How to Freeze Row and Columns in Excel – 4 Scenarios

Recently, I helped a friend with an Excel project. When I asked my friend how the spreadsheet looked, he hesitated. He looked at me and said, “It’s overwhelming.” It turns out the data was fine, but what he wanted was to always see the top row and first column when he scrolled. I needed to show him how to freeze rows and columns in Excel, so key headings or cells were always visible when he scrolled through the worksheet.

This was a good communication lesson for me. It reminded me that we all have different experience levels and terms. For example, when you’re new, you’re probably not thinking in terms like “how to freeze panes in Excel.” In fact, you may not know what is a pane. It’s not describing your problem. My friend was thinking in terms of “sticky header” or “Excel floating header” or “pinning rows”. I wasn’t thinking of any of those.

What is an Excel Pane?

The best way I can explain a pane is to first think of your spreadsheet as a window. In the house I grew up, each window had 12 equally sized panes separated by wood. My windows were 3 columns wide by 4 rows. The windows in my grandparent’s barn were 2 columns by 2 rows. Regardless of the window, each segment or section was called a pane.

An Excel pane is also a subset of columns and rows defined by cells. However, in Microsoft Excel, you get to define the size, shape, and location. For many people, it might be the top row. For others, it’s an inverted L-shape and contains the top row and first column. You’re the architect and can define your own pane.

When it comes to spreadsheets, you can “freeze panes” or “split panes“. Splitting panes is a bit more complex because you have multiple views of your data on the worksheet. So, for the sake of simplicity, this tutorial will cover freezing panes.

Now, if columns and rows aren’t in the orientation you want, then you may want to learn how to transpose or switch columns and rows in Excel.

Why Lock Spreadsheet Cells

A benefit to locking or freezing cells is you see the important information regardless of scrolling. The split pane data stays fixed. Your spreadsheet can contain panes with column headings, multiple rows, multiple columns, or both.

Otherwise, it’s easy to lose focus on a large worksheet when you don’t have column headings or identifiers. I’ve had times where I’ve entered data only to discover I was one cell off and produced Excel formula errors.

Typically, the cells you want to stay sticky are labels like column headers. They could just as easily be an entire column, such as employee names. And in some cases, you may want to lock multiple columns and rows.

Let’s go through four examples and keyboard shortcuts to freeze panes in Excel.

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1 – How to Freeze Top Row

This freeze row example is perhaps the most common because people like to lock the top row that contains column headers, such as in the example below. Another solution is to format the spreadsheet as an Excel table.

Locked header row.
Locking the Top Row with Headings
  1. Open your worksheet.
  2. Click the View tab on the ribbon.
  3. On the Freeze Panes button, click the small triangle in the lower right corner Excel downward triangle.. You should see a new menu with 3 options.
Freeze Panes button drop down with 3 Freeze Pane Options.
The Main Freeze Panes Options
  1. Click the menu option Freeze Top Row.
  2. Scroll down your sheet to make sure the first row stays locked at the top.

You should see a darker horizontal line underneath the first row.

Keyboard Shortcut – Lock Top Row

I like to do this shortcut slowly the first time to see the letter assignments as you type. In the example below, once I hit my Alt key, I can see the keyboard assignments. Some people prefer to add the Freeze Panes command to the Quick Access toolbar because they frequently use it.

Keyboard shortcut letters apper after hitting ALT
Keyboard Shortcut Letters

Alt + w + f + r

2 – How to Lock First Column

A similar scenario is when you want to freeze a column. Again, it’s often the first column. My guess is Microsoft did research on this to figure out the most common options on that sub-menu.

I find this option helpful when I have a spreadsheet with many columns, and I need to fill in data and don’t want to use an Excel data form.

Freezing the first Excel column.
Freeze the first column of Excel
  1. Open your Excel worksheet.
  2. Click the View tab on the ribbon.
  3. On the Freeze Panes button, click the small triangle Excel downward triangle. in the lower right corner. You should see a new menu with your 3 options.
  4. Click the option Freeze First Column.
  5. Scroll across your sheet to make sure the left column stays fixed.

Keyboard Shortcut – Lock First Column

Alt + w + f + c

3 – How to Freeze Top Row & First Column

Column 1 and row 1 are frozen.
Think of “Freeze Pane” in terms of rows & columns

This is my favorite freeze pane option. If you look at the initial Freeze Panes options from Microsoft, there isn’t one for both the top row and first column. Instead, we’ll use the generic option called Freeze Panes.

The subtext reads, “Keep rows and columns visible while the rest of the worksheet scrolls (based on current selection).” Some folks get confused as they think they have to highlight data to make a selection.

Instead, think of the selection as the first cell outside of your fixed column and row. If I wanted to lock the top row and top column, that selection cell would be cell B2 or Nevada. Regardless of whether I scroll down or to the right, the first cell that disappears when I scroll is B2.

Freeze Pane Selection Cell.
The Freeze Pane Selection Cell in green.
  1. Open your Excel spreadsheet.
  2. Click cell B2.
  3. Click the View tab on the ribbon.
  4. On the Freeze Panes button, click the small triangle in the lower right corner. You should see a new menu with your 3 options.
  5. Click the option Freeze Panes.
  6. Scroll down your worksheet to make sure the first row stays at the top.
  7. Scroll across your sheet to make sure your first column stays locked on the left.

Keyboard Shortcut – Freeze Panes

Alt + w + f + f

Make sure you click your set cell first.

4- Lock Multiple Columns or Rows

On occasion, I get some Excel worksheets where the author puts descriptive text above the data. My column headers aren’t in Row 1 but further down. Or, I need to lock multiple columns on the left. In the example below, I want to lock Columns A & B and Rows 1-5.

Freeze Pane with Multiple Columns & Rows.
Example of Freeze Pane with Multiple Columns & Rows

The process is the same, I just need to click the set cell that stops the fixed area. In this case, it would be cell C6 or “Regions Field.” The content above and to the left is frozen.

Everything in the red boxes would be locked. The downside is you may be giving up a lot of the screen real estate.

Why Freeze Panes May Not Work

There are some rules surrounding this feature. If you don’t follow these, you may find freeze panes don’t work.

  • If you don’t like your settings, you can use Unfreeze Panes command.
  • This feature won’t work on a protected worksheet or Page Layout View.
  • If you’re editing a value in the Formula bar, the View menu will be disabled.

As you’ve seen, it’s easy to freeze panes in Excel. You can freeze the top row, first column, both, or a subset of your data, depending on what you want to do with it. The flexibility is part of what makes Microsoft Excel such an excellent program for organizing and analyzing information from any field.