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How to recover deleted files from a usb stick: a step-by-step guide

Author: Vlad Brown

Data recovery specialist, guest author, journalist.

Published 03/14/2019

Sad statistics: files often disappear from a USB flash drive. We'll show you how to quickly and efficiently recover files deleted from a usb stick and what programs will help you to recover data from a compact storage device.

By the way, these methods are applicable not only to usb memory sticks, but also to sd cards of mobile phones and digital cameras.

At the end of the article we'll answer the readers' questions. You're also welcome to ask them. It's preferable to ask questions related to the topic of the article (how to recover photos from a usb stick, are there any chances to recover data from corrupted usb or what to do with a memory stick, etc.)

And before you ask, please read the guide. Here is the content:

First steps after deleting files

If you find out that the data has been removed, put the USB flash drive aside. Try not to panic and make no fuss. Some key points you should learn before getting down to recovering files:

  1. Deleted files are marked as "available for overwriting", but actually they have not been disappeared from the usb flash drive. They can easily be returned with the help of any recovery-program.
  2. During the recovery phase do not use the flash drive as intended and do not copy files into it. This will increase the chances of finding deleted data. Thus the more information will be recorded before the recovery, the less are the chance to find anything.
  3. NEVER install recovery software into the device/ drive where you scan and search for files. Choose another drive/ removable device for the installment.

The main causes for the disappearance of files from a usb stick

Here are the most common causes, from the simplest to the most complex:

  1. Damage because of the virus is one of the most frequent causes. Files are not deleted, they are hidden from the user. Fortunately, it's easy to return the hidden files into the usb stick by checking the device for viruses and removing malware. You can read below how to recover corrupted USB.
  2. By deleting files to the Recycle Bin and emptying it afterwards. Also it's one of the common ways to say goodbye to the files on a usb stick forever. However, with the help of special recovery programs signature data can be found and recovered.
  3. Random, wrong or intentional usb stick formatting. This situation is more complex, and to recover data after such "manipulations" is problematical. In this case proven tools that search for deleted files can help us again.
  4. Mechanical damage. In most cases, the deleting of the files is permanent. Only qualified professionals can help you in this case. Unfortunately it's impossible to recover a usb stick on your own.

Checking a usb stick for viruses that can hide all files

If you haven't deleted any files and you don't know the reason for their disappearance you should check whether they were hidden by malware.

Firstly, disable the system option 'Show hidden files, folders, and drives'. To do this:

  1. In the search box on the Windows taskbar, type 'folder'
  2. Select 'Show hidden files and folders' option from the results.
  3. In settings section 'Advanced settings', select 'Show hidden files, folders, and drives' option. Click 'OK' to confirm.
  4. After some time check if there are new files that have appeared without your permission on the usb stick.

usb rec 01

usb rec 02

Secondly, turn on the displaying of Windows system files. To do this:

  1. Open Windows Explorer (type 'Explorer' in the search bar) and click on the application icon
  2. Select File Explorer Options - View tab
  3. Uncheck 'Hide protected operating system files' option
  4. Click 'Yes' to confirm.

usb rec 03

If the files still have not appeared, you need to check all the sections of the stick for viruses and remove the malware. This can be done with the help of free antiviruses, for example, Dr Web CureIt.

Restoring files deleted from a usb stick with the help of Unformat

What to do if the files are not hidden, but have been actually erased by the user or lost after formatting? Let's try to recover the usb stick files with the help of the software. Unformat will help us. It has a step by step wizard, so follow the instructions.

1. Install and run the application on a PC.

Download Unformat

2. Click on 'Physical devices' tab and select the usb stick from the list. Click the 'Next' button.

usb rec 04
Unformat is able to recover deleted files from usb

3. Specify the types files you want to recover, the depth of scanning and other parameters that affect the chances of detection.

4. Recover the data deleted from the usb stick and save the files to a drive.

memory stick recovery via Unformat app

Have the files been corrupted? Let's try Recuva

Errors may appear while opening the files that have been partially recovered from a usb stick. The degree of damage depends on the extension and the type of the corrupted / damaged file.

So, for the recovered image partial loss of digital information may be significant: you'll only see a fragment of the photo or image, the file will be unsuitable for display or personal use.

Сases with archives (RAR, ZIP) are more hopeful: some archivers allow you to recover the archive content in the case of a partial loss of the information.

As for a corrupted video, the damage of the structure will result in large squares and dead pixels in certain parts of the video after you open it.

What to do with these corrupted files? There are two options:

1. Activate the 'Always Superscan' option in the Unformat program.

2. Try to recover files from memory stick again by using other programs for recovery after drive / partition formatting, for example, Recuva.

Download the free version of Recuva

usb rec 06
If an USB drive files disappeared Recuva is great solution

Advise. By enabling the deep scan option in Recuva, you'll increase the chances of recovering deleted from the usb stick files. The scanning may last for several hours (be patient!).

Questions from the readers

The files had been recovered, but I didn't find what I needed on the usb stick. Are there any ways or any programs to deal with this problem?

Answer. First of all, I advise you to go through all the steps from the instruction again. It is possible that after deleting the files you have copied other data into your usb stick (or either the operating system did it without your knowledge).

Also, if you have formatted the usb stick, go and read [the article on file recovery after they have been formatted].

I was working with a flash drive and accidentally deleted a file into the Recycle Bin. Then I emptied the Recycle Bin and the file disappeared. What should I do? Are there any chances to recover data from the usb stick?

Answer. You can read the manual on how to recover files after emptying the Recycle Bin (as well as on quick formatting / deleting by clicking Shift + Del):

How to recover files deleted from the Windows Recycle Bin

I found my old usb stick (I haven't used it for 2 or 3 years). What are the chances to recover the files after such a long period of time?

Answer. It doesn't matter how long ago you have deleted the file, the only important thing is whether anything has been copied onto the flash-memory after deleting the files. If yes, than the probability of recovering reduces in accordance with the changing of the file table on the usb-drive. So it's likely that all the data or at least some part of it can be recovered.

I found almost everything I was looking for on the usb stick. But the problem is that certain types of data have never been recovered. Moreover, that was the most important data. Have I done something wrong? Program Unformat.

Answer. It is likely that you haven't specified all the file types for the usb stick scanning. It is better to mark all the options. The search will take more time, but it will significantly increase the chances of recovery. If normal scan does not help, use the Deep Scan option in Recuva.

1. After I inserted a usb stick into a usb port a window poped up saying that I needed to format the flash drive, but I needed the data stored on it. How to make sure that the data won't be lost: download the files and restore the usb drive.

2. I insert the drive into the computer, but it does not show the files. I get the message stating that I need to format the usb drive. Should I do that? But I'll lose the files, they will be deleted from the usb stick!

Answer. Ignore the message about formatting, in any case do not agree. Run any recovery-program (Recuva or Unformat) and then scan the drive using the recovery wizard.

Copied the files from the usb stick into my PC (there were about 3000 photos). When I removed the usb stick, the photos disappeared. Can I recover deleted photos now ?

Answer. If you have only moved (not copied) pictures to the hard drive, check them on the computer. If the photos are missing, install Recuva or Unformat, insert the usb stick into the laptop / computer, try to find the files using the recovery wizard.

[Can't recover files after using online tool]

I used the online recovery tool on my jet flash transcend USB stick since it was not working. I did not get the option to keep my files so they all got deleted. I have tried using recuva and easeus in an attempt to restore the files all to no avail. Is there ANY way to recover flash drive missing files after having cleansed it with the online recovery tool?

[recovering files from the computer]

I tried to recover certain files that I had deleted from the usb flash drive (didn't realize they were missing on the computer). Unfortunately I only got 1 picture and 1 partial recovery out of 200. Is it possible to use this program to search for deleted files from my computer? I should add that my daughter was able to recover pictures from her laptop that she thought were gone for good… needless to say she was delighted.

[usb stick recovery, or how to recover photos videos got deleted by mistake]

my phone got encrypted by mistake, while trying to correct it the photos and the recent videos got deleted which is not backed up, please help me with how I could restore them! 

[Is it possible to recover files disappeared from usb?]

Is it possible to recover a deleted files over a year ago? Before I deleted the files, I overwritten it (filled the phone storage with junk photos and videos) since then someone is using the phone now.

If someone tries to recover the phone storage, does my files disappeared from flash drive recoverable?

Had trouble with my account I fixed it and I had download antiviruses and around the same time encrypted my memory stick and lost song's and pics and 6 videos I don't think I can get them back I looked in settings and memory stick says encrypted again I'm not sure of it may please have some advice

[Files deleted and copied from the usb flash drive]

I have a flash drive contains several files. When I use the flash drive I can erase and copy files in the usb flash as if it would work normally. When I remove the flash drive from the PC and connect it to the same or another PC I have the initial files again, the deleted and copied files were lost. Can you solve this problem, how do i recover files from my usb??

[Lost My Files From a 32GB usb flash drive]

I bought a 32gb usb flash drive. I inserted it on my PC and just moved all my files to the usb flash drive to free more space. When I opened the folders, they were empty. Where did my files go? I am so devastated with this dilemma.

[How can I recover my lost data?]

Hi I lost my videos that were in a folder of my USB drive. That happens when trying to move the folder to my PC by a usb port. The folder transferred but without any data. please help me to recover files from usb flash drive. Thank you so much."


[Photos disappeared in USB flash drive]

All of my wedding photos were saved in my USB flash drive, when i try to open it in my friends laptop it was all missing in my USB, i ask my photographer to gave me another copy of all my photos and reformat my USB but he already don't have it all but he formatted my USB without saving all of my wedding photos and he only save my wedding video. Is there a chance i can recover all of my photos.


[My husband lost my pics]

So my husband tried "moving" my files to a new folder he created in the usb drive - when we go to this folder nothing shows it was over 450 pictures. He thought they were copying he says PC didn't deleting anything. Can you help. I fear usb flash drive files disappeared.


Why do you need a computer to recover deleted files from usb stick? My father will not let me stop and said I only had ONE HOUR (and 21 Minutes) to restore. I do NOT have a computer, and I'm really desperately trying to do this without using a PC. But everytime I look for alternatives It does not work, AT ALL. If I don't get a reply within the Next 81 Minutes I am done for.


[File Life Length Before deleting]

I want to recover a file which barely spent 5 minutes on the computer before I permanently deleted them. How long long does the file need to be in the computer before it was deleted?

Does this time factor matter?

Because I have been trying to retrieve files from usb but it's not working.


[USB flash drive files are deleted due deleting all internal storage files]

I was taking backup of USB flash drive. First I copied all the files of internal storage to one of the folders of my computer. Once the copying was over, I accidentally deleted all the files of internal storage. Once they are deleted through computer, I tried to go for USB flash drive however I wondered the USB flash drive was empty. I think internal storage has some file that helps PC to read USB flash drive. And now it was not there.

I tried to copy all the files in internal memory as I had back up then tried to see whether PC can read USB flash drive or not. It looks like I was unsuccessful in doing the same. Let me know what should I do to recover files disappeared from flash drive like photos and videos.