What to do if Windows was unable to format your pen drive

by Aleksandar Ognjanovic
Aleksandar Ognjanovic
Aleksandar Ognjanovic
Troubleshooting Expert
Aleksandar's main passion is technology. With a solid writing background, he is determined to bring the bleeding edge to the common user. With a keen eye, he always... read more
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USB flash drives (pen drives, flash sticks) almost completely moved disks out of the picture. They are fast, you can write anything you want whenever you want and they come large in storage but small in size. Perfect data companions.

However, due to extensive use, they tend to get corrupt, start misbehaving, and won’t work as intended. There’s this “Windows was unable to format pen drive” when users try to format the pen drive within the Windows interface.

Luckily, you can fix this or, even better, use alternative options to format the drive. The important thing is not to have any encryption on your drive as Windows won’t format encrypted drives. Everything else you need is below.

How to format a pen drive if Windows failed to

  1. Try repairing pen drive
  2. Check drivers
  3. Format the USB pen drive with Disk Management
  4. Format the USB pen drive with Command Prompt

Solution 1 – Try repairing pen drive

Firstly, let’s try switching USB ports and rebooting PC. Sometimes, the problem isn’t in the flash drive (pen drive) but rather in the USB port. If your PC is still unable to format the drive, even when plugged into a different port, we suggest going for repairs.

These are not uncommon as flash drives are frequently forcibly plugged out. This, along with frequent read/write changes can lead to corruption or bad sectors.

In order to fix the affected drive, follow these steps:

  1. Plug in the USB pen drive in a functional USB port.
  2. Open the File Explorer or This PC.
  3. Right-click on the USB pen drive and open Properties.
  4. Choose Tools and then click Check.error checking usb pen drive
  5. After the Error Checking utility is done, try formatting your pen drive again.

If you’re still troubled by the “Windows was unable to format pen drive” error, just continue with other provided steps.

Solution 2 – Check drivers

Now, in this step, there are two variations. It depends. If your PC can ‘see’ the USB but can’t format it, you’ll need to check the pen drive’s drivers. On the other hand, if it’s unable to see the USB drive in the first place, the Universal Serial Bus controllers should be your concern.

The latter occurs rarely and if it does, instead of driver issues, it points towards the flash drive malfunction. Nonetheless, it’s worth giving it a try.

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Here’s how to reinstall the pen drive driver:

  1. Right-click Start and open Device Manager. For Windows 7/8.1, you’ll want to search for Device Manager and access it that way.
  2. Make sure the USB pen drive is plugged in.
  3. Expand the Disk drives section, right-click on the pen drive and choose Uninstall device from the contextual menu.
  4. Repeat the action for the Portable devices section.uninstall USB pen drive drivers
  5. Unplug your USB pen drive and plug it in again. The drivers should install immediately.

And this is how to reinstall USB controllers drivers:

  1. Open Device Manager.
  2. Expand the Universal Serial Bus Controllers section and uninstall all Generic USB Hub and USB Root Hub drivers. Just right-click on every device individually and choose Uninstall device.uninstall USB controller drivers
  3. Restart your PC.

In any case, if you need to manage your drivers safely and more automatically using practical tools, you can consider a driver manager like DriverFix.

Solution 3 – Format the USB pen drive with Disk Management

Now, if the system on its own can’t access or format a USB pen drive, there are alternatives. More than few, actually. The first is Disk Management. This utility is the part of Windows and it’s used, as you might assume, to manage all storage disks, both internal and external.

It can, of course, carry the load of formatting your pen drive without any issues. You just need to know where to find it.

Follow these steps to format the USB pen drive with Disk Management:

  1. In the Windows Search bar, type Disk Management and open Disk Management.
  2. Open Create and format hard disk partitions.
  3. Right-click on the USB pen drive and choose Format from the contextual menu.format USB pen drive via Disk Management
  4. Select FAT32 or NTFS (FAT32 is the default for USB flash drives) and use Quick Format.
  5. Click OK and that should do it.format usb pen drive Disk Management

Solution 4 – Format the USB pen drive with Command Prompt

Disk Management should allow you to format the USB pen drive without any problems. However, just for the sake of variety, we decided to add an extra method. Everything you do within the Windows UI, you can do through Command Prompt.

Of course, if you know a proper set of commands to use. In this case, we’ll go with the diskpart utility which is commonly used to format and assign storage drives.

Here’s how to format the USB pen drive with Command Prompt:

  1. In the Windows Search bar, type CMD, right-click on the Command Prompt and run it as admin.
  2. In the command line, type diskpart and press Enter.
  3. Next, type list disk and press Enter again.
  4. Now, this step is important. Locate the USB pen drive and then type select disk 2 and hit Enter. In this example, the USB pen drive is Disk 2, which isn’t a rule. You should be able to see what’s the disk based on the storage size.
  5. Finally, once you’re sure you’ve selected proper disk, type clean and that’s it.format USB pen drive via Command Prompt

With that said, we can conclude this article. In case you have any questions or alternative ways to deal with the “Windows was unable to format pen drive” error, feel free to tell us in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you.

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