Windows failed to complete the format: 7 solutions for this error

Matthew Adams By: Matthew Adams
4 minute read
windows could not complete the format

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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.

Windows could not complete the format

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.

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.

  • First, open File Explorer in Windows.
  • Insert the flash drive to scan in a USB slot.
  • Click This PC and then right-click your flash drive to open its context menu.

Windows could not complete the format

  • Select Properties to open the window directly below.

  • Select the Tools tab, and press the Check button.
  • 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.

Windows couldn't complete the format

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.

Format the USB Drive With Disk Management

  • 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.

Windows was unable to complete the format

  • Right-click the USB stick on the Disk Management window and select Format.
  • A dialog box window opens for further confirmation. Press the Yes button to open the window in the snapshot directly below.

  • Then you can select a file system to format the flash storage to.
  • Press the OK button to format the USB stick.
  • 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.

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.

  • Press the Win key + X hotkey to open the Win + X menu.
  • Select Command Prompt (Admin) to open the Prompt’s window.
  • Input ‘diskpart’ in the Command Prompt, and press the Return key. That will open the Diskpart window shown in the snapshot directly below.

  • First, enter ‘list disk’ and press Return to open a list of drives as below.

  • 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.

Windows was unable to complete the format

  • Enter the ‘clean’ command, and don’t forget to press the Return key.
  • Next, enter the ‘create partition primary’ command in Diskpart.
  • Finally, input ‘format fs=ntfs quick’ and press Enter to format the USB drive with NTFS (New Technology File System).

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 EaseUS Partition Master Free and 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.



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