Clapton performed the show in front of a small audience on 16 January 1992 at Bray Film Studios in Windsor, England. In addition to the final album tracks, the performance included early versions of "My Father's Eyes" and "Circus Left Town" along with "Worried Life Blues" and a version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'". Clapton played Martin 000-42 acoustic guitars for much of the performance, and in 2004, one of the guitars sold for 791,500 USD (£434,400) in auction. Commenting on the popularity of the album in his 2007 autobiography, Clapton wishes the reader to understand the great emotional toll he experienced around that time, and suggests that they visit the grave of his son Conor in Ripley to do so.
AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine starts his review by looking at the commercial figures, calling this Unplugged release a "massive success" and "one of the rare albums to be certified as diamond in the U.S. and it went platinum all over the world". He also notes that the album "was the first-ever MTV album, that it alone was responsible for revitalizing Clapton's career". Erlewine goes on to uplift the release saying the songs that were recorded are "lively and relaxed". He finished his review saying that this live release "cut[s] to the quick of Clapton's musical DNA". He rated the album with 4.5 of 5 possible stars.
Greg Kot of Chicago Tribune calls the release a "blues album for yuppies" and rates it with 2.5 of 4 stars, saying it is between fair and good.Entertainment Weekly journalist Steve Simels scores the album (A-) calling the album "a charmer, a collection of blues standards and recent Clapton songs rendered with just the right combination of intensity (a deeply felt version of "Tears in Heaven") and giddy fun (Clapton actually plays kazoo on "San Francisco Bay Blues")". Steve Hochman from the Los Angeles Times music section gives the album three out of four possible stars (good) and calls the tapes "Clapton's most passionate collection in years".
Clapton earned three Grammy Awards for the album, including Album of the Year, Best Rock Male Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song. Although "Tears in Heaven" also earned three Grammy Awards, it was the version from Rush that the judges awarded.
In Germany the album peaked at #3 in the German Albums Chart and sold a total of 1.25 million copies, becoming one of the best-selling albums in Germany. In Austria, Unplugged held itself 46 weeks in the Austrian Albums Chart and sold more than 100,000 copies in total. In Switzerland the album also reached #3 in the country's chart. Selling 60,000 copies in the first two weeks, the live album was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry – a record for any British artist. In the U.S. the album peaked at number two.
On 15 October 2013 the album and concert DVD were re-released, titled Unplugged: Expanded & Remastered. The album includes the original 14 tracks, remastered, as well as six additional tracks, including two versions of "My Father's Eyes". The DVD includes a restored version of the concert, as well as over 60 minutes of unseen footage from the rehearsal.
The acoustic rework of "Layla" was released as the single "Layla (Acoustic)", sometimes titled as "Layla (Unplugged)" in September 1992. The release reached top positions in both 1992 and 1993, reaching number one in the RPM Canadian Top Singles chart as well as peaking at number four in the Canadian Adult Contemporary Tracks the same year. It too became popular in the US reaching number four on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, peaking at number nine in the Mainstream Rock chart and reaching place 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also reached the top ten five of other countries.
Clapton's acoustic version of "Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out" was released as a single in Argentina only on 27 September 1992. Journalist Morten Holgersson from Norway liked the cover version noting that Clapton recorded the song more sinfully and in a more modern style than any other artist before. This, recalls Holgersson, is due to the changing of Clapton's finger picking and guitar playing with a pick. He therefore ended his review saying this was "tactful and percussive". American music critic Will Branson also liked Ray Cooper's and Chuck Leavell's work on their instruments.
"Running on Faith" was not released as a single, but reached number 15 on the Billboard Mainstream rock chart in 1993 as well as position 28 on the Adult Contemporary chart which are based on radio airplay. "Tears in Heaven" was not released as a single from Unplugged but from the soundtrack for the film Rush.