How to Recover a Deleted Excel File on Mac and Windows

Robert Agar
Written by
113

Recover deleted excel files

Many companies and individuals keep valuable information in Excel spreadsheets. Suddenly realizing you have deleted or lost an important Excel file when it’s needed for a meeting can pose a huge problem. Don’t worry. We are going to show you multiple ways to recover deleted Excel files on either a Windows or Mac computer.

Read this first!
The single most important action you can take to help ensure a successful recovery is to stop using the device that contained the lost Excel file as soon as possible. Using the device to save data risks overwriting the files that you want to recover. This advice should be followed if you choose to download and install data recovery software. Don’t perform the download and installation on the disk that lost the Excel file you wish to restore.


Before embarking on a data recovery adventure, make sure you didn’t just save the Excel file to a different location and now simply can’t find it. You might consider searching your computer for the file to see if it’s just misplaced. Once you have determined the file is really gone, you can try these methods to get it back.

Recover a Deleted Excel Document on Windows

Here are the methods available to perform a deleted Excel file recovery on a Windows machine.

Restore a deleted Excel file from the Recycle Bin

The first place to look for your deleted file is the Windows Recycle Bin. Here’s how to do it.

Recover Excel files from Recycle Bin

  1. Open the Recycle Bin by clicking on its icon.
  2. Select the files you want to recover from the list of available items.
  3. Right-click on your selection and choose Restore.
  4. Files will be recovered to their original locations. You can also drag files out of the Recycle Bin to another folder or the desktop.

Use the Windows undo function

Here’s another simple method that can restore a deleted Excel file. Using the key combination of Ctrl-Z undoes the last command entered on a Windows computer. If you enter this command immediately after deleting your file, the operating system will undo the deletion and make the file available again. You can’t hurt anything by trying this method and it may save you a bunch of time if it works, so give it a shot.

Search for autosaved or temporary files

It’s very possible that you have not deleted the file, but simply forgot to or were unable to save it. Maybe your system crashed before you had a chance to hit the save button. There are two locations on a Windows computer that you can check that may contain the file you were unable to save.

Autosaved files
If Excel’s AutoRecover function is active, your lost files may be in the folder where AutoRecovered files are stored. To display the name of this folder, use the following procedure.

Excel autorecover function settings

  1. In Excel, click on File and then Options.
  2. Click on Save in the left-side menu to display how your Excel workbooks are being saved.
  3. The AutoRecover file location is where AutoRecovered files are saved. If AutoRecover is enabled, you can go to this folder and search for your lost file. It may have been generically renamed, so be sure to check all the files for the one you want.

Temporary filesExcel file in temporary folder

  1. Open the Start menu and type %temp% in the Search field.
  2. Press Enter to open the folder and view its contents.
  3. Search for .xls or .xlsx files. The files may have generic filenames and will have to be opened to see if they are what you need.

Try reverting to a previous version of your Excel file

Windows 10 users can try restoring a previous version of a file from a system restore point. Follow these steps to give it a try.

Recover previous version of excel file

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Go to the file or folder which you would like to restore to a previous version.
  3. Right-click on the item and select Previous Versions from the context menu.
  4. Select the version you would like to restore in the File versions list.
  5. Click Open to review the file’s contents.
  6. Click the Restore button to recover the file to its original location. You will be prompted to allow the file write to complete.

Restore from a backup

Restore excel file from file history

If you are in the habit of backing up your computer, you may be able to recover the lost file from your backup media. Depending on the version of Windows you are running, you will either use File History (Windows 10) or Backup and Restore (earlier versions than Windows 10). Both tools offer intuitive help to guide you through the recovery process. Of course, you need to have made a backup of the files in question to use this recovery method.

Use Disk Drill third-party data recovery software

If the previous methods have failed to get back your deleted Excel file, it’s time to try a data recovery with Disk Drill. Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill for Windows. As mentioned previously, don’t perform the download and install on the device with the last file so you don’t inadvertently overwrite the data you want to preserve.
  2. Connect an external storage device if necessary and launch Disk Drill. Select the disk or partition with the lost file.
  3. Click the Search for lost data button to start scanning for deleted data.
    Search the drives for excel files
  4. Preview the files that Disk Drill finds and select the Excel files you want to restore.Preview excel files
  5. Click the Recover button and choose a new location for the recovered files that is not on the same device that lost the data in the first place.Recover deleted excel files

Recover a Deleted Excel Document on a Mac Computer

Here are the methods that can be used on a Mac machine to get back lost or deleted Excel files.

Check your Mac’s Trash Can

Always check your Mac’s Trash for lost or deleted files. If they are there, it’s a simple matter to perform a recovery.

Put back excel files from trash bin

  1. Open the Trash Can by clicking on its icon.
  2. Right-click on the item you wish to restore.
  3. Choose Put Back to return the file to its original location.

Undelete an Excel file

You can undelete your last action on a Mac with the key combination Command-Z. Entering this command right after deleting the Excel file will undo the deletion and return the file to its original location. It’s a quick and easy solution that might get your file back fast.

Check for autosaved or temporary files

Autosaved files
If Excel’s AutoRecover function is active, your lost files may be in the folder where AutoRecovered files are stored. To activate this function, use the following procedure.

  1. In Excel menu, click Preferences.
  2. Click on Save under the Sharing and Privacy heading.
  3. Activate the autorecovery and select it’s frequency.

Activate autorecovery feature in excel

In order to find any AutoRecovered files on your computer, switch to Finder, then click Go > Go To Folder and enter:
/Users/<username>/Library/Containers/Microsoft Excel/Data/Library/Application Support/Microsoft

Temporary files
Open the Terminal application.

Get temporary files with terminal

  1. Enter this command to view items in your Mac’s temp folder – open $TMPDIR.
  2. Search for the missing Excel files which should have the .xls or .xlsx file extension.

Restore from a Time Machine backup

Time Machine is the macOS backup and recovery solution provided free on all Mac machines. Here is how to recover a file using Time Machine.

Recover excel files from time machine backup

  1. Connect the disk containing Time Machine backups to your computer.
  2. Open the folder where the deleted Excel file was stored.
  3. Open Time Machine by clicking the clock icon on the menu bar.
  4. Use the on-screen navigation to locate the files you want to recover.
  5. Press the Space Bar to preview the files and make your selections.
  6. Click Restore to recover the missing Excel files.

Use Disk Drill data recovery software

Disk Drill for Mac can get your lost Excel files back if other methods fail. Here’s how to use it.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill for Mac.
  2. Connect any external media to the computer and start the program.
  3. Select the disk with the lost file from the program’s list of disks.
  4. Click the Search for lost data button to scan for lost Excel files.Start searching for excel files
  5. Preview the found data and select the files you want to recover.Preview the excel files
  6. Click the Recover button to restore the Excel files.
  7. Select a new storage location that is not on the disk that lost the files.
    Select recovery destination on Mac

FAQs

Conclusion

There you have it. You now have several methods with which to recover a deleted Excel file on a Windows or Mac computer. Disk Drill recovery software will often work when other methods fail, and a free download lets you identify the files that can be recovered. 

Since Excel files often contain valuable information, we suggest that you get in the habit of backing them up regularly. It’s always a good idea to take a backup of your data. You never know when you’ll need it.

Robert Agar
Freelance Writer at Self-employed specializing in technology-related subjects. Extensive experience in IT with a focus on backup and recovery, disaster recovery, cloud computing, databases, and data management.
Approved by
Senior Data Recovery Engineer. Master's degree in Physics, Information Technology for Science Experiments