5 Ways to Recover a Deleted Microsoft Excel File

Are you wondering how to recover a deleted Excel file? Your search ends here! Keep reading to learn the best and free methods to get back deleted and unsaved Excel files effortlessly.

When working with many Excel workbooks, it’s super easy to delete an important Excel file thinking it’s a temporary worksheet you created for a few calculations. It especially happens when you have opened many Excel files on your PC.

If you’re working on data entry, data analysis, data visualization, or data science projects, you must learn a few tricks to bring back unsaved or deleted Excel files.

This skill will impress your employee or client and pave the way for smooth career progression. Also, you save the day by restoring a deleted Excel file that took months of data entry and data manipulation by your company.

When Do You Need to Recover a Deleted Excel File?

Find below the common situations when you need to use any Excel file recovery method to bring back the deleted file:

  1. You didn’t save the Excel file before closing the software after work. Also, you ignored the “Microsft Excel Save Your Changes” warning.
  2. The PC crashed when you were working on an Excel workbook and you didn’t get the chance to save the workbook in its latest state.
  3. Excel software bugs cause the app to crash intermittently. This issue also is a reason for accidentally losing an Excel worksheet or workbook.
  4. Someone deleted an Excel workbook from the local storage of your PC.
  5. You deleted an Excel file and also cleared the Recycle Bin of the PC.
  6. PC restarted due to power failure or hardware malfunction while you were working on an Excel workbook saved in the local storage of the PC.
  7. Someone added new content to the Excel workbook you have been working on and you need to go back to the previous version.

Also read: Saving A New Workbook The First Time

Now that you know the importance of learning the methods to recover deleted and unsaved files in Excel, explore below various methods with step-by-step instructions.

Recover an Unsaved Excel File Using Workbook Recover Tool

Excel comes with various failsafe and redundancies so you don’t lose hours of work on your unsaved Excel workbook. The Manage Workbook tool of Excel lets you recover a lost workbook in the following scenarios:

  • You closed Excel without saving the workbook manually but kept open the workbook for sufficient time so Excel could capture a snapshot for backup purposes.
  • You were working on a worksheet and suddenly the Excel software crashed or the PC shut down.

Find below the steps you must follow:

  1. Go to the Start menu and click on the Excel icon to open the software on your PC.
  2. Click the File tab to open the left-side navigation panel.
Recover unsaved workbook
Recover unsaved workbook
  1. Hit the Info menu on the sidebar.
  2. Click the Manage Workbook drop down menu.
  3. On the context menu that shows up, click Recover Unsaved Workbooks.
  4. Excel stores recovery information in folders named by the workbooks’ names.
Access recovery folder
Access recovery folder
  1. Access the folder that indicates the workbook name you want to recover.
Recover from autorecovery
Recover from AutoRecover
  1. Select the topmost backup file in the list.
  2. Click Open to recover the unsaved Excel file.
Save recovered Excel workbook
Save the recovered Excel workbook
  1. Press Ctrl + S to save the recovered file.

This method will only work if you enabled the Save AutoRecover Information feature in Excel. By default, it should be enabled unless you deactivated the feature.

Save AutoRecover frequency

Also, the default AutoRecovery save interval is 10 minutes. So, if you want a full-proof Excel AutoRecovery system, reduce the save interval time to 1 or 2 minutes.

Use the Recycle Bin to Recover Deleted Excel Files on a PC

When you delete anything on your Windows PC, the operating system sends the deleted file to the Recycle Bin application. When required, you can go to the Recycle Bin app and restore the deleted file conveniently. Here’s how this method works:

  1. Open the Recycle Bin app from the Home Screen or Start.
  2. Scroll through the list of deleted files in the Recycle Bin.
Restoring Excel file from recycle bin
Restoring the deleted Excel file from the Recycle Bin
  1. If you can locate the deleted Excel workbook there, select the corresponding file.
  2. Right-click and choose Restore on the context menu.
  3. Windows PC will move the Excel file from the Recycle Bin app to its original location.
Go to original directory
Go to the original directory
  1. Now, go to the previous directory of the Excel workbook to access the recovered file.

The drawback of this method is if someone deletes the Excel file also from the Recycle Bin application, then you can’t restore the deleted file.

Also, on some PCs, the admin might have disabled moving deleted files to the Recycle Bin app to save the internal storage of the PC.

In such devices, you won’t be able to recover the deleted Excel file because the Windows OS never moved the deleted file to the Recycle Bin app.

Recover a Deleted Excel File From Windows File History Tool

If you deleted an Excel workbook accidentally and are unable to find it in the Recycle Bin, check the Windows File History tool for a backup copy.

This is the native Windows software for keeping a regular backup of the whole Windows installation drive. Thus, if you regularly create and save Excel workbooks in C: drive folders like Downloads, Documents, etc., chances are the file isn’t lost completely.

Here’s how you can use the Windows File History tool to recover a deleted Excel file:

File History on Start menu
File History on Start menu
  1. Click the Start menu icon on your PC and type File History.
  2. Select the Restore your files with File History option on the Start menu search result.
Using File History home
Using File History home
  1. You should now see the Home of File History tool.
  2. Click the Previous version or the Next version button to find the backup history or list of backed-up files.
  3. I stored my deleted Excel workbook in the Downloads folder so I accessed the backup for the same directory on the File History tool. You must choose the directory you used to create and save the deleted Excel file.
  4. If you choose the right folder, you should see all the backed-up files including the Excel workbook you deleted.
Restoring Excel files from File History tool
Restoring Excel files from File History tool
  1. Select the deleted file name and click the Restore to original location button or the green restore button at the bottom of the tool.
  2. Windows will restore the deleted file and automatically open the target directory.
  3. You should find the restored Excel workbook there.

Again, this method is only viable if you enabled the File History tool on your Windows PC. Here’s how you can activate it if you haven’t already:

  1. Open the Windows File History tool from the Start menu as explained earlier.
File History set up
File History set up
  1. Click the cogwheel or the Options icon in the top-right corner of the app.
  2. Click the Set up File History option in the context menu.
Turn on File History
Turn on File History
  1. Select the Turn on button to activate the service.
Select drive for File History backups
Select drive for File History backups
  1. Hit the Select drive menu on the left-side panel and choose a backup drive where you want Windows to save periodic backups of the C: drive.
File History creating automatic backups
File History creating automatic backups

Once started, Windows will automatically start creating the first backup of your Windows installation drive. If the process doesn’t start automatically, click the Run now button to start creating an ad-hoc backup.

Run File History for ad hoc backups
Run File History for ad hoc backups

Recover a Deleted Excel Workbook From OneDrive

Nowadays, most personal and business setups of Excel desktop apps come with the Microsoft OneDrive backup option. So, when you create a new Excel workbook on your PC and work on it for some time, Excel creates a backup on the OneDrive storage.

If you ever accidentally delete the file from your PC, you can download its recent backup copy from your OneDrive account. Find below the steps you must follow for Excel workbook recovery from OneDrive:

Click File on the Excel ribbon
Click File on the Excel ribbon
  1. Open a blank Excel workbook.
  2. Click the File tab on the Excel ribbon menu.
Open find and restore deleted Excel file
Open find and restore deleted Excel file
  1. When the sidebar opens, click the Open menu.
  2. Now, click the OneDrive icon on the right-side menu, just below the MSFT section.
  3. Doing this shall filter out all other recent workbooks and show those backed up on the OneDrive cloud storage.
  4. Scroll down the list on the right-side menu to find the required Excel file.
  5. Click on it once to open a copy on the Excel desktop app.
Save a copy of Excel recovery file from OneDrive
  1. Click the File tab again and this time choose Save a Copy.
  2. Click Browse and choose a local directory to save the file on the Save As dialog box.
  3. Hit the Save button to complete the deleted Excel file recovery process from OneDrive.

This method also has a major drawback, which is the status of the AutoSave feature on Excel for Microsoft 365 app. If the AutoSave option is offline, Excel won’t automatically create a backup copy on the OneDrive cloud storage.

Also, the feature is only available to you if you’re using the latest Excel for Microsoft 365 software that only comes with a Microsoft 365 paid subscription like Microsoft 365 Personal, Microsoft 365 Family, Microsoft 365 Business Standard, or better plans.

If you don’t know whether the AutoSave feature is activated or not, check its status right after creating a new workbook on your PC. Open the Excel workbook and look for the AutoSave option in the top left corner of the software.

If the feature is available and it shows the On signal, then Excel is automatically backing up your local storage workbook to the OneDrive cloud.

Activate AutoSave on Excel
Activate AutoSave on Excel

If the AutoSave button is Off, click on it once to activate the service. Excel might ask you to locate the cloud service where you’d like to save a backup. Click the OneDrive icon that displays your Microsoft account on the cloud drive selection dialog box.

Recover Deleted Excel Files Using a Data Recovery Software

If none of the above methods work, you can use data recovery software to scan the target drive where you saved the Excel workbook earlier and recover the deleted files. Then, from a list of recovered files, you need to choose the exact Excel file you wish to save.

This method can be time-consuming depending on the age of the hard drive and the files stored in it. The success rate will depend on the time of data recovery.

If you try to recover the deleted file immediately after deleting it, the success rate will be good. However, if you try to recover an Excel workbook deleted a few months ago, the process will have a low success rate.

There are many paid data recovery tools on the internet. However, I personally trust the Windows File Recovery tool developed and published by Microsoft.

It’s a command line tool so operating the app to retrieve deleted Excel files could be a tricky task. However, you can follow these steps to reduce your effort:

Installing Microsoft Windows File Recovery app
Installing the Microsoft Windows File Recovery app
  1. Open the Microsoft Store on your Windows 10 or 11 PC.
  2. Type Windows File Recovery and hit Enter in the Search box.
  3. When you find the right app, click the Get button.
Open WFR
Open WFR
  1. Once the downloading and installation process is complete, click the Open button.
The winfr CLI
The WINFR CLI
  1. The command line interface (CLI) of the Windows File Recovery app will open.
  1. Enter the following command into the CLI and hit Enter:
winfr c: d: /n ctos\downloads\*.xlsx
Running file recovery command on winfr
Running file recovery command on WINFR
  1. The CLI will show you itemized details of the process and ask for your approval by showing the following prompt:
Continue? (y/n)
  1. Press Y on the keyboard to start the Excel file recovery process from the given drive and filter options.
  2. Once the process is finished, Windows File Recovery CLI will show an itemized list of recovered files.
  3. You can visit the destination directory for file recovery to find the recovered Excel files.

Here’s how you can modify the code so it may work on your own PC:

  • Change C: to the source drive letter
  • Similarly, modify D: to the destination drive letter
  • ctos\downloads\*.xlsx works as the directory filter on the drive. Here, ctos is the user name and downloads is the folder where I deleted the Excel file. Enter your Windows PC user name and the directory name from which you accidentally deleted the Excel file.
  • There are more options in Windows File Recovery for advanced scanning. To explore all commands, execute the following:
winfr /?
Running WINFR help command
Running WINFR the help command

Conclusions

Losing an Excel file doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. With the right knowledge and techniques, you can recover your crucial data.

This guide has explored various methods, from using the Workbook Recover Tool for unsaved files to restoring deleted files from the Recycle Bin on a PC.

Other advanced options such as how to retrieve a deleted Excel file using the Windows File History Tool or from OneDrive have been covered.

This guide has provided you with step-by-step instructions on how to retrieve a deleted Excel file. Remember, it’s always best to regularly back up your files to avoid such stressful situations in the future.

But if you do find yourself in this predicament, don’t panic and just follow the steps outlined in this post.

About the Author

Tamal Das

Tamal Das

I'm a freelance writer at HowToExcel.org. After completing my MS in Science, I joined reputed IT consultancy companies to acquire hands-on knowledge of data analysis and data visualization techniques as a business analyst. Now, I'm a professional freelance content writer for everything Excel and its advanced support tools, like Power Pivot, Power Query, Office Scripts, and Excel VBA. I published many tutorials and how-to articles on Excel for sites like MakeUseOf, AddictiveTips, OnSheets, Technipages, and AppleToolBox. In weekends, I perform in-depth web search to learn the latest tricks and tips of Excel so I can write on these in the weekdays!

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