Please note javascript is required for full website functionality.

A Decided Lack of Style

A Decided Lack of Style

This article looks at how to remove styles from an Excel workbook.  By Liam Bastick, director (and Excel MVP) with SumProduct Pty Ltd.


I have a workbook where the number of styles appears to be getting out of control.  What created so many and how do I get rid of them?


A long time ago, the difference between formats and styles was one of the first things I ever wrote about and the original article may be found here.  To recap: 

Formats and styles

These terms, often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. To see this, select any cell in Excel and apply the shortcut keystroke CTRL + 1. This shortcut brings up the ‘Format Cells’ dialog box:

Excel has six format properties: Number, Alignment, Font, Border, Patterns and Protection.  A style is simply a pre-defined set of these various formats.  With a little forethought, these styles can be set up and applied to a worksheet cell or range very easily.

Creating your own styles is straightforward with Excel’s ‘Style’ dialog box, by going to the ‘Home’ tab, click the arrow in the bottom right corner and then select ‘New Cell Style…’ (ALT + N).  Either way, the following dialog box appears:


Let’s create an assumption format for entering data in dollars. First, select a cell or range of cells. Then, call up the above dialog box. The dropdown box (highlighted above) can be edited. We’ll change the name to ‘Dollar Assumptions’ and click the ‘Format’ button.

The ‘Format Cells’ dialog box reappears:

  • Number: select the Currency category, with zero decimal places and apply the ‘$’ symbol
  • Alignment: Horizontal – Right (Indent) with zero indent
  • Patterns: select an ‘easy-on-the-eye’ colour such as pale green
  • Protection: uncheck the Locked check box (allows the cell to be changed in a protected worksheet)
  • Click ‘OK’ to return to the ‘Style’ dialog box.

Note that no formats have been ascribed for Font or Border in this example. I don’t want the style to control (that is, overwrite) these properties, so the ‘Style includes’ check boxes for these two format properties should be unchecked:

By clicking ‘OK’ or ‘Add’, the cell or range has now been formatted with the ‘Dollar Assumptions’ style.  Now that this style has been added, you may simply select the range and then click on the style in the ‘Custom’ section of the ‘Styles’ gallery on the ‘Home’ tab:

So What Goes Wrong?

Too often, as our reader states, styles go “out of control”.  You open up a workbook, inspect the styles and note that there are more styles than cells on the worksheet:

Above is one example.  Sometimes you have multiple copies of the same styles as well.  Often, when you have styles appear as above, if you right click on one of these styles, they may not delete as they should.  Even if you are able to delete them, you may only delete one at a time – and that’s unacceptable too.  It’s possible to have tens of thousands of styles and that causes other problems.  The styles gallery only shows a limited number – and if you cannot see them, that makes them even harder to remove.

So how is this caused?  The three most common causes are:

  1. Cells have been copied from one file to another where the two workbooks have different style definitions
  2. Entire worksheets have been copied from one workbook to another
  3. Especially if styles will not delete, the file was originally saved in Excel 2010 and has then been saved in another version of Excel and / or 32-bit Excel was used.

Given an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, preventative measures include: 

  • Not copying entire worksheets from one workbook to another
  • Paste special without formatting
  • Use the same version of Excel throughout a workbook’s life
  • Work in 64-bit Excel.

Of course, these are not necessarily realistic measures and often the damage has already been done.  In that case, to remove multiple styles, there are three common alternatives.  

1. Use a Macro

Everyone has their favourite macros.  Whilst I try to avoid them, I am no exception.  The following will clear unused custom styles:

Public Sub ClearUnusedCustomStyles()

  Dim xStyle As Style

  Dim rngCell As Range

  Dim ws As Worksheet

  Dim sStyle As String

  Dim iStyleCount As Long

  Dim aKey As Variant

  Dim dict As New Scripting.Dictionary

  ' from Tools / References... / "Microsoft Scripting Runtime"

  ' dict := list of styles

  For Each xStyle In ActiveWorkbook.Styles

    If Not xStyle.BuiltIn Then

      sStyle = xStyle.NameLocal

      iStyleCount = iStyleCount + 1

      dict.Add sStyle, 0     ' add key

    End If

  Next xStyle

  For Each ws In ActiveWorkbook.Worksheets

    If ws.Visible Then

      For Each rngCell In ws.UsedRange.Cells

        If Not rngCell.Style.BuiltIn Then

          sStyle = rngCell.Style.Name

          dict.Item(sStyle) = dict.Item(sStyle) + 1     ' increment occurrences

        End If

      Next rngCell

    End If

  Next ws

  On Error Resume Next

  For Each aKey In dict.Keys

    If dict.Item(aKey) = 0 Then ' unused


      If Err.Number <> 0 Then


      End If

      dict.Remove aKey

    End If

  Next aKey

End Sub

This is cleverer than the “generic” macro that just kills all custom styles.  Selective euthanasia is recommended!

Sub StyleKill()

     Dim styT As Style

     On Error Resume Next

     For Each styT In ActiveWorkbook.Styles

         If Not styT.BuiltIn Then styT.Delete

     Next styT

     MsgBox "Custom styles have been removed"

End Sub

2. Use a Third Party Tool

It’s been around since 2011 but it’s still popular.  The website is recommended by several Excel MVPs, where you can download a Silverlight tool or a .NET 4.0 tool that runs on your local computer against a closed file.  If you use this software, do not use it on an OpenXML format, i.e. it is saved as .xls or .xlsb.  It must be either a macro-enabled workbook (.xlsm) or a ‘standard’ Excel workbook (.xlsx).  This may mean you will have to save the file in a different format first.

I must admit I have not tried this software myself but I understand others have had it come to their rescue.  Please note we never warrant that any third party software is free form virus or any other malicious code, not that we are accusing the author of anything other than trying to help others.

3. XML Solution with a Zip File

If you are not keen on black box / macro solutions, there is still a manual, “semi-transparent” approach you may take:

  • Open File Explorer and rename the file changing the suffix to .zip (e.g. File.xlsm would become
  • Open the zip file and drag the file Styles.xml out of the zip folder
  • Open this file in Notepad by right-clicking this file and selecting ‘Open With…’ and then choose Notepad
  • Locate and highlight the text <cellStyles count=”222”> … </cellStyles> (“222” is a dummy number; your file will probably have a different number unless you tend to win lotteries often)
  • Delete all of this text
  • Save and close this Styles.xml file
  • Drag the file back into the zip folder
  • Close the zip folder and rename the file once more by changing the suffix back to its original tag (e.g. would revert to File.xlsm).

It should be noted though that this does remove all of the styles contained in the workbook.

Word to the Wise

I cannot stress enough that it is better not creating corrupt / excess styles in the first place, rather than have to remove them afterwards.  However, this should not detract from using styles.  They can make model building very efficient and enable last minute changes to formatting.  As always, it’s everything in moderation!

If you have a query for the Spreadsheet Skills section, please feel free to drop Liam a line at or visit the SumProduct website.