Microsoft Excel is considered by many to be the standard in spreadsheet programs available for use on Windows 10/11 computers. Countless individuals and organizations use Excel to store important information including financial and other sensitive data. Excel spreadsheets are the kinds of files that you want to protect.
Unfortunately, it is very easy to unexpectedly lose or delete one of these valuable items. It can happen due to human error, malware, or events completely out of your control. Don’t panic. We are going to show you how to recover your lost or unsaved Excel files on Windows 10/11 machines.
I didn’t save the Excel file.
I recently deleted the Excel file.
I deleted the file and it’s not in the Recycle Bin.
My Excel crashed and I didn’t save the file.
I want to recover an accidentally closed Excel file.
I need to recover an Excel file that was saved over.
How to Recover an Unsaved Excel File
You can run into the problem of needing to recover an Excel file that has not been saved for several reasons. Among them are:
- 😱 Human error – You might have closed an Excel document without saving your file.
- 🚫 Application failure – The program can sometimes hang, making it necessary to perform a force quit which may result in an unsaved Excel file.
- 🖥️ PC crash – Your machine might suddenly stop working, leaving you with unsaved Excel files after the crash.
Luckily, Microsoft has built an autosave function into the app that can help you get back an unsaved file. It’s called AutoRecover and here’s how to use it to get back an Excel file that was not saved.
- Launch Excel and go to the File tab.
- Click Open and then select the Recent Workbooks option on the top left.
- Scroll down and click the Recover Unsaved Workbooks button.
- Locate the lost file and double-click it to open the document.
- The file will open in Excel and you can use the Save As option to save it to your desired location.
You need to configure the AutoRecover settings in Excel to use the feature. You can control how often files are saved automatically or turn off the feature if you don’t want to use it. We recommend that you turn it on and set the save interval to a small number that eliminates the possibility of losing a lot of unsaved work. Use the following steps to configure AutoRecover in Excel.
- Go to the File tab and choose Options.
- Click on the Save tab.
- Ensure that both the ‘Save AutoRecover information every X minutes’ and ‘Keep the last autosaved version if I close without saving’ are checked.
- Click on OK.
How to Recover a Deleted Excel File
If you are faced with a lost or deleted Excel file, there are several methods with which you can attempt to recover it.
Method 1: Check the Windows Recycle Bin
The first place to look for a lost Excel file is the Windows Recycle Bin. The developers of the world’s most popular operating system knew that accidents can happen. It’s very easy to accidentally delete an important file that you immediately realize you need. The Recycle Bin was designed to take care of that.
There is no mystery to the Recycle Bin. It is merely a special folder that the Windows operating system uses to temporarily store deleted items. Here’s how to recover a deleted Excel file using the Recycle Bin.
- Open the Recycle Bin.
- Locate the item you want to retrieve.
- Right-click on the item and select the Restore option.
The Excel file will be restored to its previous location where it can be used as if it was never lost.
Method 2: Check Your Backups
It is considered best practice for all computer users to regularly back up their data. This can be done through the native Windows operating system facility known as File History. You can also use other third-party backup solutions including backing up to the cloud. For this discussion, we will use backups made with File History as the media used to recover a deleted Excel file. For more information regarding backing up your Windows 10/11 system in this way, check out this article.
Follow these steps to recover files backed up by File History. Alternative backup and recovery solutions will use a similar procedure.
- In the taskbar’s search box, type restore files.
- Select Restore your files with File History.
- Locate the file you want to recover and use the arrow keys to see what versions are available.
- Select Restore to recover the file to its original location, or Restore to if you wish to save it to a different place.
For this method to work, you need to have backed up the file in question. If changes were made to the document since the last backup, you may lose some data but can still get back most of your information that was saved in the original file.
Method 3: Try Data Recovery Software
You will not be able to recover your lost Excel file from the Recycle Bin if it has been emptied, which permanently deletes the items in the bin. If you don’t have a backup or it’s too old to be helpful, you can use data recovery software to restore a deleted Excel document or sheet.
Data recovery software takes advantage of the way the Windows OS deletes data. When the operating system deletes a file from your computer, it does not physically remove the data. It simply deletes the logical links to the data and marks the space formerly occupied by the item as available for use when needed to save new information.
Until the original file or folder is overwritten by new data, it can be recovered by data recovery software. The application scans a storage device and repairs the logical links, making the data accessible to the operating system and other programs. The key is to use data recovery software quickly before the original files are overwritten.
There are many data recovery products on the market. They distinguish themselves by the reliability of their recovery algorithms and the ease-of-use provided by their user interfaces. We have used many of these recovery applications over the years, and have had great success using Disk Drill Data Recovery from CleverFiles. It provides users with a simple recovery method that has been proven reliable time after time.
Follow these steps to recover your deleted Excel files using data recovery software like Disk Drill:
- Download Disk Drill from the official Cleverfiles website. Then, launch the installer and follow the instructions to successfully install the app.
- Launch Disk Drill, and you will see the main screen displaying all the available drives for scanning. Select the device where your deleted Excel files were located and click “Search for lost data“.
- Disk Drill will initiate the scanning process on your chosen drive. It will display real-time file categories of the scanned data. If you prefer not to preview the scanned files, you can skip this step. Otherwise, click on “Documents” to preview all the currently detected documents, including deleted Excel files. You can also click the “Review found items” button located in the top-right corner of the window.
- Once the scan is complete, click “Review found items” to view all the files that Disk Drill has scanned. Disk Drill conducts a comprehensive scan of your device and can help locate any missing Excel files, even if they have been accidentally renamed or replaced. To narrow down the results, you can use the built-in filters by file extension (xls, .xlsx, xml, etc.) and search options. Click “Documents” to specifically filter the results for documents, including Excel files.
- Preview an Excel file by simply clicking on it. The contents of the file should be visible in the preview window. Note that the system must have an application that can open Excel files. To select all your lost files, you can scroll through the results or use the search bar on the top-right corner of the menu bar to search for their file names. Once you have made your selections, click “Recover“.
- Browse for the desired location where you want to save the recovered files. It is recommended to choose a different drive to avoid overwriting data. After selecting the location, click “Next.” The data recovery process will begin immediately. The speed of the recovery process may vary depending on the number of files you are trying to recover.
- Once the recovery is complete, you will be redirected to the results page. This page will display the number of successfully restored deleted Excel files. To verify the recovered files, click “Show recovered data in Explorer“.
Whichever solution you choose, you will achieve the best results by acting quickly before deleted data is overwritten. We recommend you stop using the storage device that held the Excel files as soon as you realize there is an issue. Don’t save any new data to that device until the recovery is complete.
How to Recover an Overwritten Excel File
You may be able to use the recover Previous Versions facility of Windows 10/11 to revert to an older copy of a file using the following procedure. For this method to work, you need to have System Restore enabled which will create restore points from which the previous versions are recovered.
- Open File Explorer.
- Go to the file or folder you wish to recover.
- Right-click the item and select the Previous Versions option.
- Select the version you want to recover.
- Click on the Restore button.
Are There Differences in the Recovery Process for Different Excel Versions?
Yes, there are differences in the recovery process between Excel 2007/2010/2013/2016/2019/2021 and Office 365. The major difference is the addition of the AutoSave feature to the well-known AutoRecover option that has been a part of Microsoft Office products for years. While you can still use AutoRecover to get back unsaved data, AutoSave keeps your files constantly updated when you use Office 365.
When using Office 365, your work is automatically saved in the background by default. To make the most of this feature, there is a slight change in the workflow. Instead of using the “File > Save As” option after making changes to an original document, it is recommended to use “File > Save a Copy” to ensure that the original file is not overwritten. This is because AutoSave protects your data by continuously saving it.
There are many ways to get back lost or deleted Excel files. In most cases, the recovery will have a better chance of success if you act quickly after discovering the file has an issue. Stop using the storage device that contained the file until you have completed the recovery to avoid overwriting or further corrupting the data you wish to restore. We hope this information helps you recover your valuable Excel files and avoids losing important documents.
Robert Agar is the Content Writer & Managing Editor for Handy Recovery. Robert brings over 30 years of experience in data storage, security, compliance, backup, and recovery to the HandyRecovery team. Several years ago, he turned his attention from hands-on technical roles to develop a career as a freelance writer concentrating on technology and its impact on society. Areas of focus include the cloud, data recovery, artificial intelligence, and industrial automation.
Emma Collins is a Content Writer at Handy Recovery. She used to work as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Hokkaido, Japan before she finally changed careers and focused on digital marketing, content writing, and copywriting. For 5 years, she has already written thousands of articles and web pages on different niches, such as fashion, finance, digital marketing, and technology— particularly android, iOS, Windows, social media, and more.
Andrey Vasilyev is an Editorial Advisor for Handy Recovery. Andrey is a software engineer expert with extensive expertise in data recovery, computer forensics, and data litigation. Andrey brings over 12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair to the team.