How to Clear an SD Card

By Kurt Schanaman

SD (Secure Digital) cards are used in a myriad of electronic devices, including cell phones, digital cameras and portable media players. Once you have saved information onto an SD card, it remains on the card. When your SD card is full and no more data can be stored on it, the data (photographs, music files, videos) must be copied to a computer or deleted before more can be stored. To clear an SD card, use a computer or the device in which the card is used, depending on whether you want to save the information first.

Things You'll Need

  • Device in which card is used
  • PC with built-in SD card slot
  • Portable USB multi-card read/write device (if computer doesn't have SD slot built-in)

From a Device

Step 1

Browse through all of the images, videos or other media on the device (e.g. cell phone, laptop) to determine if there is anything you want to save to a computer. If there is nothing, it is safe to clear the SD card with the device itself.

Step 2

Decide whether you want to delete each item individually or clear the entire SD card at once. To delete each image individually, use the menu system specific to your device to browse each individual data item, then delete the item. If you want to clear all of the data from the card, see if the device has a "Format SD Card" or "Format Card" feature. If your device has a format feature, instruct the device to format the SD card. Once the SD card has been formatted by the device, none of the data on the card will be recoverable.

Step 3

Wait for the SD card to be fully formatted if using a device to format. Watch the screen on the device for a message telling you that the SD card has been formatted successfully. Don't turn the device off or attempt to remove the SD card until the device indicates it is finished formatting.

Clear Using Computer

Step 1

Turn off the device in which the SD card is installed. Once the device is shut down, remove the SD card from the device carefully.

Step 2

Insert the SD card into the computer's built-in SD card slot. If the computer doesn't have a built-in SD card slot, use an external SD read/write device that can be connected to any available USB (Universal Serial Bus) port on the computer. If using such an external device, boot up the computer and log in. Plug the device into a USB port, then slide the SD card into the SD slot on the reader.

Step 3

Create a new folder on the desktop of your computer screen. This can be done for both PC and Apple computers. For the PC, right-click on the screen, then select "New" then "Folder" in the popup menu. For Apple Mac, press and hold the following keys: "Command", "Shift" and "N". Name the folder "SD Backup" or any name you desire.

Step 4

Look on the desktop (PC) or in the Apple Dock (lower part of screen) for an icon that is attached to the SD card. Both Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac systems automatically detect external cards and provide such icons on the desktop. Click (or double-click depending on operating system version) on the icon to open a window that displays the contents of the SD card.

Step 5

Resize the window that displays the contents of the SD card so you can view it along with the new folder you have created on the desktop. Use the mouse to highlight all of the data. Once highlighted, drag the contents of the SD card and hover the mouse pointer over the new backup folder.

Step 6

Release the mouse button to drop the contents into the folder. If asked whether you want to copy or move the data, click "Move." This will empty the SD card without any further need for deleting or formatting.

Step 7

Click on the SD card icon and look for a menu selection labeled "Safely disconnect" or "Safely remove" and click. Remove the SD card from the slot and re-install into the device for which it is used.

Tips & Warnings

  • Not all devices have a formatting capability. If this is the case, move the data into a separately-created folder on a computer. When using this method, and if the card will continue to be used in the device, don't use your computer's formatting tool. Your computer might not set up the card with a format the device is able to read or write to. It is always safest to simply move the data from the card to the computer to clear the data. In this way, the device's own format type isn't disturbed.
  • Moving all data from an SD card to the computer will completely clear the card. When inserting into your device again, the device will most likely tell you that the card needs to be formatted or set up again. If asked, give the device permission. The device will create a brand new directory structure it expects for normal use.
  • When using a device's "Format Card" option, never turn off the device or remove the SD card from the slot while the format is in progress. Doing so can cause damage to the SD card, possibly making it unusable.