Clean Excel Data With TRIM and SUBSTITUTE

You have two Excel lists, and you’re trying to find the items that are in both lists. You know there are matching items, but your VLOOKUP formulas can’t find them. In this screenshot, the tiptech.html page is in both lists, but the VLOOKUP formula in cell C2 can’t find it.


Spot the Differences

Working with Excel data can be like one of those “Spot the Difference” puzzles. What’s different between list A and list B? If you’re lucky, the differences are obvious, like the forward slash in column B, and no leading slash in column E. Other times, it’s tougher to find the differences.

A common problem is items with leading or trailing spaces. You can’t see them on the screen, but after you’ve encountered them a few times, you learn to check for them. The LEN function is a great help if you suspect there are hidden space characters.


If you use the LEN function to compare the length of the text in cell B2 and E4, you’d see that there are 2 additional characters in cell B2. One character is the forward slash, and the other character is a trailing space.

Remove Leading and Trailing Spaces

If you want to use a VLOOKUP or MATCH to find column B items, in column E, you’ll have to get rid of any extra characters. First, you can deal with the spaces, by using the TRIM function.

To return the text from cell B2, without any leading or trailing characters, you’d use this formula:


If you use a formula in cell B12 to check the length of the trimmed text, it’s now 13 characters, instead of 14. The trailing space has been removed.


Remove a Specific Character

Next, you can use the SUBSTITUTE function to remove the forward slash from the text in cell B2.


  • The first argument, B2, is the cell that contains the text value.
  • The second argument, “/”, is the old text, that you want to replace.
  • The third argument, “”, is the new text, that replaces the old text. If you want to remove the old text, without inserting new text, use “” as an empty string, as we did here.


Combine the Functions

The TRIM and SUBSTITUTE functions work well separately, and you can combine them, to remove both the spaces and the forward slash. The order doesn’t matter, so you can use either:





Add to the VLOOKUP

Now that you know the TRIM and SUBSTITUTE functions will clean up the text in column B, you can add those functions to the VLOOKUP formula.

Instead of using B2 in the VLOOKUP:


use the TRIM and SUBSTITUTE functions:


A match for the cleaned up text is found in column E, and the Update column is filled in with the correct date.


Troubleshooting a VLOOKUP Formula

If TRIM and SUBSTITUTE don’t solve your VLOOKUP problems, there are a few more suggestions on the Contextures website: Troubleshoot the VLOOKUP formula. You’ll also find examples of using the IF function or IFERROR function to deal with VLOOKUP function errors.

And if that doesn’t work, you could try some Mr. Clean; according to this commercial from the 1950s, it works on everything, including the dog!