What is the cause of corrupted SD card?

SD cards have become an essential part of our digital lives. We use them to store photos, videos, documents, music, and more. However, SD cards can sometimes become corrupted, rendering the data on them inaccessible. Corrupted SD cards can happen for a variety of reasons. In this article, we will examine some of the most common causes of SD card corruption and how to avoid them.

Physical Damage

One of the most obvious causes of SD card corruption is physical damage to the card. SD cards have delicate electronic components inside that can be damaged if the card is bent, snapped, scratched, or exposed to liquids. Even small amounts of physical damage can make the data on the card unreadable. To avoid physical damage:

  • Be gentle when inserting and removing the SD card from devices
  • Store the SD card in a protective case when not in use
  • Keep the SD card away from moisture and extremes of heat and cold
  • Don’t bend, snap, or scratch the SD card

Improper Removal

Another common cause of corruption is improperly removing the SD card from a device while it is still being written to. When you remove an SD card while data is still being transferred, it can cause that data to be partially written or lost altogether. This can scramble the file system on the card. Always use the “Safely Remove Hardware” function on computers or the power down sequence on cameras before removing the card. Unexpectedly losing power to the device can also cause similar corruption.

File System Errors

The file system is the organizational structure the SD card uses to store and retrieve data. Occasionally, errors can occur within this file system that renders the data inaccessible. This can happen if the card is not properly formatted or if the structures on the card become corrupted. Reformatting the SD card can often fix these file system issues. However, reformatting will erase all data on the card, so only do this if you have backups.

Malware Infection

Viruses, Trojans, spyware, and other malicious software can sometimes infect the controllers of SD cards and other external storage devices. These infections can damage the file system structures on the card. Always scan new SD cards with antivirus software before use. Never open unfamiliar files or attachments on SD cards, as they can contain malware. If an SD card seems to be corrupted after being used in an untrusted device, it may be infected.

Exceeding Storage Limits

There are physical limits to the amount of data an SD card can hold. If you exceed the storage capacity of the card, it is possible for the file system to become corrupted. Always check the specifications of your SD card and be mindful of how much data you are storing on it. Spreading data across multiple SD cards instead of cramming it all onto one can help avoid exceeding capacity limits.

Improper Formatting

SD cards need to be properly formatted before their first use to create appropriate file system structures. Failure to properly format on the first use, reformatting with an incompatible file system, or interrupting the formatting process can cause corruption. Always use the recommended formatting process for your specific SD card and operating system.

Counterfeit Cards

Beware of counterfeit SD cards from disreputable sellers. These cards often have much less storage capacity than advertised and use inferior memory chips. Their components are more prone to early failure or data corruption. Only buy SD cards from reputable retailers and check customer reviews. Authentic high-end SD cards from major brands are less likely to have quality issues.

Extreme Temperatures

Exposing SD cards to extreme temperatures outside their normal operating ranges can damage components. This could lead to premature failure and data corruption. Avoid leaving cards in hot cars or locations, freezing temperatures, or direct intense heat sources. Manufacturers rate SD cards to function within -25°C to 85°C (-13°F to 185°F).

Power Surges

Power spikes coming through connected devices during the write process can potentially corrupt data on an SD card. Using surge protectors, avoiding use during electrical storms, and disconnecting devices during power fluctuations can help protect your SD cards.

Memory Wear Out

Like all flash memory devices, SD cards can wear out after extensive long-term use. Components degrade over hundreds of thousands of read/write cycles. Eventually, this can lead to irrecoverable data corruption. This is a particular risk if the card is used for swap space on single-board computers. For heavy usage, consider replacing cards annually.

Manufacturing Defects

In rare cases, random manufacturing defects in SD card components can cause corruption issues. Reputable brands test products thoroughly before sale, but some still occasionally ship with flaws. If a card seems prone to unexplained recurring corruption, it may have slipped through quality control with a defect.

Bit Rot

“Bit rot” refers to the slow data degradation on flash storage when electrons leak over time. All flash memory is at risk, though modern SD cards utilize wear leveling techniques to minimize issues. Higher-end cards are less susceptible. For archival data storage, check integrity using checksums and refresh data across new media every few years.

Insufficient Random Write Performance

SD cards need sufficient sequential and random write speeds for certain applications. Video recording requires constant quick writes to the card, and some cards can’t keep up. This causes dropped frames, video corruption, and stops. Check your card’s listed specifications, and use a faster card if need be.

Using the Wrong File System

Attempting to use an SD card formatted with an incompatible file system for your device can lead to corruption. For example, NTFS may be used for Windows PCs. But if used in a digital camera expecting FAT32, corruption is likely. Always check compatibility and reformat cards to the appropriate file system.

Poor Quality Card Readers

Low-quality USB card readers can sometimes prevent proper data transfer, cause disconnects during writes, or even corrupt data. Use high-quality readers from reputable brands that support the maximum interface speed grade for your card. Built-in readers in computers and devices are generally more reliable.

Unmounting Too Soon

On Linux, Mac, and other OSes, always unmount the SD card before removing it. Simply pulling out the card without unmounting can lead to data corruption if writes are interrupted. The “eject” function unmounts the drive properly before removal.

Incompatible Cameras

Using an SD card in a camera that has compatibility issues with that specific card brand, model, or speed rating can result in write issues or corruption. Always check your camera’s documentation to ensure your card is on the approved list. Firmware updates to the camera may be required for new cards.

RAW Formats

The complex RAW image formats used in DSLR cameras are particularly prone to corruption compared to JPEGs or other compressed formats. The large file sizes strain the camera processors and SD card. Some RAW formats are also proprietary, causing issues transferring to a computer. Shoot in RAW+JPEG mode as a backup.

Preventing SD Card Corruption

While SD card corruption cannot always be prevented completely, following these tips can reduce the chances of experiencing data loss:

  • Buy name-brand SD cards from reputable retailers
  • Handle cards gently and store in protective cases
  • Use “Safely Remove Hardware” before taking out cards
  • Don’t exceed the storage limits of the card
  • Reformat cards using the proper procedure for your device
  • Use antivirus scans and avoid malware
  • Replace high-use cards annually
  • Avoid extreme heat, cold, moisture, and power surges

Recovering Lost Data from a Corrupted SD Card

If your SD card does become corrupted, there are recovery methods that may be able to restore some or all of your lost photos, videos, and other data:

  • Shut down improperly – Leave the card in the device and reboot. The operating system may be able to repair errors and mount the drive on restart.
  • Reinserting the card – Remounting the SD card may allow it to repair itself, especially if the problem was an improper removal.
  • chkdsk – This built-in utility in Windows can detect and repair certain file system errors.
  • Format tools – Special tools exist that reformat the card and rebuild partitions and file tables, salvaging retrievable data.
  • Data recovery software – Advanced third-party data recovery programs can restore deleted files and retrieve data from formatted, corrupted, or inaccessible cards in many cases.
  • Data recovery services – As a last resort, professional data recovery services can attempt to repair SD cards using proprietary tools and methods. This can be expensive but is sometimes the only way to get back lost data.


SD card corruption can happen to anyone and can lead to the loss of irreplaceable photos, videos, documents, and other data. By understanding what causes SD cards to fail and taking steps to avoid those risk factors, you can minimize chances of problems. But ultimately, regular backups to external drives and cloud storage are still the best insurance against corruption or card failure. If you do experience SD card data loss, recovery software and services may be able to help get some of it back. Be proactive about prevention and backup, and you can have more confidence that your data is safe.