How to format a corrupt SD card

Updated March 23, 2017

Digital cameras make taking pictures, deleting the bad ones and saving memories to a computer easy. The popular brand SanDisk (SD) builds memory cards that can store thousands of photos. But SD memory cards aren't as stable as computer hard drives because their internal storage is protected by a flimsy piece of plastic. The constant deleting and recording of pictures, switching cameras and connecting to computers can cause the card to malfunction.

If you wish to retrieve pictures before formatting, go to "Section 2." Otherwise, try and use the camera first to format the SD card. Read the camera manual for guidance on where to find the format option, usually located under a settings menu. If this step isn't successful, continue with the options below.

Remove SD card from camera and connect to computer using either a built-in memory card reader or an external USB adaptor.

Download a software program designed to format memory cards. SD (SanDisk) offers a formatting program on their Web site with thorough instructions for all versions of Windows:

When you choose to download the installer, select "save file" and run the program. Follow the instructions listed on the SD Web site, depending on which version of Windows you run.

There are times when the computer simply won't recognise the SD card and you aren't given the option to format. Usually this means the problem lies within a damaged controller on the SD card. A controller doesn't store the data, but is a necessary component to be able to read the card. You cannot format a SD card with a damaged controller, but you might be able to retrieve the data. Continue to Step 4 under ''Section 2" for retrieval steps.

Download a photo recovery program such as PhotoRescue: Follow the link and save the program to your computer. Double-click on the file and follow install instructions.

Connect the SD memory card using to your computer and run the software. You will be asked to select the drive you wish to recover -- choose the SD memory card and run a scan.

You will have to purchase the program to recover lost pictures, but the demo will allow you to see what can and cannot be recovered.

If there is physical damage, the only option is to send the damaged SD memory card to a photo recovery company and see what they can recover. Regardless, the SD memory card will remain unusable and you will need to purchase a new one. The following company provides recovery service both inside the U.S. and internationally:


You cannot format a write-protected SD card. Look on the side of the card for a small piece of plastic and slide it into the unlocked position. Sometimes a faulty cable or USB adaptor is the culprit. If other memory cards aren't being recognised either, then you need to replace the cable or adaptor.


All memory cards have limited life spans. If the SD memory card becomes corrupted more than once, it may be time to replace it or else risk losing future pictures.

Things You'll Need

  • SD memory card
  • Card reader
  • Computer
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About the Author

John Smith began writing back in 2003. Smith is a technology writer currently living in Lansing, Mich. His articles have appeared in online publications including PC World and IGN, where he specializes in mobile apps for both Android and iOS.