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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13 days ago

Fabulous! Thank you for this clear, concise tutorial.

DAvid Michael
27 days 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!

Dorothy P-S
29 days ago

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

Colin Boyd
29 days 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!

1 month 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?

1 month 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.

1 month 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 »

1 month ago

Is this information still applicable in 2021?

Colin Boyd
1 month 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!

2 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.

2 months ago

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

Tony leverton
2 months ago
Reply to  David Payette

Thanks David great advice