How to eject a USB drive when Windows doesn’t want to


Here’s a quick description of how you can use “Unlocker“,one of my favorite freeware programs, in order to safely remove a USB or external drive whenever Windows refuses to do it.

One of the things that I find most annoying about Windows is when I use the “Safely Remove Hardware” function to disconnect a flash or external drive and it doesn’t work.

What bugs me more is when I am in a hurry and that happens (e.g. I want to grab my USB drive and rush off to catch the bus in time, and Windows announces that “the device … cannot be stopped right now. Try stopping the device again later”).

I don’t know what other people’s experience is, but I would say for myself that I get this more than 50% of the time, which is why I decided that I would write a posting on how to use Unlocker to work around this issue. Here are the steps (assuming you tried the ’safely remove hardware’ dialog and it didn’t work).

try stopping the device later

1. Download and install Unlocker if you don’t already have it.

2. Go to ’My Computer’, right click on the icon for the hard drive you want to disconnect, then click the ’ Unlocker’ entry in the context menu (see screenshot).

unlock drive

3. Once (and if) you get the ’Unlocker’ dialog with the locking processes outlined, click on ’Unlock All’.


4. That’s it. Now go back to the “Safely remove hardware” dialog in the system tray and it should work as normal.

Although the process above works every time for me, I can imagine a situation where the drive might not be ready for removal for other reasons beside locking processes, so in theory it may not work 100% of the time.

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Has been reviewing software since 2006 when he started
  • I know what you mean. The same thing has happened to me on many occasions when I’ve finishing transferring music onto my iRiver. I’ll give this a go next time it happens.

  • airiz

    we cannot put this blame totally on windows… we sometimes forget that we are running antivirus programs thans scans files in the background. sometimes we also forget that we allow indexing of files in services..

    u can disable indexing files and folders.

  • I have used Unlocker for some time, but I didn’t know it could help with this problem as well. Thanks for the information!

    I also want to thank you for this website. FreewareGenius has become one of my favorites. Keep up the great work!

  • Patricia

    What if?
    What if the drive was removed in haste? Now none of our PC’s in the house recognize the USB flash deivce.

    Vista or WINXP
    Any suggestions?

  • Carbonize

    There’s usually a good reason that WIndows says it cannot reject the device. It may be still writing to it in which case killing the process will mess up any files you may have been saving to the USB stick.

    Patience is a virtue.

  • Colin

    The USB drive is allocated a drive letter when inserted and sometimes if you mess up removal that drive letter continues to be assigned. Hence, when you try the same USB key in the same pc again, it isn’t recognised.
    I’ve found it useful to
    a) Load the problem key onto a laptop/other pc, use it a little, and then “correctly” eject the device. Putting it back into the original pc may shift the drive letter up one, but the key is then useable again.
    b) Buy a second key, put that in your pc then eject correctly. Now insert the problem key and it often works. As long as you then close that original key properly, it seems to go back to having no problem.

    May be worth a try, especially if you have data on your USB key. Good luck.

  • Really helpfull, thnaks

  • prateek

    its fabulous

  • Pandu E Poluan

    I personally use USB Safely Remove. But this is not freeware. So your tip on using Unlocker to remove the drive really helps 🙂

    Of course since I’ve paid, I am entitled to a free upgrade of USB Safely Remove… so… uh… :-/

  • Armin Wrape

    Unlocker is great utility BUT it should not be used as the initial means of freeing up any file or USB device. As previoulsy stated you can ruin files or even loose the functionality of your USB device on your computer if it is improperly disconnected from your computer before some functions are finished with it. These functions maybe Antivirus, Indexing, or other scanners that you may have installed. Many people don’t realize that their photo/graphics/music programs also scan for files as soon as any media (CD,DVD, Flash drive, etc.) is inserted in the computer.
    Having Windows Explorer open while a USB/flash drive is inserted may also hang up the removal.
    I have found that 3 practices work for me:1) Close all open programs that could be accessing the USB drive. 2)Don’t just pull out the Flash/USB Drive…use the “Safely Remove Hardware” wizard and 3) Be patient. Wait and try again later.

  • good article thank you

  • ram

    I just pull out the USB device after closing all the files. I dont use the “safely remove hardware” option. I am using this method for the past 3 years without any problem.

    But ENSURE that all files are closed.

  • Doc2626

    I just saved a file to my thumb drive, and tried to eject it. It gave me the “unable” message, so I tried the unlocker, and it still gave me the same “unable” message when I tried to eject.
    So I then closed the Word document that was still open, that I had saved to that drive, and tried it again, and it ejected just fine. That leads me to believe that all the times I had gotten this annoying message, it was because I still had a file open, that was now slated to that drive. Try closing the files that were most recently saved to your thumb drive, and I’ll wager the “unable” message will no longer plague you.

  • wain

    Some people here say that we can not blame Windows that the device can’t be stopped, or that there’s a good reason it can’t be stopped.
    OK, fair enough, but if it can detect that the device is locked, please at least show me like Unlocker (sometimes) can do, what process is locking the device.

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve used Unlocker before, but never tried it on USB devices. Although I’ve tried it now, and it says nothing is locking my device. So no solution now :(.
    And my file-copy-window has disappeared 15 min. ago, and no write activity on my USB hard drive.
    So, maybe a good reason, but please Microsoft tell me the reason.

  • Ari

    Hi Samer

    I have been reading your content for quite sometime now. Just tried to test unlocker to eject a persistently non-ejectible flash drive! It worked 🙂 Thanks man!

  • thrawn

    This morning, the computer wouldn’t release my USB drive, even after I let it sit for over an hour and closed all applications. It’s not always a case of “the user didn’t realise that a file was still open”!

    Eventually I killed and restarted explorer.exe, which fixed the problem. I didn’t try Unlocker, even though I have it, but I suspect that it would have told me that Explorer was the culprit.

    I did, however, see some indications that the IMAPI service was involved…

  • kerri

    My computer did not give me the un lock option. Now what?

  • J-Man

    the only safe way that I know that I can disconnect my drive when windows won’t let me and not lose or damage files is to
    shutdown the computer.

  • Phil Goetz

    Doesn’t work for me. Unlocker says “No locking handle found.” The problem is not that there is a process using the USB drive. The problem is that my WinXP ALWAYS says there is a process using the USB drive, whether there is or isn’t.

  • Guest

    Right click on the taskbar, click task manager, click Processes tab, select explorer.exe then click end process. After that go to Applications tab, click New Task.. button, type explorer.exe and click ok then now try eject your usb

  • CY

    Comment by guest #20 above works. Thank you!

  • otis

    Neither Unlocker, or restart explorer works.

    freakin Windows.

  • szar

    I just found this page, and in less than five minutes i downloaded unclocker and i could shut down down the extenal drive.
    I cant imagine how many endless minutes and hours i will save with the UNLOCKER>…
    Plus it showed me which prog. was the culprit.

    regards and thanks again.

  • hahaha


  • NoJoy

    Unlocker does not appear to work in Windows 7. At least not up to Version 1.9.1 which is the latest available today (2/22/2012).

    Win7 Pro x64
    intel Corei7

    • Samer

      @ NoJoy: I am using Windows 7 64 bit with Intel core i7 myself, and Unlocker works just fine for me. Make sure to install the 64 bit version and not the 32bit one.

  • numbchuck

    Hard to comprehend how MS could f_ _k (I am sure you can fill in the blanks) this up after about 7 or so windows operating systems, but this usb instability issue is a big one and they have actually managed to go backwards (ditto for human race) on something (like many things, eg. removing select all mouse function) that they should have perfected down to RAZOR SHARP STATUS, but unfortunately that is not the case. I have managed to CUT DOWN drastically on this instability by doing the following things: 1) never going into “my computer” where it shows all the disks as some how this seems to confuse windows by using the disk before it has a chance to be seen by OS, 2) in general, be extremely careful and methodical whenever doing things before, and during the dismount period [I bet Jodi Arias wishes she had been this careful too as she would have never gotten into that trouble!] which means ceasing all extraneous activities as this seems to set it off, 3) be careful of getting “carried away” with registry and file cleaner such as not setting them on the most caustic/acidic settings, 4) again in general never do anything that could potentially make a call to the OS and invoke the disk before it has a chance to disconnect such as opening “my computer” would do as mentioned before as microsoft must have have bug in software (ie. an excuse to allow Android to take over as software king) where by other processes are allowed to access the disk even when a call is put in to dissconnect it as the OS should put in a halt order immediately when dismount is clicked. Also it is totally stupid, insane, etc. that microsoft does not have a “stop all processes involved with the disk” function as that is about as simple as it should be, 5) sometimes a registry clean can do the trick as something is using the disk via this, 6) I had Mcafee which was one of the worst programs I ever got stuck using and it constantly caused windows to not eject right as when I got rid of the program a great deal (but not enough) of this action stopped, so be wary of your antivirus, 7) NEVER take the disk out by accident before the eject sign is displayed in the notification area as this WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY trigger a “drive is in use” error so be patient and do everything like old Sargeant Friday did things, that is by the book, so wait until all actions have finished before even getting the urge to quickly take out the disk, 8) if there are any other scenarios I did not think of it is possible to reduce trouble even more and I am sure I have forgot to mention a few other situations that have caused this problem. Upon using unlocker (very good program much of the time but this issue seems to cause trouble for most programs) it usually comes back that explore.exe has several handles locking the disk (what else is new as the explore.exe and iexplore.exe hooking into everything are still rampant after over 30 years? They still do not understand what is happening? I wish someone would explain what windows taskmanager process/service is involved in locking the file as this could be clicked to easily stop the disk from being in use and also how to determine which explorer.exe process is blocking the disk from dismounting normally as usually when this happens there are about 2-3 of these open or more with some using huge memory pieces and others very little. Sometimes a simple log off will suffice as it turns out that this usually is less pain in the ass than going through all the steps to dismount the disk as I have spent loads of time trying programs that don’t work in this effort, and logging off stops the disk as you can see the light going off on it, but that may help a virus get in so there is a catch 22 here. Hope I have helped “defuriate” someone(s) as I know I have been through this route more times than that dirty crack in the sidewalk in Galveston that guy sings about and it is totally infuriating not to mention that it is an epidemic of organizations nowadays to try to get away with murder but DUMB DA DUMB DUMB, DUMB DA DUMB DUMB DUMB always catches up with them sooner or later. ANYWAY A LITTLE TOO MUCH COMMENTARY WAS ADDED BY ME, BUT THE JIST IS TO BE VERY DELIBERATE AND CAREFUL BY NOT DOING ANY ICON, FOLDER, PROGRAM, ETC. THAT COULD CAUSE THE DISMOUNT PROCESS TO GET CONFUSED AND THIS HAS CUT DOWN TO ABOUT 90% OR MORE OF THIS PROBLEM.

  • Deon

    1) With my external USB drives — if Unlocker does not manage to release the disk, my process is to right-click ‘My Computer’ then click ‘Properties’ at the bottom of menu.

    With the new window that opens I select the ‘System Restore’ tab and within the disks that are listed there I usually see that my external USB is being ‘monitored’ by the ‘System Restore’ function.
    2) So I select the USB device drive identity (E:), (F:) or whichever is the problem external on your PC and then click on ‘Settings’ at right to open up a further box.

    In this box it should be good to just select check-box ‘Turn off System Restore on this drive’ and then click ‘OK’ and the next ‘OK’ to confirm that you are stopping the ‘System Restore’ for that device, and then ‘OK’ again to get you back to the Windows Desktop *
    3) Wait a bit (10 seconds) to allow the System and Disk to return control back to you.
    The green box at bottom right should now successfully be able to perform the disk removal.

    * … I personally for 2) like to drag the slider to the very left (1%) and then click ‘OK’, then select ‘Settings’ again and just select check-box ‘Turn off System Restore on this drive’ and then click ‘OK’ and the next ‘OK’ to confirm that you are stopping the
    ‘System Restore’ for that device, and then ‘OK’ again to get you back to
    the Windows Desktop. (A bit more ‘long-winded’ that makes no real difference some might say correctly).

    My interest is in giving the computer time to release its hold on the disk restore… allowing time for processes to breathe.

    Hope it works for you…

    When ‘Unlocker’ fails, or ending ‘Explorer.exe’ in Task Manager and when screen vanishes remembering to ‘File’ – ‘New Task’ and type the word Explorer followed by click on ‘OK’. And still the green box bottom-right cannot release… think of the steps above.

  • Duk

    Okay, so I tried Unlocker and no processes were holding my drive hostage. So I did this … it’s complicated, but it works … *shrug*

    1. Click Start>Control Panel>System Security>Administrative Tools
    2. Double Click on Computer Management in the new window.
    3. Wait for the new window to load then select Storage>Disk Management on the Left Column
    4. Wait for the contents to load, then Right Click on your external drive.
    5. Select Change… and choose another letter. Then click Okay.
    6. Now dismount try to dismount your external drive again from the task bar.

    Quite a drag to have to go through this every time it happens, but what are ya gonna do, yah. Bleh.

    • SamerKurdi

      Thanks for sharing, Duk. You do what you gotta do 😉

  • Sake

    I just joined here to tell people that the drive-manager- delete/change-drive letter procedure worked for my external USB WD disc which was plugged in at a Server 2008 system. Also to notice: The ejecting takes a while (1-2 min.)