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How to Format a Flash Drive

Bob from Rutland, VT  asks:

How do you format a flash drive?

There are many good reasons why you might want to format a flash drive. Formatting is a good way to fix any quirks and free up some space, but it will erase all the data on your drive, so make sure you back up any files you need before you format anything.

The procedure is pretty simple. The following instructions are for a Windows 7 PC, but they are almost identical for Vista, and very similar for Windows XP.

1. Plug in your flash drive, click Start and then Computer. You should see your flash drive listed in a window alongside your other drives.

Flash Drive in Explorer

2. Right-click on your flash drive and then select Format… from the context menu.


3. In the Format window, you get the choice of which file system to use and the option to change the allocation unit size. However, it is often best just to leave these alone and click Restore device defaults.  This restores your flash drive to its original settings.

Format Menu

4. If you drive has never been reformatted and you want to be sure to erase all data and start fresh, uncheck the Quick Format box. It takes a little longer to complete the formatting, but it will be a more thorough job and has a better chance of fixing any corruptions on your flash drive.

5. When you are ready, click Start. You will be greeted with one final warning that informs you ever so politely that the actions you are about to take will result in the complete and utter destruction of all the data on your device. So, if you are not sure what is on your drive, now is the time to check. Otherwise, click OK to continue.


6. Now all you need to do is sit and wait for the green line to crawl its way to the right hand side of the progress bar.

Formatting bar

7. Once you are done, you should see a dialog box that informs you of your successful formatting.

Format Complete

Congratulations! You have just successfully formatted your USB flash drive.

~Jonathan Wylie