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Freeze or lock rows and columns in an Excel worksheet

When you are working with a large spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, it's easy to find yourself scrolling down or across and losing track of where you are. This lesson explains how to freeze rows and columns (officially known as "Freeze Panes") in Excel 2010 for Windows and Excel 2011 for Mac.

Why you might need to freeze rows or columns in your spreadsheet

  • Imagine you have a spreadsheet that contains sales data for January. The worksheet contains daily data that reports the sales for each person in your sales team, broken down by products sold:Excel sales data example for freeze panes example
  • This example actually has 85 rows of data (the table carries on down further than this screenshot shows):
  • Once you scroll down, however, the heading row disappears off the top of the screen, and you can no longer be sure what each column contains:

Excel freeze panes example - when the heading rows disappear off the top of the screen

  • This is a simple example, but it's not hard to imagine that with a lot more columns and rows, the problem would get considerably more complex,
  • To solve the problem, you can freeze or lock the heading rows so that they don't disappear off the top of the screen as you scroll down the worksheet. The proces for doing this is slightly different between Excel 2010 for Windows and Excel 2011 for Mac, so I've covered both here:

How to freeze rows and columns

  • You have two options for freezing panes in Excel. Note that these steps also apply to freezing columns:
    • Freeze several rows and/or columns
    • Freeze just the first row (or column)
  • To freeze just one row, click the View menu, and find the Freeze Panes button (if you're using Excel 2011 for Mac, click the Layout menu to find the Freeze Panes button)
    Excel 2010 Freeze Panes button
  • When you click the Freeze Panes button, you can choose Freeze Top Row from the expanded Freeze Panes options. If you wanted to freeze the first column, you would then go back and choose that option. The screenshot below is from Excel 2010 for Windows. In the Mac version of Excel the options are the same, but you don't get the explanations of each option that you see here:
    Excel 2010 Freeze Panes button expanded
  • Things get slightly more complicated if you want to freeze more than one row or column. If you look at the first screenshot in this lesson, you'll see that the first row doesn't actually contain the headings for the sales data table - it contains the title of this worksheet.
  • To freeze the heading row of the table, you will have to freeze the first five rows in the worksheet. To do this, click in the cell A6 (i.e the first row that should not be frozen) and choose the first option in the Freeze Panes drop-down menu (it's also called Freeze Panes).
  • When you do this, not much will appear to change. All you'll see is a line stretching across the screen, almost like a border along the bottom of row 5 (which is the last row to be frozen in our example). The screenshot shows what Freeze Panes looks like if you had clicked B6 before clicking Freeze Panes (i.e. you wanted rows 1-5 and column A to be frozen):
    Excel 2010 freeze panes set
  • Here's what the sales data table looks like if you scroll down. As you can see, the first five rows have stayed put, and the other rows have disappeared underneath them as I've scrolled down the screen:
    Excel 2010 Freeze Panes scrolled down

How to unfreeze panes in Excel

Unfreezing panes is, fortunately, fairly simple:

  • In Excel 2010 for Windows, choose the View menu, click the Freeze Panes button. The first option, which was Freeze Panes, is now Unfreeze Panes. Click that option and the frozen rows will be unfrozen.
  • In Excel 2011 for Mac, choose the Layout menu and choose Unfreeze Panes (for some reason, it's a separate option which only becomes available once you have frozen panes).