Windows failed to complete the format error? Fix it with these solutions

Matthew Adams
by Matthew Adams
Windows & Software Expert
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pc wont complete the format

Many users are receiving Windows was unable to complete the format message while trying to format their USB flash drive or an external hard drive. This can be a problem, and prevent you from formatting storage devices. However, there’s a way to fix this issue.

Some Windows users format USB flash drives to change their file systems. The usual way to format external storage devices in Windows is to select Format on File Explorer’s context menu. However, some users can’t always format the drives with Explorer’s Format Removable Disk tool when it returns an error message stating, “Windows was unable to complete the format.” This is how you can fix the “unable to complete the format” error.

The format did not complete successfully error, here’s how to fix it

  1. Scan the Drive With Anti-Virus Software
  2. Run a Check Disk Scan
  3. Remove the USB Stick’s Write Protection
  4. Format the USB Drive With Disk Management
  5. Format the Drive with Diskpart
  6. Format USB Flash Storage With Third-Party Software

Solution 1 – Scan the Drive With Anti-Virus Software

As flash drives don’t usually carry any anti-virus software, they’re more likely to include a virus or malware that prevent drive formatting. As such, an anti-virus scan might fix a USB stick that isn’t formatting.

Some third-party anti-virus software will automatically scan drives when you insert them. Most anti-virus utilities will also probably include a USB/DVD Scan option to scan external drives with. For further anti-virus software details, check out this software guide.

There are many great antivirus tools on the market, but if you’re looking for a fast and reliable antivirus, we suggest that you try out Bitdefender. If your USB flash drive is infected, Bitdefender should be able to locate and eliminate any threat without problems.

Solution 2 – Run a Check Disk Scan

It might be the case that the USB stick has some file system errors or sectors that need fixing. If so, you can repair the flash drive with the Check Disk utility. Check Disk will scan the selected drive and repair detected file system errors. This is how you can run a chkdsk scan in Windows.

  1. First, open File Explorer in Windows.
  2. Insert the flash drive to scan in a USB slot.
  3. Click This PC and then right-click your flash drive to open its context menu.
    properties hard drive PC can't format
  4. Select Properties to open the window directly below.
    PC can't format properties
  5. Select the Tools tab, and press the Check button.
  6. A window might then open stating, “You don’t need to scan this drive.” However, you can still initiate a manual scan by selecting the Scan and repair drive option.

scan hard drive Windows couldn't complete the format

Solution 3 – Remove the USB Stick’s Write Protection

There’s no way you can format a flash drive that’s write protected. Some USB sticks include a write protect switch to lock or unlock them with. Make sure the write protect switch on your USB storage is switched upwards to turn write protection off.

If you can’t find a write protect switch on your flash storage device, switch write protection off with third-party software. For example, you can disable write protection.

Solution 4 – Format the USB Drive With Disk Management

  1. Although File Explorer might not recognize your flash drive’s file system, you can probably still format it with Disk Management. Open Disk Management by pressing the Win key + R hotkey and entering ‘diskmgmt.msc‘ in Run’s text box.
    disk management Windows was unable to complete the format
  2. Right-click the USB stick on the Disk Management window and select Format.
  3. A dialog box window opens for further confirmation. Press the Yes button to open the window in the snapshot directly below.
    format settings pc can't format
  4. Then you can select a file system to format the flash storage to.
  5. Press the OK button to format the USB stick.
  6. If the USB stick shows as empty with allocated file space on the Disk Management window, select New Simple Volume from the flash drive’s context menu instead of Format. Then format the drive with the New Simple Volume Wizard.

Solution 5 – Format the Drive with Diskpart

Diskpart is another alternative utility that might also format the USB drive. That’s a command line tool you can open with the Command Prompt. This is how you can format flash drives with Diskpart.

  1. Press the Win key + X hotkey to open the Win + X menu.
  2. Select Command Prompt (Admin) to open the Prompt’s window.
  3. Input ‘diskpart‘ in the Command Prompt, and press the Return key. That will open the Diskpart window shown in the snapshot directly below.
    diskpart windows was unable to format
  4. First, enter ‘list disk’ and press Return to open a list of drives as below.
    list disk pc was unable to format
  5. Input ‘select disk n‘ in the Diskpart window, and press the Enter key. However, replace n with the actual disk number of the USB stick you need to select.
    diskpart select disk Windows was unable to complete the format
  6. Enter the ‘clean‘ command, and don’t forget to press the Return key.
  7. Next, enter the ‘create partition primary‘ command in Diskpart.
  8. Finally, input ‘format fs=ntfs quick‘ and press Enter to format the USB drive with NTFS (New Technology File System).

Solution 6 – Format USB Flash Storage With Third-Party Software

There are also various third-party utilities that you can format flash drives with. If you can’t format a storage drive with File Explorer, check out software such as AOMEI Partition Assistant. Both have freeware versions with which you can format USB flash drives by right-clicking listed storage devices in their windows and selecting Format partition.

Those are some of the best resolutions for fixing a USB drive that the Format Removable Disk tool isn’t formatting. Note that formatting drives also erases all their data, so you should always backup a storage device before formatting it if you need to retain some files on it.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2017 and has been since revamped and updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.