How to Find a Flash Drive That's Not Showing Up on a Mac

If the drive works on another Mac, your Mac might be the problem

This article explains the potential causes of why you might not be able to find a connected flash drive on your Mac, and how to fix it.

Why Isn’t My Flash Drive Showing Up on My Mac?

In order to use a flash drive on a Mac, typically all you do is plug it in via the Mac's USB-A port. If it doesn't work when you do that, it's typically:

  • Bad connection
  • Bad USB port
  • Drive is bad
  • Drive is formatted incorrectly
  • Incorrect Mac configuration setting

Some models of Mac or MacBook don’t have a USB-A port, in which case you’ll need to get a USB-C adapter to connect your flash drive.

Here’s how you can figure out the problem, and what to do about it:

How Do I Get My Flash Drive to Show Up on My Mac?

Follow these steps to try to get your flash drive to appear in the Mac's Finder. They're arranged from least to most complicated, so try them in this order.

  1. Make sure the flash drive is plugged in all the way and give the flash drive a little wiggle. Or unplug the flash drive and plug it back in again. If the physical connection is a little bit finicky you might only need to give it a jostle to make the necessary connection.

  2. Check your Mac’s settings, because it may not allow external device connections. From the Finder select Preferences > General, then inspect the Finder Preferences menu. Make sure the External Disks setting is turned on under Show these items on the desktop.

    The drive could be working fine with the Mac, but the Mac isn't configured to display it on the desktop. So, basically, it's working but showing you it's working.

  3. Plug the flash drive into a different device to see if it’s recognized. If it doesn’t work anywhere else, the flash drive itself may be broken or corrupted. If it does work, then you’ll know the issue is specifically tied to your Mac.

  4. Try physically cleaning the flash drive’s plug and your Mac’s USB port. The easiest way would be to use short bursts of compressed air. You can also dip a cotton swab into a small amount of isopropyl alcohol and carefully rub it along the USB contacts, but be very careful not to get any liquid further into the drive or the port.

  5. Open Disk Utility on your Mac to see if you can locate the flash drive. If the drive does appear, inspect it to see if there are any identifiable issues. You might need to erase the drive, restore it, or use the First Aid feature to attempt to repair the drive.

  6. The flash drive could be using a format your Mac doesn’t recognize, in which case you’ll need to have the Mac format the flash drive. If necessary (and possible), back up the files on the drive before reformatting so you don’t lose anything important. Once you’re ready, reformat the flash drive to HFS+ (pre-Sierra), APFS (High Sierra and newer), or either exFAT or FAT32 (Windows and Mac).

  • How do I open a flash drive on my Mac?

    Assuming the flash drive is both functional and properly formatted, you can access it through the Finder. Locate the flash drive on your desktop (or in the Favorites column on the left side of an open folder) and click to open it.

  • How do I eject a flash drive from my Mac?

    It's very important that you always eject a flash drive before disconnecting it from your Mac—to do otherwise risks damaging the drive. There are two primary ways to eject a flash drive from your computer. Locate the drive's icon on the desktop, then drag and drop it to the Trash (the Trash icon will change to an Eject icon). Or locate the drive in the Favorites column in an open folder and click the Eject icon next to its name. Once the flash drive's icon disappears it's safe to disconnect it.

  • How do I delete files from a flash drive on my Mac?

    Open the flash drive and select the files you want to remove, then drag and drop them to the Trash. Make sure you also empty it out once you do this as those files are still connected to the drive even when placed in the Trash folder. If you place files in the Trash and eject the drive without emptying the Trash, those files will reappear in the Trash when the drive is reconnected.

  • How do I encrypt a flash drive on my Mac?

    The process to encrypt a flash drive from a Mac is fairly straightforward, and can be performed directly from the Finder. Just make sure the drive is formatted as GUID Partition Map first.

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