How to Free Up iCloud Storage (& Never Worry About It Again)

OK, time for another how to I think. This one is on something you guys all mentioned on my last how-to on deleting the other storage on your iPhone. Essentially, during that video at some point, I asked you to create a backup to iCloud in order for us to reset the phone and not lose everything on it, but some of you mentioned you couldn’t because your iCloud storage was full and so you were in a bit of a catch 22. So in this video, let’s show you how to free up your iCloud storage.

Now, I already did a video a while back that still works for freeing up the actual storage on your iPhone, and then did one on how to clear that mysterious other storage that I just mentioned so I’ll link to both of those below if your issues pertain to that instead.

iCloud Storage

For this video though, we’re clearing the iCloud storage which isn’t on your phone at all. Instead, your iCloud storage is the cloud storage that Apple gives you on their servers (similar to how Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive works). 

iCloud Pricing

At the time of making this video here in the US, Apple gives you 5GB of storage in iCloud for free and you can pay an extra $0.99/month to get 50GBs, 200GBs for $2.99/month, and 2TBs for $9.99/month. Now, you can just pay that and that’ll give you the extra space most likely to do a backup or whatever you need right now, and that’s exactly what Apple would want you to do as they’re trying to get more and more revenue from recurring services instead of just hardware nowadays. But, if you’re like me and don’t want to pay extra for something you don’t really need and/or just want to make sure that amount doesn’t keep going up and up over time, there are a few ways to minimize the amount of iCloud storage you need.

Check Your iCloud Usage

So first, let’s check to make sure the iCloud storage is our issue.

  1. Going to Settings.
  2. Tap on your name.
    iCloud Settings
  3. Tap on iCloud.
    Storage Use

At the top, you’ll see a bar graph that’ll let you know how much storage you have and which categories of things are using that storage. If you’re getting close to the end of that bar, it’s time to clear some of this up.

Now, I’m going to go through a bunch of ways to clear some of these different categories up and you should watch them all just so you know what’s causing the storage to fill up in general for future reference, but you can also just start with the ones that according to that bar chart are taking up the most space and go from there as needed.

Check Messages and Email

First up is iMessage and Email. Now, generally, your messages don’t take up a lot of room on their own, but the thing is that iCloud by default also saves every attachment you’ve ever received by email as well as photos, gifs, videos, and the like through iMessage and that can over time really start to add up. 

  1. Go back to Settings.
  2. Tap on your name.
    iCloud Settings
  3. Tap on iCloud and see in that bar graph if Messages and or Mail are taking up a lot of space firstly. 
    Storage Use

If so, then you can either individually go through your iMessage threads to delete photos:

  1. Tap on the person’s name at the top of the message thread and tap info.
    Messages Info
  2. Tap All Photos then Select at the top right.
    Messages Photos
  3. Tap on images and videos you don’t need then tap delete to remove all of them.
    Deleting Attachments
  4. Repeat this with as many threads as you need.

Alternatively, I actually just have my iMessage set to automatically delete things after 30 days which saves a lot of storage in iCloud but also on the device itself.  To do that:

  1. Go to Settings.
    Messages Settings
  2. Tap on Messages.
    Keep Messages
  3. Scroll down to Keep Messages and select 30 days (or even 1 year if you prefer) instead of the default forever.
    Keep Messages Options

For email, unfortunately, there’s no quick way to remove things from iCloud like with messages, but a good way to clear a bunch is:

  1. Open the Mail app.
  2. Tap on Mailboxes at the top then All Mail if there’s an option for that.
  3. Tap on the filter icon at the bottom left.
  4. Tap Filtered By and uncheck everything in there if it is checked and then turn on Only Mail with Attachments.

This will give you a list of all the emails you’ve ever sent from that account that had attachments and therefore probably are taking up more space on iCloud than ones without them. 

You can then tap edit at the top right and select all the ones you don’t need and tap trash to clear them out.

iCloud Documents

Next, this one can take up a lot depending on if you actively use it or not and it’s pretty self-explanatory but I feel like I myself have forgotten that I had things in there and so it’s good to check.

Firstly, just like with messages and email let’s see how big of an impact this will even have.

  1. Go back to Settings.
  2. Tap on your name.
    iCloud Settings
  3. Tap on iCloud and see if in that bar graph documents are taking up a lot of space. 
    Storage Use

If it is, let’s clear out some files.

  1. Open the Files app on the phone.
  2. Tap on Browse.
  3. Tap on iCloud Drive.

The next step is to just go through these files and folders and decide what to delete. When you find things to remove, tap select at the top right and select whichever ones you can get rid of then tapping the trash can icon at the bottom to delete them.

Photos & Videos

OK, now for one of the biggest and usually the biggest culprit of storage on your phone as well as iCloud: photos and videos.

So your iPhone stores photos and videos in the cloud in a couple of ways that we need to discuss.

Firstly is the fact that whenever you do a backup of your phone so long as Photos is enabled for backup (in Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups > This iPhone and you see the toggle on there) whenever you backup and restore your device from iCloud your photos and videos will always come back.

The other way is iCloud Photos (confusing I know) but this is what allows you to instantly see all of your photos and videos across all of the devices you are logged into with the same iCloud account. These are instantly accessible across those devices at the cost of iCloud storage being used up by them (in addition to them all being in that iCloud backup I just mentioned).

So if you don’t use this feature and need your photos/videos available on all your devices instantly once you take them, you can turn this off by going to Settings > iCloud > iCloud Photos.

Now, if you turn this off, I highly recommend you turn on auto backup on iCloud by going to Settings > and making sure that photos are indeed selected. This way at least every night when you plug in the phone and are connected to wifi it’ll back up all of the photos from that day and if you ever lose your phone you’ll still be able to get them back.

Now, we can take this a step further like I do (and I mention in the free up space video) by using a free service for this like Google Photos and turning off Photos in our backup.

Google Photos lets you upload all of your photos and then just like with iCloud Photo they are always backed up and available across any other devices with Google Photos installed. The difference is that the storage is unlimited and doesn’t cost anything (there is also the added benefit that it’s also way more searchable etc.). 

This is honestly the first thing I usually recommend to people trying to save space on not just iCloud but their actual device itself.

  1. To do this, simply download Google Photos from the App Store and then open it.
  2. Log in or sign up for an account and when going through the setup process, make sure to turn on automatic backups in High Quality, the free option that just limits photos to 16MP which is larger than any iPhone photos are anyway (I also select to do so over data and not just wifi because I have an unlimited data plan but if you’re worried about overages then leave this off.)
  3. Leave this open on this screen, plugged in and connected to Wifi, and let it run. This will take a while to backup all of your photos and videos and if you close the app it pauses it so best to leave it open like this just for the initial backing up.
  4. Once it’s done though, you can tap on Free Up Space and it’ll automatically delete all the photos and videos on the device that it knows it already backed up (you can confirm it too if you don’t trust it, by going to in any browser and logging in with the same account and you should see all the photos there).

Now, once it does that there is another step iOS makes you do to truly remove the photos.

  1. Open the normal Photos app and tap on Albums and tap on Recently Deleted.
  2. Tap Delete All to permanently delete them and actually free up the storage on the phone.

Remove Apps You Don’t Need to Backup

Now, lastly, let’s take a look at the other large culprit: backups.

To start, we’ll simply look at all the different apps that are using iCloud backup and decide if there are any that we don’t really need to use it.

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap on your name.
    iCloud Settings
  3. Tap on iCloud again.
    Storage Use
  4. Tap on Manage Storage > Backups > Tap on the one that says This iPhone on it.

Here you’ll see a list of all the apps using iCloud for their backups. Starting at the top as it should be listed in order of the apps using the most storage, go through these and turn off the backup for apps you don’t use very often.

Next, let’s take a look at the other backups.

Every Apple device that is signed in to the same iCloud account that you have backups on will put their entire backup into this same shared storage. So one thing good to check in here is to just see if there are backups for older devices that you no longer use or even have. Once you identify those, you can tap on them and tap delete to remove that backup (and you’ll know what backup is for the phone you’re currently using because it’ll say this phone on it).

Speaking of that though, now that we’re done with everything in this video, we will actually delete this current phone’s backup as well by tapping on it and tapping delete and then immediately perform a new backup.

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tapping on Your Name.
    iCloud Settings
  3. Tap on iCloud.
    Storage Use
  4. Scroll down and tap on iCloud Backup.
  5. Tapping Back Up Now.
    Back Up Now

This new backup depending on how many of the things in this video you did should be a lot smaller than the original one and hopefully after all or at least some of these steps you’re using a lot less iCloud storage.

Let me know what you guys think if you need help with something else and while you’re here check out the rest of my channel, I do a vlog-like series traveling and using the latest tech you might like, an explainer series on how tech around us works called Decodr, and more. Subscribe and ding the bell if you see what you like.

As always though, regardless, thanks for watching!

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