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How to Unformat SD Card and Recover Data from It

How to Unformat SD Card and Recover Data from It

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you need to unformat an SD card? Whether it’s to recover mistakenly deleted files or to restore an SD card to its previous state after an accidental format, the ability to unformat can be a lifesaver. Drawing from my experience, I’ll walk you through various methods to unformat an SD card, ensuring your precious data isn’t lost forever.


Common Scenarios:

Accidental Deletion of Files 🗑

  • Accidental deletion of files from an SD card can happen to anyone. Whether it was a misstep or a mistaken batch deletion, the result is the same: precious data seems to be gone in an instant.
  • In such cases, the data remains on the SD card but is no longer visible or accessible through normal means. It’s essential to stop using the SD card immediately to avoid overwriting the data you want to recover.

Troublesome Formatting Errors 💥

  • Sometimes you may format an SD card without realizing that there’s still important data on it.
  • An incorrectly executed format, interrupted by an error or power loss, may corrupt the file system, prompting the need to unformat the card to recover the intact data that existed prior to the formatting attempt.

Unintended Format Commands 💻

  • We’ve all been there – a misclick leads to hitting the ‘format’ option on a camera or computer, and in a split second, your files seem to vanish.
  • Despite the format, the original data structures often remain, meaning that there is a high likelihood of recovery if unformatting is done correctly and promptly.


Step-by-Step Guide. Unformat SD Card:

Method 1: Using a Data Recovery Software 🧑

  • Download and install data recovery software. Make sure you do this on your computer and not on the SD card itself.
  • Connect the SD card to your computer using a card reader.
  • Launch the software, select the SD card from the list of available drives, and start the scan.
  • Once the scan is complete, preview the files to verify they are what you’re looking to recover.
  • Select the files you want to recover and save them to a safe location on your computer, not back to the SD card.

Note: Some files might not be recoverable depending on whether they have been overwritten or not.

Conclusion: Data recovery software can be highly effective for unformatting and recovering lost data from an SD card.

Method 2: Command Prompt Recovery (Windows) 🖥

  • Connect the SD card to your computer using a card reader.
  • Open the Command Prompt as an administrator by searching for cmd in the Start menu, right-clicking it, and selecting ‘Run as administrator’.
  • Type chdsk X: /f, replacing ‘X’ with the letter assigned to your SD card, and press Enter.
  • Wait for the process to complete, as it will attempt to fix any file system errors on the card.
  • Check your SD card to see if any files have been recovered.

Note: This method may not recover all files and is generally less powerful than specialized recovery software.

Conclusion: Using Command Prompt is a more technical approach that can sometimes remedy minor file system issues and restore access to files.

Method 3: Using Mac’s Disk Utility (MacOS) 💻

  • Insert the SD card into your Mac. Use a card reader if necessary.
  • Open Disk Utility from the Applications > Utilities folder.
  • Select your SD card from the list on the left-hand side of Disk Utility.
  • Click on the ‘First Aid’ button and then ‘Run’ to start the repair process.
  • Wait for the process to finish and check your SD card for recovered files.

Note: Like Windows’ Command Prompt, this method may not recover all data and is best used for addressing minor corruptions.

Conclusion: MacOS Disk Utility is a built-in tool that can sometimes help to repair and recover files from an SD card without the need for additional software.

Method 4: PhotoRec (Cross-Platform) 📷

  • Download and extract the PhotoRec software from
  • Connect the SD card to your computer using a card reader.
  • Run the PhotoRec executable and select your SD card from the list of drives.
  • Choose the file system type and specify the types of files you want to recover.
  • Start the recovery process and save the recovered files to a safe location on your computer.

Note: PhotoRec is a powerful tool but it can have a steeper learning curve for beginners.

Conclusion: PhotoRec is an excellent open-source tool suitable for users comfortable with less intuitive interfaces and looking for a no-cost recovery solution.

Method 5: Professional Data Recovery Services 🛠

  • Research and find a reputable data recovery service with experience in SD card recovery.
  • Contact the service and provide them with details of your situation.
  • Send or bring your SD card to their location as instructed for evaluation and recovery.
  • Wait for the service to recover the data, which can take days to weeks depending on the complexity of the case.
  • Receive your recovered data on a new storage medium, along with your original SD card.

Note: This is typically the most expensive option, but it can yield the best results, especially in complex cases.

Conclusion: Professional services offer the highest likelihood of recovery, particularly for severely damaged or complex cases, but come with a higher price tag and longer turnaround times.


Precautions and Tips:

Preserving Your Data 🛡

  • Immediately stop using the SD card upon realizing your data is lost to prevent overwriting the files you want to recover.
  • Always eject your SD card safely using your computer’s eject function to avoid corruption.
  • Regularly back up important data to multiple locations such as an external hard drive or cloud storage.
  • Keep your SD card in a safe, dry place, away from magnetic sources and extreme temperatures, to prevent physical damage and data loss.

Choosing the Right Tools 🔍

  • When selecting data recovery software, look for one with a high success rate and positive reviews from other users.
  • Ensure the software supports the file types you need to recover.
  • Consider the complexity of the interface and whether the software is suitable for your skill level.
  • Scan for viruses after downloading any data recovery tools to ensure your computer’s security.


Extended Recovery Possibilities

Unformatting an SD card can seem daunting, but it’s important to understand that when an SD card is formatted, the data itself isn’t immediately destroyed. Instead, the file system’s table of contents is removed, making the data invisible to the operating system. The actual data remains until it is overwritten by new files. This fact allows you to use various data recovery tools or services to potentially retrieve your lost data.

For most users, software solutions are the first line of defense. Many of these programs offer free versions or trials, enabling you to assess whether data recovery is possible before committing financially. Software like Recuva, Disk Drill, and the aforementioned PhotoRec often have user-friendly interfaces and straightforward recovery processes tailored for all levels of tech experience.

It’s critical to bear in mind, however, that the chances of a successful recovery diminish considerably if the data gets overwritten. It’s for this reason that having a regular backup strategy cannot be stressed enough. This might include automated backups to an online service like Dropbox or Google Drive, and using physical backup drives.

SD cards, while robust and handy, are not infallible. They are prone to corruption, as well as physical wear and tear over time. Factors like static electricity, water damage, or even a simple manufacturing defect can result in an SD card becoming unreadable. As such, investing in quality SD cards from reputable manufacturers can also help mitigate the risk of data loss.

Remember, the steps you take immediately after data loss can significantly influence the outcome of recovery efforts. Efficiently navigating through these steps can be the difference between reclaiming your valuable data or losing it forever.


To sum up, unformatting an SD card is a process with various techniques, each with its own set of advantages and complexities. Whether using data recovery software, command-line utilities, or professional services, the primary goals are to act swiftly and avoid overwriting data. Should you find yourself needing to unformat an SD card, use the guidelines provided here as a starting point and remember: prevention is always better than cure. Regular backups and proper handling of your SD card are instrumental in warding off data loss scenarios.


Unformatting an SD card refers to the process of restoring data that was previously erased from the card due to formatting or accidental deletion.

Yes, it is often possible to recover data from a formatted SD card using specialized data recovery software as long as new data hasn't overwritten it.

Immediately stop using the SD card to prevent new data from overwriting files you wish to recover, then obtain a reliable data recovery tool.

Tools like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard and Recuva are highly regarded for unformatting and recovering data from SD cards.

Yes, Mac users can use software such as Disk Drill for Mac to unformat an SD card and restore lost data.

Most unformat software supports common file systems like FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS. Compatibility should be checked before attempting recovery.

The duration varies depending on the size of the SD card and the amount of data to be recovered, but it can range from minutes to several hours.

Most quality recovery tools aim to restore the original directory structure, but the success may vary based on the damage and usage after formatting.

Recovered files should be saved to a different drive than the one from which they were retrieved to prevent accidental overwriting during the recovery process.

Regular formatting is not recommended as it can reduce the lifespan of the SD card; only format when necessary to fix errors or clear data.