What to Do If Flash Drive Says It’s Full But Nothing on It

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flash drive is empty but says full

You’ve got a USB flash drive lying around the house, so you always have a device to store important files when needed. However, when you insert your device and try to copy files, you’re startled because even though the USB says it’s full, it’s empty or at least has enough space for your files, and you’re sure about that.

If this happens to you, there’s no need to panic, even if you have a few files on your flash drive. The good thing is, you can fix the issue rather easily. In this guide, we’ll help you understand why this issue occurs, how to recover your files if you have some on your flash drive, and how to fix your USB flash drive so you can use it like before.

Why Flash Drive Says It’s Full But It’s Actually Empty?

The reason your USB flash drive is empty but still isn’t allowing you to copy files to it may be either of the following:

  • Logical issues: If you’ve been using the USB flash drive for some time, it’s possible that the drive has developed bad sectors. Bad sectors are portions of data on the drive that your computer isn’t able to read. For fixing this, you’ll need to repair the file structure. Fortunately, you can fix most logical issues far more easily than physical issues.
  • Copying large files to FAT32 drives: Another reason that your flash drive is empty but has no space is that you may be trying to copy a large file on a flash drive that’s formatted as FAT32.

We’ll talk about how to fix your flash drive shortly. However, before you attempt to fix the USB flash drive, it’s important to at least recover your files so you don’t lose them if something doesn’t go as planned.

How to Recover Files from a Flash Drive that Says It’s Full?

Fixing a flash drive that says it’s full but is empty involves tinkering with the device, or in some cases, formatting it. If you’ve got some files on your flash drive, it’s best to recover them before you start working on fixing the device.

You’ll need a recovery tool like Disk Drill that efficiently scans your flash drive for recoverable files. If you haven’t used a file recovery tool before, here’s a simple four-step guide to walk you through the process:

Step 1. Download and Install Disk Drill

Start by downloading Disk Drill on your Windows PC. Run the installation wizard and once the installation completes, launch Disk Drill. If you’re on the free version, you’ll be able to recover 500MB of data using Disk Drill.

installing disk drill

Step 2. Insert Your USB Flash Drive and Select It on Disk Drill

Insert the flash drive that’s empty but still has no space. Once your computer detects it, select the flash drive from Disk Drill’s home screen.

selecting flash drive

Step 3. Scan the Flash Drive

Once you’ve selected the flash drive, you’ll need to select a scanning method. Disk Drill uses “All recovery methods” by default, and it’s also the recommended option. However, you can also choose to perform a quick or thorough scan based on your needs.

selecting recovery method

After you’ve selected a method, start the scan by clicking the Search for lost data button. You’ll be able to see the files as the scan progresses by clicking on the Review found items at the top, so you won’t have to wait until the entire scan completes if you only want to recover certain specific files.

reviewing files detected by the scan

Step 4. Start Recovering Files

Once the scan has found the files you want to recover, you can start recovering them. You can recover a file by checking the box next to its name and clicking on the Recover button at the bottom. When you click on Recover, you’ll be asked to select a location where you want to recover the files.

select files for recovery

Be sure to select a location that’s not on the flash drive. Recovering files on the device you’re recovering from can result in overwriting and worsen the chances of recovering more files. Once you’ve selected a location, click OK. You should now be able to access your files from the recovery location.

select recovery location

Now that you’ve recovered your files, you can start fixing your flash drive.

How to Fix Flash Drive That’s Empty But Has No Space?

If your USB says it’s full, but no files are showing on your flash drive, it’s most likely a logical issue like filesystem errors or bad sectors. Filesystem errors and bad sectors aren’t exclusive to flash drives though. If you’re unable to access your SD card, that could also be potentially because of a logical issue. However, they’re usually not very difficult to fix.

It’s also possible that you’re trying to transfer a file that’s greater than 4GB to a flash drive that’s formatted as FAT32. Following are the methods you can use to fix your USB flash drive based on what’s causing your problem.

Method 1: CheckDisk Command

CheckDisk is a built-in command-line utility on Windows that can help you fix filesystem errors and bad sectors. If your USB flash drive is empty but says it’s full, it can potentially be a logical issue that you can fix using the CheckDisk utility.

  1. Start by launching the Command Prompt as an administrator. To do this, search for cmd in the Start Menu and click on Run as administrator from the right pane.running cmd as admin

  2. Run the following command in the Command Prompt:

    chkdsk F: /r

    (replace F with the drive letter assigned to your flash drive)

  3. The utility will automatically the logical issues it finds during the process. Once the process completes, exit the Command Prompt window.

It’s that simple. However, if you’d rather use a graphical interface than Command Prompt, use the next method.

Method 2: Error Checking in Windows

Windows also has a more graphical way of checking your devices for disk errors. Here’s how you can use it:

  1. Press Ctrl + E to launch file explorer. Navigate to Computer (or This PC on Windows 10).
  2. Right-click on the flash drive that’s empty but has no space. Select Properties and switch to the Tools tab.
  3. Click the Check button. If prompted for confirmation, allow the scan.clicking the check button

The scan will essentially do the same job as the previous method, but you won’t need to run any commands. Once the process is complete, see if your flash drives works like it used to.

Method 3: Formatting the Flash Drive

Formatting can fix both logical issues and remove the 4GB file transfer cap that’s associated with FAT32 formatted devices. However, you’ll end up losing all the data you have on your flash drive, so you’d want to use it as a last resort. To format:

  1. Press Ctrl + E to launch file explorer. Navigate to Computer (or This PC on Windows 10).
  2. Right-click on the flash drive and select Format.
  3. You can choose to format it either as NTFS or exFAT. If you want to use the flash drive on Mac devices, select exFAT, because NTFS is only supported on Windows.
  4. Check the box next to Quick Format and click Start.formatting flash drive

Once the format is complete, the flash drive should be good as new, unless it has understand some physical damage.

Arjun is an Tech ninja, codes HTML and CSS, and has received an honorary mention as the family’s go-to tech help during get-togethers. He has been writing guides for about six years and he’s currently a contributor on major Tech websites like MakeUseOf, HelpDeskGeek and 7 Data Recovery.
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Senior Data Recovery Engineer. Master's degree in Physics, Information Technology for Science Experiments.