SD cards are convenient storage devices, but they often become corrupted. This can lead to lost photos, videos, or critical documents. If that’s what you’re dealing with right now, don’t panic. This article provides step-by-step instructions on how to recover data from a corrupted SD card.

recover corrupted sd

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 data recovery methods
SD card data not accessible: If your SD card is recognized as a valid storage device but you cannot access the data, there may be an issue with its file system or 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.
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.
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.  
Files are present but can’t be opened: SD card corruption can manifest itself in all kinds of annoying ways, such as by making files that are visibly present on your SD card impossible to open.
“SD card is not formatted” message is displayed: Just like all other storage devices, SD cards can’t function without a file system. Extensive corruption may result in file system damage, causing the SD card to seem unformatted.
File system can’t be recognized suddenly: Different operating systems and devices support different file systems, but when an SD card suddenly stops being recognized, it could signal growing data corruption.
Unknown files appear on the SD card:  When files disappear suddenly from an SD card, you know that something’s terribly wrong. However, you should also be concerned by random files appearing on your SD card for no apparent reason. 
The size of the SD card is incorrect: There’s a common misconception that, for example, a 32 GB SD card should be able to store 32 GB of data. But if your SD card’s storage capacity is way off, then the card might be corrupted.
Antimalware software keeps flagging the SD card: Malware is a common cause of SD card corruption, so you should never ignore any antimalware software that’s flagging your card because it might be on to something.

Common Diagnostic Methods to Confirm SD Card Corruption

Before you start applying the methods described in this article to fix SD card corruption, you should confirm that the SD card is actually to blame.

When many people discover that their SD card can’t be accessed anymore, they immediately start applying all kinds of fixes without even considering that their memory card reader or even the device that uses the SD card itself could be to blame.  

The good news is that you don’t need to be an IT guru with advanced diagnostic skills to confirm SD card corruption. You just need to do the following:

  • Try the SD card in another device: If you have another device with a built-in SD card reader at hand, then the easiest thing you can do is to use it to access your corrupted SD card. Success means that the SD card is actually fine but the first device you used to access it isn’t.
  • Try a known working SD card in the same device: Alternatively, you can try a known working SD card in the device. If you discover that the SD card behaves the same way as the one you believe is corrupted, then maybe there’s nothing wrong with both SD cards because the device itself (or its memory card reader) is faulty.
  • Try reading the SD card with a different memory card reader: USB memory card readers are inexpensive, so it’s not a bad idea to buy one just to verify if the memory card reader you’re using currently is in good working order.
  • Try reading the SD card via the original device using a cable: Some devices that rely on SD cards, such as Android smartphones, can also be accessed by being connected directly to a computer using a USB cable. Use this diagnostic method to confirm that the SD card isn’t working correctly everywhere.
  • Try accessing the SD card from different operating systems: Not all file systems are supported by all operating systems. For example, Apple’s HFS+ and APFS file systems are not supported by Windows, and neither macOS nor Windows supports ext2/3/4, which is a common Linux file system. That’s why it makes sense to try accessing an SD card that seems to be corrupted from different operating systems.

If you still can’t access the SD card even after trying all of the above-described diagnostic methods, then it’s practically guaranteed that there’s something wrong with it, and corruption is the most likely explanation.

How to Recover Data from a Corrupted SD Card

There are several ways to recover data from a corrupted SD card, and I’m going to outline the most effective methods I’ve personally tested and found effective. 

I recommend you apply these methods in the same order in which they’re presented, but you can, of course, skip a method or two if you’ve already tried them and ruled them out as ineffective. 

Method 1: Recover Corrupted SD Card with Specialized Data Recovery Software

I’ve personally had the most success recovering data from corrupted SD cards using  SD card data recovery software and Disk Drill in particular.

With a capable SD card data recovery software tool, you don’t have to rely on file system information, which may be damaged or not available at all when recovering a corrupted SD card. Instead, you can combine whatever file system information is available with signature-based scanning to find and recover lost files from even the most severely corrupted SD cards.

What’s more, the software is highly intuitive and offers free backup capabilities, which are instrumental when taking a cautious approach to recovering data from a corrupted SD card because they make it possible to create a fully copy of your SD card in a few steps: 

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

Step 2. Download and install Disk Drill data recovery software. Once installed, launch the application.

Disk Drill installation in windows

Step 3. Select the Drive Backup tool in the left pane and choose your corrupted memory card from the list of available drives. Creating a backup of your corrupted memory card is a good safety measure before attempting any recovery or repair operations. 

byte to byte backup corrupted memory card

Step 4. Click the Byte-to-byte Backup button to create a backup image of the SD card and save it in a safe location. The resulting backup image contains all data that’s currently present on your SD card, including files that have been deleted but have yet to become overwritten. 

byte to byte backup creation progress

Step 5. Go to the Storage Devices section and click the Attack disk image link at the bottom. Select the backup image you’ve just created to mount it. Then, choose it from the list of available storage devices and click the Search for lost data button to initiate a scan. Disk Drill will run all recovery methods in the optimal order. 

disk drill mounted raw image

Step 6. Preview the files that Disk Drill has found. This feature is incredibly helpful, as it allows you to see what files can be fully recovered before proceeding. You can also apply scan result filters to zero in on specific file types. 

disk drill preview image on corrupted memory card

Step 7. Select the files you wish to recover and click the Recover button. Choose a safe location on your computer or an external drive to save the recovered files.

disk drill select recovery destination for corrupted card

With the free version of Disk Drill for Windows, I was able to recover up to 500 MB of data from my corrupted SD card, and I recovered the rest with Disk Drill Pro.

Method 2: Use Windows File Recovery to Retrieve Lost Files

Windows File Recovery is a command-line data recovery software tool developed by Microsoft for its Windows operating system. The tool supports Windows 10 2004 and above, and you can use it to recover commonly used file formats from all kinds of internal and external storage devices, including SD cards.

Windows File Recovery Utility

Microsoft offers Windows File Recovery free of charge, so you can use it to recover an unlimited amount of lost data from your corrupted SD card without paying. Unfortunately, this data recovery software works only with storage devices that have a valid drive letter assigned to them. If your corrupted SD card doesn’t have one, then you won’t be able to use it unless you fix the issue by assigning it manually

Here’s how Windows File Recovery works:

  1. Download Windows File Recovery from Microsoft Store.
  2. Press Win + X and open Terminal (Admin).
  3. Use the following syntax to retrieve lost files from your corrupted SD card:
winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/mode] [/switches]

For example, you would use the following command to recover lost Word documents from an SD card that’s mounted as drive I:

winfr I: E: /extensive /n *.docx

Winfr recover docx files from sd card

It goes without saying that Windows File Recovery is far less user-friendly than data recovery software with a graphical user interface, such as Disk Drill. It also performs significantly worse because it supports only a limited number of file formats, but at least you can use it to recover an unlimited amount of data for free.

Method 3: Look for Backup Copies of Corrupted Data

external backup drive

Depending on how the corrupted SD card was used, there’s a chance that backup copies of your lost files exist in some alternative location, such as in your smartphone’s internal memory or in the cloud.

When recovering lost files from backup copies, keep in mind the following:

  • You should never recover lost files to an SD card that has been corrupted. SD card corruption can occur for a number of different reasons, and one reason is that all SD cards have a limited lifespan. If your SD card is old, it could be on its last legs. Instead of risking another data loss incident by continuing to use it, you should throw it in the garbage and get a new one.
  • Always copy—not move—files from your backups. Unless you have multiple backup copies of the same file, you should always copy files from your backups instead of moving them. That way, you will always have at least two copies at hand.
  • Make sure the original cause of SD card corruption is fully addressed. You don’t want to recover important files from a backup just to lose them again because the original cause of SD card corruption hasn’t been addressed properly. This is especially important when it comes to corruption caused by malware.

How to Fix a Corrupted SD Card: Main Methods

Fixing a corrupted SD card can be tricky, and there are a lot of methods floating around. I’ve personally tried many of them, and in this article, I’m going to share the seven techniques that have consistently worked best for me. If you need even more options, check out our in-depth guide on how to fix a corrupted SD card, where we cover 13 different solutions.

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 with a single command:

  1. Press Windows + X on your keyboard.
  2. Select Terminal (Admin).
  3. Enter the following command: chkdsk X: /R (replace the letter X with the actual drive letter assigned to your SD card)repair SD card with chkdsk command
  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, corruption can cause your card to “lose” its letter, and you then need to assign a new one manually. The good news is that that’s not difficult to do at all:

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

Method 3: Use the ATTRIB Command

Terminal App MacThe ATTRIB command allows you to change file attributes and unhide files that have been hidden as a result of SD card corruption. For more information about the ATTRIB command, read its official documentation. If you just want to give it a go without learning more about it, you can follow these steps: 

  1. Press Windows + X on your keyboard.
  2. Select Terminal (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).Use attrib command to show hidden files on sd card

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. Once you’re ready, you can proceed with these steps: 

  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 exFAT).
  5. Click Start.Format SD card with File Explorer
  6. Reconnect the SD card reader and insert your SD card again.

Method 5: Scan the SD Card for Malware

malware iconMalware is a common cause of SD card corruption, but removing it can be as easy as scanning the affected SD card using reliable antimalware software. If you’re using Windows, then you already have a great antimalware software solution installed on your computer, Windows Defender.

With Windows Defender, it takes just a few clicks to scan any SD card for malware and remove it:

  1. Insert your SD card into the memory card slot or external USB memory card reader.
  2. Open the Settings app.
  3. Go to Privacy & security > Windows Security.
  4. Click Open Windows Security.Open Windows Security
  5. Go to Virus & threat protection.
  6. Click Scan options.
  7. Select the Custom scan option and click Scan now.Select custom scan in Windows Security
  8. Select your SD card
  9. Wait for the scan to finish.
  10. Remove found malware.

Windows Defender is one of the best antimalware products currently available, but it does have its limitations. For example, certain strains of ransomware can be removed only using specialized decryption tools, such as those released by Kaspersky or Avast.

Method 6: Use the Windows Repair Tool

repair iconWindows Repair Tool is a graphical utility that makes it possible to check any storage device for file system errors. Essentially, you can think of it as a more convenient alternative to CHKDSK. This is how it works:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Select This PC from the left sidebar.
  3. Right-click your SD card and select Properties.
  4. Go to the Tools tab and click Check.Repair SD card with Windows Error checking
  5. Even if Windows Repair Tool informs you that there’s no need to scan the SD card, choose the Scan and repair drive option.

Method 7: Hire a Data Recovery Service

hard drive recovery service

I understand that tackling data recovery on your own can be intimidating, especially if you’re short on time or unsure about the technical steps. Fortunately, you can always hire professionals to recover data from your corrupted SD card for you. 

Data recovery services such as CleverFiles Data Recovery Center have experience with even the worst cases of SD card corruption, and they are equipped with the tools and expertise to handle them quickly and efficiently. 

In addition to their ability to recover corrupted SD cards, data recovery services can also extract data from memory cards that have been physically damaged—something that’s virtually impossible to do 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 (Usually) Avoidable

Most SD card corruption isn’t some mysterious force out of your control. The majority of cases stem from user error or practices that put excess strain on the card. While hardware failures and occasional defects can happen, they’re less common than you might think.

The good news? You can take steps to significantly reduce the risk of losing your precious data:

  • 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.  

Conclusion

Dealing with SD card corruption is frustrating, but the solutions I’ve described in this article can help you recover your lost files at home without spending a lot of money (or possibly no money at all). 

While recovery is possible, prevention is always preferable. That’s why I recommend you back up often and handle your SD cards with care! With some luck, you won’t have to apply your newly acquired data recovery skills again anytime soon. 

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Romana Levko

Romana Levko is a content writer with a strong interest in the technology field: data recovery, cybersecurity, and everything Apple are among her favorite subjects to explore. Her goal is to expand the reader’s unders...

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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.