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One of the most common situations when working with various Excel files simultaneously is forgetting to save them and then spending too much time trying to recover them. In some cases, this can lead to a never-ending frustration, something that can easily be avoided in a few simple steps.

Depending on your operating system, the recovery steps will be different. However, Excel offers a built-in “AutoSave” and ”AutoRecover” feature that will work on both Windows and Mac. You simply need to make sure that it is enabled before beginning the recovery process.

In this article, we’ll explain how to recover unsaved Excel files that you never saved, how to retrieve an unsaved version, and how to recover a saved-over Excel file. Although the recovery process is straightforward, we will also walk you through the basic precautions to avoid having to resort to recovering Excel files altogether.

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How to Recover an Unsaved Excel File?

Before going into the steps on how to recover unsaved Excel files, let’s explain the three most common scenarios where you would need to recover an Excel file.

  1. 1. Your computer or Excel crashes, and you hadn’t saved the file you were working on.
  2. 2. Your computer or Excel crashes, and you didn’t save the changes made to your file.
  3. 3. You saved changes made to your file but want to retrieve a previous version.

These three scenarios can be avoided altogether by making sure that the “AutoSave” and ”AutoRecover” feature in Excel is enabled. You can use the following four methods to also avoid these scenarios from happening again:

  • Upload Excel file to OneDrive: If several users are working on the same file, the best way to keep them safe is to work online. In OneDrive, you can easily retrieve the previous version by right-clicking on the current version and selecting “Version History”. Click on the version you want to restore or download.
  • Upload Excel file to Dropbox: This platform is an alternative to OneDrive and allows for an easy recovery of a previous version. In this case, you need to click on the three dots next to the target file to check the previous versions. Once you identify the version to restore, click on it.
  • Enable “AutoSave” and “AutoRecover: If you prefer working on the Excel app or desktop version, make sure that this feature is enabled. Although it should be enabled by default, it may not be the case. In the “File” tab, under “Options”, check that the following settings are all activated: “Save AutoRecover information every X minutes”, “Keep the last AutoRecovered version if I close without saving”, and “AutoRecover file location”.
  • Auto-backup Excel files: You can use the backup file to retrieve any saved-over version of your Excel file. Go to the “File” tab and in the “Save As” dialog box, select “Tools”. Then select “Always create backup” from the “General options”.

Now that we know the types of scenarios that could lead to losing data and the precautions to take to avoid it, let’s see how we can recover an Excel file that you never saved.

How to recover an Excel file that was never saved?

This recovery method applies to the first scenario, in which you never saved the Excel file you were working on. You’ll now learn how to recover an Excel file that was never saved. You simply need to ‌enable the built-in “AutoSave” and ”AutoRecover” functionality in Excel.

  1. 1. Open a new Excel workbook. Go to File > Open > Recent.
  2. 2. Select “Recover Unsaved Workbooks” at the bottom.
  3. 3. Browse through the unsaved Excel files and open the one you want to recover.
  4. 4. To save, choose the “Save As” using a different name and check that the location of the file is the one you want.

These steps will work on any Excel file in Windows 10 or later, and for Office 365. If you have issues finding the unsaved Excel files following the previous method, it’s useful to know where Excel stores unsaved files by default.

Where are unsaved Excel files stored?

Excel saves a copy of all unsaved files by default in the following locations, depending on your operating system:

  • Windows 10 (onwards):
“C:\Users\[YourSystemName]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\UnsavedFiles”.
  • Mac (head to Finder > Go > Go to Folder… and enter the following):
“/Users/<username>/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Excel/Data/Library/Application Support/Microsoft”

Simply replace “[YourSystemName]” (Windows) or “<username> (Mac) with the name of your system. Your unsaved files should appear, ready for you to recover and save.

All unsaved Excel files are stored using a special format, so make sure that you save them in the format of your choice. Let’s now see how to recover your file based on the second scenario we outlined before.

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How to recover an Excel file that was only saved once?

This second method applies to any case where you didn’t save the latest version of your Excel file. This is how you can recover the updated version of an Excel file.

  1. 1. Open Excel and click on any of the files listed in the “Document Recovery” window.
  2. 2. Save the file with a different name.

If you use the Excel application, you can directly click on “Show Recovered Files” which will take you to the same “Document Recovery” window. Let’s now see how to recover a previous version of an Excel file.

How to recover an Excel file that was saved over?

This third recovery method applies to the scenario where you saved changes made to your file but want to retrieve a previous version.

  1. 1. Go to File > Manage Workbook > Recover Previous Versions.
  2. 2. Select the version you would like to restore.
  3. 3. Click “Restore” to retrieve the previous version using the same name, or click on “Save as” to use a different name.

Don’t forget that in order for this last method to work, you need to enable the “AutoRecover” feature. Accessing previous versions of your Excel file will be easier if you work on OneDrive since most cloud environments keep previous versions by default.

How to manage Excel data with Layer?

Layer is a spreadsheet platform that works on top of Excel and Google Sheets. It allows you to easily manage and automate spreadsheet workflows. Using Layer, you can:

  • Upload or connect your existing Excel or Google Sheets-based budget.
  • Share different sheets or even cell ranges of your spreadsheet with various stakeholders or departments involved in the budgeting process.
  • Automate your communication flows and keep track of your data submissions, contributors, and deadlines.
  • Review every single change made and decide which ones to merge with your spreadsheet or discard.
  • Eliminate errors in your budget or manually copying and pasting data across files.

Sign up and schedule an onboarding call to get started with Layer right now.

Conclusion

Losing an Excel file can be an extremely stressful situation, and it’s easy to forget the basic methods Excel offers to help you find and restore your files. You should now understand the easy methods that will allow you to quickly recover unsaved or saved-over Excel files. Simply remember to always have the “AutoSave” and ”AutoRecover” Excel feature enabled, which can help you recover unsaved Excel files in Windows 10 or Mac operating systems, as well as the Office 365 version.

Although recovery is always possible, we strongly recommend taking the four precautions we outlined, especially if you are collaborating on the Excel file. If you would like to know how to upload your file for collaboration, read our blog article How To Share An Excel File.

Hady ElHady
Hady is Content Lead at Layer.

Hady has a passion for tech, marketing, and spreadsheets. Besides his Computer Science degree, he has vast experience in developing, launching, and scaling content marketing processes at SaaS startups.

Originally published Mar 31 2022