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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Mark Roy
3 years ago

Since you didn’t explain how to do “Step 1,” this was entirely useless.

Amy Clinton Collins
3 years ago

Hi! I’ve gotten to step 3 – turn off iCloud photo library, and when I touch the button to do so it asks me if I want to download a copy of my iCloud photo library to my iPhone or remove them from my phone. I have all my photos backed up locally on my Mac and in Google Photos, so I’m not worried about losing them, but I want to leave them on my iPhone as well. I know you said nothing is erased from the phone in step 2…is that true in step 3 as well? Does completing… Read more »

Gums the cat
3 years ago

Thank you so much for this article!

Zanna Maison
3 years ago

I have a gmail account and back all my pictures up using the google photos app. They are saved on the cloud permanently and backed up when I am connected to the wifi and sync it ever now and again. No need for iCloud

Luyanda Ntshengulana
3 years ago

Woww, thank you David for your assisstance! I was about to commit myself to more unnecessary paid for storage!

Martha Alexander
3 years ago

Thank you so much!

Merrillyn Bradford Butterfield
4 years ago

Thank you thank you for using simple steps and simple language for us phone dummies! SO HELPFUL!

Martin Sereday
4 years ago

I have paid for iCloud Storage upgrade (0.99 EUR/month) to 50GB by noon today. The SMS confirming my payment arrived immediately. Now I looked on it and the Storage keeps showing only free 5GB.

Awesom Siddi
4 years ago

Thank You so much , you are so cool 🙂 do you have Snapchat or any social ID?

Awesom Siddi
4 years ago

i did not try it yet but sounds like you are Rock 🙂 Genius 😀

Jane Cee
4 years ago

You are a legend. First, you explained why my phone wouldn’t turn on. Then, you encouraged doing a backup. Then, you explained why backing up is a PITA. Then you explained how to stop it from being a PITA. I haven’t tried this yet, but your instructions are clear and I hope it works.

Diana Flintoft Knechtel
4 years ago

This is very helpful. However, I just got back from a trip to Europe with friends and we are using a shared album. I’m assuming I need to keep the iCloud backup and storage on for this?

Nera Puyo
4 years ago

What if I am not using MAC? Is there another way for a non-MAC?

Greg Tainton
4 years ago

Hi There – your article is excellent, but by the time I reached the last page and tried to turn off my Photo Library I found that it had already been turned off. I couldnt turn it on again as I only have 300Mb of space on iCloud. The problem is that I still have over 4Gb of photos in iCloud that I cant “get rid of”!! I cant view them either. Please help?


Kim Weissenborn
4 years ago

it worked! Thanks.

Sandman S Andman
4 years ago

Says iCloud storage details are unavailable right now, try again later. I did and says same thing. I cloud broken in my phone. Any idea how to fix?

Savannah Putman
4 years ago

wait but how do you transfer photos???

Mark Shepherd
4 years ago

Hi David. What is procedure for iPad please?

Ann Bodensteiner
4 years ago

What if I own only an iPhone and an iPad? No computer here.

Renske Vlug
4 years ago

Thanks, very useful!!!

Dirk Darling
4 years ago

I followed these instructions exactly and my icloud is still full, it didnt reduce at all. And my “next backup size” is over 13GB. I’ve deleted all photos and vids from my phone. What the hell is going on?

Johannes Dyuulume
4 years ago

how can i remove icloud on my iphone6 i flash it and it stack on ativation lock i forget it some one can halp

Painkillz AbuOmar
4 years ago

my storage is full because of Mail 3GB, how to get rid of it without losing my emails?

Carolyn Hamilton
4 years ago

thank you so much for clear and concise instructions.

Allessio Ventura
4 years ago

I have only used 10% of icloud storage yet I get this message.

It should not be this difficult to understand a message. This is what happens when HIgh School graduates write code.

Lori Coleman-Brown
4 years ago

Thank you

Sandy Shaw
4 years ago

What do I need to have iCloud backup? Do games need to be backed up so you can continue with the levels?

Sandy Shaw
4 years ago

I did all of this but my iCloud storage did not free up. It did say my photos would be in i
cloud for 30 and then woud be deleted. Do I have to wait thirty days?

Bhavik Patel
4 years ago

Do you happen to have a tutorial of this for people’s macbook?

Nicky Hulme
4 years ago

Thank you for this. I did everything you said (even though some of the steps looked a bit different) and now I’m nervously awaiting the result. I’ll just be thrilled not to get all the notices of how I have to upgrade again, though! I got an email from iCloud saying “Original format, full resolution versions of your photos and videos are not stored on your devices. You must download your full resolution photos and videos to at least one device before they are deleted from iCloud Photo Library in 30 days.” But if they’re on my Photos app on… Read more »

Mandy Mae
4 years ago

Thank you! This was very helpul and freed up a ton of space on icloud.

Holly Robichaux
4 years ago

my storage is full but i do not see photos online on Icloud. how do i clean up Icloud to give me more storage so i can backup my phone?

How To Backup iPhone To iCloud On iOS 12: A Quick Guide!
3 years ago

[…] you’re considering buying extra iCloud storage space, check out our article on ways to get around paying for iCloud backups. You still may be able to backup your iPhone to iCloud on iOS 12 without spending a […]

5 years ago

does your Windows PC need to have icloud installed in order to preform any of the steps 1 thru 5 above

Justin Harms
5 years ago

I have a question about this. I followed all the steps you described. I’m showing 4.8GB left of 50GB. What I’m curious about is: Settings> iCloud> Storage> Manage Storage> iCloud Photo Library> It says “You have 1,787 photos and 141 videos stored in iCloud. You’re photos and videos are using 36.7GB.” “To free up space, manage your photo library in the Photos app.” Then there is a button for “Disable and Delete.” This wasn’t listed in the instructions as far as I could tell. Is this a new feature since your article was written? Do I doable this or leave… Read more »

Justin Harms
5 years ago
Reply to  Justin Harms

After doing all that, I’m still only left with <500MB on my phone.

5 years ago

Thank you so much for this write up!! What a life saver it is!!

Joe Holliday
5 years ago

My photo storage on iCloud is only 20mb. 4.8gb of my iCloud storage is iPad backup.

John Farrell
5 years ago

you talked about adding more storage on I cloud how can I get more storage without paying for it ?

Susan C.
5 years ago

Hi David, can you help me out here? My sister’s iPhone 5 has NEVER been connected to iTunes and NEVER had any backups whatsoever. I got her to plug the phone into her laptop to sync to iTunes and it said “restore from backup or set up as a new device” (which she can’t do either of these, as she has no backup, and set up as new device would erase everything on her phone!) Will the steps outlined in your article still work in this case? i’m trying to do tech support for her from the other side of… Read more »

5 years ago

I moved all my photos from my old laptop to my new imac and it seems they are all also on the cloud now, and I am out of storage. I didnt want them on the cloud, just wanted them on the new computer. If I turn off the icloud photo storage, will it delete the photos (like it says it will), even though I moved them directly to a folder on the imac? I dont want to shut that off and lose years of photos. thanks!!!

Caroline Ziaian
5 years ago

Hi David, great article and very useful, but I have several other issues I’m hoping you could help me resolve. I have a MacBook with no pace left due to the 40 odd GBs of photos and an iMac that is fine for space and managing. I have two HDs and Dropbox. My mobile has 8,500 photos, iCloud only stored around 3100?? and my 5GB of iCloud space had reached the limit. I tried deleting etc, but it was no good so had to upgrade iCloud too. 1) I want to delete the photos off my laptop, yet still benefit… Read more »

5 years ago

I want my photos to sync from my phone to my pc, so i have checked the box, it wont let me uncheck the box for photos from pc to icloud, i have a million photos on my pc, i do NOT want them uploaded to icloud, it won’t let me turn this off; however i noticed there is a “folder destination” specified.
somebody help?? will it only upload photos in that specific folder to my icloud from my pc?

5 years ago

Hi David, thank you: this is the most helpful site I’ve found so far (I thought I was fairly intelligent, my husband too, but we get sooo confused with this!) I’d like to echo exactly Rosie’s questions: (I’ve spent 4 hours on this rainy summer day trying to manually download images from my iCloud to my Macbook Pro – then delete each one manually – but in once case, I had a series of like over 50 similar photos.. my head’s about to explode). In addition to Rosie’s excellent questions, can you also please explain how (& where) exactly I… Read more »

5 years ago

Thanks David. Finally I’m able to get rid of the backup nag ?

Jennifer Hill
5 years ago

Hi David,
Super helpful steps and background information on how all of these photo options work. Thank you!
Just to confirm, now that the photos are automatically streaming to my windows PC (i just took a photo on my phone and see it on my computer, so it works) are they going to stay on my computer forever? Meaning, are they downloaded copies, or is this just another stream that will also vanish in 30 days? Sorry if I missed this part! Thanks in advance,

5 years ago

Thanks David!! I’ve turned off photo backup. Besides, I have the google photo app.

5 years ago

I have no idea what is going on here. I can’t upload a file in Notes because it said memory full but I still have 3GB space left. What should I do?

Rosie Blakely
5 years ago

Sorry if I’m really confused, but with using iCloud storage for photos, doesn’t that mean that older photos are stored in iCloud, and only take up storage on the phone if you select it? So if I turn off iCloud storage for photos, and turn on photo stream so that photos are streaming to all devices, won’t my phone storage fill up really fast? Also, if I delete a photo from my iPhone, will this delete the photo from all my devices that it’s streaming to? Is the only solution then to physically back up the photos onto a hard… Read more »

5 years ago

Great article….at last I understand
Two questions – My wife and I both have iPhones and iPads but we only have one PC.
Can we upload all Photo Streams to the single PC?
Does the PC Photo Stream delete photos after 30 days?

5 years ago

Hi David. Thank you. I am extremely happy I ran into your article. I spent hours with Applecare today and never got solved. Went to a Apple store and they told me to delete my photos to free up space on my iCloud..
Amazing really!
I followed these steps and freed up almost 3GB off my iCloud.. Again, thank you