One of the key selling points of the Apple ecosystem is the tight integration between Apple’s devices, its software, and its online services. iCloud is no exception to this as it offers the most seamless way to back up and connect your Apple devices.

Unfortunately the free tier on iCloud offers a measly 5GB of storage. So it’s easy to see why most people run out of space on iCloud quickly.

If you’re facing this problem, we’ll show you how to free up some space on iCloud.

How Much Does iCloud Storage Cost?

Fortunately, iCloud storage isn’t terribly expensive. If you want to upgrade to a bigger plan, rather than deleting data to free up your existing storage, here are your options:

  • $0.99 per month for 50GB
  • $2.99 per month for 200GB
  • $9.99 per month for 2TB

You can also get iCloud storage along with other Apple services at a discounted price by subscribing to Apple One.

How to Free Up Space on iCloud

If you've run out of iCloud storage and would like to free up some space, you need to first check what’s eating up your iCloud storage.

On an iPhone, go to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > Manage Storage.

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On a Mac, open the Apple menu and go to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud, then click Manage.

This will tell you what’s using space on your iCloud account. For most people, this is likely to be photos, messages, iCloud backups, iCloud Drive, and apps. We’ll show you how to free up space from each of them below.


1. Delete Unwanted iCloud Backups

If you’ve owned multiple iOS devices over the years, the chances are high that each of these devices has its own backup stored in your iCloud account.

You can delete backups from old devices that you no longer use. To do that, follow these steps:

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups.
  2. Now you’ll see which devices have been backed up. Tap any device name and tap Delete Backup > Turn Off & Delete. This will remove that backup from iCloud.
  3. You can also tap the backup of devices you’re still using and stop certain apps from saving their data in your iCloud account. In our case, an app that we rarely use was trying to add 600MB of data to our iCloud backup. To stop this, tap the device name and choose to Show All Apps. Now you can manually disable backups for specific apps and then tap Turn Off & Delete. This will remove app data for those apps from your next iCloud backup.
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If you’re using a Mac, open the Apple menu and go to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud. Click Manage and select Backups. You can now choose which backups to delete.

2. Trim Your Photo Library

This step is not easy. For most of us, our iPhone photo library has some of our most precious memories, so deleting pictures is painful. But since your mission is to free up storage space on iCloud, we’ll show you what you need to do regardless.

Related: Tips for Using iCloud Photo Library

First, you should review the camera settings on your device to make sure you aren’t using more space than necessary on iCloud. This involves deciding whether you can switch to 720p or 1080p videos instead of 4K, among other things.

Let’s get started:

  1. On your iOS or iPadOS device, go to Settings > Camera > Formats. To save space, choose High Efficiency. Note that this will save your photos and videos in the HEIF and HEVC formats respectively, and these are not as widely supported as JPG and MP4.
  2. Now go back to the Camera settings and tap Record Video. Ideally you should select the lowest frame rate and resolution. You won’t get the smoothest or highest quality videos this way, but some sacrifices need to be made to save space. On the same page, scroll down and enable Auto Low-Light FPS to reduce the file size for low-light videos.
  3. Return to the Camera settings and select Record Slo-mo, then select the lowest-quality option.
  4. The last step is not easy to recommend either, but it will save some space. You can disable Live Photos by going to Settings > Camera > Preserve Settings. Here you can disable Live Photo. The next time you fire up the Camera app, tap the yellow circle icon in the top-right. If this icon is gray, Live Photos are disabled. This will stop your device from recording a couple seconds of video with each photo you capture.
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Now that you’ve reduced how much space photos will take going forward, it’s time to start clearing unwanted items from your photo library. Here’s how:

  1. Let’s attack the biggest space hog first—videos. Open the Photos app and tap Albums > Videos. Now you can tap Select in the top-right, and clear all the videos you don’t need.
  2. Similarly, you can visit albums for the following items: Long Exposure, Burst Mode, Panoramas, Slo-mo, Time-lapse, Screenshots, and Screen Recordings. Deleting stuff from these will clear out a lot of space quickly.
  3. Finally, you might want to go through your photo library manually to see if you can delete some pictures. Perhaps you have a ton of cat pictures or some other stuff that you can delete.

3. Get Rid of Old Messages

If the Messages app is taking up a lot of space on iCloud, you can quickly free up some space by following these steps:

  1. Go to Settings > Messages on your iOS or iPadOS device.
  2. Now scroll down to Keep Messages and change it from Forever to 30 Days or 1 Year and tap Delete. This will automatically delete messages older than a month or a year, and will keep doing so from now. It is an easy way to stop Messages from taking up too much space in your iCloud account.
  3. Next, let’s clear some of the chats that are taking up a lot of space. Go to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Messages. Now tap Top Conversations. This will show you which of your chats are taking up a lot of space on iCloud.
  4. Tap Edit on the top-right and select the chats you want to delete. Then tap the trash icon in the top-right to delete a chat.
  5. If you aren’t ready to delete entire chat threads just yet, then tap any chat from the list. Now tap the name of the contact at the top, then tap Info and scroll down to Photos. Tap See All and you can manually delete images and videos you don’t need. Similarly, you can visit the Documents section in chats to get rid of large PDFs and other files.
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4. Clear Large Files From iCloud Drive

If you use iCloud Drive on any of your Apple devices, you might want to check it to be sure there are no junk files taking up a lot of space.

Related: What Is iCloud Drive and How Does It Work?

On iOS or iPadOS, open the Files app and tap iCloud Drive, then check each folder to see if there’s anything you can delete.

On your Mac, open Finder and click iCloud Drive in the sidebar to do the same thing.

iCloud Shouldn’t Be Your Only Backup Service

Most of the services on iCloud are more of a “sync” service than a backup service. It’s a tiny but crucial difference that makes a big impact on how you should treat the service.

Think of it this way: If you delete a photo from your iPhone, it’s deleted from iCloud as well. Yes, we’re aware that it stays in the Recently Deleted folder for 30 days by default, but if you remove it from there, then there’s little chance of recovering it.

A true backup service would allow you to keep copies of deleted files for a lot longer. Let’s say that you created a local backup of your photo library and stored it on a hard drive. Now, even if you delete those photos from your iPhone, there is a copy of that picture on your hard drive.

This is why we recommend that you back up everything on your Apple devices before you proceed with freeing up space on iCloud. You can use Time Machine to keep a local backup of your Mac, along with services such as Backblaze for cloud backups.

Unhappy woman next to an iCloud logo.
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