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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8 days 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.

2 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?

4 months ago

Is this info still accurate in 2020?


2 months ago
Reply to  Alan

did you hear back?

Helen McMahan
6 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?

1 month ago
Reply to  Helen McMahan

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

7 months 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.

8 months 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
1 year ago

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

Dana Mc Daniel Clemeaux
1 year 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
1 year 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
1 year ago

Excellent article. Thanks for the help.

May Thomas
1 year 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
1 year 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
2 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
2 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
2 years ago

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

Peter Baker
2 years ago

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

Suzanne Jansen Yerton
2 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
2 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??