How to safely remove hardware in Windows, so that you don't lose your data

Do you use USB memory sticks, external hard drives and other forms of external storage on your Windows computers and devices? If you do, then you should know the best way to remove these storage devices from your computer, so that you don't encounter issues with corrupted files and prompts for scanning your drives before being able to use them. It's as simple as using the "Safely Remove Hardware" feature in Windows, which is designed to make sure that you unplug external storage devices only after all the files stored on them are closed, to make sure that you don't lose any data. Here's how it's done, in Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10:

How to safely remove hardware in Windows 10

In Windows 10, keep the mass storage device still plugged into your computer. Then, go to the taskbar and click or tap the arrow pointing upwards, near the icons from the notification area. A list is shown with desktop apps running in the background.

Click or tap the icon that looks like a USB memory stick and a list is shown with the external devices that you can remove. This list may include one or more items, depending on how many you have connected to your Windows 10 computer. Press the Eject entry for the removable drive that you want to unplug from your computer.

Wait for a couple of seconds and Windows 10 will display a notification saying that it is "Safe To Remove Hardware". The USB mass storage device can now be safely removed.

Unplug that external device from your Windows 10 computer.

How to safely remove hardware in Windows 8.1

In Windows 8.1, with the device that you want to remove still connected to your computer, go to the Desktop. Click or tap the arrow pointing upwards, near the icons from the notification area. A list is shown with desktop apps running in the background. Press the icon that looks like a USB cable.

A list is shown with the removable devices that you can eject from your computer. This list may include one or more removable devices, depending on how many you have connected.

Click or tap the Eject entry for the device that you want to remove from your computer.

After a couple of seconds, you are informed that it is "Safe To Remove Hardware". The USB mass storage device you selected can now be safely removed from your computer.

Unplug that device from your Windows 8.1 computer.

How to safely remove hardware in Windows 7

Keep the device that you want to eject still connected to your computer. Go to the notification area on the taskbar and click the arrow pointing upwards. A list is shown with desktop apps running in the background. Click or tap the icon that looks like a USB cable.

A list is shown with the removable devices that you can eject. This list may include one or more devices, depending on how many you have connected. Click the Eject entry for the removable device that you want to unplug.

After a couple of seconds, you are informed that it is "Safe To Remove Hardware". The USB mass storage device that you selected can now be safely removed from your computer.

Unplug that removable device from your Windows 7 computer.

What if I don't know which device to safely remove from my computer?

If you have multiple USB storage devices connected to your computer and you are not very familiar with them, you might not know which one to remove. If that is the case for you, open Windows Explorer in Windows 7 or File Explorer in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

In Windows 7, go to the Computer section of Windows Explorer and look at your removable storage devices. Browse their contents and once you identify the one that you want to remove, remember its name and drive letter. To make this easier in the future, you may want to give your removable devices more descriptive names. You can learn how to set a custom name for any removable drive, by reading this guide: How to Set A Custom Icon & Label For Removable Drives in Windows.

Then, follow the steps shared in the previous sections and, in the list of devices that can be ejected, select the one that has the drive letter you just identified.

The same goes for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. The only difference is that you will find your devices with removable storage in the This PC section of File Explorer.

The remaining steps are just as described earlier in this guide.

What to do when you have problems ejecting USB mass storage devices

At times, it may happen that you get an error message saying: "Problem Ejecting USB Mass Storage Device". The device you want to remove is currently in use. This is how it looks in Windows 10:

Below you can see how it looks in Windows 8.1 and in Windows 7:

This means that at least one file from the selected removable drive is currently running or it is opened by an app that you are using. Close the file that you have opened or the apps that are using files from the removable drive. Then, try to remove that drive again, using the procedure shared earlier in this guide.

Conclusion

As you can see from this tutorial, using the "Safely Remove Hardware" feature in Windows is not difficult and anyone can do it. If you would rather disable this feature and just unplug your external storage devices, without going through the steps we described, read this article first, to understand all the implications: Want to Stop Using the Safely Remove Hardware Notification Icon?. Before you close this article, don't hesitate to leave a comment with your questions or issues about the subject covered in this guide.