How to Successfully and Easily Recover Excel Files on Mac

Recover Excel file on Mac

The Mac version of Microsoft Excel has always been slightly behind the Windows version, which may explain why so many users are eager to learn how to recover Excel files on Mac.

But it’s not just the not-exactly-perfect stability of the Mac version of Excel that can cause important spreadsheets to become unavailable. Users sometimes lose focus and delete the wrong file, storage devices can become corrupted, and there’s always the looming threat of physical damage.

Luckily, learning how to recover Excel files on Mac is not difficult, and there are even multiple approaches Mac users can choose from based on their specific circumstances and needs.

Why Has My Excel File Disappeared?

Before we explain how to recover Excel files that have disappeared, let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why that might happen, several of which we’ve already mentioned in the introduction to this article:

Reason Description
💥 Sudden crash A sudden Excel crash that occurs before you save your file can make it disappear in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, the spreadsheet software is designed to protect its users against sudden crashes by automatically saving opened files in a special temporary location.
🤦‍♂️ User error Users can be their own worst enemies, especially when they are distracted and don’t pay attention. A single mistake can lead to the disappearance of multiple Excel files, and there’s always the risk of it becoming permanent unless you recover them in time.
💾 Storage device corruption Modern storage devices are truly remarkable because they allow us to store multiple lifetimes’ worth of memories and other data without costing an arm and a leg. Still, they’re not perfect, and corruption remains one of the leading causes of data loss.
🔨 Physical damage Opening an Excel file stored on a computer that’s been run over by a truck or otherwise physically damaged is usually not possible without some serious rescue work. Professional data recovery centers are best equipped to recover data from physically damaged devices, making their services well worth paying for if your lost Excel files are extremely valuable.
🦠 Malware infection There are some pretty nasty strains of malware floating in the dangerous waters of the internet. Some of them can cause Excel files to disappear or even become deleted.

In many of the above-described situations, the recovery of the lost Excel file is still possible—at least if you act quickly and use the right recovery method.

How Do I Find an Excel File That Has Disappeared?

Has an important Excel file recently disappeared from your Mac? Then you should search for it by following the steps below:

  1. Launch Finder.
  2. Click the magnifier glass icon 🔍 in the top-right corner.
  3. Type the name of your file and press Return. If you don’t remember how the file was called, you can search for all files with the .xls or .xlsx extension instead. finder search excel file
  4. Click the “This Mac” search option to search your entire Mac. finder search this mac excel file
  5. Look for the missing Excel file and move it to a safe location.

No luck finding the missing file? Then it’s time to try the recovery methods described in the next section.

How to Recover a Deleted Excel File on Mac

There are several different ways how to recover an Excel file on Mac, and you need to choose the one that best fits your data loss scenario.

Method 1: Recover a Permanently Deleted Excel File with Disk Drill

Best for: Recovering permanently deleted Excel files that you don’t have backed up on another drive.

When most Mac users discover that they’ve accidentally deleted or otherwise lost an Excel file that they don’t have backed up anywhere else, they assume the file is gone for good. Fortunately, that’s not usually the case.

Even permanently deleted Excel files can be successfully recovered using specialized data recovery software like Disk Drill as long as they are still physically present on the storage device and haven’t been partially or completely overwritten yet.

We recommend Disk Drill because it can be downloaded for free and used to recover Excel files from all Mac file systems and storage devices with a simple click on the Recover button.

To recover a permanently deleted Excel file with Disk Drill: 

  1. Download and install Disk Drill for Mac. Install Disk Drill
  2. Click the Recover button next to the drive on which your deleted Excel file was stored.Scan the drive with deleted files
  3. Wait until Disk Drill finishes analyzing the drive.
  4. Look inside the recovery folders and locate the permanently deleted Excel file.
    preview xlsx files
  5. Select it and click the Recover button.Recover excel files
  6. Specify where you want Disk Drill to recover the deleted Excel file and click Choose.
Because the free version of Disk Drill can only preview recoverable files (not actually recover them), you will be asked to purchase a Disk Drill PRO license. 

Method 2: Undelete the Excel File from Trash Bin

Best for: Recovering accidentally deleted Excel files that are still present in the Trash folder.

When you accidentally delete the wrong file in macOS, you can easily recover it from the Trash folder, which is a special hidden folder where the operating system temporarily stores deleted files. All files that end up in the Trash folder remain there until the folder is emptied, which can happen automatically (after 30 days) or manually.

To recover a deleted Excel file from Trash Bin: 

  1. Open Trash by clicking on its icon, located on the right side or bottom of the Dock.Open Trash from the Dock
  2. Select the Excel file you want to recover.
  3. Right-click on any selected XLS file and select the Put Back option.Put back selected excel files

Method 3: Restore the Excel File Using Time Machine

Best for: Restoring backed up Excel files that are no longer present in the Trash folder.

Time Machine is Apple’s data backup and recovery solution, and it’s included in all recent versions of macOS. If you deleted an important Excel file but had activated Time Machine beforehand, you should be able to get the file back with a few clicks even if it’s no longer present in the Trash folder.

To recover a lost Excel file using Time Machine: 

  1. Connect your Time Machine backup disk if it’s not already connected to your Mac.
  2. Open the folder that contained the deleted Excel file. For example, if the files were in your Documents folder, open Finder and select Documents from the sidebar on the left.
  3. Click the Time Machine icon located in the Menu Bar and choose Enter Time Machine.Click time machine icon
  4. Locate the Excel file you want to recover using the timeline on the right edge of the screen.
  5. Click Restore to restore the selected Excel file.Restore selected excel files

How to Recover an Unsaved Excel File on Mac

The three methods described above can help you recover an Excel file that was accidentally deleted or lost to corruption, but how do you recover an Excel file that was not saved because Excel crashed or a sudden power outage occurred?

The good news is that recovering unsaved Excel files on Mac isn’t any more complicated than the methods for restoring saved but lost Excel files. Let’s take a closer look at three methods that you can use to recover unsaved Excel files.

The methods described below can be used to recover unsaved Excel files on Mac regardless of if you use Excel 2022, Excel 2016, Excel 2019, Excel 2007, or Excel 365. 

Method 1: Recover the Unsaved Excel File from Temporary Files

Best for: Recovering recently lost Excel files.

macOS has a special folder where the operating system and applications can temporarily store files that may or may not be needed at some point in the future. If you act quickly enough and have luck on your side, you may be able to find the unsaved Excel file there and recover it.

To find temporary files on Mac: 

  1. Open Finder and go to Applications -> Utilities.
  2. Launch Terminal.Open terminal in utilities
  3. Type “open $TMPDIR” and hit Enter. Look through temporary files

With temporary files open, you need to find autosaved Excel files and copy them to a different folder. Unfortunately, temporary files typically don’t have file extensions, and their names tend to be non-descriptive. Your best bet is to look at file creation dates and manually check all files that were created around the time when the data loss incident took place.

Where are temporary files stored on Mac?

Temporary files on Mac are stored in the Temporary Folder, which is located inside each user’s home directory. Just don’t go looking for it there because you won’t be able to find it. The Temporary Folder is hidden, and you need to unhide it first.

Method 2: Retrieve Lost Excel File from the AutoRecover Folder

Best for: Retrieving Excel documents that were likely saved by the AutoRecover feature.

AutoRecover is an extremely useful feature available in most Office applications. Its purpose is to automatically save open documents to the AutoRecover folder, allowing users to easily get them back in the event of an unexpected crash or shutdown.

To retrieve AutoRecover Excel files on Mac: 

  1. Open Finder.
  2. Click Go > Go To Folder.Search for folder in finder
  3. Enter the following path (make sure to replace <username> with your actual username):
/Users/<username>/Library/Containers/ Support/Microsoft

Just like when recovering unsaved Excel files from the Temporary Folder, you need to go through the content of the AutoRecover folder and manually check all recently created files.

Method 3: Get Back Excel Spreadsheets with AutoSave

Best for: Getting back Excel spreadsheets after a hard drive failure.

Microsoft 365 subscribers can take advantage of a cloud-based backup feature called AutoSave to save their work in real-time. This feature is available only for documents saved on OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online, which is why we haven’t mentioned it until now. However, AutoSave is by far the most reliable way to recover Excel files after a hard drive failure since it doesn’t depend on locally stored files.

To get back an Excel spreadsheet with AutoSave: 

  1. Go to:
  2. Log in with your Microsoft 365 account. Log in with Microsoft account
  3. Go to the Recent folder and look for your Excel spreadsheet.
  4. Select the spreadsheet and click Download. Download file from recent folder

How to Open Corrupted Excel Files

It’s easy for Excel files to become absurdly large, sometimes containing hundreds of thousands of rows across multiple sheets, all automated and interlinked with complex functions and macros. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that Excel files can become corrupted and impossible to open.

Well, almost impossible because Excel has a built-in repair feature that you can use to open corrupted Excel files. The only problem is that this feature is included only in the Windows version of Excel. Still, there’s nothing stopping you from copying the corrupted file to a Windows computer and repairing it there by following the instructions below:

  1. Launch Excel.
  2. Click Open on the File tab.
  3. Click Browse.Browse function in excel menu
  4. Select the corrupted file that you want to open.
  5. Click the arrow next to the Open button, and then click Open and Repair.Repair corrupted Excel file
  6. Choose either Repair or Extract Data depending on if you want to attempt the file or simply extract data from it.