How to Format a USB Thumb Drive in Windows

This brief tutorial will show you how to format a USB thumb drive (also called USB flash drives) in Windows. The exact same steps apply for formatting any removable drives/memory cards/non-primary hard drive partitions.

Before you start, it’s super important to remember that formatting a drive, of any kind, will wipe out all of the data on that drive. Make sure you’ve copied any files from your USB thumb drive to a different drive before formatting.

The screenshots used in this guide are from Windows 10, but the steps and images are nearly identical if you’re using an earlier version of Windows and you’ll have absolutely no trouble at all following along.

  1. Make sure to plug the USB thumb drive into your computer. Open a File Explorer window, locate your portable thumb drive and “right-click” on it.
  2. a File Explorer window with an arrow pointing to a USB thumb drive volume

  3. Select Format… from the context menu.
  4. the USB drive context menu in Windows with an arrow pointing to the Format option

  5. First you’ll need to decide which File system you want to use. The default file system, FAT32, has some important limitations you should know about. It only supports files up to 4GB in size, and drives up to 2TB in size. So if you’re going to be using this thumb drive to store files that are larger than 4GB, or the drive itself is larger than 2TB, select NTFS. As an aside, 2TB+ thumb drives do exist and they’re not even that expensive. If you’re planning on sharing this thumb drive between PC’s and Mac’s, you should also know that a Mac can read NTFS drives, but won’t be able to write to them (without installing 3rd party software). Mac’s can read and write to FAT32 drives.

    After you’ve selected a File system, give your thumb drive a name by entering it in the Volume label field. Finally, click the Start button.

  6. the Format app in Windows with a USB thumb drive selected

  7. Click OK on the warning window.
  8. a Windows warning message with an OK button

  9. Once the format has completed, click OK.
  10. a Windows notification window with an OK button

  11. And now your USB thumb drive will be wiped clean, with the new volume label (name) applied.
  12. a newly formatted USB thumb drive in Windows

If you’re not sure what to do with your newly formatted USB thumb drive, why not put some Portable Apps on it?

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3 thoughts on “How to Format a USB Thumb Drive in Windows”

  1. Have an hp 8 gig T drive and win2k . My drive got blanked somehow and this format worked just fine, took about a minute or so.

  2. hey… i never thought of this place to get my flash drive formated. used some application to do this simple job. thnx alot!

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