How to Recover an Unsaved Excel File

  • Microsoft Excel has several features designed to help you recover unsaved versions of spreadsheets and prevent data loss.
  • If Excel closes before you save a file, you should see a Document Recovery tab when you try to open the last good saved version. 
  • If you never saved the file before Excel closed, click Recover Unsaved Workbooks at the bottom of the file selector page.

There’s no pain quite like the sting of losing hours of work because of a software crash or power failure. 

In an ideal world, you’d save your work early and often. But there are times when, for whatever reason, you haven’t saved an Excel spreadsheet when disaster strikes. 

The good news is that, in most cases, you can recover that unsaved Excel file with little or no data loss. 

How to recover a saved Excel file with unsaved work

If Excel closes before you’ve had a chance to save the most recent changes to your file — but the workbook has already been saved at least once — the program makes it easy to recover that lost work. 

1. Start Excel and then, in the pane on the left, click Open

2. Choose the file you were working on, but didn’t have an opportunity to save before losing work.

3. In most cases, you should see the Document Recovery pane on the left. It lists all unsaved files you had open before the crash. Choose the file you want and then save it to keep your work. 

The Document Recovery pane in Excel.

You can rely on the Document Recovery pane to recover work if Excel crashes or closes unexpectedly.

Dave Johnson

How to recover an unsaved Excel file

As a general rule, Excel frequently saves your work automatically in the background, and allows you to recover the latest version of your work if Excel should close, even if you’ve never had a chance to save the file even once. 

1. Start Excel and then, in the pane on the left, click Open

2. At the bottom right, click Recover Unsaved Workbooks.

3. Choose the unsaved file from the list of available unsaved workbooks.

Recovering an unsaved spreadsheet in Excel.

Use the Recover Unsaved Workbooks command in the Open File window to try to recover lost work.

Dave Johnson

How to configure Excel to recover unsaved files

In order for Excel to automatically recover your unsaved Excel files, you need to ensure that the program’s settings are configured properly.

1. In Excel, click File and then, in the pane on the left, click Options

2. In the Excel Options window, click Save

3. Make sure that Save AutoRecover information every is checked. Set the number of minutes to whatever you’re comfortable with, such as 5 or 10

The Options menu in Excel.

Make sure you enable Excel’s AutoRecover feature so you don’t lose work in the event of a crash.

Dave Johnson

How to back up an Excel file

For additional peace of mind, you can configure Excel to make a backup of your spreadsheet each time you save it. This saves the last version of the spreadsheet before you save the latest changes, allowing you to easily “roll back” to older versions of your file. 

1. In Excel, with the file open that you want to make backups of, click File and then click Save As or Save a Copy.  

2. Click Browse to open the Save As dialog box. 

3. Beside the Save and Cancel buttons, click Tools and then choose General Options from the dropdown menu. 

4. Click the checkbox bedside Always create backup and then click OK

The Always create backup option in Excel’s file save window.

If you enable Always create backup from the Tools menu, you’ll preserve the previous iteration of your spreadsheet each time you save it.

Dave Johnson

Each time you save a new copy of this spreadsheet, you’ll find a backup stored in the same folder. 

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