How to Recover an Unsaved Document in Excel

This guide will show you how you can recover an unsaved Excel file in your computer.

There may be instances where users forget to save their work before closing the application. Situations such as a sudden power outage can also cause Excel users to not save their work. 

While it might be worrisome to come across this situation, Excel users can rely on Microsoft Excel’s built-in recovery system.

All Microsoft programs, including Excel, use a recovery system to allow users to retrieve unsaved files. The AutoRecover system is first triggered when the first change is made to the file. The file is then saved at a user-defined interval if further changes are made.

The AutoRecover timer is in the Save tab in the Options dialog box. The timer starts when the user opens Excel. If the file receives any changes by the end of a timer, an idle timer will start. This idle timer will ensure that users do not make entries in the worksheet when saving. The default idle time is 30 seconds.

In short, Excel will only create an AutoRecover file after both the AutoRecover timer elapses, and no changes are made for 30 seconds. 

AutoRecover deletes its temporary files in specific situations. If the file is manually saved or saved under a new file name with the Save As action, Excel will delete the last AutoRecover file of the current file. 

Now that we know how Excel keeps a backup of unsaved documents, let’s look into how we can recover an actual document.



How to Recover an Unsaved Document in Excel

This section will guide you through each step needed to recover an unsaved document in Excel. You’ll learn how we can use Excel’s built-in Auto-Recovery feature to restore a newer version of the document.


Follow these steps to start a file recovery:

  1. First, head over to the Open tab and look for the Recover Unsaved Workbooks option.
    Recover Unsaved Worksheets option

  2. The button should open up a file dialog box that shows the directory where unsaved files are temporarily stored. In this example, we’ve failed to save the file “Test_File.xlsx”. The first file seen below is the auto-saved file that we can recover and the second file is a shortcut to the last saved version of the file.
    Recover an Unsaved Document in Excel

  3. If you try to save the auto-saved file, it will cause an error. This is because auto-saved files are in a read-only state.
    File is in read-only mode
  4. To recover this version of your file, simply click on the Restore button seen below.
    Click Restore option to recover unsaved file

  5. A dialog will appear to confirm that restoring the auto-saved file will overwrite the last saved version. Click OK to proceed.
    Accept an overwrite action to restore a previously saved version

  6. Your file should now have the data seen in the previously selected auto-save file.
    Recover an Unsaved Document in Excel

If this option does not work, then you might be able to recover a previous version of an overwritten Excel file using the Previous Versions option in the Windows file manager.

These versions are copies of either files or folders created by the Windows Backup service or copies saved as part of a restore point.

Here’s how you can check for previous versions of your file:

  1. First, right-click on your file and select Properties.
    Open properties through the right-click menu

  2. In the dialog box for file properties, navigate to the Previous Versions tab. If there are any previous versions of the file, it will appear in the table shown below. You may click on any of these versions to either Open or Restore the previous version.
    Recover an Unsaved Document in Excel through the previous versions option in windows



Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. How do I change where AutoRecover saves my files?
    If you want to find out or change the location of your AutoRecover files, you can view it by clicking on the Options dialog box accessible from the File tab.
    From this dialog box, users can choose where AutoRecover files will be saved and the interval for AutoRecovery.
  2. What is the difference between the Open and Restore options when recovering a previous version?
    Users can click the Open option to view the file. This option will not overwrite the current version of the file. If the user intends to replace the current file with a previous version, they must use the Restore option instead.
  3. What is the difference between AutoSave and AutoRecover?
    AutoRecover is an option that allows you to save your work at a specified interval. It has been a built-in feature of Excel since Microsoft Excel 2002.

    AutoSave refers to a new feature introduced in Excel Office 365 which allows you to save your documents in real-time. These documents are saved to a OneDrive or SharePoint account. This feature is only available for Office 365 subscribers.

That’s all you need to remember to start recovering unsaved documents in Excel. This step-by-step guide shows how easy it is to restore a version of the document auto-saved by Excel but not manually saved by the user.

The Auto-Recover feature is just one feature you can improve your workflow using Excel. With so many other Excel functions and features out there, you can certainly find options that will make your Excel experience so much easier.

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