub or connect through an external docking station. A direct connection ensures maximum performance and stability during the data recovery process. USB hubs can introduce power management issues that interfere with recovering data off the drive.

3. Download data recovery software

Many data recovery programs are available, both free and paid. Look for recovery software that has a strong reputation and positive reviews. Free software can work perfectly in many cases, but paid programs generally provide better results, especially for severely damaged or corrupted storage devices.

Some top data recovery software tools include:

  • Stellar Data Recovery
  • EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
  • R-Studio
  • Disk Drill
  • Recuva

When downloading recovery software, save and run the installer file on another drive, not the formatted USB you are trying to recover data from.

4. Scan the formatted USB drive

Open your data recovery program and scan the USB drive to search for recoverable data. This scan analyzes the drive looking for traces of the original file system and lost files. It may take some time to complete depending on the capacity of the drive.

Some tools may ask you to choose a file system type before scanning. If you are unsure, pick the auto-detect option. Don’t make any changes to the disk during the scan process.

5. Preview found files

Once the scan finishes, the data recovery software will display the files it found as available for recovery. Browse through this list and preview files to check their contents and quality.

Pay attention to the file size and preview images, documents, and other file types. Corrupted files may show up as unexpected sizes or fail to open properly. Recovery is more likely for larger files compared to smaller fragments.

6. Recover data to another drive

Choose the files you want to recover from the list. Be selective and only recover important files in usable condition. Avoid recovering corrupted or damaged files, as these could be partially overwritten.

Configure the recovery tool to restore the data to another drive, not the original formatted USB. A hard drive or separate USB drive works well as the recovery destination. Saving recovered files back to the same drive could cause data corruption.

The recovery process may take some time depending on the number and size of files being restored. Once finished, you can access your recovered files from the destination location.

Tips for successful USB data recovery

Keep these tips in mind when attempting to recover data after formatting a USB drive:

  • Act quickly – Your chances decrease over time as original files may get overwritten.
  • Avoid reformatting – Reformatting will overwrite more data and reduce recoverability.
  • Use quality software – Invest in a reputable recovery program for the best results.
  • Scan thoroughly – Allow time for a full scan rather than abrupt stopping.
  • Assess file integrity – Check previews and file sizes to avoid recovering corrupted data.
  • Recover to another drive – Always restore to a different drive than the formatted device.

Can you recover data after full format vs. quick format?

Windows gives you two main formatting options when erasing a USB drive:

  • Quick Format – Only erases file system info, marks space as available for new data. Data itself remains.
  • Full Format – Erases file system info, scans drive for bad sectors, and overwrites data with zeros for complete erasure.

Quick formatting has a significantly higher chance of data recovery compared to full formatting. When you quick format a drive, the original data remains intact until it gets gradually overwritten by new data.

Recovery software can scan a quick formatted drive and rebuild the old file system to make previously deleted files accessible again. This process often retrieves a high amount of recoverable data.

In contrast, full formatting actively overwrites all data on the drive by replacing it with zeros. This erasure process destroys the original data, making it unrecoverable through normal means. Only small traces of files may potentially be recoverable after a full format.

Can you recover formatted USB drive data on Mac?

The USB drive data recovery process is similar on both Windows and Mac operating systems. Mac users can recover formatted USB drives using recovery software designed for macOS.

Top Mac data recovery options include:

  • Disk Drill
  • Data Rescue
  • R-Studio for Mac
  • EaseUS Mac Data Recovery
  • Stellar Data Recovery for Mac

These tools work much like their Windows counterparts. You scan the formatted drive, preview found files, and restore recoverable data to another location.

One key difference is that most Mac recovery software can create a disk image file to access formatted USB drives. This technique allows read-only access without risk of accidental file overwrites.

Overall, the USB data recovery process involves the same main steps on both Windows and macOS. Just be sure to use recovery software designed specifically for your operating system.

Can you recover lost USB partition?

Recovering lost or deleted partitions on a USB drive is possible using data recovery software with advanced capabilities.

Here are the steps to recover a lost USB partition:

  1. Connect the USB drive to your computer.
  2. Download and install recovery software with partition recovery features.
  3. Scan the USB drive for lost partitions and file systems.
  4. Preview found partitions and choose one to recover.
  5. Rebuild the partition structure to access recovered data.

Some advanced recovery programs like TestDisk have specific utilities aimed at recovering partitions and rebuilding partition tables. This allows you to restore access to data even when the original partition structure is badly damaged or misconfigured.

Recovering partitions requires deeper-level drive scanning compared to standard file recovery. Expect the process to take significant time for large-capacity USB drives.

Can USB data be recovered after full format?

As mentioned previously, full formatting a USB drive significantly reduces the chances for successful data recovery. The full format process actively overwrites existing data in a way that pure quick formatting does not.

However, full formatting does not make data recovery impossible in every scenario. Here are some cases where you may still recover data after a full format:

  • Drive was only partially filled – Overwritten areas have data loss, but unused space may contain original data.
  • High-capacity drive – Larger drives take longer to fully overwrite, so stop process quickly if detected.
  • Advanced recovery methods – Disk imaging or specialized tools may find trace data.
  • Extra storage chips – Some USB drives have hidden backup chips that avoid formatting.

Overall, expect very limited data recovery from a fully formatted USB drive. But if the full format was interrupted quickly or other factors exist, some files may still be salvageable.

USB drive recovery FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about USB data recovery:

Can you recover files after emptying recycle bin?

Yes, recovery software can restore deleted files even after emptying the recycle bin on Windows or Trash on Mac. As long as the storage space hasn’t been overwritten, data can be retrieved.

Can Best Buy recover data from a USB drive?

Best Buy offers USB data recovery services through its Geek Squad division. Pricing varies based on data loss severity and desired turnaround time. Expect to pay $100 or more for formatted drive recovery.

Is USB data recovery expensive?

USB recovery services can be costly due to extensive labor and overhead. But DIY recovery using software is very affordable – quality software tools cost $50-$100 on average.

How do I recover corrupted files from a USB?

Use data recovery software to scan the USB drive and find corrupted files based on traces still stored on the disk. Repair corrupted files when possible or recover unaffected portions.

Can you recover files after Windows reset?

If you reset a Windows PC without wiping the hard drive, data recovery software may find recoverable user files. But performing a full system reset will eliminate all user data.

Preventing USB data loss

Here are some tips to avoid losing your valuable USB drive data:

  • Eject properly – Always eject/safely remove USB drives before disconnecting.
  • Back up important data – Maintain backups of irreplaceable files on other storage.
  • Check for errors – Periodically scan drives using built-in tools.
  • Avoid physical damage – Don’t expose drives to water, major impacts, or other hazards.
  • Encrypt sensitive data – Use encryption tools like BitLocker to secure private files.

Being cautious and following security best practices helps mitigate most common causes of USB data loss. But even responsible users encounter deleted or corrupted files once in a while. In those cases, data recovery software provides an essential safety net for restoring lost data.


Formatting a USB drive and losing your files can be devastating. But specialized data recovery tools make it possible to regain deleted files in many formatting scenarios. Follow the right steps to maximize your chances:

  • Avoid further drive usage to prevent overwrites.
  • Connect the USB drive to your computer.
  • Download and scan with quality recovery software.
  • Preview found files thoroughly.
  • Restore chosen files safely to a separate drive.

With an understanding of the USB recovery process and specialized software, you stand an excellent chance of getting back lost photos, documents, and other important user files. Just act quickly after any accidental formatting to avoid permanent data loss.