Accidentally deleting an important Excel file can be frustrating and stressful. Excel files often contain critical data, analyses, financial models, reports and more that take significant time to create. Losing access to that work with one errant click of the Delete key can derail productivity and important business processes.
Thankfully, even when a file is deleted and no longer in the Recycle Bin, there are often still ways to recover it. This article will walk through step-by-step options to help retrieve a deleted Excel file that is not in the recycle bin on your Windows PC. With the right tools and techniques, you can often salvage that missing spreadsheet and get back to work.
Check the Recycle Bin
Even though the deleted Excel file is not expected to be in the Recycle Bin, it is always wise to double check there first. The Recycle Bin stores all files that have been recently deleted from your computer, before they are permanently erased. Here are the steps to thoroughly check the Recycle Bin:
- Open the Recycle Bin – On Windows, click the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop or go to Start > Recycle Bin.
- Carefully look through the contents of the Recycle Bin to see if the Excel file is there. Check file names, dates, and sizes to ensure it is not there.
- Empty the Recycle Bin completely by right clicking and selecting “Empty Recycle Bin”. This will permanently delete any files that may have been taking up space.
- Check the Recycle Bin again after emptying it to confirm the Excel file is not there.
Even though the Recycle Bin is usually the first place to check for any deleted file, since the Excel file was already confirmed not to be there, the next steps will focus on other recovery methods. But it never hurts to triple check the Recycle Bin just in case.
Excel’s AutoRecover feature automatically saves versions of your open workbooks at regular intervals. These AutoRecover files allow you to restore unsaved changes in the event of a crash, power outage, or force quit.
AutoRecover files are usually saved every 10 minutes by default. The files are stored in a temporary folder location rather than the original workbook location. On Windows, the AutoRecover file location is typically C:\Users\\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Excel. On Mac, it is ~/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Excel/Data/library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/UnsavedFiles.
To restore an AutoRecovered file in Excel:
- Open Excel and click File > Open.
- Click the Recover Unsaved Workbooks drop down at the bottom of the Open window.
- Select the AutoRecover file you wish to restore. The timestamp indicates when it was auto-saved.
- The workbook will open, allowing you to save it normally.
AutoRecover can save you from losing hours of unsaved work if there is a crash. Just be aware that it does not save indefinitely – the AutoRecover files are deleted after around 4 days. So you still need to remember to manually save your work regularly.
Restore from Backup
One of the most reliable ways to recover a deleted Excel file is to restore it from a previous backup. Regularly backing up important files is a crucial best practice to prevent permanent data loss. According to a 2022 survey by Backblaze, over 50% of people have experienced data loss, yet only 41% back up monthly or more frequently . Backing up to an external hard drive or cloud storage provides versions of your files from different points in time that you can restore when needed.
If you maintained a regular backup schedule, you should be able to restore the deleted Excel file by accessing the storage location for the backup and copying the file back to your computer. For external hard drives, this involves connecting the drive and navigating to the folder with the backup version you want to restore. With cloud backup services like Backblaze, Carbonite, or Dropbox, you can log into your account online and download the file copy to recover. The key is having a backup that covers the date when the file deletion occurred.
To avoid future data loss, aim to follow the 3-2-1 backup principle: have at least 3 copies of your data, stored on 2 different types of media, with 1 copy offsite or in cloud storage . This provides both onsite and offsite copies that can reliably restore files if they are accidentally deleted or your hard drive fails. With a sound backup strategy in place, you can recover deleted files with minimal downtime.
Try File Recovery Software
If the deleted Excel file is not found in the Recycle Bin or through AutoRecover, your next option is to try 3rd party file recovery software that can scan your hard drive and restore deleted files. There are many Excel repair and recovery tools available, both free and paid. Some top options include:
Wondershare Repairit – A comprehensive recovery tool that can recover lost or deleted Excel files in XLS, XLSX, and XLSM formats from hard drives, external storage devices, and damaged media. Pros are its deep scan capabilities and high recovery rate. Cons are it’s not free. (Source)
Stellar Repair for Excel – Repairs corrupted or damaged Excel files and restores tables, charts, macros, and other components. Good for recovering inaccessible Excel files. Limitation is it can’t recover passwords or encrypted files.
DoYourData – An easy-to-use Excel recovery tool that searches lost Excel files by name or type. Can also recover Excel data from temporary files. Free trial available but must purchase for full version.
The advantage of file recovery apps is they search and restore deleted files even if not in the Recycle Bin. The disadvantage is they don’t always fully repair corrupted Excel files. It’s worth trying free trials to see if your deleted Excel file can be recovered. Just avoid saving other data to your hard drive which could overwrite the deleted file.
Restore from AutoSave
Excel automatically saves your work every 10 minutes by default into temporary AutoSave files. If you accidentally closed an unsaved Excel file, you may be able to recover your work from these AutoSave files.
Here are the steps to restore your work from an AutoSave file in Excel:
- Open Excel and click on the File tab.
- Click on Info and then Manage Workbook.
- Click on Recover Unsaved Workbooks. This will open the AutoRecover pane.
- Browse the available AutoSave files and look for the one with the name of your unsaved workbook. The date and time stamp can help identify the right file.
- Click on the AutoSave file and click Open. This will create a new workbook with your recovered data.
- Save the workbook to retain the recovered data.
AutoSave files are stored in a temporary folder location like C:\Users\%username%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Excel\. However, the easiest way to access them is through the steps above within Excel.
With the AutoSave feature, you can often recover your full unsaved Excel workbook as long as you restored Excel soon after closing the file. Just be sure to save the recovered file to a permanent location.
Restore from Revision History
If the deleted Excel file was stored in OneDrive or SharePoint, you may be able to restore a previous version from the revision history:
1. Navigate to the library where the file was saved in OneDrive or SharePoint.
2. Click on the “…” next to the file name and select Version History.
3. Locate the version you want to restore. Hover over it and click the arrow to open a menu.
4. Select “Restore” to restore that specific version.
SharePoint and OneDrive retain the revision history, so you can restore a previous version of the file before changes were made. However, the number of revisions retained depends on the organization’s SharePoint or OneDrive settings. For more information, see Microsoft’s guide on restoring a previous version of a file in SharePoint.
Export Excel Data
If you are unable to recover the overwritten or unsaved Excel file itself, exporting the Excel data to a new file can be a workaround for recovering the worksheet contents. There are a few ways to export Excel data:
Save or export the Excel sheet as a CSV file. This will extract the values into a plain text format that can be opened by Excel and other programs. However, all formatting, formulas, and other Excel-specific features will be lost. See this Microsoft support article for how to export to CSV.
Use the Save As command in Excel to save a copy of the Excel file in XLSX or other Excel format. This preserves all data, formatting, formulas etc. However it requires being able to successfully open the original Excel file without data loss.
Copy and paste the Excel data into a new blank Excel worksheet. This can work as a manual extraction method, but is only feasible for small datasets. All formatting and formulas will need to be redone.
The limitation is that while exporting gets the raw Excel data out, features such as formatting, formulas, macros, and charts can’t be preserved in the process. So exporting provides a way to recover the worksheet contents as values, but doesn’t allow full recovery of the Excel file as it existed before.
Repair the Excel File
If the deleted Excel file appears to be corrupted or damaged, you may be able to repair it and recover the data. Here are some steps to try for repairing a corrupted Excel file that seems to be deleted:
1. Open Excel and click on the File tab. Select Open and browse to the folder containing the corrupted file.
2. Select the file and click the dropdown arrow next to the Open button. Choose Open and Repair.
3. An alert will appear asking if you want to try to recover as much as possible. Click Repair.
4. Excel will attempt to repair the file. If successful, your data will be recovered and you can save the repaired file to a new location.
5. If Excel cannot repair the file, you may need to try third party software solutions for recovering deleted and corrupted Excel files. But repairing directly in Excel should be attempted first.
Repairing a corrupted Excel file does not always work, especially if the file damage is severe. But it’s worth trying before resorting to more advanced recovery methods. Make sure to save the repaired file to a new location to avoid overwriting the original corrupted file.
In summary, there are several methods you can try to recover a deleted Excel file that is not in the Recycle Bin. The most effective solutions are leveraging AutoRecover, restoring from a backup, or using file recovery software to scan the drive and restore deleted files. Emphasizing the importance of regular backups and save histories is key to avoiding this situation in the first place. Backups provide a safety net in case of accidental deletion, corruption, or other data loss scenarios.
The context of the deleted file will impact your options. If you recently deleted the file, AutoRecover can often restore your work automatically. For older deletions, backups and file recovery software become more important. Repairing the Excel file or exporting existing data can potentially recover some but not all of the lost work. Overall, being proactive with save histories, AutoRecover, backups, and avoidance of permanent deletion will help minimize risk and maximize the chances of recovering lost Excel files.