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How to Free Up iCloud Storage Space

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Apple offers 5 GB of free iCloud space to everyone, but you’ll run up against that storage limit sooner than you’d think. Device backups, photos, documents, iCloud email, and other bits of data all share that space.

You’ll run out of free iCloud space especially quickly if you have multiple iOS devices. That free 5 GB is per Apple ID, not per device. Free up wasted space before paying for more.

View iCloud Storage Usage

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Open the Settings app, tap iCloud, and tap Storage & Backup to view how much space you have left in your iCloud account.

This screen can also be accessed from the Usage screen, where it’s located below the list of apps using data on your iPhone or iPad’s internal storage.

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Manage Backups

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Each iPad or iPhone you own automatically backs up the data your installed apps use to its iCloud account. This happens when it’s plugged in, locked, and connected to Wi-Fi — so it will generally back up when you’re charging it. This ensures you’ll never lose your app data. If your device dies or you need to reset it, you can import the backup on a new device. You don’t have to back up manually via iTunes anymore.

Tap Manage Storage on the Storage & Backup screen to view more details. This screen shows how much space is used by each device’s backup — iCloud only keeps the latest backup for each device. Tap a device to view more details about the backup.

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To use less space for backups, look at the apps in the list under Next Backup Size and disable apps you don’t think need to be backed up. For example, you might disable backups for apps like Pocket, Twitter, and Evernote because those apps automatically sync their data online anyway. You may disable Camera Roll backups if you’re using another method to back up your photos. When you disable backups for an app, the data will be deleted from your iCloud storage online and won’t be part of future backups.

If you have an old device you no longer use and it appears in this list, you can tap it and tap Delete Backup to delete the entire backup.

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If you’re really desperate for space, you can go back to the Storage & Backup screen and disable iCloud Backup. Your device won’t create iCloud backups. You can always back up via iTunes, creating local backups on your PC or Mac. We don’t recommend this unless you really need the space — you’re better off just disabling backup for the apps that don’t need it.

Back Up Photos Elsewhere

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Photos can eat up a lot of space. By default, iOS 7 uses both Photo Stream to sync the most 1000 recent photos between all your devices and also backs up your device’s Camera Roll, which contains any photos stored locally. This is a confusing system, which is why Apple has announced they’re simplifying things with a single iCloud Photo Library that contains all your photos in iOS 8. But, even when that feature arrives, those photos will consume much of that 5 GB of space.

To free up space, you can disable Photo Stream from the iCloud Settings screen. Tap the Photos option on the iCloud settings page and disable My Photo Stream.

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Install another app like Google+, Dropbox, or Flickr that can automatically back up your photos and have the app start backing up your photos. It will back up your photos to a separate pool of storage — your Google Drive, Dropbox, or Flickr storage. You’ll have a backup copy of your photos stored online, but you get to keep all that precious iCloud storage for other functions.

You may also want to disable Camera Roll backups if you do this, as your photos are being backed up to a different service anyway.

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Delete Documents & Data

iCloud’s Manage Storage screen also allows you to manage “Documents & Data.” These are documents, settings, save games, and other bits of data that iCloud syncs between all your devices. They count toward your iCloud storage, so you may want to delete any files you don’t care about.

Tap an app under Documents & Data on the Manage Storage screen to view the files taking up space. Swipe a file to the left and tap Delete to delete it from your iCloud storage. Be careful when doing this, as you could delete important documents and other files you might want to keep.

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Prune Your iCloud Mail

If you’re using Apple’s iCloud Mail, your email also counts toward your iCloud storage usage. Free up space by deleting emails, especially emails with large file attachments.

If iCloud Mail is set up on your device, you can delete emails in the Mail app. If it’s not set up, you can visit the iCloud website, open the Mail app in your browser, and delete emails with the web interface. However you delete emails, remember to empty the trash afterward.

Note that this only applies if you’re using iCloud Mail. If you have another email account — for example, a Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo!, or work email account — deleting emails won’t free up space in your iCloud account. Emails for other services aren’t stored in iCloud, they’re stored with the email service itself.

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Tap Buy More Storage on the Storage & Backup screen if you’d like to pay for more iCloud storage. Apple currently offers three paid plans — an additional 10 GB for $20 per year, 20 GB for $40 per year, or 50 GB for $100 per year. This is in addition to your 5 GB of free space, so the plans actually give you 15, 25, and 55 GB of storage space.

Image Credit: John Karakatsanis on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 06/22/14