Microsoft Excel has dominated the spreadsheet market for many years. Business and home users both rely on Excel to organize and analyze their data. Whether for checklists, budgets, financial records, email lists, or any other type of tabular data, Excel makes it easy to organize your information.
There were alternative spreadsheet packages available at a lower price, and even in some cases free and open source (such as Libre Office Calc and OpenOffice Calc)—but if you wanted the most powerful spreadsheet program imaginable, you’d want to use Microsoft Excel.
In 2006, however, another alternative began to take form. That’s when Google rolled out Sheets, as part of its web-based office suite for text, spreadsheets, and presentations.
The development process continued for years, and now Sheets – while still not a pound-for-pound match for Excel – has a large percentage of Excel’s standard functionality. Sheets doesn’t cost its users hundreds of dollars to purchase.
Google Sheets comes free along with the other components of Google’s free suite of office applications, including Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Forms, Google Drawings, and Google Fusion Tables. All of these applications are tied together by Google Drive, which gives you 12 GB’s of storage for free. You can stay with the free storage plan with Google One or upgrade to 100 GB’s for $1.99/month, 200 GB’s for $2.99/month, 2 TBs for $9.9.99/month, and even higher plans providing up to 30 TBs of storage.
While it isn’t a perfect product, anyone looking for a reliable, consumer-level spreadsheet tool doesn’t have to look farther than Google Sheets. Sheets cannot do everything that Excel can do, but odds are you don’t need it to do everything Excel can do. If Sheets does everything you need it to do, then you don’t need to buy Excel.
However, Sheets does still have some limitations, and some things that are trivial in Excel are a little more work in Sheets but almost anything Excel can do, Sheets can do as well.
You’ve probably run into a problem where you accidentally add duplicate entries to your spreadsheet. After all, the more data you add, the more likely you are to accidentally insert duplicated data into a spreadsheet, which can throw off the dataset you’ve been working so hard to put together.
That’s bad enough, but the worst part comes later on when you’re trying to look over your work. Since spreadsheets can be lengthy documents, it becomes difficult to spot and remove duplicates as time goes by, leading to calculation errors in your work without an obvious source for where the problem is coming from.
Fortunately, we’ve found several different methods to highlight duplicates inside of Google Sheets. It’s vital that our approach not automatically remove duplicate information, as not all clones are errors. But if it’s just highlighted, then you can determine which ones don’t need to be there yourself, without needing to comb through the entire spreadsheet.
In this article, I’m going to show you a few different ways to find duplicates in Google Sheets, then highlight or delete copies.
Finding and Highlighting Duplicates in Google Sheets
Since we want Google Sheets to highlight our information for us automatically, we’ll be using a formula to tell Sheets to bring forward and highlight specific, unique information.
There are actually two ways to force Sheets to highlight copied information: the first highlights all duplicated information for manual confirmation, while the second will copy unique cells to a selected column, allowing you to check for differences and delete where necessary.
If you are just seeking to find duplicates then remove them, you can use the built-in Remove Duplicates feature in Sheets.
Use Sheets’ Remove Duplicates Feature
Whether you are trying to find duplicates in one column, two columns, or a whole worksheet, the Remove Duplicates built-in feature is a good choice.
First, highlight the columns you want to check for duplicate data, then select Remove Duplicates from the Data pulldown menu.
Second, a dialogue box will pop up. Check “Data has header row” if there’s a row with headers for the columns, make sure the checkbox is checked next to columns you want to check or “Select All,” then click Remove Duplicates.
Third, confirm the remove duplicates by reviewing how many copies “now found and removed” and how many records remained after Sheets removed the duplicates.
Using Google Sheets’ built-in Find and Remove duplicates feature is the most straightforward way to find and remove duplicates, but sometimes you might want to review the duplicates before removing them. For more on
A great way to do that is with color highlighting.
Highlight Sheets Duplicate with Color Highlighting
As far as being able to identify errors in your spreadsheets goes, using color highlights to spotlight any information that has been inputted incorrectly is the most obvious, most visible way to go. By highlighting information, it’s easy to identify the mistakes very quickly, since you can simply run down the list of content that you need to recognize.
We’ll be using a red highlight in this step to identify our duplicate content since red catches the eye (especially compared to the usual white and grey color scheme of Sheets) and is the universal color for error messages.
Start by opening up the Sheets file you want to check. You’ll want to make sure your information is well organized by both column and row, to quickly check the content in your document; no need to make your own work more difficult.
Now, select the column or columns you want to sort at the top of the document and select Format in the top menu of your document. Select Conditional Formatting from the list of options in this menu, and an alternate menu will appear on the right side of the display. In this menu, select the range by using the corresponding letter and number combinations.
Once you’ve selected your content, change Format cells if to Custom formula is in the dropdown menu and type or paste the following without quotes:
=countif(A:A,A1)>1 into the box beneath your menu. This will complete the formula for your content.
Change the formatting style to highlight your content with a yellow cell background or some other color of your choosing, then click the done icon on your menu. Your spreadsheet will now highlight your duplicate cells in red, and you can scan the selection for any duplicates.
Make sure that any existing duplicates are correct, then delete the ones that aren’t or whatever else you wanted to do with duplicates. Finally, you can close the formatting menu, and you can restore the standard color to your cells.
Copy Only Unique Cells in Google Sheets
Alternatively, if you’d rather automatically sort your raw data, copying unique cells instead of your duplicate cells can be useful for fast sorting and filtering. If you’re sure that your information is correct and you’d rather just outright remove the duplicate information you don’t need, you should try this method instead.
As with the last step, start by opening the document you wish to sort inside of Google Sheets. Highlight the column you want to edit. Once you’ve highlighted the cell, click on an empty cell in the top of an empty column to make sure that your information is moved to the side of the chart. This column will be used to display the results of your sort and formula below.
Now, at the top of the document in the formula input box, type or paste the following:
=UNIQUE(). This formula will tell Sheets to copy and display unique cell inputs and to ignore any information that continually or duplicates other cells.
Within the parenthesis of the formula above, make sure to type the cell coordinates using the standard spreadsheet method (for example, typing
(A1:A75) will scan all the information from column A row 1, to column A row 75). Once you’ve entered the new information, hit enter to move your new data to the column you designated earlier. Once this is complete, you can either check manually or import your data into your working spreadsheet.
Use an Add-On to Find and Remove Duplicates in Sheets
We should note that there are several plugins available for use with Google Sheets online through the Chrome Web Store, including a tool for removing duplicate data entries automatically from the document. “Remove Duplicates” is an aptly-named tool offered by developer ablebits that allows you to quickly find duplicates throughout an entire sheet of information or by searching up to two columns at once.
You can move, delete, and highlight results, just as you can with the formula tasks above, although this process is far more automated than we’ve seen previously, so keep that in mind if you want more control over the process. The tool includes two wizard setups that allow you to both find and deletes duplicates or unique qualities from your document, making it easy to track the information as you go.
Overall, using a wizard tool to find your information might be worth it in the long-run for users who are continually looking for duplicates in their spreadsheets and would understandably rather spend their time doing something else, but users who only need to check once or twice every few months may be better off just using the formula tools above to identify their information manually.
That said, Remove Duplicates has a solid rating on the Chrome Web Store, with strong reviews and an active development team that responds to critiques and complaints. Overall, it’s a great choice if you’re looking to find a more streamlined way to sort your content and find duplicates within a spreadsheet.
Use the Remove Duplicates Tool to Find and Delete Duplicate Cells In Google Sheets
Remember, I talked above about how Google keeps rolling out new features to add to the power of Sheets? Well, since this article was initially written, they’ve actually added a full-featured Remove Duplicates tool to the core package. It’s a straightforward tool to use, and I’ll walk you through it.
Let’s take a typical spreadsheet, with a list of board games, and if you read carefully, you’ll see that I’ve put a couple of duplicates into the list.
To use the tool, all we need to do is select the data area where we want to de-duplicate. Note that we can choose rows or columns freely; if we include the Price column, then the Remove Duplicates function will look at both Title and Price to decide if a row is a duplicate or not.
Once the data area is selected, go to Data->Remove Duplicates. Accept the default values in the dialogs, and voila – the deduplication is done automatically.
Use a PivotTable to Find Duplicate Rows in Sheets
Sheets implements a full set of PivotTable functionality, which is a convenient tool for looking more closely at data. Using a PivotTable will not automatically delete the duplicate rows; rather, it will provide a breakdown of which rows HAVE duplicates, so you can manually look at your data and see what, if anything, has gone awry.
Creating a PivotTable is a little more involved than the other methods I’ve shown you in this article, but it’s worth knowing how to do, and I will walk you through it. We’ll use a pivot table, a table that summarizes data from other tables, to get this done. For more about how to use Pivot Tables, a very powerful spreadsheet feature, see this TechJunkie tutorial on how to create, edit and refresh Pivot Tables in Google Sheets.
First, select all the table data, and then go to Data->Pivot Table.
You can adjust the data range here if you wish, as well as decide where the PivotTable should go. I’ll put it into a new sheet and accept the range I already gave it. When we hit “Create,” a blank PivotTable will open at the insertion point…but a blank PivotTable doesn’t do us any good. We have to tell it which information to analyze.
We’re going to select “Add” next to Rows, and add the row “Title.” Then under Values, we’re going to select “Add” and select “Title” again, then accept the COUNTA function as the default. (If we were looking for duplicate numeric data, we would use COUNT; COUNTA is for counting text fields.)
As soon as we make these selections, the PivotTable automatically updates, and now we can see the final result.
Note that the COUNTA column has the number of times that each title appears. There is a 1 for most of the titles, but Axis & Allies and Castle Risk both show 2. This means that there are two instances of each of those titles in the chart. As you can see, the PivotTable method is a little more involved, but it also gives you a specific report about where your duplicates are to be found, which can be very useful for doing data analysis.
Spreadsheets are often quite a bit more complicated than similar documents made in Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Because they’re built to deal with standardized data, it’s essential to make sure that your content is accurate at all times. Keeping a duplicate cell in your files can cause some serious problems with your data if you aren’t careful, especially when trying to sort financial information into a useful spreadsheet.
Compounding matters, trying to find the erroneous cell on your own can be a hassle that’s nearly impossible if the spreadsheet is large. Luckily, identifying, removing, and deleting identical cells of data is surprisingly easy in Google Sheets, something that’s a positive if you’re constantly dealing with spreadsheets in your day-to-day workflow.
And if you’re looking for something that makes it a little easier to sort your content, you can always use an add-on like Remove Duplicates to make sure your information is well-sorted and well organized. In 2019, there’s no reason to keep a messy, error-filled spreadsheet, so make sure that your data is correct, and your information is verified by using the methods outlined above.
Want more information about Google Sheets?
Finding your duplicates is one thing, but you should check our tutorial on how to count the duplicates in Google Sheets.
Statisticians use the absolute value function for many purposes, and we’ll show you how to use absolute value in Google Sheets.
Want to secure your spreadsheets? Here’s how to lock a formula in Google Sheets.
If you want to compare data between columns, see our complete guide to comparing columns in Google Sheets.
Did you know you can keep the calendar and timesheet information in Sheets? Just read our tutorial on working with date and time information in Google Sheets.
Do you still need more information about how to use Google Sheets? Then you may want to read this handy little book: Google Drive & Docs in 30 Minutes (2nd Edition): The unofficial guide to the new Google Drive, Docs, Sheets & Slides.
Do you have any tips or tricks for finding duplicates in Google Sheets? What do you think is the most efficient way to find and remove duplicates in Google Sheets? Please tell us about it in the comments below!