How to Recover Corrupted Excel Files

Microsoft’s Excel software product is “the world’s most widely used spreadsheet”, but with hundreds of millions of users using it regularly, we know there is a chance that some excel files can corrupt and require fixing.

It can be used as a standalone app, in the cloud, or as part of the extensive Microsoft 365 productivity suite.

However, any worker who relies heavily on Excel could easily be concerned if they keep trying and failing to open a particular Excel file. One possibility is that the file has been corrupted — and rendered inaccessible as a result.

The good news is that there are many tried-and-trusted methods of Excel corrupt file recovery — though, in practice, you may have to go through quite a few of them to find one that works for your particular file.

That’s why we have prepared a detailed but easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide on how to recover a corrupted Excel file time-effectively.

How Can You Tell If an Excel File is Corrupted?

There are various circumstances that can evidence a corrupted Excel file. Perhaps the file keeps refusing to open, and you see error messages saying that Excel has stopped working or is unable to read the file.

On the other hand, you might succeed in opening the file but notice that some data you remember putting into it is now inexplicably missing.

You might have been prone to some habits you didn’t realize would risk damaging the data. Excel file corruption can come about as a result of:

  • The Excel software or computing system crashing: Though neither kind of crash can always be easily avoided if it does happen when you have the Excel file open, its data could fall to corruption.
  • Forceful closure of the Excel software: If Excel crashes, you may force it to close via Windows Task Manager. However, doing so can itself corrupt the file if the crash hasn’t already inflicted this damage.
  • The computer being abruptly switched off: This can occur due to a power outage or the device’s battery failing. Sometimes, though, you might simply forget to close Excel before shutting the PC down.
  • The use of faulty, outdated, or unsupported plugins: Adding plugins to Excel can make it appreciably easier to use — but it remains imperative that you get these add-ins only from trusted sources.
  • Malware attacks: If your Windows PC lacks anti-malware software like iolo’s AntiVirus solution packaged with our System Mechanic Pro or System Mechanic Ultimate Defense, your Excel file could be easy prey.

Determining what likely caused the problem can assist you in deciphering how to recover the corrupted Excel file. For example, if the culprit is a defective plugin, you could just remove it to see what happens.

Excel Corrupt File Recovery Methods

When you try to open an Excel workbook, the software might detect that the file is corrupted and attempt to fix it by launching File Recovery mode.

The word ‘might’ warrants emphasis here, as File Recovery is not guaranteed to start in this situation — meaning that you could need to look for an alternative remedy. Here are several tips for how to fix a corrupt Excel file:

Use Excel's 'Open and Repair…' Function

After opening Excel on your Windows PC, click ‘Open Other Workbooks’ in the window’s lower-left corner and then hit the folder-shaped ‘Browse’ icon.

This step will send you to a File Explorer window that lets you find and select the corrupted Excel file. Once it is highlighted, click the downward-facing arrow to the Open button’s right side and seek the ‘Open and Repair….’ option.

If it is greyed out, you can’t use it to repair the file. Otherwise, though, you could click ‘Open and Repair…’ to load a pop-up window. Many people who reach this stage will be able to proceed with either of these options:

  • Repair: In clicking this button (if it is available for you to click), you can activate built-in Excel functionality for fixing damaged workbooks.
  • Extract Data: If the ‘Repair’ route isn’t available or doesn’t work the ‘Extract Data’ can assist you in salvaging data from the corrupted file.

If you do manage to get the Excel file repaired, open it before saving it — with a file name different to that previously used for the workbook — on your PC.

Revert to the Workbook's Latest Saved Version

This would only be a viable avenue for restoring the Excel file if you last saved it before it became corrupted. Thankfully, in this situation, the following details can be the best guide for how to recover a corrupt Excel file quickly:

  1. In Excel, while the workbook is already open, click ‘File’ and then ‘Open’.
  2. Double-click that workbook’s name.
  3. Reopen the file by clicking ‘Yes’.

The Excel file will proceed to open sans any changes that were made to it before the previous save and is potentially responsible for the corruption.

Change the Workbook's File Format

An Excel workbook created with an old version of Excel can become unstable on the spreadsheet software’s latest release. However, you could find that simply switching the workbook to a different file format rectifies the issue.

Here are the steps that would be involved here on a Windows PC:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the ‘View’ tab in File Explorer.
  3. In the toolbar’s ‘Show/hide’ section, check the ‘File name extensions’ box.
  4. Select the corrupted Excel file in File Explorer.
  5. Click the ‘Home’ tab in File Explorer.
  6. In the toolbar’s ‘Organize’ section, click ‘Rename’.
  7. Retype a new file extension after the period that follows the file name.

If the current extension is, say, ‘.docx’, you could type ‘.xlsx’ in its place. If you already see ‘xlsx’, replace it with ‘xls’ or ‘html’.

How iolo's Search and Recover Could Help

We offer Search and Recover, a data recovery software application compatible with all versions of the Windows PC operating system from Windows XP (Service Pack 3) onwards.

This data recovery software enables a wide range of data to be restored with just a click. By phoning us at (801) 523-6763, you can learn more about Search and Recover.

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