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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Misty I.
4 years ago

Hi David! Thanks for all the useful information! I have a problem with my iPhone 5s. It seems I’m always running out of storage. I have very few apps, I constantly dump my photos and videos to my comp and delete them from my phone, but I always get the same “not enough storage” message often. I checked my storage availability and the first one on the list is Messages with a whopping 3.1 GB of storage. I have deleted every message and it’s still a huge amount. Come to find out, it’s all from “saved messages”! I’ve searched everywhere… Read more »

Tinatalker
4 years ago

I’ve followed all the steps, thanks! But I cannot find Photo Stream on my PC, running Windows 10. I thought I had it all set as the pics from my iPhone all showed up on the Start Menu screen in ‘Photos’ when I initially did it, but nothing new is there since then. I open iCloud photos on my pc, and it shows ‘Downloads’ and ‘Uploads’ but when I click on those it says: ‘this folder is empty’. Did I miss something somewhere? Thanks again for any additional help.

Chuck Berry
4 years ago

Not bad but lacking some details.
Overall the best description I have come across regarding how to navigate Apple’s messed up photostream and photo backup and icloud whatever.
I just needed to take a detour to research the details of the first step: transfer my photos from iPhone to PC.

Simon Borg
4 years ago

I have followed the steps in this article and yes my iCloud storage has shrunk to a manageable size, 0.9gb, but I can only see my photo’s on my windows PC up to the point when I turned my off my photo library. I have my photo stream turned on and I see it on my iPhone but not on my PC. Any new photos that I take on my iPhone do not appear anywhere on my PC.

David Sumeray
4 years ago

If I understand your article correctly you’re suggesting that we download our photos to our devices in order to make space in iCloud? The problem I face is lack of space on my devices. iCloud isn’t just backup for me. It’s storage.

Ynoteh
4 years ago

I have contacts, calender and notes checked, thats it… no apps nothing, but the backup says it needs 5.8gb of storage. I have never been able to back up to iCloud. I have over 50gbs of photos so I wouldnt even try to back those up.

John Velick
4 years ago

For anyone having trouble with not enough iCloud storage space available after following all of David’s very helpful instructions, you may want to check one other place that may be the culprit… Do you use iMessage? If yes, do you receive or send texts with iMessage that include pictures and/or videos or any other attachments like voice recordings? Per Apple’s support site, “iMessage, text (SMS), and MMS messages” also use iCloud storage space: https://support.apple.com/kb/PH12519?locale=en_US&viewlocale=en_US Therefore, it would seem, the pictures/videos/voice recordings/etc attached to messages in iMessage would also take up iCloud storage space. There does not currently seem to be… Read more »

Simon Borg
4 years ago

When I follow the first instruction, ”turn off photo library as part of iCloud back up” and go to ”Settings -> iCloud -> Storage -> Manage Storage -> This iPhone” and tap the switch to the right of photo library, there is no photo library and no switch to tap. Underneath it says ”Photo Library is backed up separately as part of iCloud Photo Library”.

Please see screen shot below

What would I do here?

Ellie
4 years ago

If I understand correctly, Photo Stream only holds 30 days of photos OR up to 1,000 photos. A question that no one has been able to answer for me is: What happens when you take photo #1001? Does photo #1 disappear or is it backed up in some other way? Any help would be SO appreciated!

Thanks for the helpful article!!

David Payette
4 years ago
Reply to  Ellie

Hey Ellie, Great question! I did a little more research and I may need to update this part of the article to make it clearer. Photo Stream stores the last 30 days of photos you take on your devices, no matter how many you take. Your iPhone, iPad, or iPod store the last 1000 photos in the Photo Stream album to save storage space. The key is to make sure you have automatic import turned on on your Mac or PC so the photos download to your computer – that’s where they’re backed up. Photo #1001 does disappear from the… Read more »

Christine
4 years ago

thanks for your information but I have a dilemma which you possibly wont be able to solve… I upgraded the latest IOS software on .my ipad2 and then the problems started. I couldn’t get back into my ipad and then an apple technician says that its needs restoring to factory settings. the issue is I had not backed up in months so all my precious videos and photos have gone… I am devastated but Apple tells me there’s nothing that can be done. Do you have a solution? Please

Julie
4 years ago

I followed the directions above and my phone still says I only have 148 mb available, not even enough to update my phone. Do I need to go into my photos on my phone and manually delete all old ones showing
on there?

Paige
4 years ago

I followed your instructions in the past and they worked great, but a couple of weeks ago I started getting the “almost full” messages again and now it won’t sync. Looking under Settings -> iCloud -> Storage -> Manage Storage, it shows Latest Backup 3/11/16, Backup Size 4.5 GB, Next Backup Size 84.5 MB, Photo Library is unchecked and the top 3 data users are 128 MB, 56.2 MB, 36.9 MB and they drop off quickly after that. I don’t understand why my iCloud is full! Help please!

Meh
4 years ago

This is pure click bait. The focus is on the major problem of photo data size, but that doesn’t apply to everyone. There is something else going on embedded in the iCloud that is causing it return a full storage message and since I know the author can’t answer why my 1.5mb backup is taking up 5gb of data storage, I won’t ask. My reasoning for this is sometimes it says 4.9gb other times it’ll be 4.4gb. Everything is turned off but keychain, small amount of data hoarding photos, and whatever settings and configurations apple pulls for restores. I came… Read more »

David Payette
4 years ago
Reply to  Meh

Hey Meh, Have you gone to Settings -> iCloud -> Storage -> Manage Storage to see what’s there? A lot of the time, backups from old iPhones or other devices need to be deleted to make room for the new backups. When you look at the Backups, Documents and Data, and Mail sections, does anything in particular stand out? I have a feeling that one app is trying to gobble up all your space. In all seriousness, it is absolutely my intention to offer helpful, accurate information, and yes, ad revenue helps pay the bills – but the primary focus… Read more »

Michael
4 years ago

Thank you so much! This totally worked for me. I went from having 400MB of space left to having 4.3GB of space free!!

Carlos Abreu
4 years ago

Hi David, I had my settings exactly as you describe but since I updated to IOS 9 my icloud storage is always almost full, even though the size of my backup is never more that 40MB. I’ve read a bunch of fixes for this in the internet and have tried them all but none of them have worked so far. Any suggestions?

marciokoko
4 years ago

Hi. I’m trying to follow your article. I backup to icloud and I thought only the camera roll pictures from my iPhone got backed up to icloud if the PhotoLibrary in Storage Manager was toggled on. My understanding was that I could sync my photos from iphone to Mac photos app, choose to remove them from my iPhone afterwards and then sync my mac to iPhone via iTunes while opting to sync photos from mac Photos app to my iPhone albums. But I for example right now I’ve got 5 pics in my camera roll and I still get icloud… Read more »

Lindsay Meisel
4 years ago

hey, I just tried to follow the steps in this article but noticed that the flow on my iphone didn’t look exactly the same. still, i followed it as closely as I could. when I finished the process, almost all my photos except the ones from the last few months were not on my iphone anymore. they’re still in icloud, where apple is telling me I need to download them within 30 days, but they’re no longer on my phone. was this what was supposed to happen?

Dawn Lebenson
4 years ago

Thank You!!!!

Peter Cohen
4 years ago

Finally, thanks for putting all of this together! Many Thanks 😉

Hannah Åberg
4 years ago

Thanks for the advice, but my phone won’t let me turn off photo library in the backup options! Have the photo library turned off in the iCloud settings from before, but the manage storage menu shows that there is 2.2 GB of photos backed up… What do I do?

Lisa Hulyer
4 years ago

Hi David, Many thanks for the very useful info which I will implement shortly. Meanwhile I am hugely blocked up on my iMac with 30,000 photos. I have purchased an additional 200GB iCloud storage which I am happy to have but I don’t know how to access it to save stuff to it before I delete it on the iMac (in addition to backing it up on USB Sticks). Secondly, I think I have now saved all my old stuff from iPhoto on the cloud and USB, is it now safe to delete iPhoto altogether as this is now an… Read more »

sam
4 years ago

Please help me if you i read your article its great and very helpful and i will try to use all the tips next time but right now my phone died on me it just would not turn on and i thought ok i will get my contacts from icloud until i get this fixed but my Icloud shows its almost full and backed up but i do not see any photos or contacts backed up i do not have notes on this phone no email was set up just few calender events saved no reminders on this device just… Read more »

sam
4 years ago

Please help me if you i read your article its great and very helpful and i will try to use all the tips next time but right now my phone died on me it just would not turn on and i thought ok i will get my contacts from icloud until i get this fixed but my Icloud shows its almost full and backed up but i do not see any photos or contacts backed up i do not have notes on this phone no email was set up just few calender events saved no reminders on this device just… Read more »

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Just Wondering
4 years ago

Hi David. Thank you for this. But I’m stuck at step 2. I go do settings=>iCloud=? but there is no “storage” option. What to do. Thanks for any advice. Also How can I find your article on saving iPhone battery life? Thanks again

Justin Juul
4 years ago

Hi David I followed the directions in your “iCloud Storage Full? Never Pay For iCloud Backup Again” article and noticed this caveat on Apple’s explanation of their Photstream: “Photos are stored in My Photo Stream for 30 days.” Does that mean they disappear after 30 days?

If so then I think I need to revert to iCloud storage no? I don’t want to lose even more pictures!

QQ410219243
4 years ago

I have a really ugly problem on my mom’s iPhone 6. She has iOS 9.2. When I go to settings, general, storage and iCloud usage, it says she has 4.9 GB free of iCloud space, but when I go to settings, iCloud and App Store, it says ‘Not enough storage in iCloud to backup’. Yes I am backing up… What’s really weird is that it happens when I have 4.9 GB space, which is way more than enough to backup. Should I reboot or what?

Thanks! Luke
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Eric Dunbar
4 years ago

I’ve done everything you suggest (turn off Photo Library in iCloud and Photo Library in Storage and iCloud Usage) and every time in Storage and iCloud Usage under ‘this phone’ it keeps turning Photo Library back ON.

I’ve got 4.5 GB free so it boggles my mind why it won’t back-up, especially when the backups are only supposed to be a few megabytes when it calculates the size. Although, now it wants to use 5.1 GB–for what? (photo library was back on, of course, but my Photo library is over 5 GB itself).

google_user
4 years ago

Hello David, I’ve looked everywhere for my answer to my question but I just can’t find it I hope you can help me. I have an iPhone 5 I just got a new 5S. I took the Sim card out Of my old phone and put in the new phone like the person told me on the phone however I didn’t back up my old stuff first. What I want to know is can I take my old Sim card out of my new phone put it back in my old phone, do an I cloud back up and then… Read more »

Gregory Hunt
4 years ago

HI David,

i followed the steps you said and i still have to pay for extra storage the back up is 7.2 Gb

Lorenzo Prince
4 years ago

Hello David, I appreciate for your explanations but I have this issue I need help. I had before my iPhone 5s and you know you need iCloud storage account. I finally changed to iPhone 6 . Since I still want to continue using and have back my same contacts in the previous 5s I signed with my 5s iCloud account into my iPhone 6 . But now not enough space for my 5s iCloud storage . I wish to find out if for me to use my iPhone 6 storage space do I need a new iCloud account or how… Read more »

Cathy Lee
4 years ago

Hi David – Really appreciate people like you that help us solve our iphone problems! I can’t get past Step 2. When I tap “Turn off and Delete” the message “72.6 MB available of 5.0 GB on iCloud” appears on the bottom with a red line below it. It looks like there’s a smidgen more to go to complete the step but it’s been stuck like that overnight. I tried turning off the phone completely but when I turn it back on the red line is still there and the “iCloud storage almost full” message is still appearing. Help! Thanks!

John imherenothere
4 years ago

Perrrrrfect, thanks for all the info. Saved a lot of battery power 🙂 And the iCloud info was priceless, massive thanks.

John 🙂

Jonathan Guevarra Robles
4 years ago

what if i forgot my iphone pass key?

CJ
4 years ago

I followed your steps and it still wont let me turn off camera roll. it keeps saying “Backups for photo library cannot be turned off at this time.”

David Payette
4 years ago
Reply to  CJ

Hey CJ, I apologize for the confusion on that point. This article is due for a complete rewrite and although the concepts are still totally valid, Apple has moved or renamed a lot of the features I discuss in the last year. You’re absolutely in the right place: Settings -> iCloud -> Storage -> Manage Storage -> (This iPhone) and turn off Photo Library. The error message you’re seeing is a quirk with iCloud. Apple’s support documentation is wholly unhelpful and suggests waiting a few minutes and trying again. While that’s a good idea, I’d suggest powering off your iPhone,… Read more »

CJ
4 years ago
Reply to  David Payette

thx David, I powered down my Iphone and tried to disable camera rool again. but got the same message. i will try back a again in a few mins

David Payette
4 years ago
Reply to  CJ

Cool. If that doesn’t work, try signing out of iCloud and back in again. If you haven’t updated to iOS 9 yet, try that too.

Ashleigh Allan
5 years ago

I don’t see a “Storage & Backup” option under iCloud. Could it have changed with the iOS 8.2 update?

Brittany Kayla
5 years ago

What if your phone has enough storage but still tells you it cannot be backed up and does not give you a reason why?

A10TOES .
5 years ago

Is there anyway to delete the data which shows which apps have crashed? Looks like thats just taking up space.

A10TOES .
5 years ago

thank you for giving some grt tips on saving battery power, I am not smart enough to do this without help LOL I want to ask I looked in applications for iphoto on my macbook pro and can’t find the app, perhaps I accidently deleted it. Where can I download iphoto again? Thanks!!

Lisa Young-Knight
6 years ago

Thank you so much for the info. As it turned out I had two old phones I don’t even have anymore listed in my iCloud back up. Deleting those took care of my problem as far as I can tell. I will continue to review your article to make sure I always have plenty of storage. Thanks again. Lisa

babeyfong
6 years ago

I found this post very helpful when it came to my iPhone, and it’s backing up as I’m typing, but my iPad still says iCloud is almost full and won’t let me back it up. I’ve gone through all the steps, so I’m not sure what I did wrong. I turned camera roll off and the only other ones I left on are calendar, reminders and notes. It’s telling me that the next back up size is 570 MB but I only have 464 MB available.

Hoping you can help me out!

Thanks

nikileia212
6 years ago

Hi David, I’ve been having some issues with my iphone, and when I took it in to the genius bar, they told me I have a very high number of apps “crashing,” and that I need to abandon my iCloud backup and start fresh to alleviate this issue. This means, as I understand it, losing all of the information I have saved to the cloud, including text history and photos. Are there any tips you’d recommend to save my data? I’ve been avoiding having it fixed because I hate the idea of losing everything. Saving a few key text histories… Read more »

Shari Kaufman
6 years ago

When making space to enable a backup with ICloud what do you do about Mail? Should it be set to backup or not?

Dawn Rietdijk
6 years ago

Hi David! Thank you for helping my iPhone battery last longer, and now I hope to back it up again too! I’ve followed your directions and my phone and macbook both agree I have 3.8 out of 5GB available, yet my phone is still saying not enough iCloud storage available. Any hints for me? Thank you very much.

ohlobster
6 years ago

My iphone doesn’t seem to have photostream to choose. What should I do? I’ve turned off camera roll to icloud backup. I also can’t find icloud on my mac even though I just did an update.

ohlobster
6 years ago
Reply to  ohlobster

I actually found photostream, but still no icloud on my mac. I went to the link you shared, but with no results.

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