How to Recover an Unsaved Excel file (for free)

By Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.
Updated March 15th, 2022.

Losing an unsaved Excel file is a real pain🤕

Whether you lose an entire spreadsheet or just the latest round of edits, it can take a lot of time to fix the problem.

But don’t worry!

In this guide, I’ve compiled the 4 methods with the highest chance of recovering your unsaved Excel files.

Recover an unsaved Excel file with AutoRecover

So, you didn’t save your file at all?

There’s still a good chance you’ll be able to recover your unsaved Excel file.

By default, Excel saves a temporary version of your Excel file (even if it’s unsaved) every 10 minutes.

You can access these temporary versions by following these steps.

1. In Excel, click on ‘Files’ in the ribbon and then go to ‘Open’.

2. Somewhere on the ‘Open’ screen, you will see an option called ‘Recover Unsaved Workbooks’ or something similar. Click it.

The exact words and placement of this button depend on your version of Excel. In Excel 2021 it looks like this:

Recover Unsaved Workbooks button Excel file options

3. Your unsaved Excel file may be in the folder that appears. If it is, just double-click to open it.

And do remember to save it this time💾

Folder with unsaved Excel files

4. If the folder doesn’t contain your lost Excel file, close the dialog box and click on ‘Options’ (still from the ‘File’ tab in Excel).

5. Click on the ‘Save’ pane and see the AutoRecover file location.

Excel AutoRecover file path

Your file may be there!

6. Navigate to that location and look for your unsaved Excel file.

Folder with temporary files from AutoRecover

If the file is not there, don’t panic yet✋

There are still plenty of methods to restore your lost data.

Read on!

If you’re running Windows, copy the AutoRecover file path from step 5, then press Windows Key + R to bring up the ‘Run’ command window.

Paste the file path and you are taken to the folder immediately.

Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist

Recover overwritten Excel files with OneDrive

If you’re not using OneDrive, skip to the next section.

Losing hours of work because you pressed save when you shouldn’t is a bummer👎

But if your file was overwritten, there are a few things you can do to restore a previous version of your Excel file.

1. Go to onedrive.live.com and locate the Excel file that was overwritten.

2. Right-click it and click ‘Version history’.

Access version history from OneDrive

3. Identify the version of your Excel file you want to recover and choose whether to restore it (replacing the current version) or download it.

Restore overwritten Excel file from OneDrive

If you use the OneDrive application on your computer, you can just right-click the Excel file on your computer.

Then click ‘Version History’ to look for the version you want to recover.

Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist

Recover overwritten Excel files using File History

If you don’t use OneDrive (or didn’t keep the file in a OneDrive folder), you might still be able to recover a previous version of an overwritten Excel file.

1. Right-click on your file and click on ‘File history’.

2. Locate the version you want to restore in the dialog box.

File History dialog box open or restore previous version

3. Click the ‘Open’ or ‘Restore’ buttons to choose what you want to do with the file.

Did you find it? 🔍

Recover deleted Excel files

So, you deleted the file and want it back?

Here are a few things you can try, to recover your deleted Excel file.

Restore from Recycle Bin

1. Locate the Recycle Bin on your computer.

Read this guide if you have trouble finding it.

2. Find your Excel file (if it’s there) and right-click it.

3. Click on ‘Restore’ and your file is automatically put back to where it came from.

Restore file from Recycle Bin

Unfortunately, this only works if you didn’t permanently delete your Excel file.

If you did, then there’s no way of getting it back without using 3rd party recovery software (and there’s still no guarantee).

But, if the deleted file was placed in a OneDrive folder, there’s a big chance you can get it back😊

Restore from OneDrive Recycle Bin

Even if you permanently deleted your file, OneDrive still saves a version in its own Recycle Bin.

1. Go to onedrive.live.com and click on the ‘Recycle Bin’ in the left-side menu.

2. Find your lost Excel file and right-click it.

3. Click ‘Restore’ and your file is automatically restored to its previous location.

Restore file from Recycle Bin in OneDrive

Cool, right?

Prevent data loss with AutoRecover and AutoSave

Losing data is almost inevitable. But you can make the process of recovering the data a lot less painful if you’re prepared. We recommend changing just a few settings to help prevent data loss in the future.

AutoRecover

AutoRecover saves a temporary version of what you’re doing in Excel every 10 minutes.

If Excel crashes, you can access this temporary version using the methods I explained earlier.

AutoRecover is active by default. If it somehow isn’t active on your computer, follow these steps:

1. Go to ‘File’ and ‘Options’.

2. In the ‘Save’ pane, make sure there’s a checkmark in ‘Save AutoRecover information every’ and ‘Keep the last AutoRecovered versions if I close without saving’.

Enable AutoRecovery in Excel

3. Here you can also change when Excel should save this temporary version of your Excel file.

The default is every 10 minutes, but you can easily change that. Try 5 instead.

It might not seem like a big difference from 10 minutes, but it can save you a lot of work.

AutoSave

Of course, we recommend saving your changes often. Just hit Ctrl + S to overwrite the previous version of your document.

If you’re the type of person who forgets to do this (like me), you can toggle on ‘AutoSave’ on the top left side of the Excel interface.

Enable AutoSave in Excel

AutoSave saves every single change you make in your Excel file – automatically.

And if you overwrite something, read here how you can recover overwritten versions of your Excel files.

That’s it – Now what?

I truly hope this guide helped you recover your unsaved Excel file and restore your lost data.

Trust me, I’ve been through my fair share of rebuilding Excel files the hard way until AutoRecover and AutoSave/OneDrive came along.

But sometimes, other people are the cause of your data loss. If you share your Excel files with other people, I strongly suggest you learn a bit about file protection.

Read my guide here and learn to protect your Excel file from unintentional (and intentional) changes.

See you around👋