Fix “Windows was Unable to Complete the Format” error | 5 Effective methods

Summary: Are you encountering a ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error on SD card/USB/hard drives? Read through this blog post to know how to resolve this error on SD cards, USB’s or on hard drives and how to recover data before formatting (when you don’t have a backup).

What is the ‘Windows was Unable to Complete the Format’ error?

The ‘Windows was unable to complete the format error’ usually appears when the operating system fails to format the desired storage device. The error also stops the user from performing normal read-write functionalities. But you will only see the error when the formatting operation is denied. However, you can take use the write-up to come across this error 

Usually you will come across scenarios, where the users formatting an SD card or USB drive when it is corrupted or inaccessible or for any personal reasons. But what if this thumb rule fails and Windows was unable to complete the format? Fortunately, it is not a dead end when you encounter this error. Windows can fail to format your USB or SD card due to various scenarios like; bad sectors (unresponsive storage units), external drive not detected or when the write protection is enabled.

Regardless of the cause, the solutions compiled in this blog will help you learn how to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’. The following methods work best on any external storage like pen drives, SD cards & hard drives. Once the error is fixed, you can format your device successfully and solve the underlying causes of the error without losing any of your precious data.

Note - If you are one of the users who has not backed up your data and if you're data is in inaccessible on the storage device, you will need to make use of reliable data recovery tool like Remo Recover

Considering the possibility that you might not have backed up your data, for best results always use a trusted data recovery software like Remo Recover before trying any of the troubleshooting methods below. This ensures that your data is safe.


Why are you unable to Format your Storage Device

  1. Virus Intrusions or malware on the storage device
  2. Missing DLL or system files
  3. When your storage device is not getting recognized by the PC

For the above-listed or any reason if you are unable to format the your storage device, we follow the below procedure to safeguard your data and Fix Windows formatting error. 

Table of Content 

    1. Recover Data before formatting from Storage device 
    2. How to Fix Windows was unable to complete the format error

Recover Data before Formatting from all Storage Devices

1. Download Remo Recover on your computer and connect the external storage device that you are trying to format
2. In the main screen, select Recover Partitions option and then select the drive that represents your SD card/USB. Click Scan to begin scanning of the drive
3. After scanning completes, your files will be listed in File Type View and Data View. If you want to view files by file types, select File Type View, else select Data View
4. You can select any file and preview for free
5. Finally, save the recovered files to any desired destination (even external drives are allowed)

Note: Remo hard drive recovery software is available on both Windows and Mac computers. Depending on your requirement, please download the appropriate version accordingly.

How Do I fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ Error?

  1. Check if write-protection is enabled
  2. Use Disk Management to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error
  3. Utilize Command Prompt to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error
  4. Format in Safe Mode to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error
  5. Scan for the Drive for Errors and Bad Sectors

Check if write-protection is enabled

If write protection is enabled, your SD card or USB will be converted to a read-only state. Hence you will not be able to perform any write action or format the device.

Check if there is a write-protection switch on your SD card or USB. Sliding it upwards usually unlocks write protection and this should allow you to format the card. This should help you fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error.

Use Disk Management to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error

The next solution you can try is to fix the ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ on SD card/pen drive’ error using Disk Management tool.

1. First, connect the storage device to be formatted to your computer
2. Right click on the Start button and select Disk Management
3. In the Disk Management window, select the storage device you want to format and right click on it
4. Select Format to open a Format window

click format

5. Double check all the options provided in the Format window and confirm to format the drive

If you find your drive listed as RAW in Disk Management, it means the OS cannot read any data on that drive. Remo Recover has the ability to read data from RAW drives and recover it for you. Download Now for a free trial!


Utilize Command Prompt to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error

If the ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ on pen drive/SD card error re-occurs, you can try using the command line to format the device.

1. Connect the storage device that you want to format to your computer
2. In the ‘Start’ search bar, type ‘cmd’
3. Select ‘Run As Administrator’ to open the command prompt

Use cmd to fix Windows was unable to complete the ormat

4. Type ‘diskpart’ to open diskpart

diskpart to fix windows was unable to complete the format error

5. Type ‘list disk’ to list all the available drives. (Make a note of the # associated with the SD/USB/hard drive you want to format)
6. Type ‘select disk #’ (Replace # by the number noted in the step above)
7. Type ‘clean’ (this will clear all contents of the drive)
8. Type ‘create partition primary’ (this will make the drive accessible)
9. Type ‘format fs=ntfs’ (this will format the drive with NTFS file system)
10. Type ‘assign letter = E’ (Replace ‘E’ with a drive letter of your choice)

Format in Safe Mode to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error

If the above methods don’t help, you can try formatting your device in Safe Mode. To boot your computer in Safe Mode,

1. Click on the Start menu > Settings
2. Select Update & Security > Recovery
3. Go to Advanced Startup > Restart Now

Advanced startup options

4. Now PC will restart to open ‘Choose an option’ screen, click Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Startup Settings > Restart
5. Once your PC restarts, click ‘4’ or ‘F4’ to start your computer in Safe Mode

Now that you have booted your system in Safe Mode, follow the same steps to format your device again. With this you should be able to format the device and there by eliminating ‘Windows unable to format’ error.

Scan for the Drive for Errors and Bad Sectors

Your Storage Device might be inaccessible due to corruption or bad sectors, hence we recommend you to follow the method given below.

  1. Go to This PC and Right-click on the removable storage device 
  2. Click on the Properties Option 
  3. From there Click on Tools Tab
  4. Click on Check button and choose Repair Drive
  5. The scan drive process will run. Once the process completes check if the error is resolved

Note: If the hard drive is already formatted and there is no backup available, use Remo formatted recovery software to recover data from formatted computer.


These solutions should help you fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ on pen drives, SD card or external hard drives. However, before you format the device, remember to have a complete backup. You do not want to lose all your precious data from the drive. If you’re looking for a recovery program, Remo may just be the tool you need. It has the ability to recover data before formatting any corrupt/RAW/inaccessible drives, thus providing you the best recovery and backup solution.

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Tony Landry

Tony Landry is a Web Content Editor at Remo Software. He loves to write, edit, and manage content for users trying to troubleshoot and fix problems on Windows, Outlook, storage drives and Cloud storage networks.

He has published more than 200 articles in Remo Software blog. He actively engages in research and problem-solving techniques to consistently generate great web content. Fixing various hardware problems on computer and storage devices along with a great knack for fixing Outlook errors, Tony is also the fun-time IT guy for all his work friends. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and enjoys cycling.

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