How to recover deleted files from USB drive (for FREE)

The following steps show how to recover deleted files from a USB drive using TestDisk – a free recovery tool.

In this example we will be recovering a text file and an image.

IMPORTANT:

  • This process will not work if the drive has been reformated
  • File recovery can be a hit and miss process – you might not be able to recover the file(s) completely (which would give you a corrupted file) or at all
  • For any hope at recovering the deleted files you must STOP using the USB drive straight away – the more you write to the drive the more of the deleted files you loose forever. This means do not download, extract or run TestDisk from the USB drive.
  • Chances are the USB drive is using the FAT32 partition format. If it is you will not be able to recover the names of the deleted files – any recovered files will have a new random name. This is due to the way FAT32 stores file names separate from the files.
  1. Download TestDisk from http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/TestDisk_Download
  2. Extract the zip file
  3. Browse the extracted folders and run “testdisk_win”
  4. A black command prompt window will open.
  5. When prompted, press enter on your keyboard to create a new log file
  6. TestDisk will now scan for drives connected to the computer.
  7. Using the arrow keys on your keyboard select the disk you need to recover the deleted file(s) from and then press enter on your keyboard
  8. Select the partition type, this is most likely going to be ‘Intel’ and press ‘Enter’ 
  9. Select ‘Advanced’ and press ‘Enter’ 
  10. Using the up and down arrow keys, select the partition that was holding the files
  11. Using the left and right arrow keys, make sure ‘Undelete’ and selected below 
  12. Press enter 
  13. The window will now list all recoverable files from the disk
  14. Press ‘a’ on your keyboard to select all files
  15. Press and hold Shift and C (capital C) 
  16. Press C to save to the default directory
  17. The window will now read ‘Copy done!’ and hopefully no failed.
  18. The recovered files will be found in the same folder as testdisk_win

Three ways to wipe a USB drive from Windows

CAUTION: The steps below will completely wipe the data from the USB drive you select. Make sure you choose the correct drive and backup any files on the drive you may need to keep. For example, this USB drive is F:

METHOD 1: Using the cipher command line tool

cipher is a built-in command line tool in the Windows operating system that can be used to encrypt or decrypt data on drives.

It can be used to securely erase the FREE SPACE on a USB drive. Note – this is FREE SPACE only – if you want to erase the entire drive you must first format the drive so that it ALL free space.

The free space is overwritten three times:

  • with a series of 0’s
  • with a series of 255’s
  • with a series of random numbers
  1. Click on the Windows button at the bottom left of the screen, type “cmd’ and when it appears in the list click on “Command Prompt”
  2. Enter the following command making sure to replace X with the drive letter you want to erase
  3. cipher /w:X:\

METHOD 2: Using the diskpart command line tool

diskpart is a built-in command line tool in the Windows operating system that is normally used to manage drives, partitions and mappings (partitions to letters) .

It can also be used to erase a USB drive by removing all existing partitions and writing a series of o’s.

  1. Click on the Windows button at the bottom left of the screen, type “cmd’ and when it appears in the list click on “Command Prompt”
  2. Enter the following command to start diskpart
  3. diskpart
  4. The diskpart program will load, once it’s ready you will see “DISKPART>” at the command prompt.
  5. Now enter
  6. list disk
  7. This will list all drives connected to the computer, each represented by a number (1, 2, 3 etc) – determine which is the USB drive by the amount of space. In this case it is Disk 3 but it may be different for your computer.
  8. Enter in the following command, making sure to replace # with the number of your drive from above
  9. select disk #
  10. The screen will display “Disk # is now the selected disk”. Now enter
  11. clean
  12. The wiping process will now start and may take several minutes to complete – depending on the size of the drive. When finished you will have an empty USB drive ready to reformat.

OPTIONAL STEPS: Format drive using diskpart

If you want to reformat the drive (assign a partition type and drive letter) you can do this using diskpart by entering the following commands.

CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY
SELECT PARTITION 1
ACTIVE
FORMAT FS=FAT32 QUICK

NOTE: replace FAT32 with NTFS if you would prefer to use the NTFS. See

If you’re not sure which is right for you – check out FAT32 vs NTFS – how to pick the right format for your USB drive.

METHOD 3: Using Eraser (third-party software)

Eraser is a free program that is recommended by the creators of DBAN (a bootable hard drive erasing tool).

  1. Download Eraser
  2. Install and run
  3. Right-click in the middle area and choose ‘New Task’
  4. Under ‘Task Type’ choose ‘Run Immediately’ 
  5. Click on the ‘Add Data’ button
  6. Under ‘Target Type’ choose ‘Drive/Partition’
  7. Then from the list choose the drive you want to erase completely
  8. Optional: you can also choose the erase algorithm using ‘Erasure method’ – but I would only do this if I knew 100% what and why.
  9. Click ‘OK’ to save the changes
  10. The task should now look something like this
  11. Click ‘OK’ to save the changes
  12. Eraser will now start wiping the drive – it may take awhile depending on the size of the drive.

How to convert FAT32 USB drive to NTFS

The following steps show how to convert a USB drive that is formatted in the FAT32 format to NTFS.

Method 1: Reformat the drive

Please note: This method removes all existing data from the USB drive.

  1. Make sure the USB drive is connected to the computer
  2. Open the Start menu (Windows button) and type ‘File Explorer’ and click on it when it appears
  3. windows10-formatfatntfs1
  4. Using the navigation pane in the left of the window, open the drive and confirm it is the drive you want to reformat
  5. In the navigation pane, right-click on the drive and choose ‘Format’
  6. windows10-formatfatntfs2
  7. The Format window will open
  8. Change ‘File system’ to ‘NTFS’ and make sure ‘Quick Format’ is ticked
  9. windows10-formatfatntfs3
  10. Click ‘Start’
  11. The process should take under a minute to complete.

Method 2: Convert using the CONVERT tool

CONVERT is a command line tool that allows you to convert a drive from FAT32 to NTFS without removing files or folders. I do however recommend you backup the files and folders first if they are in any way important.

  1. Make sure the USB drive is connected to the computer
  2. Open the Start menu (Windows button) and type ‘File Explorer’ and click on it when it appears
  3. windows10-formatfatntfs1
  4. Using the navigation pane in the left of the window, open the drive and confirm it is the drive you want to reformat
  5. Make a mental note of the drive letter, in this case the drive letter is F
  6. Open the Start menu (Windows button) and type ‘cmd’
  7. When it appears, right-click on ‘Command Prompt’ and choose ‘Run as administrator’
  8. windows10-formatfatntfs4
  9. Enter the following command, replacing F with the drive letter noted earlier
  10. convert f: /FS:NTFS
  11. Press enter on the keyboard to run the command
  12. windows10-formatfatntfs5
  13. The process will start running. The more files and folders on the drive the longer it will take.
  14. When finished you will see ‘Conversion complete’. You can then close the Command Prompt window and confirm your drive is working.