Data corrupting has been with us for as long as humans attempted to store data onto a storage medium. The Sumerians were using blunt reeds to write wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets, producing one of the earliest writing systems known as the cuneiform script. Even the slightest exposure to natural elements could unavoidably corrupt a clay tablet meticulously covered with hundreds of marks over a period of hundreds of hours.

recover corrupted sd

As technology progressed and we’ve moved into the digital era, our first digital data storage methods weren’t tremendously more reliable. Most people born in the 70s or 80s can vividly remember how little it took it to destroy a floppy disk, and those who are even older, probably have their fair share of nightmarish stories about crumbled or torn punch cards and rolls of punched tapes.

Signs of SD Card Corruption

Not all SD card-related issues are caused by data corruption. Let’s take a look at the common signs of SD card corruption and match each sign with one or more suitable recovery methods.  

Common signs of SD card corruption

Suitable recovery methods

SD card not recognized:  If your SD card isn’t recognized when you insert it into your memory card reader, then there might be a connection issue caused by faulty hardware or drivers.

Reconnect the SD card

Reinstall your drivers

SD card not accessible: Is your SD card recognized as a valid storage device but impossible to access? Then there might be something wrong with its file system or drive letter.

Repair the card using CHKDSK

Assign a new drive letter

Some files are missing: Sometimes, files appear to be lost even though they’re actually just hidden. If removing the hidden attribute doesn’t help, specialized data recovery software surely will.

Use the ATTRIB command

Use specialized data recovery software

Repair the card using CHKDSK

Read/write error messages: Extensive data corruption can trigger all kinds of read/write error messages, and you should fix the underlying cause as soon as possible.  

Repair the card using CHKDSK

Reformat the card

SD card appears to be empty: If your SD card appears to be completely empty, then there’s a chance that you’ve accidentally formatted it. Don’t worry: data recovery software can help.

Use the ATTRIB command

Use specialized data recovery software

Repair the card using CHKDSK

Recover Corrupted SD Card with Specialized Data Recovery Software

No matter the cause of the corruption, you can always recover your data using SD card data recovery software, such as Disk Drill. Software like this has been designed specifically to locate fragments of files on a half-functioning or non-functioning storage medium and recover them back.

Step 1. Connect a corrupted SD Card to your PC.

Step 2. Install and launch Disk Drill data recovery software.

install disk drill

Step 3. Select the corrupted memory card from the list of available drives.

Step 4. Click the “Search for lost data” button to run all recovery methods in the optimal order.

disk drill main screen sd card selected

Step 5. Preview and select your files.

Step 6. Click the “Recover” button in the program to recover selected files to a safe location.

Using sophisticated data recovery algorithms and an extensive database of more than 400 file signatures, Disk Drill will recover all data that would otherwise be forever lost, and it will do so quickly, affordably, and on-demand.

Hire a Data Recovery Service

hard drive recovery service

Even SD card data recovery software can’t recover files from a memory card that has been physically damaged or corrupted to such an extent that it’s no longer recognized as a valid storage device. If that’s the data loss scenario you’re dealing with, your best option is to send the storage device to a professional data recovery service.

Data recovery services such as CleverFiles Data Recovery Center are equipped with advanced tools, proprietary software supplied directly by manufacturers, and dust-free clean rooms, which allow them to repair even extensive physical damage—something regular users should never try at home.

Contrary to popular belief, the best data recovery services don’t charge their customers any money unless they successfully recover lost data, so you don’t have to worry about receiving a huge bill but getting nothing in return.

SD Card Corruption Is Unavoidable

Even though we now have at our disposal storage devices that hold enormous quantities of data and take up substantially less space, they can still become corrupted and unreadable. A part of the problem is physical damage. A bent, twisted, burned, drowned, frozen, or otherwise decimated SD card has a very slim chance of ever working again.

Luckily, this kind of damage is easily avoidable.

What’s not so easily preventable are manufacturing defects, accumulated failure, and firmware bugs. These sources of data corruption are not something a regular user can do much about. Manufacturers try to minimize the negative impact of these common causes of SD card data corruption, but no solution is perfect.

Modern SD cards are so cheap because advanced manufacturing processes allow manufacturers to store a lot of information on a tiny space. In fact, all SD cards have extra storage space to compensate for bad sectors and manufacturing defects. When one “storage unit” goes bad, the SD card permanently shuts it down and, instead, uses a backup storage unit.

When more of these storage units become corrupted than the SD card can compensate for, you often start seeing the effects of data corruption with your own eyes. Images may become pixilated and full of artifacts, videos may skip, music may sound distorted, and documents may refuse to open. In extreme cases, your files may even completely disappear.

While SD card corruption isn’t avoidable, it’s (at least in most cases) easily fixable, and we list all the methods you should definitely try before throwing in the towel in the next section.

How to Fix a Corrupted SD Card: Main Methods

There are many ways to fix a corrupted SD card, and it would be beyond the scope of this article to list them all, which is why we focus only on five main methods. If that’s not enough for you, then you should read our comprehensive article about SD card repair, which describes in detail 11 solutions on how to fix a corrupted SD card and repair logical damage.

Method 0: Reconnect the SD Card

memory card iconMany IT problems can be solved just by trying the same thing again, which is why the phrase “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” is the first thing many IT professionals say when someone asks them for advice.

If you suspect that your SD card might be corrupted because it’s not showing on your computer, then you should simply reconnect it and try again before you move on to other recovery methods.

Better yet, use a different memory card reader to rule out the possibility that the issues you’re experiencing are actually caused by your computer—not the SD card.

Method 1: Repair the Card Using CHKDSK

Terminal App MacCHKDSK is a handy Windows utility whose purpose is to check the file system and file system metadata of a volume for logical and physical errors. You can use it to repair SD card corruption and sometimes even restore missing files.

  1. Press Windows + X on your keyboard.
  2. Select Windows PowerShell (Admin).
  3. Enter the following command: chkdsk X: /R (replace the letter X with the actual drive letter assigned to your SD card)powershell chkdsk r
  4. Wait for CHKDSK to finish.

Method 2: Assign a New Drive Letter

drive letter iconFor your SD card to be accessible, it needs to have a valid drive letter assigned to it. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen for one reason or another, and you then need to manually assign the SD card a new letter. The good news is that that’s not difficult to do at all.

  1. Press Windows + X on your keyboard.
  2. Select Disk Management.
  3. Right-click on your SD card and select the Change Drive Letter and Paths… option.disk management change drive letter nad paths - highlight
  4. Click the Change… button.
  5. Pick a new letter and click OK.

Method 3: Use the ATTRIB Command

Terminal App MacThe ATTRIB command allows you to change file attributes and unhide files that have been hidden. You should use this command to verify that missing files are actually gone and not just hidden from view. For more information about the ATTRIB command, read its official documentation.

  1. Press Windows + X on your keyboard.
  2. Select Windows PowerShell (Admin).
  3. Type attrib -h -r -s /s /d X:\*.* and hit Enter (replace the letter X with the actual drive letter assigned to your SD card).attrib command powershell

Method 4: Reformat the Card

format drive eraserExtensive file system corruption that causes your SD card to display all kinds of read/write errors is often best solved by reformatting the entire memory card and starting from scratch. Just keep in mind that formatting will erase all data on the SD card, so make sure the card is empty before you proceed.  

  1. Launch File Explorer.
  2. Select This PC from the left pane.
  3. Right-click your SD card and select the Format… option.
  4. Uncheck the Quick Format option and choose the desired file system (typically FAT32 or NTFS).
  5. Click Start.format sd card - highlight

Method 5: Reinstall Your Drivers

reinstall icon-smallSD card readers are simple devices, but the software drivers that make them work are not. If your SD card isn’t properly recognized when you insert it into your SD card reader, there’s a chance that the drivers are to blame. In that case, you should uninstall them and try again (Windows will automatically install the correct drivers for).

  1. Press Windows + X on your keyboard.
  2. Select Device Manager.
  3. Navigate to Portable Devices and right-click your SD card reader.
  4. Select the Uninstall device option.device manager uninstall device
  5. Reconnect the SD card reader and insert your SD card again.

Tips to Avoid Memory Card Corruption

The above-described methods can help you recover data that seems to be lost forever, but they are not 100% reliable since there are many different types of memory card corruption—some more severe than others.

Instead of convincing yourself that you can always recover your data if worst comes to worst, you should practice the tips below to avoid memory card corruption entirely.

  • Don’t use the same memory card in multiple devices: Some devices that use memory cards to store data are greedy and want all available storage space for themselves. That’s why using the same memory card in multiple devices often results in corruption and sometimes even data loss. The good news is that memory cards have become so cheap that buying several of them isn’t a huge expense anymore.  
  • Format the card instead of deleting all files: When you format a memory card, you essentially restore its file system back to its original, pristine state. If there is any corruption on your card, you can be sure that formatting will erase it, so it makes sense to always quickly format the entire card instead of deleting all files that are stored on it manually.
  • Never pull the card out of the reader without ejecting it: Yes, we’ve done it too, but that doesn’t change anything about the fact that pulling the card out of the reader without properly ejecting it first is still a big no-no. When you click the eject option, you tell your operating system to finish all read/write operations. Once they’re finished, you can safely remove the card, knowing no data corruption will occur.
  • Don’t overfill the memory card: By avoiding overfilling your SD card, you ensure that there are always plenty of empty blocks available for new data to be written into. If a block is full of bad sectors, then the SD card can simply skip it and use a different one. For the same reason, it’s always a good idea to pay extra for a slightly larger SD card. If you don’t, you may end up paying even more for SD card recovery software (which is still far better than losing valuable data, though).
  • Keep the card protected from the elements: The SD card is basically just a tiny flash memory chip in a plastic case. While there are some SD cards that are designed to resist water, dust, and extreme temperatures, most can easily become damaged unless handled with care and stored in a protective case when not in use.
  • Turn off your device before you remove the memory card: For the same reason why you should always safely eject your memory card before disconnecting it from your computer, you should also always turn off your device before you remove your card from it. The last thing you want is to interrupt a write operation before it has a time to finish completely and end up with a corrupted file that can’t be opened.
  • Don’t ignore read/write errors: It’s always easier to put out a small fire than to extinguish a blazing inferno. Minor SD card corruption can typically be fixed using tools like CHKDSK, while more extensive corruption may require formatting and starting from scratch. That’s why it’s better to promptly address even seemingly innocent error messages—otherwise you might end up regretting not doing so in the future.  
  • Avoid using the memory card if your battery is dying: Editing photos on your smartphone with the last few percentage points remaining is never a good idea because your device should suddenly shut down at any moment and corrupt the files you’re editing (and potentially other files as well). If possible, charge your device first and continue only when the battery has reached a decent charged at least 10% of charge.
  • Never directly access the card using third-party software: Buggy software applications are among the most common causes of SD card corruption. Before you launch your favorite photo editing or management application, you should copy (not move!) your files to your computer. Not only can files stored on your computer be accessed faster, but you’ll also have backup copies on your SD card in case something goes wrong.  

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Arthur Cole

Arthur Cole is a freelance content creator. He also has a more than 10-year experience in program development for macOS, Windows, iOS, Android.Arthur Cole is a writer with deep expertise in programming, who can easily...

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Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.