iCloud Drive taking up space on Mac

Apple’s iCloud storage service is at the heart of macOS, iOS, and iPad OS. Everything you sync between your Mac and other devices is done through iCloud. You can also use it as file storage, thanks to iCloud Drive. It appears as a folder on your Mac when you’re logged in, and you can drag files to and from it just like any other folder. So, just like any other folder, it may take up space on your Mac, and in this article, we’ll show how to clear iCloud Drive.

What is iCloud Drive?

iCloud Drive is the file storage tool in iCloud. It’s similar to Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox in that you can copy files to and from it, sync them with other devices, share them, and even save files directly from applications. iCloud Drive can be accessed from the sidebar of a Finder window — in the iCloud section. It can also be accessed using the Files app on iPhone or iPad and by logging into icloud.com

Why is my storage full when I have iCloud?

Storing files in iCloud Drive is convenient because it makes opening files faster, particularly if you have a slow internet connection. It also means that you can access your files even when you’re not online. 

But why is iCloud Drive taking up space on Mac? Here are some common reasons: 

  • Syncing: By default, everything you save in iCloud Drive is mirrored on your Mac. That means that files stored in iCloud Drive are also stored on your Mac.
  • Cache: iCloud caches some files so that you can quickly access them.
  • File versioning: in addition to cache, file versions may also be stored in iCloud Drive.
  • Optimized Storage feature: macOS may offload files from your Mac to iCloud Drive when your Mac is running low on storage. 

You might prefer it if files were only stored on iCloud Drive and didn’t take up any space on your Mac. Thankfully, there is an option to reduce the space iCloud Drive takes up on your Mac. So, here’s what to do when iCloud Storage is full. 

What to do if iCloud Drive is taking up space on your Mac

Free up space on your Mac

If you’re worried about the amount of free space left on your Mac’s startup disk, or if you just want to have more, there are several things you can do. One good place to start is to get rid of junk files like temporary files that should have been removed but weren’t, settings files for apps that are no longer on your Mac, old cache files, and files for languages you don’t use.

Tracking down all those files manually and dragging them to the Trash is time-consuming and very difficult. Fortunately, you don’t have to — CleanMyMac X’s System Junk module can do it for you. It scans your Mac looking for junk files and then allows you to remove them with one click. Or you can review what it has found and decide for yourself what to remove. Here’s how to use this smart tool:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X (free download here).
  2. Click System Junk > Scan.
  3. Click Clean. You can also review details before cleaning and select the categories of files that will be safely removed.

CleanMyMac X can also help with another great way of freeing up space on your Mac — identifying and removing the largest and oldest files on your Mac. Removing the largest files frees up lots of space quickly, while removing the files that you haven’t opened in a long time is the least disruptive way to free up space.

CleanMyMac X’s Large & Old Files module makes it easy to identify both and delete or archive them. It also comes with several removal options. To use it, click Large & Old Files from the sidebar and hit Scan. Once the scan is complete, check what the app has found and decide what can be removed.

Enable Optimized Storage

The next fix is to use built-in features. One useful option is named Optimize Mac Storage. It works like this: when you turn it on, the full contents of your iCloud Drive are only stored on your Mac when you have plenty of free space. When you start to run low on space, older files are removed from your Mac and stored only in iCloud Drive. You can then download them whenever you need them. Here’s how to turn it on:

  1. Click the Apple menu and choose System Settings.
  2. Select your Apple ID in the sidebar and click iCloud.
  3. Turn on ‘Optimize Mac Storage.’
System Preferences - iCloud

If you use the TV app, TV shows and movies you watch may also be taking up space on your Mac, as well as being in iCloud. You can remove them from your Mac automatically once you’ve watched them while keeping them in iCloud so you can watch them again.

  1. Go to System Settings > General.
  2. Choose Storage.
  3. Look under Recommendations. If you have old TV shows and movies taking up space on your Mac, you will see an option to remove them automatically.
System Preferences - Storage

How to clear space on iCloud Drive

Turn off Desktop & Documents

The Desktop & Documents feature in iCloud allows you to sync your Mac’s Desktop and Documents folders with your other Macs and devices. It’s very handy if you have more than one Mac connected to your iCloud account. However, it takes up space in iCloud. If you don’t need it, turn it off:

  1. Go to System Settings and click your Apple ID.
  2. Choose iCloud.
  3. Click iCloud Drive.
  4. Turn off Desktop & Documents.

Check macOS recommendations

You can also check the recommendations macOS provides to free up space in iCloud Drive. To access them, follow these steps: 

  1. Go to System Settings > Apple ID > iCloud. 
  2. Click Manage next to Account Storage. 
  3. You’ll see what takes space in iCloud Drive. If you click each category, you’ll see either the Delete from iCloud option or a recommendation on what to do to free up this space.

Hopefully, you now know what to do with iCloud taking up space on Mac. And you know how to free up some of that space as well as how to create more space in iCloud.