How to Recover an Unsaved Excel File

Excel is considered the gold standard of spreadsheet programs. It’s one of the most popular Microsoft tools used by both companies and individuals for storing and processing essential data. That’s why it can be so stressful to lose these valuable entries unexpectedly.

How to Recover an Unsaved Excel File

An Excel file can go unsaved for several reasons. Often, it’s a simple mistake of accidentally closing the file without saving changes. Other times, it can be a sudden Excel crash, your laptop battery runs out, or similar issues.

Fortunately, none of these represent a doom scenario, and there are ways to recover the unsaved Excel file with a few easy steps.

How to Recover an Unsaved Excel File on a Windows 10/11 PC

Excel is native to Windows 10 as they’re both created by Microsoft. So, it’s typically the go-to data analysis tool among Windows users. It’s known to be very reliable, so it’s not that surprising that some people forget to save the file as they’re working on it.

While it’s not the best idea, some users work on Excel spreadsheets without ever saving the file until they’re done for the day. But accidentally clicking on “Don’t Save” when closing the file or experiencing a sudden power outage can mean all that work is gone. Or does it?

It’s natural to go into panic mode, but Microsoft has features to mitigate the catastrophe. All Microsoft programs, including Excel, have a built-in recovery system that allows users to retrieve their unsaved files and continue working on them. Here’s how that works:

  1. Create a new Excel workbook and select the File option from the toolbar.
  2. From the left-side pane, select Open followed by Recent.
  3. Find the Recover Unsaved Workbooks button at the bottom and click on it.
  4. Search through the unsaved Workbooks to find the one you need and save it using the Save As function in Excel.

However, there is another way to achieve the same result in Windows. Microsoft programs like Excel save copies of unsaved files at a specific location by default:


You can search this folder directly and open an unsaved copy of the file in a browser. There will also be a “Save As” option in the notification bar of the browser, which you can use.

Using File History to Recover Excel Files in Windows

For Windows 10 users, there is another route to restoring unsaved Excel files. Windows 10 has a native system facility called File History, and it’s pretty easy to use. Here’s how it works:

  1. Type “Restore file” into the Search bar and click on Restore your files with File History.
  2. Find the unsaved Excel file and click on Restore to to save it to a specific location.

Note: For this method to work, you need to have the correct Windows drive installed. Make sure that you do before relying on File History to recover files in Windows 10/11.

How to Recover an Unsaved Excel File on a Mac

Mac users can benefit from using Excel, too, as there is a version of Microsoft Office written especially for macOS.

If you need to recover a previously unsaved Excel file, there are two ways to do it on your Mac. The first option is to utilize the built-in recovery tool within Excel:

  1. Start a new Excel workbook and navigate to the File option on the toolbar.
  2. From there, select Open > Recent.
  3. Click on Recover Unsaved Workbooks, find the Excel file you’ve lost and then click on the Save option to save the Excel file permanently.

The great news is that Mac users have another option for restoring unsaved Excel files or any other files.

This method requires you to use the Terminal, the command line system in macOS. It’s a relatively simple process and requires the following steps:

  1. On your Mac computer, go to Applications > Utilities.
  2. Now, click on the Terminal app.
  3. Enter the “open $TMPDIR” command, which will open the folder with temporary files.
  4. Select the “TemporaryItems” folder, select the unsaved Excel file and select “Restore.”

You may run into the problem of not being sure which file is the one you’re looking for as the file is unnamed. Checking the date of creation is the easiest and fastest way to find the Excel file. Also, make sure to save the Excel file in a different folder.

How to Recover Unsaved Excel File in Office 365

Some Excel users are happy to work with on-premises Excel versions, but others choose the cloud-based Office 365 version.

When it comes to recovering unsaved Excel files, this subscription-style spreadsheet program works the same as Microsoft Office 2019. So, if you’re dealing with losing an unsaved Excel file, here’s how to get it back:

  1. Open Excel, start a new Workbook, and then go to the File tab.
  2. Select Open followed by Recent.
  3. Click on the Recover Unsaved Workbooks at the very bottom of the window.
  4. Find the unsaved file in the dialog box and make sure to save it in a new location.

Understanding the AutoSave Feature in Office 365

Since Office 365 is cloud-based, users can store their files in OneDrive, the cloud-based storage service that comes with the subscription. One of the best parts of this package is the AutoSave feature available for World, PowerPoint, and Excel.

By utilizing AutoSave, you never have to worry about unsaved files, and everything you work on is automatically being saved on OneDrive. However, you need to make sure you’re signed into your Office 365 account to ensure it works. Here’s what you do from that point:

  1. Open a new Excel Workbook and move the AutoSave button at the top-left corner from Off to On.
  2. You’ll be prompted to save the file in OneDrive. Name the file and click Save.
  3. If you need to check the previous versions of the specific Excel file, tap on the file name at the top of the window and select Browse Version History.
  4. On the right side of the window, you’ll see all the versions of the file, along with who modified it and when.

So, Office 365 not only helps you retain data but also provides a clear overview of every version of the file and its modifications. However, the AutoSave feature will only work if you save the Excel file in OneDrive.

How to Recover Unsaved Excel File After a Restart or Crash

Locating a copy of an unsaved Excel file is relatively easy, as the program creates a helpful backup. But what happens if you’ve saved the file but then your computer crashes?

A lot of things can go wrong, like Excel freezing or your computer restarting unexpectedly. Somehow this always seems to happen at the worst time.

Fortunately, Microsoft Office has a recovery protocol for such occasions. When your computer is back on again, follow these steps:

  1. Open Excel and or any Excel workbook on your computer.
  2. When it opens, you’ll see the Document Recovery pane on the left side.
  3. Find the latest version of the document by checking the time stamp.
  4. Save the Excel file under a new name.

The extent of data loss – how much of the file has been saved – will depend on the AutoRecover setup. You can choose the time interval of the AutoRecover feature by doing the following:

  1. Open an Excel Workbook and go to File.
  2. Select Options and then choose Save from the dialog box.
  3. Check the Save AutoRecover information every X minutes box. Enter the number of minutes you’d like between autosaves in place of the X.
  4. Check the Keep the last AutoRecovered version if I close without saving box.

Taking these precautionary steps will ensure that you’ll lose the least amount of data even in case of a crash or restart.

Getting Your Excel Workbooks Back

Working with data in Excel typically requires a lot of concentration and attention to detail. But regardless of the many useful features in the program that prevent it from happening, losing data is sometimes occurs. However, not all need be lost as Microsoft has ensured you can find the unsaved Excel files with a few quick steps.

The Recover Unsaved Workbooks button is a lifesaver and can save you from so much repeat work. However, if you’re subscribed to Office 365, the AutoSave button ensures that every word and number entered is saved even if the computer crashes.

Additionally, make sure to set up the correct customizations when it comes to the AutoRecover feature, as it can minimize the loss of data. Finally, Mac and Windows 10 users have alternative options for file recovery they can also try.

Have you ever lost an unsaved Excel file before? Were you able to get it back? Let us know in the comments section below.

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