Microsoft Excel Won’t Open – How to Fix it! (6 Possible Solutions)

When working with Excel spreadsheets, most people are either short on time or have a deadline to meet.

And it could be a nightmare if, at that point in time, Microsoft Excel decides not to open (arghhhhh!).

Unfortunately, this unexpected behavior is quite common where Excel refuses to open one of your important Excel files, or fails to open the Excel application altogether.

So, if you are suffering from the ‘Microsoft-Excel-won’t-open’ syndrome, this article is just what you need.

In this tutorial, I will cover the reasons why Excel refuses to open and the possible solutions that can help you in this situation.

So let’s get started!

Possible Reasons Why Microsoft Excel Won’t Open

Since Excel is a tool that has to work seamlessly with other applications and operating systems, there are many things that can go wrong with it.

And of course, there is always a possibility that the Excel application in itself is the problem.

Below are some possible reasons due to which Microsoft Excel won’t open on your system:

  1. There is a problematic add-in that is not allowing you to open Excel files. If this is the case, most likely you will be able to open the Excel applications, but not a specific Excel file (or a new Excel file)
  2. There is a possibility that your Excel application is corrupt and needs to be repaired before you can start opening Excel files again
  3. Your Excel application is not able to communicate with other applications and the operating system. This has a simple fix where you can simply enable the setting and your files would start working again (covered later in this tutorial)
  4. The file Association is broken which means that when you try and open an Excel file, it doesn’t know what software to use to open the file. This again has an easy fix, where you can simply reset the file associations. A lot of people who have upgraded their Excel or operating system often face this issue
  5. The file that you want to open is corrupt. This often happens when someone else shares the file with you or when you copy the file to a network drive or an external drive and transfer it to your system. There’s not much you can do in this case, except to make sure that you create backups of your files in the future

How to Fix Excel Files Not Opening

Now, let’s have a look at some of the methods that you can use to fix the issue of Excel files not opening.

I’m listing these fixes in an order in which these are most likely to work.

Uncheck the Ignore DDE box

The most common and easiest fix is to make sure that the correct setting is enabled for the Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE).

DDE is how Excel interacts with other applications.

By default, the DDE setting is disabled, but in case it gets enabled by any chance, then it could lead to your Excel files not opening on your system.

When this happens, you will be able to open your Excel application from the start menu, but you won’t be able to open individual Excel files.

Below are the steps to fix this DDE issue:

  1. Open the Excel file from the Start menu
  2. Click the File TabClick the File tab
  3. Click on OptionsClick on Options
  4. In the Excel Options dialog box that opens up, click on the ‘Advanced’ option on the left paneClick on Advanced
  5. Scroll down to the General section
  6. Make sure the ‘Ignore other applications that use Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE)’ setting is disabled.Uncheck Dynamic Data Exchange option
  7. Close the Excel Options dialog box

If this setting was enabled earlier and you have disabled it using the above steps, this was most likely the issue and it should get sorted now.

In case this method doesn’t work, keep reading!

Turn OFF Add-ins

A lot of people use third-party add-ins in Excel that allow them to enhance the functionality and be able to use many features that are not there in Excel by default.

One of the add-ins that I used to use in my full-time day job days was ‘ThinkCell’, which allowed us to create beautiful charts that were not possible with Excel itself.

And sometimes these add-ins end up being the problem where you not able to open your Excel files.

It has an easy fix – disabling the add-in.

Below the steps that you can use to disable an add-in in Excel:

  1. Open the Excel file from the Start menu
  2. Click the File Tab
  3. Click on Options
  4. In the Excel Options dialog box, click on the Add-ins option in the left-paneClick on Add-ins option
  5. At the bottom of the dialog box, click on the Manage drop-downClick on Manage Addin drop down
  6. Click on COM Add-insSelect Com Addins
  7. Click on Go
  8. In the COM Add-ins dialog box that opens, disable all the add-insDisable all add-ins
  9. Click Ok

Now try and open an Excel file that wasn’t opening earlier. If the item was the issue, the file should open now.

Many a time, it’s a one-off issue and the add-in will work perfectly even if you enable it now. In case you enable the add-in and you still face the same problem, you can be sure that the add-in is corrupt I need to be permanently disabled.

Repair Microsoft Office

Another possible reason that causes Excel files to not open could be that your Microsoft Office application is corrupt and need to be repaired or reinstalled.

But since reinstalling is a little more work, let’s try the repair option first.

Follow the steps below to repair the Microsoft Office application on your system:

  1. Hold the Windows key and press the R key. This will open the ‘Run’ dialog boxRun Dialog box
  2. Enter the following text in the run box – ‘appwiz.cpl’. This will open the programs and features dialog boxEnter appwiz.cpl in the run field
  3. Locate Microsoft Office in the listLocate Microsoft Office in the List
  4. Right-click on the Microsoft Office option and click on Change (in case you see the repair option right here, click on it)Right Click and select change
  5. In the dialog box that shows up, click on the Quick Repair option
  6. Click on the Repair buttonClick on Quick repair

Follow through with the steps that show up and within a few minutes, it will repair your Microsoft Office application.

If a corrupt Microsoft Office application was the issue, it should be fixed with the above steps.

But in case you’re still not able to open Excel files, let’s try more fixes.

Reset Excel File Associations

File Association is what makes sure that when you open an Excel file, it uses the Excel application to open that file.

And sometimes, these file associations go wrong and when you click on an Excel file, it would not know that it needs to use the Excel application to open it.

The fix – resetting file associations

Below are the steps on how you can do this:

  1. Open the Control Panel
  2. Click on ProgramsClick on Programs
  3. Click on Default ProgramsClick on Set your default programs
  4. Click on ‘Set your default programs’Click on Default Programs
  5. In the Default apps windows that opens, scroll down to the ‘Reset to the Microsoft recommended defaults’ and click on the Reset button.Click on Reset

If a mismatched file association was the issue that was not letting your Excel files open, this would fix it.

Note that since we have reset the default for all the applications on your system, in case you had manually made any changes and specified any specific file extension to be opened with a specific application, that would also be set to the default.

If you don’t want to reset the default for all the applications and only for the Excel files, click on the ‘choose default applications by file type’ option.

In the screen that shows up, locate the Excel files extensions (.xls, .xlsx, .xlsb, .csv, etc.) and set XLS the default application for these.

Disable Hardware Graphics Acceleration

Hardware graphic acceleration is something that helps your system perform better, especially when using Microsoft Office applications such as MS Excel or MS Word.

But many times, this may also lead to your Excel files not opening or your system or files crashing.

So, if everything else fails, it’s worth trying this method.

Hardware graphic acceleration is enabled by default and disabling it can solve the issue.

Here is how you can do it:

  1. Open the Excel applications
  2. Click on the File tab
  3. Click on Options
  4. In the Excel Options dialog box that opens up, click on the Advanced tab in the left pane
  5. Scroll down to the ‘Display’ settings
  6. Check the – ‘Display hardware graphic acceleration’ optionDisable hardware graphic acceleration option
  7. Click OK

If hardware graphic acceleration was the issue, your Excel files should start opening now.

When Everything Fails – Reach out to the Microsoft Support

And finally, there is only so much troubleshooting you can do.

If nothing else has worked for you so far, it’s best to reach out to Microsoft support and see if those guys can help you.

Many times, these issues could also arise from some recent update that Microsoft released which may have inadvertently caused this issue.

You can use the below link to contact Microsoft support:

Another thing you can try is posting your query on many active Microsoft forums, and the awesome folks of the Internet may come to your rescue.

I know that this is not an ideal solution, but it can help you get feedback and solutions from experts, which is helpful in almost all cases.

So these are the methods that you can use to troubleshoot when your Microsoft files won’t open.

In most cases, it should be sorted by simple setting changes such as disabling third-party add-ins or resetting file associations, and in some rare cases if you’re not able to identify the issue the best thing is to reach out to Microsoft support.

I hope you found this tutorial useful.

Other Excel tutorials you may also like:

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Hello there! I'm Sumit Bansal, founder of and an Excel MVP. I started this website in 2013 with a simple goal: to share my love for Excel through easy to follow tips, tutorials and videos. I'm here to help you get the best out of MS Excel to save time and boost your productivity.

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