Use Flash Fill in Excel to Clean and Extract Data

by Avantix Learning Team | Updated January 27, 2021

Applies to: Microsoft® Excel® 2013, 2016, 2019 or 365 (Windows)

Flash Fill is a fantastic tool that you can use to clean or extract data in Excel. You can automatically fill in values in a column as long as you have Microsoft Excel 2013 or a later version. Use Flash Fill to extract names, phone numbers, emails and even to format data.

In order to use Flash Fill, Excel must be able to perceive a pattern so the source data should be entered in a consistent way. You can use Flash Fill in a column next to the data range containing the pattern.

If you have a blank column between the column that is being flash filled and the column with the values being referenced, Excel will display a message that it cannot find a pattern in the adjacent data.

Where you would have used functions like Left, Right and Mid to extract data in previous versions of Excel, Flash Fill can extract data without using formulas. For example, if you had a column of full names and you wanted to extract the first and last names in separate columns, you could use Flash Fill.

Unlike formulas, Flash Fill does not update the generated data so if the original data changes, you would need to repeat the Flash Fill process.

Recommended article: No Mouse? Using Keyboard Only Navigation in Microsoft Office (Part 1: The Ribbon)

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Using Flash Fill with a keyboard shortcut

To use Flash Fill with a keyboard shortcut:

  1. Select the first cell immediately next to one or more columns of data you want to extract, format or string together.
  2. Enter the new value (such as first name). Flash Fill is case sensitive so enter the data in the desired case.
  3. Press Enter.
  4. In the same cell or in the cell below the first value, press Ctrl + E or click the Data tab in the Ribbon and click the Flash Fill button in the Data Tools group. Excel should extract data values from the adjacent column(s) to fill data in the cells in the current column.

Flash Fill button on Ribbon in Microsoft Excel.

To use Flash Fill by entering two values:

  1. Select the first cell immediately next to one or more columns of data you want to extract, format or string together.
  2. Enter the new value (such as first name). Flash Fill is case sensitive so enter the data in the desired case.
  3. Press Enter.
  4. In the cell below the first value, enter a new value (such as first name). A pop-up of generated data should appear.
  5. Press Enter. Excel should extract data values from the adjacent column(s) to fill data in the cells in the current column.

If the data is not consistent, try the above method by entering three values.

Using Flash Fill with a Smart Tag

After you flash fill a column, a small icon or Smart Tag appears next to the values that were filled. Click the Smart Tag to display a drop-down menu. You can select Undo Flash Fill to undo a flash fill or Accept suggestions to accept the flash fill changes. Alternatively, choose Select blank cells or Select changed cells to select the blank cells or changed cells within the flash filled column.

Extracting first and last names using Flash Fill

If you have a column of names, you can extract first and last names in the adjacent columns as in the following example (column B and C data was generated using Flash Fill):

Using Flash Fill to extract first and last names in Microsoft Excel.

Combining last names and first names using Flash Fill

If you have columns of first names and last names, you can reorganize the data as last name, comma and then first name or generate emails for people in the same company as in the following example (column C and D data was generated using Flash Fill):

Combining first and last names using Microsoft Excel and Flash Fill.

Formatting phone numbers using Flash Fill

You can use Flash Fill to format phone numbers by adding brackets not included in the original data as in the following example (column B data was generated using Flash Fill):

Flash Fill in Excel for formatting phone numbers.

Extracting names from email addresses using Flash Fill

With Flash Fill, you can extract the text before the @ symbol from email addresses as in the following example (column B data was generated using Flash Fill)::

Excel Flash Fill to extract names from emails.

These are just a few examples of Flash Fill to get you started. You can even use Flash Fill with date and time data so give it a try.

This article was originally published on January 31, 2016 and has been updated for clarity and content.

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More resources

Excel Flash Fill Tricks to Clean, Format and Extract Data (10 Examples)

10 Great Excel Navigation Shortcuts to Move Around in Your Worksheets

How to Freeze Titles in Microsoft Excel Worksheets

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Summary
How to Use Flash Fill in Excel (Beginner's Guide)
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How to Use Flash Fill in Excel (Beginner's Guide)
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Flash Fill is a fantastic tool that you can use to clean or extract data in Excel. Use Flash Fill to extract names, phone numbers, emails and even to format data.
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Avantix Learning

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