How to Remove Your Flash Drive

Tech Talker tackles how and why you should eject your flash drive safely.

Eric Escobar
4-minute read
Episode #19

Today, I’m going talk about a hot topic in the tech world. I have received so many questions about this, it’s not even funny: So how exactly do you remove your flash/USB/thumb drive?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this terminology, let me give you a little background.

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What is a Flash or Thumb Drive?

A thumb drive can be called many things, such as a flash drive or a USB stick. These devices are roughly the size of your thumb, hold your files just like a hard drive, and use flash memory as a storage medium. You can find them at any electronic store, and their price ranges from $4 to $80, depending on how much memory you want. People use these drives to easily move files them from computer to computer.

So what’s the controversy here? Turns out, how you remove a flash drive from your computer is a hotly contested question. Some people take every measure to follow their computer’s instructions and “safely remove the device.” And then there are others who throw caution to the wind, and rip their USB drive right out of the computer when they’re done using it. I’ll admit, I’m a member of the second group. I tend to just yank out my flash drive whenever I’m done transferring my files, and so far I haven’t had a problem.

What’s the Controversy?

After doing some research on this topic, I think I’ve found out why there is so much confusion. Should you “eject” or “safely remove hardware”? Or is it OK to just pull the drive out of your machine and go about your business? The answer comes down to which operating system you use. When you plug a flash drive into your computer, no matter what operating system you’re running, it will recognize it and then proceed to mount it so that it can be used by your computer. But Windows has a different way of starting or mounting the flash drive, than a Linux or a Mac operating system.

The reason for the difference has to do with something called caching. This basically means that some information is stored on the flash drive while it’s plugged in, which allows for faster speeds during file transfers. I won’t go into further nitty gritty about caching, but the bottom line is that it all comes down to performance. With a Mac or Linux operating system, caching is used so that your flash drive performs better. Windows on the other hand, doesn’t have caching enabled by default so it doesn’t perform as fast, but there’s less of a risk of something going wrong if you yank out your flash drive without ejecting it first!

What Can Go Wrong?

What’s the worst case scenario? Well, say you’re moving a document over to the flash drive and once it’s moved, you simply yank out the drive. If the computer wasn’t done moving the file, it may be corrupted, which means that for all intents and purposes, it is ruined and unusable. So there is some merit here to properly ejecting or safely removing your flash drive before you yank it out. No one wants their files to get damaged beyond repair. If you pull out the flash drive before the data is completely done copying, it doesn’t matter what operating system you use, your file will still most likely be damaged.

What about removing devices such as camera memory cards, USB external hard disk drives, and CDs? Do they need to be ejected too? CDs are fine to take out as long as you aren’t burning or writing anything to them. This is because CDs are generally read-only devices that have information recorded once onto them and therefore are almost impervious to corruption. Cameras fall into the same category in that as long as you aren’t transferring pictures when you’re about to take out the memory card, there’s no real risk of data corruption.

So that leaves external hard disk drives. As I said in my previous podcast, these drives use spinning plates to store data, and the plates require electricity to spin. Sometimes the USB will provide power to the drive, so if you unplug it prematurely, the internal mechanisms don’t have a chance to slowly spin down. This causes unnecessary wear and tear on the drive, so no matter what operating system you use, I would recommend always ejecting these drives properly.

Quick and Dirty Tip on data corruption: As long as you are just copying data when something goes wrong, it will just be corrupted on the target device and not the source. This is why I always “copy” and “paste” my files from one location to another and seldom “cut” and “paste.” When you “cut” and “paste” and something goes wrong, the data is corrupted on both the target and the source.

Here are your 4 Quick and Dirty Tips to removing your flash drive:

  1. Never remove a flash drive while data is being copied to or from it.

  2. If you have a Mac or Linux always “eject” the drive before removing it.

  3. If you use Windows, I recommend “safely removing” the device, just to be on the safe side.

  4. Always safely remove an external hard disk drive to prevent wear and tear.

If you’re not sure how to eject or safely remove a flash drive, here are the steps you need to take if you own a Windows, Mac , and Linux system

Do you have nagging tech questions? Post them to the Tech Talker Facebook wall and I will be happy to answer them. I’m going to be dedicating an entire episode to listener questions soon, so make sure to let me know what you want me to tackle in the future.

Flash Drive image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.