If you work with files that originate from a non-Excel source, you can sometimes end up with characters in your cells that Excel doesn’t know how to display properly. For instance, you may have a comma-delimited text file generated by your company’s accounting software, and you load the file into Excel. In some cells you may notice that there are small boxes. These represent non-printing characters. Excel displays the small boxes so that you know the character is there, even though it cannot be displayed or printed.
To get rid of these characters you an try to use the Find and Replace feature of Excel. Try these steps:
- Within the cell that contains one of the small boxes, highlight the box and press Ctrl+C. This copies the character to the Clipboard.
- Press Ctrl+H. Excel displays the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
- With the insertion point in the Find What box, press Ctrl+V. This pastes the contents of the Clipboard (the offending character) into the Find What box. The character will most likely not look like the small box you selected and copied in step 1.
- If nothing was pasted in step 3, then close the dialog box and try the steps again. If nothing is still pasted, then you won’t be able to use Find and Replace to get rid of the non-printing characters, and you can skip the rest of these steps.
- If you want to just delete the characters, make sure there is nothing in the Replace With box. If you want to replace the characters with spaces, put a single space in the Replace With box.
- Click on Replace All.
Figure 1. The Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.
This approach may or may not work, depending mostly on Excel and whether it let you accurately copy the offending character in step 1. If it does work, then you have learned a valuable technique for getting rid of the bad characters. If it doesn’t work, then you should try a different approach.
One thing to try is to use Word in your “clean up” operations. Copy the data from Excel to a Word document (paste it as regular text), and then replace the offending characters. You can then paste the data back into Excel. Some people report that they get exactly the results they want by using this round-trip approach to working with the data.
You can, of course, use a macro to get rid of the offending characters. It isn’t too difficult to create your own version of the CLEAN worksheet function that, instead of simply removing non-printing characters, replaces them with spaces. Consider the following example macro:
Function ReplaceClean(sText As String, Optional sSubText As String = " ") Dim J As Integer Dim vAddText vAddText = Array(Chr(129), Chr(141), Chr(143), Chr(144), Chr(157)) For J = 1 To 31 sText = Replace(sText, Chr(J), sSubText) Next For J = 0 To UBound(vAddText) sText = Replace(sText, vAddText(J), sSubText) Next ReplaceClean = sText End Function
You use this function in the following manner within your worksheet:
In this case, all non-printing characters in cell B14 are replaced with a space. If you want the characters replaced with something else, just provide the text to replace with. The following example replaces the non-printing characters with a dash:
The following usage simply removes the non-printing characters, the same as the CLEAN function: