How to Recover an Excel File

Make Use of the AutoRecover and Document Recovery Features

This is a picture of several spreadsheets laying over one another

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There aren’t many feelings worse than working on a spreadsheet for a while, only to lose your changes because the application crashed or your entire computer froze up and your Microsoft Excel document was not saved. Thankfully, Excel offers a fail safe that allows you to retrieve some or all of that lost work via its recovery feature.

Office 365 automatically stores files in the cloud by default, typically on OneDrive or SharePoint, unless you specify otherwise. This tutorial is intended for users attempting to recover a file stored locally on their hard drive in Excel for Office 365, Excel 2019, Excel 2016, and Excel 2013.

How to Enable AutoRecover in Excel

To retrieve lost files that may have been saved on your computer, you first need to make sure the AutoRecover feature is enabled. 

If you’ve already lost a file and are trying to recover it, skip to the next section for now. If the file in question is not shown in the Document Recovery screen, then it probably cannot be recovered. That said, you’ll still want to enable AutoRecover to avoid this situation in the future. It’s also good practice to manually save your files often while working on them.

Enable AutoRecover in Excel for macOS

  1. Launch Excel and open any workbook.

  2. Click Excel > Preferences.

    screenshot of Excel menu in macOS
  3. The Excel Preferences dialog should appear, overlaying the main interface. Click Save, found in the Sharing and Privacy section.

    screenshot of Excel Preferences in macOS
  4. Excel’s Save options will now be visible, each accompanied by a check box. Select Save AutoRecover info in every xx minutes if no check mark is present.

    screenshot of Excel Save Options in macOS

    You can also specify how often you’d like AutoRecover to save your active documents by modifying the number of minutes in the aforementioned option. The default setting in most versions of Excel is 10 minutes. 

  5. Close the Preferences interface to return to your Excel session.

Enable AutoRecover in Excel for Windows

  1. Launch Excel and open any workbook.

  2. Select File > Options.

    screenshot of Excel 365 for Windows
  3. The Excel Options interface should now be displayed, overlaying your workbook. Select Save, found in the left menu pane.

    screenshot of Excel Options in Windows
  4. Excel’s Save options will now be visible, most accompanied by a check box. Select Save AutoRecover information every xx minutes if no check mark is present.

    screenshot of Save Options in Excel for Windows
  5. You can also specify how often you’d like AutoRecover to save your active documents by modifying the number of minutes in the aforementioned option. The default setting in most versions of Excel is 10 minutes.

    Below this option is another called "Keep the last AutoRecovered version if I close without saving." Enabled by default, this ensures that the version of your workbook most recently saved by the AutoRecover feature will be stored anytime you close Excel without manually saving it. It's recommend you leave this option active.

  6. Select OK to return to your Excel session.

How to Recover an Unsaved Excel File

As long as AutoRecover is enabled the Document Recovery interface will automatically appear the next time you launch Excel. This interface contains a section labeled Available Files, listing all autosaved workbooks along with the document name and the date/time it was last saved. 

To recover any of the files listed, select the arrow accompanying its details, then select Open. To remove AutoRecovered files that are no longer needed, select the arrow, then select Delete.

As mentioned at the outset, if the file you're looking for is not in this list, chances are it was never saved and may be permanently lost.