Recover Unsaved Files in Excel 2024

We all have been through the unfortunate instances of power disruption and system crashes that do away with all our unsaved work.

Even if you take measures to plot against any unexpected power outage or system crash, sometimes Excel would stop responding, and you’d end up losing your unsaved excel files.

There are many ways how you can rescue yourself against a similar situation and get back your Excel files that you thought were lost forever. Read on to discover!

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How Can I Recover Lost Excel Files?

Excel crashing is unfortunately a common thing. It is often the case that you access a file with links to external files or the web. But if you are not connected to the internet or do not have access to those external files – you might find your Excel popping up again and again with error dialogues before it crashes.

Other times, when you are all cozy, working on a project that is nearly due, a sudden power outage might cause you to lose all your work that was not saved.

All of these and many more issues are very common and almost every one of us has been through the same. But now is the time to fight them!

Every time you think you have lost your excel file, it is auto-saved by Excel and can be smartly accessed. There can be different ways to do so, and this article will cover them all.

Continue reading to rid yourself of the blues of losing your precious work.

Want to learn more about mathematics in Excel? Read our guide here all about Percentages in Excel.

 

Recover A Lost File – Never Saved

The first scenario that we are going to cover is where the Excel file was never saved, and boom – it’s lost. This could be because of an undue power outage, or maybe only because you were having a bad day and Excel failed to respond, and crashed!

It might be the case that you have started afresh with a new workbook and have yet not saved it. Alternatively, you might have your file saved already but you made some edits to it which were not saved.

To help both the above unfortunate events, here is what you can do.

 

Auto-Recover

Excel, by default, has an auto-recover feature to it. This feature saves a copy of the excel file you are working and you can later access the same.

The auto-recover feature of Excel is enabled by default. However, if you do not have it enabled by default, you can simply go to the settings and have it done for yourself.

Enabling auto-recovery in Excel

 

To do so, go to File Tab > Options > Save > Check the ‘Auto Recover’ option

 

Enabling the auto-recover option

 

Next to these options is the location to place the auto-recovered files. This tells Excel where the auto-recovered files are to be saved. You can specify a place of your ease or let it sit to default.

Pay attention to the auto-recovery option enabled above – It comes together with a timer that can be set anywhere between 1 to 10 minutes. The image above has it set to 10 minutes.

 

What do these 10 minutes mean?

Setting the auto-save to 10 minutes

 

This specifies the interval after which Excel would perform an auto-save exercise. Generally, the shorter the interval, the better. Let’s say you set this time to 2 minutes – Excel would auto-save your file after every two minutes.

This way the maximum you’d lose is the work you did in the last two minutes!

However, if your file is a heavy one with many functions and graphs running at the same time, the reperformance of calculations and saving every 2 minutes might slow down Excel.

Need help with data analysis in Excel? Learn here.

 

How to access the auto-recovered file?

After Excel has auto-saved / auto-recovered your lost file, how do you get to it?

There are several ways you can.

 

1.      From the Recent Workbooks

Accessing auto-recovered Excel file from Recents

 

To get back to your auto-saved file, launch a new Excel spreadsheet. Go to the ‘File’ tab from the ribbon and click ‘Open’.

The Open option

 

At the top, look out for Recent. Clicking this will open all the workbooks you’ve worked on recently. Scroll to the bottom to find the button for ‘Recover Unsaved Workbooks’.

The option to Recover Unsaved Workbooks

 

Clicking on this button will open up the folder where Excel retains the auto-recovered files. Pay attention to note that this is the same folder that you set up while enabling the auto-recover option, as discussed above.

Auto-Recovered files

 

Open the relevant file and go to ‘Save As’ to save it in the desired location and by the desired name. Alternatively, press ‘F2’ to launch the ‘Save As’ window.

 

2.      From the Auto Recover Location

You can also recover your unsaved Excel file from the location fed into Excel for retaining the auto-recovering Excel files.

If you have set it to a different location than the default location, you can quickly go to that location and get your hands on your file. Otherwise, the default location for Excel to retain auto-recovered files is as follows.

 

C:\Users\XXX\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\UnsavedFiles

 

Pro Tip!

‘XXX’ stands for your system’s name which will be unique for every User of your system.

Copy / Paste this link into any browser to readily reach this location and have your hands on the file you thought you almost lost.

 

3.      Auto-Recover window in Excel

Every time you launch an Excel workbook after abrupt closure or crash, we see the auto-recover options on the left of our workbook.

The Excel Auto-recover window

 

These might be different versions of the same file that Excel has saved at different times. Clicking on each version will launch that and you can save your desired version by pressing the ‘F12 key.

 

Pro Tip!

Auto-recovered files are often saved in the XLSB format. Don’t get too worried already – XLSB format is a binary file format for Excel workbooks. This format makes the launching of Excel workbooks much swifter than the ordinary XLSX format.

When you have your file recovered, choose the XLSX format under the format type while you save it.

Choosing the XLSX format

 

And there you have your Excel life recovered in .xlsx format!

 

Recover A Lost File – Previous Version Saved

This is the case when you have a workbook sitting on your PC all saved. However, you open it up, make some changes to it, and only in between you are making those changes, excel crashes.

In other words, this is when you are working on an already saved file, and because of the failure to save it in time, you lose the changes only. Such files can be recovered through the Document Recovery feature of Excel.

Recovering Excel file from Document Recovery pane

 

To save your changes, follow the steps below:

  1. Launch any Excel workbook already saved to your PC.
  2. This will open up the Recovery pane to the left of Excel as shown in the image above.
  3. The recovery pane lists all the unsaved files. Click on each to see which one you are looking for.
  4. Once you have your hands on it, save it by going to ‘Save As’ from the File tab.

 

Pro Tip!

When a new Excel workbook is launched, the top left of the Excel homepage shows ‘Recovered’ and ‘Recent’ files.

Recovered files in Excel

 

Click on the button ‘Show Recovered Files’ to see all the files recovered by Excel. Once you get yours, save it and you’re good to go.

 

Recover Overwritten Excel Files And Previous Versions!

This section is most likely to be the one you have been trying to unearth.

Power disruption, window crashing, Excel going unresponsive, and all similar system-generated problems are well known to us. These problems are common to all and can hardly be avoided.

However, in some cases the system isn’t just breaking on you and there are some options!

 

When is this saving measure needed?

It is often the case that you open a ready-to-go workbook and make some changes (for example you run a power query) to it that you do not intend to save. Then, while you reach out to close the file, you accidentally hit the save button, and the changes are now saved.

For instance, we often have too many things going on with us, and to make an instant calculation or to see the results if the figures were a little different than how they are, we make changes to the real file.

Such changes are certainly not needed but are accidentally saved to the file. This way, the original data is updated with such unwanted changes and is lost.

 

How to help such a situation?

The very smart world of Excel brings you a solution to this problem through the ‘Manage Workbook’ option.

Even after you have updated and saved a file, Excel allows you to revisit the previous versions of the same file saved at different times.

To learn how to go through the steps below:

 

Step 1:

After you have made changes/updates to your file that are now saved, go to File > Info.

File > Info

 

Step 2:

Lookout for the ‘Manage workbook’ option as shown above.

The Manage Workbook option

 

Next to the said option, would be a list of the versions of the same file that Excel has saved along with a time stamp – the file history

Click on each to see if that is the version you are looking out for. Once you have found the desired version, save it as a new file, and voila! Excel got you the overwritten version of your workbook back.

 

Pro Tip: Whenever an auto-recovered version of an Excel file is launched, you’ll find a warning at the top of your Excel workbook that reads as follows.

Restore option for auto-recovered files

 

Clicking upon the ‘Restore’ button will in turn launch a dialogue box as follows:

Option to overwrite the last saved version

 

If you choose to overwrite the last saved version, Excel would save this version by replacing the latest version.

You may choose to go with the said option if you no longer need the latest version saved to your PC. However, if you wish to retain the latest version as well as this version, save it as a different file.

To save this version of your Excel file as a different file, go to File > Save As and save it. Alternatively, use the shortcut key ‘F12’ to launch the ‘Save As’ dialogue box.

 

Note: The ‘Manage workbook’ feature is only available to Excel 2010 and above versions. If you don’t see a similar option to your Excel, try updating your Excel to a newer version.

 

Recover Files from the Cloud

We have had enough of the terrible times when we were only about to save the Excel file we’ve been toiling on all day but Alas! Something goes wrong, and all that is left back is uninterrupted blackness on the screen.

The feeling of wasting time and tons of effort, and all the ‘could’ves and would’ves’. Luckily, we have cloud storage for our coverage where the applications like Excel leave us at a loss!

Office 365 itself offers a powerful cloud storage facility for its users by the name of OneDrive.

Learn more about Microsoft Office 365 here.

 

What is OneDrive?

OneDrive is the cloud service offered by Microsoft. It allows users to have storage space for all their data on a cloud database. You can store your files on the cloud, share them with others, protect them and access them from anywhere, on any device, at any time.

To get connected to OneDrive, simply log on to onedrive.live.com.

Signing in to OneDrive

 

Sign in to register an account with OneDrive for free.

Choose between a personal or a business account and set up the rest of the details to get on the go.

 

How to work with OneDrive?

There are many ways how you can use OneDrive to your benefit. Listed below are a few ways how OneDrive might help you with using, storing, and protecting your Excel files.

 

    • Excel for the Web

Ever heard of using Excel on the web, without having to install Microsoft Excel on your PC? Fascinating, no?

Excel for web

 

The browser-based application, Excel web, makes it possible for Excel users to launch, work about, view, and edit Excel workbooks just like the Excel application does.

Excel web feels the same as an Excel workbook launched on your PC. Except for a few functions only (some array functions), Excel web offers all the features and functions offered by Excel.

Through Excel web, you launch a workbook on the cloud server, edit it there and save it back to the cloud server. Or, if you forget to save it, the cloud never forgets to do the saving job.

So, all you need is a browser to access all your workbooks from any device, anywhere. And you can share this access with all your teammates across the board who can also view or edit it on the web.

 

    • Accessing Excel Web through OneDrive

To access Excel web through OneDrive, simply log on to your OneDrive account.

Once you have logged in, look out for the menu option towards the top left corner as shown below.

The Menu option

 

The menu button opens a drawer of Microsoft applications. Select Microsoft Excel to launch an Excel workbook in OneDrive as shown below.

The drawer of Microsoft applications

 

Pro Tip:

If you only want to launch an Excel workbook and work offline, that’s fine. You can still you the cloud storage services by uploading your Excel workbook to the cloud.

 

Turning AutoSave On

While you are working in Excel on your PC, you still might turn AutoSave on. This will automatically save your Excel file to your OneDrive account.

When connected to your OneDrive account, all the work that you perform in Excel is auto-saved to the cloud in real-time. To enable AutoSave in Excel, follow the steps below:

 

Step 1:

Launch a workbook in Excel and go to File > Open.

 

Step 2:

From the list that appears under ‘Save As’ above, go to OneDrive.

 

Step 3:

Upon clicking the OneDrive option as shown in the image above, a list of folders appears where you can save the file.

Folders in OneDrive

 

Pro Tip:

If you do not see any list appearing upon clicking the OneDrive option there, your Microsoft Office 365 is probably not connected to your OneDrive account.

The Sign-in option of OneDrive

 

To connect to your OneDrive account, click Sign In and add the credentials for your OneDrive account.

Microsoft account credentials

 

Once saved, go on toiling about your Excel file without worrying about losing any data.

Got huge data sets in Excel? Learn about advanced filters in Excel to sophisticate your data.

 

How to Recover the previous versions of your files from OneDrive?

If you are using OneDrive, you do not only need to let go of the worries of losing your documents accidentally but also of losing different variants of your documents.

Accessing previous versions of your Excel file

 

For instance, if you are working on a workbook that looked like this.

The pre-editing version of your workbook

 

In the process of working, you might have added some colors/highlights to it for your ease and convenience.

The post-editing version of your workbook

 

However, you now do not want them to distort the look of your workbook.

What if you now want to retrieve the pre-editing version of your workbook? While Excel might not help you in this case, OneDrive certainly would.

To retrieve the older versions of your Excel files, go to OneDrive, select and right-click on the subject workbook. This should open up a drop-down menu of options as shown below.

Version History

 

Do you see the version history button highlighted above?

OneDrive saves different versions for each file as and when you work about it. Check below.

Different versions of Excel workbooks saved by OneDrive

 

Towards the left is a list of all the variants of your Excel file saved at different times. Click on each of them to view the same and save the one that you need.

To restore the required version to the book saved at your OneDrive, click restore. Alternatively, if you only want to retrieve an older version but do not want the current version at your OneDrive affected, download it to your PC instead.

Both the options for restoring/downloading a particular version are highlighted in the image below.

Downloading / Restoring different versions of your Excel file

 

Repairing Corrupt Files

In the world of Storm Trojan, Stuxnet, and Mydoom (some of the most destructive computer viruses of all time), corruption and destruction of data is only an intervention away.

But did you know? Your Excel data is also at risk of corruption. There are many reasons why your Excel files might go corrupt causing you to lose the data within them. Some of the very common reasons for your Excel file going corrupt are as below.

 

    • Virus Attacks

As the number of malicious messages continues to rise, our PCs are prone to virus attacks all the time. If your Excel files get attacked by any malware or virus, they might have their vital components damaged rendering them unusable.

 

    • Files Mishandling

If Excel is only processing your file when your system crashes or shuts down accidentally due to a power outage or otherwise, your Excel file is likely to go corrupt.

If Auto-recovering is enabled, Excel would keep a copy of your data but you might not be able to launch your Excel workbook due to the errors posed by Excel.

 

    • Corrupt MS Office Suite

If your MS Office Suite or MS Excel is corrupted or infected, all your files launched by the corrupted program might be at the risk of corruption.

 

    • Corrupt Disk Space

The disk space where your Excel file is located might be damaged or corrupted which might cause your XLS file to go corrupt.

In addition to the above, any logical problem with your Excel files like the metadata, or third-party applications installed on your system including any plugin might be the reason for the corruption of your Excel files.

 

Luckily, we have solutions to most of these problems Excel offers an in-built solution to repair corrupt Excel files. Let us look into the possible solutions to repair and recover corrupt Excel files.

 

1.      MS Excel’s In-built Repairing Feature

To fix minor issues with Office documents, Microsoft offers an in-built repair option for all its files, be it docs, ppt, or xlsx.

To have your Excel files repaired against mild damage, you might want to try the in-built feature offered by Excel. To do so, follow the steps below.

Repairing a corrupt file using MS Excel’s inbuilt function

Launch the Microsoft Excel, and navigate as follows:

 

File Tab > Open > Browse your PC to locate and select the corrupted file on your PC

 

Locating and selecting the corrupted file on your PC

 

Don’t hasten to click the Open button this time. The process for repairing your corrupt Excel file goes a step beyond that.

Find a little downward-facing arrow next to the ‘Open’ button as shown below. Clicking upon it would open a drop-down menu of options.

Options to open and repair the excel file

 

From the said drop-down menu, choose ‘Open and Repair’. This runs the in-built repairing function of Excel that can restore your corrupted file.

 

2.      Temporary Files

It is often the case that the temporary files stored on your PC by default are the root cause of the corruption of your Excel files.

To get rid of this problem, root out the cause. Delete the temporary files saved on your PC to slim down any chances of them corrupting your Excel files.

Reach out for the location of temporary saved files, which would be the following for most of the PCs at the following address:

 

Windows C Drive > Users > [Your PC] > AppData > Local > Microsoft

 

Look out for files that come with a .tmp extension and delete them to rid your system of any unwanted temporary files.

 

3.      Third-Party Repairing Software

In the very unfortunate times when both the above-described methods fail to offer the desired results, there’s still something that you can try.

There are many third-party applications out there that can bring your severely damaged Excel files back to life. You might find them online for free or for a few bucks.

However, do try the above two free methods before you resort to any third-party application.

 

Troubleshooting

The above article summarizes most of the loopholes offered by Microsoft to save you from the unfortunate event of having your hard-worked data at stake.

It is nevertheless possible that none of the above-described options come in handy in the time of need. If that is the case, you might need to revisit a few basics of document recovery in Excel.

 

Sign In to your OneDrive account:

Many Excel users do not have their Microsoft Office connected to their OneDrive accounts. Surprisingly, many of them do not even have an account.

Do not take the risk of losing your files to an unfortunate event. Connect your Microsoft Excel to your OneDrive account and enable Auto Save to never lose your data and effort.

 

Enable Auto-Recovery:

In case your system has crashed and you do not find any files auto-recovered, you probably don’t have the auto-recovery function enabled.

Double check the auto-recovery function of Excel to be enabled before from Excel Options. To do so go to:

 

Files > Options > Save > Save workbooks > Save Auto Recover Option

 

Enabling Auto Recovery

 

The version of Excel:

It is to be noted that while you are working in Excel with the option to ‘AutoSave’ on OneDrive enabled, your Excel files are being saved on the cloud in real-time. This means that if at any given time, you happen to face a sudden system crash, all your work would be saved.

AutoSave to OneDrive

 

However, otherwise, unless you have enabled the ‘Save AutoRecover Information’ option, your data wouldn’t be saved automatically. Even when enabled, for Microsoft Excel versions ranging from 2010 to 2019, your Excel files would only be saved at regular intervals.

With the ‘Save AutoRecover Information’ option set to say 5 minutes – in case of your system crashing down, you’d only lose the changes made to your Excel file during the last 5 minutes, at most.

 

Conclusion

One of the most petrifying experiences in the Excel world is losing or accidentally deleting an important file that you have been laboring about for months. And as scary as it might sound, it is super common, and almost every Excel user has been through the same or worst.

If you ever happen to face a similar situation, remember, that the first step is to relax. Take a moment to compose yourself back before you try the above smart methods to retrieve your lost data.

Either of the above methods, if not all, should certainly help you restore your Excel file or a particular version of your Excel file. All you need is patience and some brains!

For more on Excel, check out our brand new Using AI With Excel Article!

About Ben Richardson

Ben is a director of Acuity Training. He writes about SQL, Power BI and Excel on a number of industry sites including SQLCentral, SQLshack and codingsight.