How to Recover Deleted Excel Files

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When you delete an Excel file, all is not necessarily lost. Windows has recovery options, which may put your workbook back where it belongs. If you closed a file without saving it, Excel may have kept a copy. If you deleted a saved workbook, you may be able to restore it from your system's Recycle Bin or File History tool, if enabled.

Recover an Unsaved Excel File

Open Excel and select Open Other Workbooks. Go to the bottom of the next screen and select the Recover Unsaved Workbooks link.

(Image: Image courtesy Microsoft)

Look for the deleted file in the window that opens. It won't have a name, as you hadn't gotten around to saving it, so use the Date Modified field to identify it. Select the file and then Open.

(Image: Image courtesy Microsoft)

Select the Save As button in the recovery message to save the file.

(Image: Image courtesy Microsoft)


    • You may not recover all data when you restore an unsaved file. If you closed it between autosaves, some data may be lost.
    • Excel sets save and recovery features by default. If you disabled these features, you can't use this method  to recover files. To turn them on again or to change their settings, select Options on the File tab and then Save. Make sure that the Save Autorecover Information and Keep the Last Autosaved Version if I Close Without Saving boxes are checked. To change the timing of automated saves, increase or decrease the timer.

Restore a File From the Recycle Bin

Although it may look like files are no longer on your system when you delete them, some end up in the Recycle Bin. Find a file there, and you can restore it.

Go to the desktop and open Recycle Bin. If you can't immediately see the file in the list, type its name in the Search bar and select the magnifying glass icon. If you can't remember the name, select Sort By and sort the data by Item Type to organize by file extension, or Date Deleted.

(Image: Image courtesy Microsoft)

Select the file and then Restore The Selected Items to send the workbook back to its original location.

(Image: Image courtesy Microsoft)


    • If you deleted a file from a network or removable drive, it may not go to the Recycle Bin. 
    • Files deleted in File Explorer using the Shift-Del command are permanently deleted and won't go in the Recycle Bin.

Find a File in File History

Windows 8 has a backup tool, File History, that stores files from various locations in your system, including the desktop and documents.


    • Windows does not enable File History by default; you must activate it before it saves files. If you haven't set it up, you can't use this method to find files. 
    • File History saves files to a schedule. If you worked on a file between save points, you may not recover all data.

If you have activated File History, open File Explorer from your desktop or type File Explorer in your Home screen and open the program from the results. Open the folder that contained the file you deleted, and select History from the Open area.

(Image: Image courtesy Microsoft)

Windows stores your file history by day. Go to the date you deleted the file and find it in the list. If you aren't sure you've found the correct file, right-click it and select Preview. Select Restore to put the file back in its original folder or Restore To to save to a different location.

(Image: Image courtesy Microsoft)


    • File History can also help restore previous versions of files.
    • If you can't retrieve a file because you haven't set up File History, consider activating it now. It may help recover lost files in the future.
    • Windows 7 doesn't have the File History tool, but you may be able to recover previous versions of deleted files through its System Protection tools, if enabled.
    • If you can't find a deleted workbook through these methods, consider using free third-party file recovery tools, such as Recuva, PC Inspector or FreeUndelete.


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