How to Erase Everything on an SD Card

Use File Explorer in Windows or Disk Utility in macOS to format your card

What to Know

  • In Windows: Open File Manager, right-click your SD card, select Format, choose a file system and click Start.
  • In macOS: Open Disk Utility, select your SD card, click Erase, select your desired format, and click Erase.

This article explains how to erase everything on an SD card, including instructions for Windows and macOS.

How to Clear an SD Card

The best way to clear an SD card of all data is to format it. While the primary purpose of formatting a device is to change its file storage system, formatting also effectively clears the device.

Basic formatting removes the file system and replaces it with a new one. This is functionally the same as deleting all the files, and it frees up the entire SD card for new files. More thorough formatting also overwrites all of the data on the card randomly. This option is more secure because it prevents easy data recovery.

Windows and macOS both include the necessary functionality to clear an SD card without any additional software, and they both let you choose between a faster but less secure option or a slower but more secure option.

How to Clear an SD Card in Windows

There are several ways to format a storage device on Windows, but the easiest is to right-click your SD card in the File Manager and open the formatting options from there. You can select the file system you want, and choose between a quick or full format. The quick option is faster, but it’s less secure. The full option takes longer because it overwrites the existing data so that nobody can access it in the future. Which you choose is up to you, but if the card is meant for you to use day-to-day, you are fine with the faster option.

Here’s how to clear an SD card on Windows:

  1. Open File Manager, select This PC, and right-click your SD card.

    An SD card highlighted in Window File Manager.
  2. Click Format.

    Format highlighted in an SD card contextual menu on Windows.
  3. Click the File system drop down and select the file system you want.

    File system options highlighted in the Windows format tool.
  4. Click Start.

    Start highlighted in the Windows format utility.

    Deselect Quick Format before you click Start if you want to completely overwrite your SD card and prevent data recovery.

  5. Click OK.

    OK highlighted in the Windows formatting warning pop-up.

    The reformatting process will begin as soon as you click OK. Don’t click until you’re ready to format.

How to Clear an SD Card on a Mac

The best way to clear an SD card on a Mac is to format it using the Disk Utility app. If you want to prevent data recovery, you can select security options in Disk Utility and choose a secure formatting method.

Here’s how to clear an SD card on a Mac:

  1. Open Disk Utility.

    Disk Utility highlighted in Spotlight.
  2. Click your SD card in the External section.

    An SD card (disk4s1) highlighted in Disk Utility.

    If you’re using a USB SD card reader, your SD card will appear as a USB External Physical Volume.

  3. Click Erase.

    Erase highlighted in Disk Utility.
  4. Click the Format drop down menu.

    The format drop down highlighted in Disk Utility.
  5. Click the desired format.

    MS-DOS (FAT) and ExFat highlighted in Disk Utility.

    Use MS-DOS (FAT) for 32GB and smaller cards, and ExFat for cards that are over 32GB unless you have a specific reason to use a different format.

  6. Click Security Options.

    Security Options highlighted in Disk Utility.
  7. Move the slider to your desired security level and click OK.

    The security slider and OK highlighted in Disk Utility.

    To prevent old data from being recovered, move the slider at least one notch to the right.

  8. Rename the SD card if you want to, and then click Erase.

    Erase highlighted in Disk Utility.

    The formatting process will begin immediately after you click Erase.

Why Can’t I Clear My SD Card?

Full-sized SD cards come with physical lock switches that, when activated, put the card into a write-protected mode. When this mode is active, devices are unable to save any data to the card. If you try to clear an SD card and receive an error that your computer can’t format the card or you get a write protection error message, this switch is probably engaged.

The lock highlighted on an SD card.

To switch an SD card out of write-protect mode, eject it from your computer and slide the switch to the unlocked position. Most cards indicate a direction of movement to engage the lock, so you unlock it by sliding the switch in the other direction. You can then place the card back into your computer to try to erase it.

  • How do I format my SD card on an Android device?

    The precise steps may be a little different depending on your Android Phone's manufacturer and installed OS, but it's relatively straightforward. Select Apps > Settings > Storage, then select Unmount SD card to make your device stop attempting to use the card. Once unmounted (you should receive a notification when this happens), select Erase SD card > Erase SD card > Erase everything.

  • How do I delete my SD card from a GoPro camera?

    This process may differ slightly depending on your GoPro model, but you should be able to clear your SD card by swiping down on the touch screen and selecting Preferences. From there, scroll down and select Reset > Format SD Card.

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