iCloud storage full: How to free up space in iCloud

iCloud is a great way to sync your apps and keep the files you need available on any device. But a default account only has 5 GB of free storage space, which is hardly enough even for backups. That’s why you’ve probably encountered “iCloud Storage is Almost Full” or “Not Enough Storage” alerts at some point and wondered what you were supposed to do now.

Both alerts mean the same: you’ve run out of free storage or reached the limit of your paid plan. It might seem like you only have one option at this point, which is to upgrade your plan and buy more iCloud storage, but that’s not quite true. Before you reach for your wallet, let’s free up some space by cutting down on unnecessary files that sync across your devices logged into the same Apple ID.

What you’ll need:


How to check iCloud storage

Before removing unneeded files, let’s start with the basics — checking iCloud storage. You can do it on both an iPhone and a Mac. 

Here are the steps for an iPhone:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap Apple ID > iCloud.
  3. Wait for the colored graph to load.

Here’s how to check iCloud storage on Mac:

  1. Open System Settings. 
  2. Click Apple ID > iCloud.
  3. Check the colored graph once it loads.
System Preferences - iCloud

How to clear iCloud storage

If you sync both your iPhone and Mac data to iCloud, eventually, storage will fill up again unless you learn how to use it more wisely. So, we’ll go over a few steps you can take to quickly free up iCloud storage now and regularly clean up your iCloud in the future.

Step 1. Delete duplicate photos on iPhone

With iCloud Photo Library enabled on your iPhone, every photo you take gets automatically synced to the cloud. Each individual photo doesn’t take much space, but if you take 3-4 shots every time until you get the one you like, those megabytes quickly add up.

One way to deal with it is to rummage through your library and clean out these unneeded photos manually. A faster way is to download Gemini Photos. This iPhone app streamlines the process by finding and preselecting similar photos, low-quality shots, and screenshots, so you just need to tap Delete. 

With iCloud Photo Library turned on, the photos you delete on your iPhone will also be removed from the cloud, so you’ll easily free up some iCloud space. The app is free to download, so go ahead and try it on your iPhone.

As an added bonus, it will be much easier and faster to download your photos from iCloud should you ever decide to stop using it. When your photo library isn’t bloated because of useless duplicates and old screenshots, it becomes much easier to move to and from cloud storage.


Step 2. Find old files in your iCloud Drive

Since macOS Sierra, the system automatically stashes old files — like movies you’ve already watched — to iCloud, which helps you save storage on your Mac. But the problem is that these files still occupy space, except now it’s the precious space in your iCloud. To see what you’ve got there and what you can delete, do the following:

  1. Sign in to your account at icloud.com.
  2. Click Drive.
  3. Go through your files and select the ones you no longer need.
  4. Click the ellipsis and choose Delete Selected. Do not forget to empty the Recently Deleted folder by clicking Delete All.

Done. If you’re using macOS High Sierra, iCloud Drive is also available as a folder in the Finder, so you can do the same on your Mac.


Step 3. Clean up junk files on Mac

The easiest way to clean up iCloud and free up some much-needed space is to get rid of junk files. These are cache files, unneeded language files, document versions, temporary files, and downloads. When you use iCloud for backups, these files quickly pile up and become real space wasters.

You can try and hunt down these files manually, but the process is time-consuming and, well, risky because you can accidentally delete files necessary for the proper functioning of your Mac. Therefore, it is safer and faster to let a dedicated Mac cleaner do the job for you. 

We recommend CleanMyMac X. It comes with the System Junk module designed for quick cleanup and a safe selection of files for removal. It deletes only files that will not degrade your Mac’s performance. Here’s how to use this smart tool:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X (free download here).
  2. Click System Junk > Scan. 
  3. You can now click Review Details and select files for deletion or click Clean right away. 

Step 4. Delete iCloud emails you don’t need

If you’re using an iCloud email account (the one that ends with @icloud.com), all email messages you get are stored in — you guessed it — iCloud. And while emails themselves don’t weigh that much, email attachments do. PDFs, photos, and other files people have sent to you over the months can add up to a few gigabytes, so go over your old correspondence and do some spring cleaning.

  1. Once again, log into your account at icloud.com.
  2. Click Mail. 
  3. Check your Inbox and delete anything you do not need. Right-click an email and choose Trash Message. 
  4. Do the same for Sent and Archive. 
  5. Now, go to Trash, press Command + A, and click Delete. Alternatively, right-click any email and choose Delete [x] Messages. 

It’s a good idea to develop the habit of trashing any email you know you won’t need in the future right away to avoid space-hogging in the first place.


Step 5. Delete outdated backups

Having iCloud automatically back up your iPhone on a regular basis is a great way to keep your data intact in case something happens to the phone. But the only backup you’re going to need in this case is the most recent one, so there’s no reason to store backups made months ago.

This is how you access all your device backups and delete outdated ones:

  1. On your Mac, go to System Settings > Apple ID > iCloud.
  2. Click Manage and then Backups.
  3. Select a backup you want to remove and then click Delete.

It’s important to know that when you delete a backup, it switches off the backup feature for this device.


Step 6. Delete all messages and email attachments

Old messages and attachments also take up a lot of space, so it’s better to delete them. Like with all of the steps above, there are different tips for iPhone and Mac. We’ll start with removing email attachments on Mac and then switch to deleting old messages and message attachments on both Mac and iPhone.

In the Mail app on your Mac: 

  1. Open Mail. 
  2. Select one or several messages. You can also press Command + A to select all messages.
  3. Click Message > Remove Attachment(s). Repeat for all mailboxes. 
Important

For IMAP accounts, such as iCloud and Gmail, attachments will also be removed from mail servers. So, if you know that you might need some of the attachments in the future, delete them with caution.

Now, let’s proceed with messages. On your Mac: 

  1. Open the Messages app.
  2. Right-click the conversation you want to delete and choose Delete. Confirm the deletion.
  3. Now, click View > Recently Deleted and delete unneeded conversations once and for all.

If you don’t want to delete the conversation but just get rid of attachments, open the dialogue and click i. Under Photos, select what you want to remove, right-click, and choose Delete > Delete Attachment(s). Note that it cannot be restored. 

On your iPhone:

  1. Open Messages. 
  2. Tap Edit > Select Messages. 
  3. Select Messages you don’t need and tap Delete. 
  4. Confirm deletion. 
  5. Now, tap Edit > Recently Deleted > Delete All > Delete [x] Messages.  

The next step is to delete message attachments on iPhone. Note, though, that they will be deleted from Messages and cannot be restored, so take this step with caution.

  1. Open Settings > General > iPhone Storage. 
  2. Scroll to Messages. 
  3. Tap Photos > Edit and select what to remove. 
  4. Tap the Trash icon top right.
  5. Do the same for GIFs and Stickers. 

Alternatively, you can open Messages, select a conversation with attachments, and tap the contact bubble at the top. Now, tap See All next to Photos and press Select > Delete > Delete Attachment. 


Step 7. Empty all trashes

It’s easy to forget that as long as files remain in the Trash (or in the Recently Deleted folder if we’re talking about photos), they still occupy space, be it in the cloud or locally. So, after you’re done with steps 1-6, be sure to take out the trash.

In the Photos app on your iPhone:

  1. Open Photos.
  2. Go to the Recently Deleted album.
  3. Tap Select > ellipsis.
  4. Now, tap Delete All > Delete From This iPhone.

In the Mail app on your iPhone:

  1. Open the app.
  2. Tap Trash.
  3. Tap Edit > Select All and then Delete All.

In the Photos app on your Mac: 

  1. Open Photos. 
  2. Go to Recently Deleted. 
  3. Click Delete All > Delete From All Devices. 

In the Mail app on your Mac:

  1. Open Mail.
  2. Click Mailbox in the top menu.
  3. Choose Erase Deleted Items from the dropdown menu.
  4. Select your iCloud email address and click Erase.

That’s it. This should help you get more iCloud storage, at least for now. Go over these steps every 1-2 weeks to make sure your iCloud doesn’t get clogged up again.


How to buy more iCloud storage

This is an obvious way out if you’re not too short on budget and don’t mind spending money on storage every month.

So, how do you upgrade iCloud storage? Getting more space is easy, and you can do it from any device, including your iPhone. 

On your Mac, go to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud > Manage > Change Storage Plan. 

On iPhone, it’s almost the same, only from Settings > Apple ID > iCloud, you’re going to Manage Account Storage and then Change Storage Plan.

The next logical question you have is how much iCloud storage costs. Well, that depends primarily on your location and how much storage you’d like to get. There are plans for 50 GB or 200 GB and even up to 12 TB. The exact cost is stated right in the menu when you open it, next to the plan.

Note

Keep in mind that you’re getting this storage to fill with your files once, but you’ll have to pay monthly to use it. Skipping payment or downgrading may result in loss of data, failed backups, and a number of other issues. So, when you sign up for the paid plan, be sure to keep your payment method up to date.

Now you know what the options are, and whatever you decide works best for you — freeing up iCloud storage or simply buying more — the rule of thumb is to keep your iPhone and Mac free from clutter. 

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