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How Does An Excel File Get Corrupted? We Discussed Reasons and Fixes Here

Cannot open an Excel workbook due to file corruption? How does an Excel file get corrupted? Can you recover a corrupted Excel file in Windows 10? With those questions in mind, we write this article to explain common reasons for Excel file corruption and possible solutions to corrupted Excel file repair.


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microsoft excel

The Microsoft Excel application is as popular, in fact imperative, as the Word. It has become one of the essential skills for college students and company workers. Since Excel has many powerful and intelligent data analysis functions like formulas and charts, it's good at dealing with massive data that needs arranging, filtering, calculating, etc.

Thus, an Excel workbook is regularly created with lots of time and effort! You must take good care of your Excel files on your computer, always turning on the autosave setting, making a backup, and monitoring computer health on a daily basis. Nobody wants to create a workbook that contains large amounts of processed data for a second time, only because the initial one gets corrupted! Will you be curious about how does an Excel file gets corrupted? What can you do to repair a corrupted Excel file?

Workable Solutions Step-by-step Troubleshooting
Fix 1. Use a Repair Tool Download, install and launch Stellar Toolkit for File Repair. Go to the software's home screen...Full steps
Fix 2. Use Open and Repair On the File tab, click Open > In Excel 2013 or Excel...Full steps
Fix 3. Change File Extension Open Microsoft Excel and click File > Click Export...Full steps
Fix 4. Restore Previous Version Right-click on the Excel file and select Properties...Full steps
Fix 5. Use External References Click File and go to Open > Right-click on the folder...Full steps

How Do You Tell If An Excel File Is Corrupted?

Every day, hundreds to thousands of users deal with corruption issues in Microsoft Office Suite, including Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, but how do you determine the Excel file is truly corrupted? Usually, we can infer the corruption from the symptoms of opening a file and some specific error messages.

Symptoms representing a corrupted file in Excel:

  • The file format has been changed from .xls or .xlsx to some strange ones you cannot open
  • Data stored in Excel has changed to a different character or weird character
  • The file content suddenly turns blank
  • The file size shows 0 byte

Error messages reporting a corrupted file in Excel:

  • Excel was able to open the file by repairing or removing the unreadable content
  • Excel file cannot complete this task with available resources
  • Excel cannot open the file ('file name').xlsx because...
  • We found a problem with some content in Excel
  • The file is corrupted and cannot be opened
  • Unable to read file error

Common Reasons for Excel File Corruption

Why do Excel files get corrupted? There are plenty of reasons behind the Excel file corruption, and knowing some of the common reasons can help us trace the problem and find corresponding solutions to repair a corrupted Excel file.

  • The Excel application gets stuck, freezing, crashing from time to time upon launch
  • An unexpected system shutdown while working on Excel
  • Virus or malware infection on OS and hard drive
  • Bad sectors were found on a hard drive
  • A sudden power off

How to Hopefully Repair A Corrupted Excel File 100%

A corrupt Excel file can result in a lot of wasted time and severe data loss. Nobody can keep calm after seeing their hard work going haywire. In spite of this, try your best to take a deep breath to minimize the damage the corruption did for you. Follow the below guide one by one to repair a corrupted Excel file on your Windows computer.

*The workarounds are applicable to all Excel versions from Excel 2003 to Excel 2019

QUICK TIP: As discussed, it is very likely that your Excel workbook could be malfunctioning due to a virus attack. So, it's important to run a deep system scan using antivirus software on your computer. Removing viruses or malware does not help you restore the corrupted file to normal, but it's necessary to avoid future corruption of all other files. In addition, try to check and repair hard drive bad sectors after all attempts of the following methods.

Method 1. Repair Corrupted Excel Files with a Repair Tool

The most effective way to repair a corrupt Excel file is using a professional file repair tool. Stellar Repair for Excel repairs severely corrupted XLS and XLSX files and retrieves everything from the Excel workbook without modifying its original format. Follow the steps below to repair Excel files now.

Step 1. Select the Excel Files

Download, install and launch Stellar Toolkit for File Repair. Go to the software's home screen and click "Repair Spreadsheet".

Select the Excel Files

Step 2. Repair the Excel Files

Browse to select the corrupt Excel files (XLS/XLSX). You can click on the Search option if you don't know its location. Once the file is selected, click "Repair". The software will initiate the scanning and repairing process.

Repair the Excel Files

Step 3. Preview and Save

Once the scan and repair process is over, the items will be displayed in a tree-view on the software's left-hand panel. Preview the items by double-clicking on them.

If the file preview is satisfactory, click the "Save File" button on the main menu. When prompted, choose the destination to save the salvaged file. Click "OK".

Preview and Save

Method 2. Use the Microsoft Open and Repair Tool

  • On the File tab, click Open.
  • In Excel 2013 or Excel 2016, click on the location where the spreadsheet is located, and click Browse.
  • In the Open dialog box, select the corrupted workbook that you want to open.
  • Click the arrow next to the Open button, and then click Open and Repair.

use open and repair tool to repair corrupted excel file

Next, do one of the following:

  • To recover as much of the workbook data as possible, click Repair.
  • To extract values and formulas from the workbook when an attempt to repair the workbook is not successful, click Extract Data.

Method 3. Change File Extension to Open the Corrupted File

Chances are that the file extension of your seemingly corrupted Excel file is not compatible with the installed Excel edition/version on your computer. When the issue starts within the incompatibility, the file will not show content as normal. The common file extensions used are .xls and .xlsx, which earlier Excel 2003 saves the file with .xls by default while the later version after 2007 uses the .xlsx format. Try to change the file format of the corrupted file to see if the problem persists.

  • Open Microsoft Excel and click File.
  • Click Export and choose Change File Type.
  • Change the file extension to any other file format that MS Excel supports and click Save As.
  • Open the Excel file again

chagne file extension to repair corrupted excel file

Method 4. Restore Corrupted Excel File from The Previous Version

How many copies did you save on that file getting corrupted then? The workbook may have a regular copy in the Windows previous versions. Try to find a previous version that may not be identical to the corrupted one, but at least preserve most of the same data.

  • Right-click on the Excel file and select Properties.
  • Go to Previous Versions, find and select the latest version or the right version before corruption occurs, click Restore

restore previous version to repair corrupted excel file

Method 5. Use External References to Link to The Corrupted Excel File

  • Click File and go to Open.
  • Right-click on the folder that contains the corrupted workbook.
  • Click Copy, and then click Cancel.
  • Click File and go to New, then open a Blank workbook.
  • In cell A1 of the new workbook, type =File Name!A1, where FileName is the name of the corrupted workbook that you copied in step 3 (without the name extension), and then press Enter.
  • Select corrupted Excel if the Update Values box appears and click OK.
  • Choose the appropriate sheet if the Select Sheet dialog box appears and click OK.
  • Select cell A1 and click Home and then Copy.
  • Select an area, starting in cell A1 that is approximately the same size as the range of cells that contain data in the corrupted workbook.
  • Click Home and Paste.
  • Repeat to copy all selected cells again by clicking Home and then Copy.

use external references to repair corrupted excel file

Do I Need Excel Recovery Tool for Corrupted Excel File Recovery?

Sometimes a file getting corrupted is more serious than a file getting deleted on a computer. Though there are several workarounds that can help fix the corruption and restore the file content, it's not fool-proof all the time, especially for some severely damaged files in Excel. 

There are specialized file repair programs online, with regard to the difficulty in restoring files that are broken or showing special character, the service cost is relatively high enough. In case your files are corrupted and cannot open in every way, you can consider the following Excel repair programs that enjoy a high reputation on the market.

  • Systools Excel Recovery Tool
  • Stellar Repair for Excel
  • Kernel Excel File Repair

By contrast, the data recovery program is usually cheaper than the repair one. Can Excel file recovery software work on corrupted file recovery? Not really. The data recovery software is for retrieving files that are lost, which can be deleted, emptied from recycle bin, or performing a quick format on a storage drive. The premise of using the data recovery software is that the file is lost and intact.

But there is a chance that many people use data recovery software to find lost Excel files, however, files won't open after recovery. It also suggests that the Excel file has been corrupted. In this case, among numerous data recovery tools on the web, EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard is the unique software that can repair a corrupted Excel file upon recovery.

When you lost a workbook in Excel, feel free to download the EaseUS file recovery software on your PC, and run a deep scan on the drive to find the files. Since the software can repair the corruption automatically while you check for the scan results, it will fully recover a corrupted Excel file.

Step 1. Launch EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard, and then scan disk with corrupted documents. This software enables you to fix damaged Word, Excel, PPT, and PDF files in same steps. 

select the disk with corrupted documents

Step 2. EaseUS data recovery and repair tool will scan for all lost and corrupted files. You can find the target files by file type or type the file name in the search box. 

find corrupted documents

Step 3. EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard can repair your damaged documents automatically. After file preview, you can click "Recover" to save the repaired Word, Excel, and PDF document files to a safe location.

repair corrrupt documents

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Updated by Brithny

Brithny is a technology enthusiast, aiming to make readers' tech life easy and enjoyable. She loves exploring new technologies and writing technical how-to tips. On her spare time, she loves sharing things about her favorite singer - Taylor Swift on her Facebook or Twitter.

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Written by Jean

Author Jean has been writing tech articles since she was graduated from university. She has been part of the EaseUS team for over 5 years. Her special focuses are data recovery, disk partitioning, data space optimization, data backup and Mac OS. By the way, she's an aviation fan!

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