What Does Formatting an SD Card Do?

Formatting an SD card resets it by deleting all the files and restoring it to its original, unused state. It is important to back up any important data before formatting the SD card to prevent the loss of information.

Hello folks! My name is Lavelle and I am a professional photographer and videographer with more than twenty years of experience in this field. During my career, I have used countless numbers of SD cards. I have also lost quite a bit of data over the years and have had to format many SD cards.

In this article, I will discuss the “when” and “why” of formatting an SD card and I will answer a few of the most commonly asked questions about formatting SD cards.

Key Takeaways

  • Format your SD cards at least once a month to free up space on the card. I also recommend that you format your cards more frequently if you are using them for professional services.
  • It is better to format your card than it is to just delete files from the card. Formatting the card frees up more space and ensures that your card is clear of corruption.
  • Be sure to eject your SD card from devices properly. Improper ejection may result in a file transfer error and can corrupt your files.

When and Why Do You Need to Format an SD Card?

A couple of the most obvious questions about formatting SD cards center on the “when” and “why” spectrum. Let’s address those questions.

1. Prepare a New SD Card

You should format an SD card when you first get it and before you use it in any way. Doing so will ensure that the card is free of data, works properly, and is compatible with your computer or device.

To prepare a new SD card, you insert it into your computer and look for the Disk Management System. On Windows devices, you can type “diskmgmt.msc” in the Windows Run Box. Mac users, need to open the Finder window, then to the Applications, then to the Utilities folder.

Next, you will look for the SD card and right-click on it, then choose the “format” option. On Mac, you should launch Disk Utility, find and click on the SD card, then erase the data and click on “new format”.

These actions will begin the process of formatting on both Windows and Mac devices. 

2. Erase All the Data

When you need to free up space on your SD card, it is better to format the card than to just delete files from it. Formatting the card frees up more space and ensures that it is free of corruption.

By formatting the card, you erase all files on the card including any internal files and it allows the card to have a new file system that is usable on the device that you place the card into.

3. Prepare an SD Card for New Device

The primary reason for formatting an SD card is to give the card a new file/folder system so that your device or computer can write on this new system. It is a refresh or reboot for the card system.

When preparing the SD card for a new device, formatting it ensures that the card is completely ready to use with your new device. You eliminate concerns about corrupted data, viruses, and other potentially fatal or malicious files that can harm your device. The formatting process resets the SD card to zero basically and gives you an empty card to work with.

4. Fix Performance Issues

Occasionally, SD cards begin to malfunction. When this happens it is generally due to some sort of reading or writing error internally on the card. For instance, on cameras, you may experience the inability to save photos to the card or you may not be able to review photos stored on the card.

Many times this occurs when the card is improperly ejected from a device or there is some type of file transfer error that occurs. These things indicate a performance problem and can usually be fixed by formatting the card. However, you should take precautions to always save your data regularly because formatting the card will erase your data.

5. Fix Corrupted SD Card

As a professional photographer, there have been countless times when an SD card became corrupted. Perhaps I left my bag with the SD card in it, in a hot location on a summer day. In other cases, I have been in a rush and pulled out the SD card from my camera before the files were completely processed. All of these circumstances lead to a corrupt card issue.

In most cases (but not all) I have a backup of the files. However, there have been times when I didn’t have a chance to back up the files and unfortunately, lost my data.

Nonetheless, to fix the corrupted SD card, you need to “reboot” it by formatting the card and clearing it of all corruption. In the worst-case scenario, you might need to get a new card and format it before using it.

In short, all of the information in this section points to the importance of formatting SD cards periodically. By doing so, you can extend the lifespan of the SD card and you can also save money by reusing the card several times.


Let’s look at some answers to these commonly asked questions.

Is it Better to Delete or Format the SD card?

Formatting the SD card is better than just deleting files. By formatting the card, you reset the card to zero. When deleting files from the card, you don’t clear up as much space as you can by formatting it.

Can an SD Card be Recovered After Formatting?

Yes, you can recover data from an SD card after it’s been formatted. To do so, you need to use a reliable data recovery software program. While this is not the ideal situation, it is salvageable. However, you should make every attempt to backup your files before formatting the card.

How Often Should SD Cards Be Formatted?

It is generally recommended that you format your SD card every month to free up space on the card. I’ve found that formatting my SD cards after I’ve saved all my data to a safe location is a good routine to follow.

Final Thoughts

Secure Digital (SD) cards are great tools to use in many different scenarios. The formatting of the SD card gives you a clean slate upon which files can be written on. As it is with any data storage device, such as SSDs, HDDs taking care of the card and backing up your files/data to a secure location regularly is crucial.

Have you ever formatted an SD card? Share your experience below.

Until next time, enjoy this great world of technology.

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