Excel or Word Won't Open? How to Open Old Microsoft Office Files

What should you do if Word or Excel opens blank (or not at all)?

Excel won’t open

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Even with changes in Office versions and file formats, you should be able to open and work on older files in Microsoft Word and Excel. However, if the Word or Excel won't open or either opens a blank file, you might need to change settings or make repairs.

The instructions in this article apply to Microsoft Word and Excel versions 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, and Word or Excel for Office 365.

File Block Settings

If you have certain file block settings enabled, you will not be able to open or edit older MS Office files. Checking these settings and changing them if necessary could resolve your issues.

If Open is selected in File Block settings, the program blocks the file type and prevents it from opening (or opens it in protected view).

  1. Click File.

  2. Click Options. The Word Options or Excel Options window will open.

    Word Options screenshot
  3. Click Trust Center in the left pane.

  4. Click Trust Center Settings. The Trust Center window will open.

    Trust Center screenshot
  5. Click File Blocking Settings in the left pane.

  6. Make sure the file type you want to open is not selected in the Open column.

  7. Click any selected checkboxes to clear them.

    File Block Settings screenshot
  8. Click OK to apply the changes.

  9. Close the windows to return to Word or Excel and attempt to open the file.

Repair a Damaged File

If a file is corrupted, you might not be able to open it in Excel or Word. Using the Open and Repair tool could resolve this issue.

  1. Open Excel or Word (depending on the program in which you are unable to open a file).

  2. Select File > Open.

  3. Navigate to the location where the damaged file is stored. Click on the name of the file once.

  4. Click the drop-down arrow next to Open.

    Open and Repair screenshot
  5. Click Open and Repair.

Reset File Associations

If the default file association for Word or Excel files has been changed, the program might not open as expected when you try to open a file. Resetting these file associations can be a simple fix. The settings required to make these changes are in Windows.

  1. Type Control Panel in the Windows Search box.

  2. Click Control Panel in the list of search results. The Control Panel window will open.

    Control Panel search screenshot
  3. Make sure you are viewing the Control Panel in Category View and click Programs.

  4. Click Default Programs.

    Default Programs option screenshot
  5. Click Set Your Default Programs. The Settings window will open with Default Apps selected.

    Set Default screenshot
  6. Click Set Defaults by App. A list of programs will open.

    Set Defaults by App screenshot
  7. Scroll down to Word or Excel and select it.

  8. Click Manage.

    Manage Excel file associations screenshot
  9. Select the file type that is not associated with the MS Office program and choose the program you want to use to open that type of file.

Repair MS Office

In some cases, the reason Word or Excel won't open is because of a problem with the program itself. Repairing the program could be the best resolution.

  1. Type Control Panel in the Windows Search box.

  2. Click Control Panel in the list of search results. The Control Panel window will open.

  3. Make sure you are viewing the Control Panel in Category View and click Programs.

  4. Click Uninstall a Program. The Uninstall or Change a Program window will open.

    Uninstall or change a program screenshot
  5. Click on your version of Microsoft Office in the list of programs.

  6. Click Change.

    Change MS Office screenshot
  7. Select Online Repair and then click Repair.

    Office Repair screenshot
  8. Restart your computer when the repair process is complete.

  9. Double-click the Office file you want to open.