If you’re reading this article, you probably want a quick way to erase the date from your USB drive. But did you know that formatting has a bunch of other benefits

Formatting restores your flash drive’s full capacity and efficiency. It also allows you to change the filing system, which can affect the drive’s storage and performance. How? That’s what I’ll discuss in this article! 

Luckily, you don’t need to be a technical savvy to know how to reformat a flash drive. I’ll walk you through the steps in the simplest way possible. Let’s see! 

How to Reformat a Flash Drive on WindowsHow to Reformat a Flash Drive On Windows

Technically speaking, any operating system reformats flash drives in the same way. However, the actual steps vary according to the user interface. If you’re using a Mac, feel free to skip to the next section.

Step 1: Make Sure the USB drive Is Connected

I know this sounds too obvious, but you’d be amazed by how often beginners may overlook this. 

Sometimes, if you’ve owned your flash drive for a while, the computer may not detect it even though it’s plugged into one of the ports. In that case, keep wiggling the drive in place until you hear the confirmation sound effect

If you were using the flash drive and you clicked on the “Eject” button, you’ll need to physically plug it off before you can reformat it. 

Step 2: Open the Computer Window

To access your flash drive, you’ll need to open the Computer window by the following methods:

  • On Windows Vista and 7:
    1. Click Start (by clicking on the Windows logo at the bottom-left corner of the screen or by pressing the ⊞ key on the keyboard)
    2. Click Computer
  • Windows 8/8.1:
    1. Type “Computer” in the taskbar’s search 
    2. Click Computer
  • Windows 10:
    1. Type “This PC” in the taskbar’s search  
    2. Click on This PC

Step 3: Right-Click on Your Drive’s Icon and Click Format

Search for your flash drive inside the Computer window. On Windows 7 and 8, you’ll find it under the “Devices with Removable Storage”. On Windows 10, you’ll find it with your permanent hard drives under “Devices and Drives”. 

If you can’t seem to find it, unplug your flash drive while keeping track of the shown drives. After connecting it again, right-click on the icon that suddenly appears. Then, choose Format from the dropdown menu. 

If icons don’t seem to change after plugging your flash drive on and off, its internal circuit may have been damaged. In that case, I recommend taking it to a professional if you want to restore your files. It’s not always possible, but it’s still worth a try. 

Step 4: Choose the File System 

Click the “File System” box and choose from the following options.

NTFS 

Short for New Technology File System, NTFS is the default system for your hard drive since it can transfer files larger than 4 GB with relative ease. 

However, I don’t recommend it for flash drives since it may cause compatibility issues with newer Windows and other operating systems. But it’s worth noting that it provides a better possibility of file recovery in case things went south. 

FAT

FAT, or File Allocation Table, is the first file system we’ve ever created in 1977. It was the Windows default before NTFS took over. 

Since the storage spaces were limited back then, FAT won’t work if your flash drive is bigger than 32 GB. Although it operates faster than the others, it makes it nearly impossible to restore your lost data. 

FAT32

FAT32 came to improve the compatibility of FAT. That’s why I always recommend it if you want to run your drive on lots of devices with different operating systems. 

The catch? It can’t transfer files bigger than 4 GB. That’s bad news for your 4K movies, for sure. 

exFAT

exFAT gives the best of all worlds. It can read and write files bigger than 4 GB in a way similar to NTFS. 

Although it’s compatible with many devices, it’s not as inclusive as FAT32. Still, it’s way better than NTFS and FAT.

Step 5: Quick Format?

Under “Format Options”, you’ll find a “Quick Format” checkbox.

Quick format doesn’t fully erase your data, meaning that they can be restored with the right software. If you have some minutes to spare, a full format will permanently delete all the data while checking the drive for bad sectors. 

Step 6: Click Start 

Now all you have to do is click Start and OK on the warning window. Before you know it, your drive will be up to speed!

Also Read: How Do I Copy and Paste: A Guide for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS

How to Reformat a Flash Drive On Mac 

Here’s what you should do to format a flash drive on Mac. 

Step 1: Click on Go From the Menu Bar 

From the menu bar sitting at the top, click on Go. Next, choose Utilities from the dropdown menu. 

If you can’t see the menu bar, click on the Finder icon from your Mac’s dock. 

Step 2: Open Disk Utilities 

After opening the Utilities window, double-click Disk Utility. You’ll probably find it in the middle.

Step 3: Choose Your Drive

On the left side of the disk utility, you’ll find a list of the attached drives. Left-click on the flash drive you want to format. 

Now look at the top center, and click at the button that says “Erase.” 

Step 4: Choose the File System

Unlike Windows, Mac offers a wide selection of file systems, each of which does a specific function. Sadly, I need a standalone article in order to probably explain them. 

Instead, here are the options that most users select: 

  • MS-DOS (FAT): Used for flash drives smaller than 32 GB.
  • ExFAT: Used for flash drives bigger than 32 GB.
  • Mac OS Extended (Journaled): Used if you’ll use your flash drive exclusively on Mac. 

Step 5: Click Erase 

After clicking Erase, the computer will start reformatting your flash drive according to the specified file system. After finishing, an icon leading to the flash drive may appear on your desktop. 

Final Thoughts

As you saw, learning how to reformat a flash drive isn’t rocket science!

In the end, I want to stress the fact that frequent formatting with the “Full Format” option will eventually ruin your flash drive. So use it when you actually need to erase the tiniest bits of your data. Otherwise, “Quick Format” should be your go-to option.