How-To Geek

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.

If you have multiple iOS devices, you’ll run out even faster. That free 5 GB is per Apple ID, not per device, so it’s a good idea to free up wasted space before paying for more.

To see how much you currently have, open the Settings app, select “iCloud”, and find where it says “Storage” to view how much space you have left in your iCloud account.

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You can also view your available iCloud storage space by navigating to “General” > “Storage & iCloud Usage”.

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If things are starting to get low, here are a few things you can do.

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Manage Your Backups

Each iPhone or iPad you own automatically backs up data from your installed apps to your iCloud account. This happens when it’s plugged in, locked, and connected to Wi-Fi—so it will generally back up whenever 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 restore the backup and get all of that data back. However, you’ll still need to back up your device through iTunes in order to back up the apps themselves, as well as music, videos, and other media.

To see your iCloud backups, navigate to iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage in Settings. This screen shows how much space everything is using in your iCloud account, including backups and app data. iCloud only keeps the latest backup for each of your devices. Tap a device at the top 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 “Backup Options” 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, since those apps automatically sync their data online anyway. 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.

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If you have an old device you no longer use and it appears in the backups list, you can tap on it, scroll down, and select “Delete Backup” to delete the entire backup. If you’re really desperate for space, you can go back to the main iCloud screen, select “Backup” toward the bottom, and then disable “iCloud Backup”.

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After that, your device won’t automatically back up to iCloud, but you can always manually back up whenever you want by tapping on “Back Up Now”. Or, alternatively, you can back up with iTunes by plugging your iPhone or iPad into your computer with a USB cable—that way, it’s taking up space on your PC or Mac, not your space-starved iCloud account.

Back Up Photos Elsewhere

Photos can eat up a lot of space. With iCloud Photo Library, iCloud can automatically back up any photos you take to your iCloud account and have them accessible from any of your Apple devices. This can be convenient, but it also means that your iCloud storage can quickly fill up.

To free up space, you can disable iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream by tapping on “Photos” from the main iCloud screen and disabling these features.

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Instead of using iCloud Photo Library, try another app like Google Photos, Dropbox, or Flickr that can automatically back up your photos. They will back up your photos to a separate pool of cloud storage that’s often bigger than iCloud. You’ll have a backup copy of your photos stored online, but you get to keep all that precious iCloud storage for other functions.

Delete Documents & Data

iCloud’s “Manage Storage” screen also allows you to manage “Documents & Data.” These are documents, settings, saved 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.

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

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.

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If you have “Mail” enabled in iCloud, then you can delete emails in the Mail app to free up iCloud storage space. Otherwise, you can visit the iCloud website, open the Mail app in the web browser, and delete emails within the web interface. However, when you delete emails, remember to empty the trash afterward to truly delete them and free up storage space.

Note that this only applies if you’re using the Mail app and have it enabled for iCloud access. If you have another email account like Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo, deleting emails won’t free up space in your iCloud account, since email from other services aren’t stored in iCloud, but rather within that email service itself.


If none of the above are options you’re willing to consider, then you’ll want to buy more iCloud storage. You can tap on “Buy More Storage” on the “Storage” screen. Apple currently offers four paid plans: An additional 50 GB for $0.99 per month, 200 GB for $2.99 per month, 1 TB for $9.99 per month, or 2TB for $19.99 per month. This is in addition to your 5 GB of free space, so the plans actually give you 55 GB, 205 GB, 1.05 TB, and 2.05 TB of storage space, respectively.

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 01/9/17

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