iCloud Storage Full? Never Pay For iCloud Backup Again.

iCloud Storage is one of the most misused and misunderstood features of the iPhone. I love Apple products, but there’s no other way to put this: In most cases, buying iCloud Storage is unnecessary and you should never pay for it. In 99% of cases, you don’t have to pay any extra money to fully back up your iPhone and iPad. I’ll explain the real reason why your iCloud Storage is full, why your iPhone hasn’t backed up to iCloud for weeks, and how to fix iCloud Backup for good.

Most people don’t believe it’s possible, but let me be clear: After you read this article, you’ll understand how to back up your iPhone, iPad, and photos to iCloud without paying for iCloud Storage.

If you’ve seen messages like “This iPhone hasn’t been backed up in weeks”, “iPhone cannot be backed up because there is not enough iCloud storage available”, or “Not Enough Storage”, don’t worry. They’ll be gone by the time you finish reading this article.

I originally wrote this post after a lot of people asked for help with iCloud after they read my viral post about iPhone battery life. Over the 18 months since I published it, Apple has renamed and relocated every feature I discussed in that article, so I’m rewriting it from the ground up.

iCloud Storage and iCloud Drive and iCloud Backup and iCloud Photo Library, Oh My! (Yes, it’s one too many)

There’s no understanding the solution to this problem without understanding the players in the game, so we need to start there. If you’re confused, you’re right where you’re supposed to be. Let’s take them one by one:

iCloud Storage

iCloud Storage is the total amount of storage space available on iCloud. It’s what you pay for. Everybody gets 5GB (gigabytes) for free. You can upgrade your storage to 50GB, 200GB, or 1TB (1 terabyte is 1000 gigabytes), and the monthly fees aren’t too bad – but it’s not necessary. We’re solving a problem now that will become more and more expensive with time.

Once your iCloud Storage is full, your iPhone will stop backing up to iCloud until you purchase additional storage space or free up storage space in iCloud.

iCloud Backup

iCloud Backup is a feature on iPhones, iPads and iPods that backs up your entire device to iCloud, just in case something unfortunate happens. You should definitely use iCloud backup. Whether it’s a toilet phone or you leave it on the roof of your car, iPhones live dangerous lives and you should always have a backup.

iCloud Backups count against your available iCloud Storage. (You’ll see why I’m saying this in a minute.)

iCloud Drive

iCloud Drive is a newer feature that allows apps on Macs, iPhones, and iPads to synchronize files using iCloud. It’s like Dropbox or Google Drive, but it’s more integrated into Apple software because Apple made it. iCloud Drive shares files like documents and user preferences that aren’t that big to begin with, so in most cases it doesn’t have much of an effect on your total iCloud Storage.

Files in iCloud Drive count against your available iCloud Storage.

iCloud Photo Library

iCloud Photo Library uploads and stores all of your photos and videos in iCloud so you can access them from all your devices. There are some important differences between iCloud Photo Library and iCloud backup that you should understand before we move on.

All your devices can access and view individual photos that are stored in iCloud Photo Library. iCloud Backup is different: You can’t see individual files or photos in your iCloud Backup, even if photos are part of the backup. iCloud Backups are one big file that restores your entire iPhone – there’s no way to access individual files.

If you’re using iCloud Photo Library and iCloud Backup, you could be paying to back up the same photos twice: Once in your iCloud Photo Library, once in your iCloud Backup.

Photos and videos in iCloud Photo Library count against your available iCloud Storage.

My Photo Stream (Yes, we’re adding another one)

My Photo Stream uploads all your new photos and sends them to all your devices. Sounds kind of like iCloud Photo Library, right? But there’s a little difference:

Photos in My Photo Stream do not count against your available iCloud Storage.

You’re on your way to the solution, but it’s important to understand the key differences between iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream before you dive into the actual fix. I’ll explain why your iCloud Storage is always full on the next page.

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About Author

I'm a former Apple employee and the founder of Payette Forward, and I'm here to help you with your iPhone.

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2 days ago

i don’t have an ipad, a mac or a pc. i just have the iphone 12 pro max. how do i use my photo stream? will it work for me if i just turn it on and stop my photos from backing up on icloud?

11 days ago

Hi, can you tell me I have to pay continuously every month for iCloud upgrade?! if yes or not how many month do I have pay? Please! I beg your response! I need to know that immediately!

Liam Shotwell
9 days ago
Reply to  Amaira

Hi, Amaira. Here are Apple’s iCloud pricing rates for each region. I hope this helps!

14 days ago

I hope you respond David. I followed your instructions. Although, the way the Settings were organized is a little different since you wrote the article. For example in step 2, I never saw a “This iPhone” option under Manage Storage. Anyway, after completing all the steps I received an email from the iCloud team stating, “You must download your full resolution photos and videos to at least one device before they are deleted from iCloud Photos in 30 days.” I must say this is a little disconcerting. I’m inclined to turn iCloud photo back up back on. How do I… Read more »

12 days ago
Reply to  Kurt

I think you missed the part in the article where he mentions to use your lightning cable to plug up to your iMac and it will automatically download those photos, if it doesnt, you can still download them manually, page three of article explains it beautifully in 5 steps

1 month ago

For a LONG TIME I have disabled and not used photo library. I recently started backing up my iphone to another computer.But still had backups on this computer. Today I got a notice my icloud was full. I I donot save pictures on the cloud but back them up from my computer. I thought shutting off mail would help only to find out I can only use icloud mail if the icloud preference for it is on. I have a lot of other mailboxes I used. I have been trying to delete pictures from messages, but I get so many… Read more »

Luis Zacarini
1 month ago

I have always had this problem. “Your iPhone hasn’t been backed up for weeks” “Your storage is full” etc. I would buy some space and in days it would be full again. I was completely at a loss. I was considering moving to another Cloud platform. I am so happy to have come across that page. Thank you David.
A tad of criticism to Apple for foul play would be appreciated.

1 month ago

What if you have a house fire or robbery etc that destroys your phone and pc etc as all in same location, even the hard drive backup of your pc as it was stored in your cupboard.
the reason I pay for iCloud is to hold an OFF SITE backup of everything.

Liam Shotwell
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

That’s a very good reason to still use iCloud or another storage solution! I think that it really depends on user needs.

1 month ago
Reply to  Liam Shotwell

Your article should include this to make users aware of the risk and limitations. All your devices and backups in one physical location could potentially be disastrous , and if you follow your article, that potentially increases the risk of losing data and not being able to recover it . From experience many people don’t have a good home backup process.

Liam Shotwell
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

That’s a fair point, I’ll mention it to the others. Thank you!

1 month ago

What if I’m out of storage on my computer for backup?

Liam Shotwell
1 month ago
Reply to  Robin

An external hard drive might be able to help you.

Anita O
3 days ago
Reply to  Liam Shotwell

Hello Liam, can you suggest some external storage devices that are compatible with iPhones please? I have ton of data but I cannot keep up with a subscription for now.

thank you

Liam Shotwell
1 day ago
Reply to  Anita O

Hey there, Anita. I found you some great options! The SanDisk 128GB iXpand Flash Drive Go is a great portable choice that won’t break the bank. It’s also pretty stylish! It plugs right into the charging port on your phone. The other option is the iDiskk Certified by Apple 1TB External Hard Drive. This gives you a TON of storage but it’s a bit more expensive and is a little less portable than the flash drive. However, I find that larger devices are easier to keep track of so you won’t lose them as often. 😊

2 months ago

What can you do when you don’t have a computer ..just iPad and phone

Liam Shotwell
2 months ago
Reply to  Debbie

You can do most of the steps in this article without a computer I think. However, keep in mind that uploading a ton of photos and videos will always take longer on a wireless connection. A wired connection to a computer will save you a lot of time!

2 months ago

Excellent article and still very accurate. Hugely helpful. Thank you so much!!

Janice Knight
2 months ago

I don’t have a computer to backup my photos to. All photos are on my phone and IPad. How do I back them up?

3 months ago

Can I use iCloud for free?

3 months ago

If you turn off Photo Library in iCloud Backup and use My Photo Stream to back them up instead, will all the photos in iCloud be GONE???

3 months ago

I need to replace my iPad. Would I save all of my photos to my Mac, then remove the photo backup to the cloud when I do a backup? When I get the new iPad and down load the cloud saved data, will there be any photos? Does my iTunes music or books come back?

3 months ago

does this actually work?

5 months ago

I still don’t understand ICloud Drive, how to use. I read article but the adds keep popping up so for me it was hard to fallow. My phone is IPhone 7 with 34GB full, I bought 50GB but nothing is backing up into it.

6 months ago

once we buy say 50 GB storage on I cloud …..does it start as monthly subscription? Or we can use it as and when needed?

2 months ago
Reply to  Swarupa

Exactly idk either

2 months ago
Reply to  Swarupa

Yes, it starts a monthly subscription and you share that extra space with the devices connected to the same cloud.

8 months ago

Is this info still accurate in 2020?


7 months ago
Reply to  Alan

did you hear back?

Helen McMahan
11 months ago

I have an 11 iPhone only because it was free when we moved and changed to bundle at and t. I only have an iPad, how do I download my photos to iCloud photo stream?

6 months ago
Reply to  Helen McMahan

Did you ever hear back. That’s all I have as well

1 year ago

Thank you so much for the great article! I’ve been so frustrated with my iCloud storage being full from a previous phone & not knowing how to dump the storage & start fresh.

1 year ago

I can’t find any place where it is labeled photo stream

Denise Sawatzky
2 years ago

Did you find the answer to this question, Im afraid to lose the pictures already in icloud.

Marianna Virides
2 years ago

I cant get second page of yr post….the best bit!!!?

Dana Mc Daniel Clemeaux
2 years ago

I also found I didn’t have all the options you mentioned in the step by step directions in your article. I had to Google some stuff to figure out how to do the steps you recommended. In the end, my iCloud storage did not shrink. My phone is an iPhone 6S . Thank you in advance.

Dana Mc Daniel Clemeaux
2 years ago

I did not have the option to put a check mark to delete photos off my phone after backing them up to my Mac. How can I now delete the photos off my phone?

Muhammad Shafeeq Tahir
2 years ago

Excellent article. Thanks for the help.

May Thomas
2 years ago

This was helpful,I remove Facebook because that was eating up my space but it he beat goes on I am still running out of space.Evin after I add some more. I will follow yr direction and try to free up some space.

David Jay
2 years ago

5 October 2018 – Thanks, but this no longer works, or not for iPhone SE: I backed up my iPhone SE and also transferred all the photos to my PC, but it’s no longer possible to turn off Photo Library as part of iCloud Backup, and PhotoStream has been replaced by the All Photos album. Infuriating! I should be most grateful if you would post an updated version of ‘Never Pay for iCloud Backup Again’ – many thanks in advance – Don

Uyen Pham
2 years ago

do you need to pay for iCloud storage if you’re upgrading your phone to hight GB phone? for 64gb to 256gb. thank you.

Bridget Backus McBride
2 years ago

Any chance you could update these directions for iOS 12? I successfully used this article for my previous iPhone 4S and am in dire need of help again. I hate that Apple changes everything around even though it essentially does the same thing.

Michael G.
2 years ago

Thanks for this write up. Now that Messages are in iCloud, is it possible to update this to include detailed info on managing Messages in iCloud? I’ve never had an issue with my iCloud storage getting full, because I always disable photo library, but now it’s saying Messages is using 3 GB.. I’m sure it’s pics and videos but how can i easily free to this space (without having to use iCleaner) thanks!!

Autumn Morse
2 years ago

If I turn off Photo Library backups for iCloud will it delete the photos already backed up on my iCloud?

Alex Linnae
2 years ago

Wheres the next page? Ill explain why your iCloud storage is always full on the next page.

Elaine Scheer
2 years ago

Thank-you so much! I’ve been trying to figure out why I couldn’t back up my new iphone 8 & it’s because I had to delete the back-up of an old phone that was taking up space!

Toan Tianh
2 years ago

awesome articles, thank you so much!

Leah Harper
2 years ago

Thanks for this article!

I have 0 photos on my phone now but still cannot complete a phone back up. It says I don’t have enough storage for a back up, but have over 2GB of space!
I deleted a past back up to free space so it says I have never backed my phone up, but I also see a back up listed for 2GB, and when I click on it it says 0 bites. So confused!

Tim Hirt
3 years ago

My wife and I both went to settings on our iPhones and neither us can find a tab for icloud. We went user General and found iPhone store where is iCloud?

Theresa Wolmart
3 years ago

i don’t have icloud storage. but my phone is telling me i do. i am confused. i can’t find the manage storage place. i have a 6

William Orr
3 years ago

There is only one word to express my feelings of your posting…..THANK YOU

Peter Baker
3 years ago

Man, THANKS for this article. It’s really helpful.

Suzanne Jansen Yerton
3 years ago

HI! I just did this and my storage still says 49 GB of 50 GB used by Docs any clue on how to free up docs?

Kathy Kilgore
3 years ago

HUGE QUESTION…. why, did when I did my iCloud backup, did I lose. I mean LOSE all of my contacts and many pictures??? It took 4 hours bc I didn’t trust it. I feel like I was right. And now things are lost forever.. and it did not free up any space (on top of everything!!). What do I do??