Does Formatting an SD Card Delete Everything

Well, the answer to this question is both yes and no. While formatting your secure digital (SD) card does erase everything from the card, it does not wipe it 100% clean.

Hello folks! My name is Lavelle and I am a professional photographer and videographer. I’ve used my fair share of SD cards over my more than 20-year career and, if we go back even further than that, I’ve been using SD cards since they came out in 1999. 

In this article, I will explain what happens to your SD card when it is formatted. I will also go over the process for formatting an SD card without losing the data that is stored on it.

Key Takeaways

  • Format your SD cards regularly, at least once a month to extend the lifespan of the card.
  • There are two types of formatting options, the Quick and the Full Format. Use the Quick Format option if you are the only user of the card and use the Full Format option if you are letting someone else use your card.
  • You can recover lost data from an SD card by using a data recovery system such as Disk Drill.

What Happens to an SD Card During Formatting

It is fairly common to think that when we format the SD card, all of our information is completely wiped from the card. Well, the reality is that when an SD card is formatted, the information is deleted from it, however, it is still available for recovery.

I realize that this answer can be a little confusing so let’s slow down a bit and discuss it in detail. When you format a SD card the folder structure is what is deleted from the card. So the only 100% proof way to ensure that no information is left is to physically destroy the card.

Another way to ensure that no information is left is to format the card and then take enough photos with the lens cap on to fill up the card space to make sure that your previous information has now been replaced with these “ghost shots.”

Otherwise, without physically destroying the card, there is still a chance that someone can retrieve your information.

Quick Format

As I mentioned above, there are two ways to format an SD card.

The Quick Format process is very simple. To process it, insert the card into your device’s SD card slot, right-click on the SD card, and then click Format or Manage. Click OK to start formatting the card. 

This is a quick and easy way to format the card when you are the one who will continue using the card.

Full Format

The Full Format method should be chosen when you are giving the card to someone else for some reason. It may also be a good idea to complete Full formatting when you are selling an older camera and want to include an SD card with the sale.

To complete this process, you start exactly as you did with the Quick Format. Insert the card into your device’s SD card slot. Right-click on the SD card and then click Format or Manage. Now, choose the correct file system (you should choose the one that the device you’re planning to use the card on is designed for).

Now, here it’s important to note this information…if the capacity of your SD card is less than 64GB, set the File System to FAT32. If the SD card capacity is higher than 64GB, set the File System to exFAT. Upon completing this step, you can click Start and begin the full formatting process. 

How to Format an SD Card without Losing Data

Now, here comes the tricky part. You need or want to format your SD card but you don’t want to lose your data. To do this, you go through the normal steps to format the card. 

Upon completion, you now need to recover the data by using a data recovery system such as Disk Drill. A good practice is to save your files before performing any format. Back up your files to a safe and secure location. Doing so helps to give you extra protection in case you accidentally formatted the card or needed to format the corrupted card.  If an accidental format occurs, then you can use the Disk Drill method shown here.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to recover data using Disk Drill. So, let’s begin.

  • Step 1: Download and install the Disk Drill Software
  • Step 2: Insert the SD card into your computer or card reader (as shown here)
  • Step 3: Select your device from the list.
  • Step 4: Click on the Search for Lost Data button (ensure the All Recovery Methods option is selected)
  • Step 5: The system will now begin to scan files.
  • Step 6: Once the scan is complete, select the files you want to recover.
  • Step 7: Select the location you want to restore the files to.
  • Step 8: The data recovery process is complete. Go to your Pictures folder to ensure that all the files/photos are now accessible.

This process is relatively easy and the Disk Drill system does all the heavy lifting for you. Now you breathe a sigh of relief as your lost files should now be recovered.


Here are answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions.

Does Formatting an SD Card Make It Unusable?

No, formatting an SD card does not make it unusable. Formatting the SD card makes it more usable as it is now reset and made compatible with your device.

Is It Bad to Reformat an SD Card?

No, it is not “bad” to reformat an SD card. It is recommended that you format your SD card about once a month. Doing so enables you to extend the lifespan of the card and reuse it regularly.

How Often Should SD Cards Be Formatted?

It is recommended that you format your SD cards at least once a month. I even suggest that if you are a professional user of SD cards, you back up your information to a secure location and format your card after each professional use.

Final Thoughts

Secure Digital (SD) cards are a wonderful tool for professionals and amateurs alike. These cards store information and can be reused for several years. However, as it is with any piece of technology, it is important to maintain the card properly. Store it in a good, safe location so that it does not become damaged, and keep it free of elements such as extreme temperatures, water/moisture, or dust. By taking proper care of the card, it can last for several years.

Have you formatted an SD card before? What was your experience like? Share your experiences here with us and feel free to ask any questions as well. I will respond to you as soon as I can.

Until next time, enjoy your technology and take care of your data!

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