7 easy ways to reduce your Excel file size

Florence Hermann
Senior Consultant
February 17, 2023

We have all encountered an Excel file that’s too large. The kind that takes minutes to open or save, so everything takes twice as long. Florence, Senior Consultant at UpSlide, has a few easy hacks up her sleeve that will help you reduce your Excel file size within seconds. Discover seven easy ways to compress Excel files in the article below.

TL;DR

  • There are many quick and easy ways to reduce your Excel file size.

  • We’ll walk you through how to remove conditional formatting and unnecessary formulas, crop worksheets to the used range,  compress pictures in Excel, and more!

  • Plus, learn how to use UpSlide’s Smart Clean feature – which reduces your Excel file size by up to 99% in one click.

Audit a large Excel file

Before we show you how to reduce your Excel file size, we’d first like to share a quick tip on auditing an Excel workbook.

For finance professionals working in Transactional Services or Investment Banking, building models with tons of formulas, tables and sheets is the norm. However, the more comments, formulas, conditional formatting and hidden sheets you add, the heavier the Excel file gets.

You can easily discover which sheets are the heaviest in your Excel file. To do so, make a copy of your Excel file and follow these steps:

  1. Open the File Explorer where your Excel is saved
  2. Display file name extensions in the “View” tab
  3. Change your Excel file copy’s extension to “.zip”
  4. reduce excel file
  5. Then open the zipped folder and go to xl > worksheets
  6. Sort by size
reduce excel file size

Spotting the heaviest Excel sheets can help you choose which one to start with. For instance, “sheet26.xml” accounts for almost one-third of the global volume. Usually, it corresponds to the n+1 sheet in your Excel file. So, in the above example, we could start by trimming the twenty-seventh sheet.

Be careful! The n+1 rule takes into account hidden sheets. If you have a lot of hidden sheets, it can become tricky to find the right one. One way to know for certain you have the right sheet is to get the exact name. Here is the detailed guide for finding a sheet’s name.

Now, it’s time to dive into our seven tips for reducing an Excel file size:

Remove conditional formatting

Conditional formatting comes in handy when you need to highlight specific data. But it can quickly make your Excel file heavy. We suggest removing conditional formatting from your spreadsheet as soon as you are done with it. To do so, you must:

  • Select some formatted cells on your sheet
  • Go to the Home tab > Conditional formatting > Clear Rules > Clear from Selected Cells
reduce excel file size

If you want to remove conditional formatting from all of your cells, pick Clear Rules from Entire Sheet.

Crop each worksheet to its used range

Did you know that Excel sheets can have up to one million rows? A good way to reduce your Excel file size is to get rid of the empty rows and columns. Here’s how to do that:

  • Select all unused rows and columns (Shortcut = Ctrl+Shift+Right/Down Arrow)
  • Right-click > Delete
reduce excel file size

Remove unnecessary formulas

We all use Excel formulas to manipulate and combine data dynamically. But we often forget to remove them when they’re no longer needed.
Be sure to replace your formulas with their values to downsize your file and keep a record of your data. Here’s a quick way to do it:

  • Select the cells you are working with (you can use the shortcut Ctrl+A to select your entire sheet)
  • Copy and Paste Special: Values
reduce excel file size

This will also remove hyperlinks, which make your file heavy.

Discover 16 basic Excel tips

Compress pictures in Excel

The golden rule is to avoid having pictures in Excel. If you have to use pictures, it’s best practice to always compress them. Here’s how:

  • Select the picture you wish to lighten
  • Go to the Picture Format tab
  • Click on Compress
  • We recommend unchecking the first box Apply only on this picture to compress all pictures inside your Excel file
  • Optional: you can choose the resolution you want (we recommend email).
reduce excel file size

Clear data formatting

Formatting enables the eye to naturally structure information. However, formatting your data also weighs your sheets down. If you’re running into difficulties loading a file, we recommend removing your formatting. Follow these few easy steps:

  • Select all formatted rows, columns and cells that do not contain data
  • Home > Editing > Clear Format
reduce excel file size

Want to learn the Top 6 Excel financial functions?

Delete watches

People who work on large files with many sheets and formulas know what watches are (not the one on your wrist!) Numerous watches will weigh down your spreadsheets. Once you’re done with them, a good practice is to remove them from your files:

  • Go to Formula tab > Watch Window
  • Select all and click Delete
reduce excel file size

Eliminate hidden data (sheets, rows and columns)

IMPORTANT: We recommend you apply this step last, as it can break formulas and cannot be reversed! Make a copy beforehand.

Let’s start with sheets!

  • Right-click on a sheet
  • Select Unhide
  • Repeat the previous steps for every sheet

Now let’s do the same with columns and rows:

  • Select your entire sheet (Ctrl+A)
  • Right-click on your rows/columns
  • Click Unhide
reduce excel file size

Now that you can see your entire Excel file, you can delete all unnecessary sheets, columns and rows. Moreover, you can easily audit your Excel file to spot heavy sheets with the method we used at the beginning of the article.

BONUS: Reduce your Excel file size in one click

At UpSlide, we like to work on light files. That is why we created a feature that does the work for you: Smart Clean! It applies all the above tips in the blink of an eye. A single click on the UpSlide tab in Excel and your file will be as light as a feather.

This feature can reduce your Excel file size up to 99% of its initial weight!

reduce excel file size

Want to find out more about UpSlide’s features and how we help you save time on Microsoft Office?

Florence Hermann
Florence is a Senior Consultant and Project Leader at UpSlide. With 6+ years experience in the financial and professional services sectors, as well as over 5 years of project work within UpSlide, Florence specializes in helping heavy duty finance teams achieve their productivity, efficiency and brand-consistency goals.

18 Responses

  1. The delete empty rows trick… OMG, that is a game changer for me. I didn’t know that when you copied full page ranges a million rows got copied! That was why my files were in the tens of megs. Now they’re 200kb! Thank you.

  2. can’t make sense of these instructions at all step 1: Change file extension to .zip?? Do you mean save as a zip – not possible, or send to a zip folder: tried that but it’s still and excel file?? so step 2 open zip file and go to XL>worksheets ?? no such menu options

    1. Dear Will,
      Thanks for spotting this!
      We added two extra steps so you can see how to effectively change your file extension to ZIP.
      Hope this will help you to reduce the size of your future heavy Excel spreadsheets 🙂
      Best,
      Edouard

  3. You can use Ctrl-End to find the outmost cell that is being saved. It will show if there are indeed empty column/rows that are actually being saved/causing the large file size.

    1. Hi Bart,
      Thanks for the tip!
      Another way to highlight cells containing data is to select “A1” and use Ctrl+Shift+End (this shortcut extends the selection to the last used cell on the worksheet).

  4. I had 3 separate sheets in my file that had blank columns in the “used range” all the way to XFD (16,000+ columns). I deleted all 3 and the used range is now down to about 50 columns, then saved the file. This resulted in no reduction (zero k) in file size. I verified that the used range is now correct and this bloated columns are gone, so why no change in size?

  5. Fantastic Post, thank you very much. The ZIP file method is incredible, I will not forget that going forward. We went from 46MB to 874KB.

  6. I tried 1st method but xecel file size increased 12MB to 124MB and system fully slow. But then I follow all series wise finally reduce excel file size. thanks

  7. The only problem with the delete function is that some computers may crash because of how much memory it takes to do this. I feel like Excel should automatically limit the cells. Not sure why 99% of users would need that many.

  8. Also when I was using the delete function to crop down a page with about 40000 rows, and a few hundred columns, I had to do a portion at a time (and mind you I have a gaming rig). Inbetween, I had to save, closeout of the program, and reload the excel sheet, reselect new portions, and delete again. The delete function stopped working if I didn’t save and closeout, and re-open. Not sure if anybody else is having this issue.

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