When you type the phrase “recover formatted sd card” into Google, you get 844,000 results. That’s an awful lot of results for something so specific. Apparently, many people often manage to format their SD cards by accident and are desperate to restore what was once on them.

If you’re among them, then don’t despair! While accidentally formatting an SD card can be a frustrating experience, there’s often a good chance to recover your lost data. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of recovering formatted SD cards on both Windows and Mac, using a combination of specialized data recovery software and readily available tools.

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Is It Possible to Recover Deleted Files from a Formatted SD Card?

Yes, it’s possible to recover deleted files from a formatted SD card. 

That’s because the most common formatting method (called Quick format in Windows) only marks the card’s storage space as available, without erasing the data. Essentially, the card appears empty, but the underlying files remain intact until new data overwrites them.

Among these, downloading an SD card recovery software capable of restoring data from a formatted SD card should be your first step because it’s more likely than other solutions to deliver great results. 

How Can an SD Card Become Formatted?

There are many ways a card can end up formatted. Although not always, unfortunately, in most cases, the cause is user error. Some of the usual reasons your SD card can show up as formatted are:

  • 🧹 Absent-mindedly formatting the wrong SD card. It’s easy to get distracted, especially when working with multiple SD cards. That’s why you should always double-check that you’re selecting the correct card before initiating a format process.
  • 📛 Formatting to an incompatible file system. Different devices and operating systems work with different file systems (like FAT32, exFAT, NTFS). Formatting an SD card to a file system your other devices don’t recognize can make the card appear as if it needs to be formatted again.
  • ⚠️ Abruptly removing the SD card or powering off the device. Disconnecting an SD card during an active read or write process can seriously corrupt the file system. This type of corruption often makes the card seem formatted.
  • 👾 Virus or malware attack. Malicious software can sometimes target storage devices, corrupting file systems or intentionally formatting your SD card.
  • 📹 Digital cameras formatting the SD card. Not all digital cameras and camcorders are predictable and well-designed, and some make it way too easy to format a newly inserted SD card, or they do it on their own. 

But regardless of the reason, formatting doesn’t always mean your files are completely gone. You can always attempt recovery using data recovery software. Let’s explain how that works in the next section.

How to Recover Data from a Formatted SD Card on Windows

We’ll explore 3 methods you can use to easily recover missing data from a formatted SD card on Windows.

Method 1: Recover Data from a Formatted SD Card using Software

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Steps to Recover Deleted Files from a Formatted SD Card

  1. Insert the formatted SD card into your computer. Disk Drill can detect and recover even SD cards that are not displayed in File Explorer, which may come in handy if your card hasn’t been assigned a drive letter or is without a file system. 
  2. Scan your SD card with Disk Drill. With your SD card inserted, you can launch Disk Drill and select the card from the list of available storage devices. Click the Search for lost data button to start the recovery process. You can wait until Disk Drill finishes scanning or choose to review found files with scanning continuing in the background.Select formatted sd card and start scan in disk drill
  3. Preview your files. When Disk Drill locates lost content on your formatted SD card, it will give you the option to either restore everything or prioritize the files you need the most. If you choose the manual route, you’ll then be able to preview and select the files you want to recover. You can also activate scan result filters to display only certain files, such as pictures or videos.Disk Drill for Windows recovering files from a formatted memory card
  4. Select files for recovery. If you’ve decided to recover only specific files, then you need to click the checkboxes next to tell Disk Drill that these are the items you wish to retrieve.photo recovery from a formatted SD card using Disk Drill
  5. Press the Recover button, and choose where you’d like Disk Drill to save the recovered files. Make sure to select a different storage device than the formatted SD card otherwise you could overwrite the very same files you’re trying to recover.Windows software restoring data from a memory card

With Disk Drill, recovering the content of a formatted SD card couldn’t be simpler. Best of all, you can download Disk Drill for free from the official website.

Currently, there are dozens if not hundreds of memory card data recovery programs available for Windows and Mac OS X. Some of them will cost you an arm and a leg while others are free to download. Many handle only a few file formats, but the best support hundreds. There are data recovery solutions so complicated even IT professionals would struggle to use them, and alternatives so simple you can recover your files in a few clicks—you get the idea. 

The challenge lies in finding software that’s both effective and easy-to-use (it also helps if it’s affordable and comes with a free version that you can use to determine the recoverability of your data before you whip out your credit card). One excellent option for both Windows and macOS users is Disk Drill. Here’s why Disk Drill stands out:

  • 📄 Comprehensive file format support: Disk Drill recovers hundreds of file types, including photos, videos, documents, archives, and more. RAW photo and video file formats are supported especially well. 
  • 🦾 Powerful recovery algorithms: Disk Drill incorporates multiple recovery methods that enable it to perform in-depth scans of formatted SD cards.
  • 🤗 User-friendly interface: The software features a streamlined, intuitive interface so even those without technical expertise can use it successfully.
  • 💾 RAW SD card support: Disk Drill is great at handling RAW file systems, which is a common scenario when SD cards are corrupted or improperly formatted. 
  • 🖼️ Unlimited preview capabilities: Before proceeding with the full recovery process, Disk Drill allows users to preview recoverable files without any restrictions and for free.

Method 2: Restore the Previous Backup

The backup solutions accompanying Windows usually work only for local storage devices. That means they don’t include removable devices like USB flash drives or SD cards. So, theoretically, they can’t help if you want to get data back from a formatted SD card. Still, if you had also stored the files you want to get back on such a local device, maybe you can salvage them from one of those backups.

Windows Backup and Restore

Method 3: Use CHKDSK in a Command Shell

To check and fix any errors on a storage device with CHKDSK, press Windows Key + X and run either the Command Prompt or PowerShell. There, type the following to fix your SD card’s corrupted file system:


The switch /f sets CHKDSK not only to find and report errors on your storage device but also to attempt to fix them. For such problems, you’d have to use the /r switch instead, as follows:


Windows CHKDSK

Recovering Data from Formatted SD Cards on Mac

Saving your files from a formatted SD card isn’t possible only on Windows PCs. If you’re on a Mac, you have a similar arsenal of options you can try out.

Method 1: Get Back Your Lost Data from a Formatted SD Card with Disk Drill

Disk Drill is one of the best solutions for getting your files back from a formatted SD card on a Mac. Start by downloading it from the official site and installing it like any other app. Then, run it.

  1. Choose your SD card from Disk Drill’s main device list. Then, click on Search for lost data in the bottom right of its window.Disk Drill for Mac recovering files from a formatted CF card
  2. Click on Review found items in the top-right corner to check what Disk Drill has already found. However, by allowing Disk Drill enough time to complete its scan, you’re maximizing the chances to locate as many files as possible. After a relatively quick initial scan, Disk Drill might ask you if you want to Scan (the) entire disk. This more detailed scan needs more time but usually also reaps better rewards.Mac Disk Drill Scan In Progress
  3. Disk Drill can helpfully group found files them by their type. By default, it will list All files, but you can narrow down the list from the group list on the left. You can click on any file to get more information about it. Disk Drill will also show a preview for popular file formats like text documents and images.Mac Disk Drill Located Files List
  4. When you locate the files you want to get back, place a checkmark on their left to mark them for recovery. Then, click on Recover in the bottom right of the Disk Drill window.recovering photos from a formatted memory card on Mac
  5. Disk Drill will ask you to choose the destination for your soon-to-be-recovered files. Follow along, and soon you’ll find them there.Mac Disk Drill Recovery Target

Method 2: Using Terminal to Recover Lost Files from a Formatted SD Card

If you’d prefer a more hands-on way to get back your files from your formatted SD card on a Mac, you can use Photorec in the Terminal.

  1. Start by downloading PhotoRec from its official site. Then, unpack the downloaded archive – we extracted it on our desktop.Mac Terminal PhotoRec Extract Archive
  2. Fire up the Terminal app. Use the CD (Change Directory) command to move to the folder where you extracted TestDisk. Then, use sudo ./photorec to run Photorec.Mac Terminal PhotoRec CD Folder
  3. Choose your SD card from Photorec’s list of media, using the cursor keys to highlight it. Then, with Proceed selected, press Enter on the keyboard.choose sd card in photorec
  4. If Photorec detected an existing partition, choose it and press Enter with Search highlighted to analyze it for lost data. Alternatively, you can select No partition to have Photorec scan the whole device.Mac Terminal PhotoRec Select Partition
  5. Photorec will ask for the device’s file system. In most cases, you’ll probably want to choose Other.Mac Terminal PhotoRec Choose File System
  6. You can have Photorec perform a partial or complete partition scan. Free is quicker but only scans the unallocated space. Whole is much slower but (usually) leads to extended results.Mac Terminal PhotoRec Scan Type
  7. You’ll also have to choose the destination where Photorec will save any salvaged files. Use the arrow keys and Enter to navigate the file and folder list. Press C on the keyboard when you’re inside the desired destination folder.Mac Terminal PhotoRec Destination
  8. Give Photorec some time to complete its scan. You can choose Stop to interrupt the scan, but the more time you allow it to run, the more files Photorec will find. Ideally, you should let it complete.Mac Terminal PhotoRec Located Files
  9. When the process completes, Photorec will present a summary of the number of files and destination folder. Press Enter on the single preselected Quit option to exit the app. You’ll find all files Photorec recovered in the destination folder you selected.

How to Prevent an SD Card from Becoming Formatted

Having an SD card appear as formatted means you have to recover your lost files, then check it for errors, then format it again to keep using it. It’s time-consuming and annoying. Thus, it’s better to minimize the chances of the problem appearing in the first place.

  • ❌ Never abruptly pull out your SD card from any device. Instead, select any available option to detach any removable media safely. Alternatively, you can turn the device off.
  • 🔋 Ensure the device where you’re using your SD card, like your camera, is fully charged.
  • ⚡ Don’t keep using it until its battery’s power depletes.
  • 💾 Don’t accept to format your SD card when a device prompts you to do so. Especially if your SD card works fine on another device, like your PC. If you choose to format your SD card, first ensure you’ve backed up all its contents elsewhere.
  • 👨‍⚕️ When on your PC, use antivirus and firewall apps to keep malicious software and users at bay. Never run untrusted apps from unknown sources, which could end up corrupting your storage devices.
  • 🔥 Except for the occasional breeze, the elements aren’t friendly to your SD card. Avoid exposing it to heat, dust, or water.
  • 📦 Use carrying cases and never throw your SD card in your pocket among keys, coins, and other “stuff” that could get it scratched, chipped, or bent.
  • 🗑️ If there’s visible wear, your SD card’s many years old, or it has appeared as formatted or RAW again in the past, it’s time to replace it.


As we saw, even if your SD card appears as formatted, there’s hope you can save your files from it. Even better, you might be able to “fix it” and keep using your SD card like before.

Still, you should be vigilant, especially if the same SD card has failed again in the past. Don’t gamble with your precious files. At the slightest hint of imminent failure, back them up and order a new SD card as soon as possible.

Thanks to nifty tools like Disk Drill, recovery might always be an option and feel like a piece of cake. However, avoiding it altogether is always the wiser course of action.


Odysseas Kourafalos

Odysseas Kourafalos has been writing about computers and technology for over two decades. He specializes in software and has produced thousands of articles, from tutorials on Linux to mini-books about gaming console modif...

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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.