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How to remove duplicates in Excel

If you've ever had a data dump into a spreadsheet result in a mess of duplicate values, follow this step-by-step to learn how to remove them.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Office Employee Auditor Using Spreadsheet
Image: Andrey Popov via iStock/Getty Images Plus

For most of us, getting organized is a hassle. I'll have a mountain of information and numbers in my head from grocery budgets to calendarizing who's doing what and when, and one of the ways I begin getting my mind organized is, surprisingly, by opening an Excel workbook.

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Now that we got how nerdy I really am out of the way, organizing data involves more than just inputting into a spreadsheet. Dumping data can result in duplicate values, typically when the information is imported from a different file or when a large amount of information is entered over a long period of time. 

Either way, we'll cover how to remove those duplicates in Excel so you can streamline your spreadsheet and your work.

How to remove duplicates in Excel

There are a few ways to remove duplicates in Excel. We'll outline how to remove duplicates with a shortcut and how to find them with conditional formatting.

Method 1: Removing duplicates with a shortcut

This option from Excel makes it easy to remove duplicate entries with just a few clicks.

1. Select the cells that may have duplicate values

Select only the cells that you want to check for duplicate values.

Select the cells to remove duplicates
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

2. Go to Data, then click on Remove Duplicates

Go to the Data tab in your toolbar at the top of the screen, then click on Remove Duplicates.

Go to Data then Remove Duplicates
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

3. Select which columns to check for duplicates

A popup will appear prompting you to select the columns that you'd like for Excel to check for duplicates.

If your table has headers, check that at the top. We want to check all the columns for duplicates, so we'll leave them all selected.

select which columns you want to check and remove duplicates from
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

4. Click OK and see how many duplicates were removed

Click OK to remove any duplicates and then an Alert will tell you how many duplicates were removed and how many unique values remain.

Excel will remove duplicate values and will advise how many were removed
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

But what if you want to see your duplicates to determine if you actually need them removed? This is where the magic of conditional formatting comes in. 

Method 2: How to find (and remove) duplicates through Conditional Formatting

Instead of automatically removing all duplicate entries, you can use Conditional Formatting to highlight them and then determine which ones to remove. This is particularly useful if you need to keep some duplicate data in some parts of your spreadsheet but not others.

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1. Select the cells that may have duplicate values

The conditional formatting will apply to the selected cells only, so choose the ones you need to check for duplicates.

Select Cells to remove duplicates
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

2. Click on Conditional Formatting

From the Home tab on your toolbar at the top of the screen, click on Conditional Formatting. Have your cursor hover over the option to Highlight Cells Rules and then select Duplicate Values from the menu.

Going to conditional formatting and hovering over Highlight Cells Rules reveals a menu
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

3. Customize how you want to format the duplicates

Essentially, we're making Excel highlight the duplicate values in our selected cells, so that they can be easily spotted as you go through the spreadsheet. The New Formatting Rule is where you'll choose how those duplicates will look like. 

Update formatting and click OK
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

4. Click OK and watch the duplicates appear

The Excel spreadsheet will now show which values are duplicates, so you can go through them and remove them if necessary.

Duplicate values are formatted to appear in red

The duplicate values appear in red, letting you go over them to edit or remove them.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET


Do I need a formula to remove duplicates in Excel?

A formula isn't necessary to remove duplicates though there are ways to remove them using a formula. Excel has made it easier for users to do so with a shortcut button under Data that will automatically remove duplicates.

How do I find duplicates in Excel without removing them?

The best way to do this is to use the Method 2 outlined above: By using Conditional Formatting to highlight cells that follow a formatting rule. When you're choosing how to format these cells, make sure that the formatting stands out and is different as the one your table follows.

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