Tech Q&A: what happens if I don’t safely disconnect USB drives?

Can you damage your USB devices by unplugging without safely disconnecting?

Person holding a usb cable wondering if they should have safely disconnected

Trevor wants to know if he's damaging his USB drives by not ejecting them before unplugging. Today, Ryan explains what can happen when he doesn't safely disconnect.

Q. When I use my USB drives (a hard drive and a thumb drive) I safely disconnect them, but sometimes my computer freezes up or I am in a hurry so I unplug them without ejecting. It doesn’t seem to have affected them at all. I was wondering if I should bother ejecting them in the future or will it be fine to just unplug them whenever?

A. Hi Trevor, most of the time you will be fine to unplug your devices without safely ejecting them. However, you should try to avoid making a habit of it as all it takes is one problem and that device can become corrupted.

If you unplug your USB device while data is being written, it can become corrupted. For example, if you have a file open on the drive or you are copying a file onto the drive, it is effectively in use and should not be unplugged.

This can be problematic because you might not always know that the drive is being written to, as programs on your computer might be using it in the background.

If your device becomes corrupted, you might lose a few files or the entire drive.

By safely disconnecting, your computer checks if programs are using your USB drive, so that you can unplug it without worrying about corruption.

How to safely disconnect USB drives

To safely disconnect on Windows, double-click the Safely Remove icon, found on the Task Bar at the bottom right-hand side. The icon looks like a USB plug with a green circle and tick over the top (if you can’t see the icon, you may have to click the arrow to show all icons). Now click the device you would like to disconnect and wait for a notification informing you that it is safe to disconnect your drive before unplugging.

To safely disconnect on Mac, open up Finder and click the eject icon next to the drive on the sidebar, underneath the Devices heading. Wait for the drive to disappear before disconnecting. You can also click and drag a drive into the Trash – which should momentarily transform into an eject symbol.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    29th Mar 2017
    USB flash drives are hot swap able. The only annoying thing that happens is Apple's annoying comments every time you do eject by just pulling it out. Its fine these days.
    29th Mar 2017
    Windows 7 and 10 has no problems I turn all activities off from the USB then I just pull them out ....never a problem.
    Older windows had a problem but not the new versions
    29th Mar 2017
    If you do have an issue with one, try running CHKDSK on it. From a Windows Command Line interface (right click on the windows icon bottom left corner of screen, "Run", type "CMD" in the dialogue box). At the prompt, type "chkdsk f: /f" where f: is actually the drive letter of the USB stick, and /f tells it to Fix any errors. This is also useful for USB powered hard disk drives that may be encountering difficulties when plugged into a media server such as the WD TV Live devices. I have found that sometimes, after disconnecting the hard disk drive, taking it to the computer and loading more media files onto it, occasionally it is then not recognised by the WD TV Live device on reconnection. Running "chkdsk /f" on it always fixes the problem.
    2nd Apr 2017
    Would that CHKDSK work if you use Firefox Fearlessfly?
    2nd Apr 2017
    PlanB - CHKDSK is not a browser utility, it is a DOS utility, been around since Windows was a baby boy. You run it in what's called a "DOS Window" or "Command Line Interface", hence using the "CMD" command to open the Dos Window. It's part of the original MS-DOS operating system which is still there under Windows.
    2nd Apr 2017
    Thank you very much fearlessfly
    30th Mar 2017
    I always disconnect them the right way as I had a young person -- you know the ones -- that know it all-- just removed one and lost all the info on it
    30th Mar 2017
    Worth trying to run CHKDSK on it, as above.
    2nd Apr 2017
    Thanks Fearlessfly, however it was his USB not mine

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