Microsoft Excel CLEAN Function Tutorial

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Microsoft Excel CLEAN Function Tutorial

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The CLEAN Function removes all nonprintable characters from text you supply it. One of the most important functions to know about if you are comparing worksheet data or doing lookups in worksheet data.

What is the Microsoft Excel CLEAN Function?

The CLEAN function is a computer program that you run from a worksheet cell formula. It removes all nonprintable characters from text you supply it. Characters that are considered to be non-printable are the first 32 characters (0-31) in the 7-bit ASCII code. Before you have a heart attack from what was just said, what that means are things like tabs, line returns... these are virtually invisible to you and come over in text exported from big data bases hosted on operating systems. Next to extra spaces, these characters are what mess up functions like VLOOKUP when it is trying to lookup a text value in a table. You can look these meanings up by typing in ASCII in Google and clicking on one of the tables identified. You run the CLEAN function by typing its name in a formula then followed by the information it is suppose to use. The CLEAN worksheet function is generally used to clean text so functions like the VLOOKUP and COUNTIF can perform their text searches without error. The CLEAN worksheet function is used as part of a data cleaning strategy on the worksheet especially for data coming from databases. The author always cleans the column of text that is being used by some lookup function especially when the data comes from a database.

How Do You Type the CLEAN Worksheet Function in a Formula?

Whenever you type a formula in a worksheet cell, this is called syntax or grammar. The general CLEAN function syntax has a format like this when you type it in a worksheet cell:


Where text is called the function argument list. Remember, you are running a computer program at this point so the program needs information to operate and that is why there is an argument list. When you see an argument list and you see square brackets [ ] around the argument name, this means the argument is optional and you do not have to include it when typing unless you need it. So for the syntax above, you need to include 1 argument for the CLEAN function when typing it in a worksheet cell formula in order for it to calculate correctly. What argument value can be used is discussed below. Remember functions expect certain things in their argument lists, if you do not put the correct information in the list they will generate an error when run.

CLEAN Worksheet Function Argument Definitions

How Do You Run the CLEAN Function?

Since the CLEAN function is a computer program, it runs when you press Enter to enter the formula that contains it. If any of the arguments are wrong, the function will return an error.

What Do I Type for a CLEAN Function Argument?

When typing the CLEAN function in a worksheet cell formula, you need to replace the text argument with something that generates text. Some typical arguments you can use are:

Argument Type Cell Formula Example Explanation
Cell Reference = CLEAN( A1 ) CLEAN removes the non-printable characters in cell A1
Range Reference = CLEAN( A1:A10 ) CLEAN removes the non-printable characters in the range A1 to A10 and returns an array
Cell and Range Names = CLEAN( Reps ) CLEAN removes the non-printable characters referenced by the cell name Reps *

* It is possible to name a cell or group of cells on a worksheet and use that name in place of a range reference or cell reference. Consult Excel help on how to name a cell.

Additional CLEAN Function Examples

The worksheet seen below contains some typical worksheet formulas that run the CLEAN worksheet function. Pay close attention to the argument list and the syntax used to write the formula.

1 Smith, David = CLEAN( A1 ) Very simple formula that removes non-printable ASCII characters from text in cell A1.
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