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.

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 5 GB (gigabytes) for free. You can upgrade your storage to 50 GB, 200 GB, or 2 TB (2 terabyte is 2000 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.

Recently, Apple has begun to include additional features when you sign up for a paid iCloud storage plan. An iCloud+ plan includes iCloud Private Relay, Hide My Email, Custom Email Domain, and HomeKit Secure Video support.

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. Next, I’ll explain why your iCloud Storage is always full!

The Difference Between iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream

iCloud Photo Library permanently uploads and stores your photos and videos in iCloud. My Photo Stream uploads your photos to iCloud so they’re automatically downloaded on devices with My Photo Stream turned on. It only works over Wi-Fi and doesn’t fill up your iCloud Storage space.

This is really important: The only thing that’s eating up all your iCloud Storage and preventing your iPhone from backing up to iCloud is your Photo Library. 

Photos are big files and a few hundred photos can eat through your 5 GB of free iCloud Storage fast. Videos are huge files and you don’t stand a chance with 5 GB of iCloud Storage if you’ve got more than a video or two.

If we turn off Photo Library in iCloud Backup and use My Photo Stream to back them up instead, boom! iCloud problems are solved forever. Most people don’t realize that you can choose what backs up to iCloud.

But I Don’t Want To Lose My Photos!

You won’t. If you turn on My Photo Stream on your Mac or PC (yes, Apple makes My Photo Stream for PC too), your pictures will automatically download to your computer when your iPhone and iPad are connected to Wi-Fi.

The limitation of My Photo Stream is that photos only stay up there for 30 days, but if your iPhone is on any Wi-Fi network, home or abroad, your computer will automatically download all your photos as long as it’s connected to Wi-Fi too.

The other limitation of My Photo Stream is this: It doesn’t synchronize your videos. You’ll never have to pay for iCloud Storage again, but you will have to plug your iPhone into your computer every once in a while to back up your videos.

Here’s why this usually isn’t a big deal: Videos are huge and you’re probably doing this anyway.

You could spend a zillion years uploading all those videos to iCloud Drive over Wi-Fi (upload speeds are typically much slower than download speeds), or you can quickly transfer them to your computer with your USB cable and be done with it.

In my opinion, your photos and videos are safer stored on your own computer (using My Photo Stream) than on iCloud Drive, as long as your computer is backed up too. (That’s really important.) iCloud Storage is extremely secure and I’m not saying it’s going to get wiped out, but issues with passwords and user accounts can make it difficult to access your own photos if they’re not stored on your computer.

Let’s recap before we move onto the fix: Your Photo Library is consuming all your available iCloud Storage. You can stop your Photo Library from backing up as part of your iCloud Backup (counts against iCloud Storage) and use My Photo Stream (doesn’t count against iCloud Storage) to back up your photos instead.

How To Backup Your iPhone Without Paying For iCloud Storage

Right now, your iPhone won’t back up because your iCloud Storage is full. Next, we’ll set up your iPhone so you never have to pay for iCloud Storage again.

1. Plug In Your iPhone To Your Computer And Transfer Your Photos

This step has to be number 1 because the last thing I want to happen is for anyone to lose their photos. Photos of our families and memorable events in our lives are very valuable to us. When I was at Apple, I saw people brought to tears when they realized they would never recover photos of their kids or loved ones. I mention this as a strong word of warning: Always back up your iPhone and computer.

Now that the somber warning is out of the way, the other reason to back up your photos before you begin is that My Photo Stream only works for photos you take after you turn it on. If you follow these steps and accidentally drop your iPhone in the loo, you don’t want to lose your photos.

2. Turn Off Photo Library As Part Of iCloud Backup

Open Settings and tap on your name at the top of the screen. Then, tap iCloud -> Manage Storage -> Photos. Then, tap Disable & Delete.

You’ll see a warning asks if you want to turn off photo backups and delete the backup data from iCloud. When you tap Continue Anywaynothing is erased from your iPhone.

When we turn on My Photo Stream on your iPhone and computer, your photos will begin to upload to My Photo Stream (also part of iCloud) and your computer will automatically download them. It’s going to be OK: Tap Continue Anyway and watch as your iCloud Backup size shrinks to a manageable size.

delete and disable photos in icloud

3. Turn Off iCloud Photos

Go to Settings -> Photos and turn off the switch next to iCloud Photos. You’ll see a pop-up giving you the option to download a copy of your iCloud Photos. That’s not necessary because, as I mentioned above, your photos will be uploaded to My Photo Stream as soon as we turn it on. You can still use My Photo Stream or iCloud Photo Sharing to synchronize your photos between devices without using any space in iCloud Storage.

turn off icloud photos on iphone

If you’re a Mac user, you may need to turn off iCloud Photo Library on your Mac as well. Head to System Preferences -> iCloud and uncheck the box next to Photos.

turn off icloud photos on mac

4. Turn On My Photo Stream On Your iPhone & iPad

Open Settings and tap on your name at the top of the screen. Then, tap iCloud -> Photos and turn on the switch next to Upload To My Photo Stream.

5. Turn On My Photo Stream on your Mac or PC

I’ll let Apple explain how to turn on My Photo Stream on your Mac or PC instead of explaining it here. Their support article has an excellent walkthrough and some other interesting information about My Photo Stream.

You’re Done! No More Problems with iCloud Storage.

OK, none of are going to get rich from the money we save from never paying for iCloud Storage again. What we have done is solve a problem that will only get more expensive with time.

Your iCloud storage never has to be full again. Even if you choose to continue paying for iCloud Storage for now, you’ve learned there’s a safe and simple way to stop. There’s a lot of misinformation about how iCloud works and we all make better decisions when we’re informed. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you!

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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Photo me
22 days ago

I don’t have enough storage on my phone to keep all the iCloud photos so they will be deleted from my phone if I turn off iCloud uploads.

Anton Zitz
29 days ago

It seems my photo stream was taken away. Can we still do this but back up our phone manually by connecting it over some interval to icloud photos??

Brooklyn
1 month ago

A MASSIVE problem I’ve had for years that the geniuses can’t figure out is why my photos keep not only duplicating, but also triplicating and even quadrupling on their own. And it’s not every photo, but there isn’t a clear pattern of which ones and why. I’ve been paying for extra icloud storage for years now because they can’t figure it out. Unfortunately my laptop is not working at the moment so I can’t take my photos off/from my phone right now. Any suggestions?

Lynn Clark
1 month ago

i can’t find photo stream on my mac or iPhone 12Pro

Heidi
2 months ago

Thanks for the great tips. Anything that keeps making you upgrade is something I want get out of because it’s a trap. This article really helps the layman.

Lesa
2 months ago

THANK YOU SO MUCH! For years I have paying for 50 Gb with no problems, but after I recently downloaded hundreds of photos from my photo album and then deleted them from my phone (all as a preemptive measure to avoid going over my limit), suddenly my “next backup size” was 70 Gb and all backups ceased. After several hours of flailing around, I succumbed to the obvious solution and upped my subscription to 200 Gb, but that left me really angry and worried that the problem would just escalate from here. This is the first clear explanation I’ve seen… Read more »

Chiara
3 months ago

Hi, I don’t have My Photo Stream ANYWHERE on my devices. I just read an article that says that Apple is eliminating it, so that we HAVE TO pay for the storage. I tried everything you said and looked up a few more websites, it just isn’t there anymore. What am I supposed to do?

Mary
4 months ago

How do you clean out your icloud if you don’t have a computer?

Henry t
4 months ago

My Photo Stream appears not available to – in my case – new iPhone users. The advice to not use iCloud Photo Library and include photos in backups to avoid duplicate copies of photos makes sense. If using My Photo Stream isn’t possible, how can one avoid upgrading iCloud and still keep photos safe? Just move photos to a MAC or PC and keep the photo library small?

Henry t
4 months ago

My Photo Stream not available

Julia M
6 months ago

I posted a question/comment on here sometime in the last couple of weeks, but I don’t see it anywhere. I don’t completely recall what what all I asked about, other than that I know it is not my photos or the photo library etc that occupies my storage space, though I am sure I elaborated more.
I am also interested in backups and what all you would consider to be needed in a backup, given that most of us have many dozens of apps.

Julia M
6 months ago

What’s the point in using iCloud backup anyway? What exactly does it preserve of apps in the event of a problem? I decided to do one, after downgrading to the free 5G, and my backup is over that limit. But my photos and videos are not a part of it at all, either in iPhotos or iCloud Drive. So,

Angela Strach
6 months ago

I clicked on the links you suggested for turning on My Photo Stream on Mac or PC https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201317 support article
The instructions here state that photos will only be stored for 30 days on My Photo Stream, which isn’t what most people will want I shouldn’t think and you don’t mention this in your otherwise very helpful article. To be safe I will download mine onto an external hard drive, but what is your comment on this?

Shell
6 months ago

G’day David. Thanks for your brain. But I have a problem – I don’t have a computer. Just an iPhone and an iPad. What can I do? (Btw, I’m not very savvy on stuff)

Kenona sivo
7 months ago

How can I backup my iPhone and iPad ?

Admin
David Lynch
6 months ago
Reply to  Kenona sivo
Lana Baldwin
7 months ago

I have had my Mac since 2010 and just became an iPhone user. What would you suggest if the storage in my Mac computer is already full and not synching with iPhone photos? I cannot see any photos in my photo stream on Mac and many haven’t been backed up there because iCloud space is too full. Is there a way to do what you’ve suggested even when you can’t transfer onto Mac? I do have Google Drive and Google Photos, so technically all photos on my Mac are already saved there. I could wipe and start over?

N Lewis
7 months ago

There is nothing called iCloud under settings on my iPhone 6. Do these instructions not work on old iphones?

RoseMarie
9 months ago

Very informative but a little complicated. I’ll have to read a few times. Thank you!

ANN C HARVEY
10 months ago

Fabulous! Thank you for this clear, concise tutorial.

DAvid Michael
10 months ago

The whole Apple backup system is a scam. Both Amazon and Verizon allow free backups. We need a class action suit against Apple for charging on iCloud. They are a rip off organization!

Me me
8 months ago
Reply to  DAvid Michael

Ok.

Angela
3 months ago
Reply to  Me me

I agree

Dorothy P-S
10 months ago

What if I only have an iPad? Can I back up to that instead of iCloud?

Editor
Colin Boyd
10 months ago
Reply to  Dorothy P-S

Hi Dorothy! According to Apple’s website, you can only save a backup to iCloud or a computer. If you’d like more details, here’s a link to a page on Apple’s Support website all about backing up both iPads and iPhones: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204136

I hope this helps!

Ric
10 months ago

I did all that and now my iCloud is filled with 3 GB of mail and 2 GB of documents!
What do I do now?

Satya
11 months ago

I asked a question about an hour ago, and I can’t seem to find my question or a response. Will the response be emailed to me? Thank you.

Satya
11 months ago

Thanks for unraveling this mystery!! I figured all this out on my own but was relieved to hear I did it right with your article. Quick question though that I still can’t get a straight answer to: – I was told by an apple rep( as I was trying to figure out how to do all this before I read your artlcle) and they informed me how iCloud saves the full res versions of the photos in the cloud, and leaves a smaller thumbnail size on my phone. My question is: when I plugged my phone into my Mac &… Read more »

Ali
3 months ago
Reply to  Satya

I have this question too. Did you find the answer?

Bobbie
11 months ago

Is this information still applicable in 2021?

Editor
Colin Boyd
11 months ago
Reply to  Bobbie

Hi Bobbie! Yes, a lot of this information is still relevant! Thanks for bringing the publication date to our attention. I’ll pass this on to some of our editors, it might be time to revamp this post!

Lisa
11 months ago

I have a question on step #1: “Plug In Your iPhone To Your Computer And Transfer Your Photos”. So what are the steps for doing the transfer? I read that I have to have iCloud on my PC and then I can upload files to iCloud from the PC. How do I do this? Or can I transfer the pictures just to my pc? I would love to stop paying for extra storage. Thank you.

Leo
1 year ago

Why is my iPhone still full… even though I bought more storage?

Tony leverton
11 months ago
Reply to  David Payette

Thanks David great advice

Doeeen
3 months ago
Reply to  Tony leverton

I don’t want to lose contact with you as you are just what I need. I’m an 81 yr old silver surfer who doesn’t understand a lot about her fone and I feel you would be a great help to me if you wouldn’t mind please. I have to go for little while so when I come out of this page I won’t know how to get back to you, I found you by accident and don’t know where you are, I only have to pop off for about an hour but with my fingers crossed I will get back… Read more »

Doreen
2 months ago
Reply to  Doeeen

Thank you so so much for coming back to me