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.

Subscribe
Notify of
258 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Wendy
1 year ago

I don’t want to pay 99cents every month for ICloud. I managed well before. I can manage without it. I don’t store files or photos.Or anything for that matter. ICloud doesn’t mean anything to me. How can I stop this extra money grab?

Jacki Giampietro
1 year ago

My iPhone XS Max is suddenly very slow and sometimes lie linr just doesn’t move. Help? Thank you.

Editor
Colin Boyd
1 year ago

Hi Jacki! I’m sorry to hear your iPhone is giving your trouble. Have you updated your iPhone recently? It may be experiencing a software bug that a newer update might have already fix. I’d recommending heading to Settings -> General -> Software Update to check if there’s an iOS update available! Hope this helps!

Lisa Packard
1 year ago

Any ideas regarding a dark screen on iPhone when outside

Editor
Colin Boyd
1 year ago
Reply to  Lisa Packard

Hi Lisa, have you tried turning on True Tone? It automatically adjusts your iPhone’s brightness setting depending on your environments lighting. If you don’t like how dark your screen seems in daylight, this might be the solution for you!

Open Settings -> Display & Brightness. Under Display & Brightness, check the switch labelled True Tone to see if this setting is currently turned on or off. I Hope this helps!

Lisa
1 year ago

Hi David, I tried to follow your instructions, but unfortunately my MacBook Pro will not allow me to enter my password when I try and change the options on photo stream. Any suggestions?

Mark B
1 year ago

I don’t usually leave comments David, but I wanted to express my thanks. I’ve had my iPhone 7 for 2.5yrs and download iOS updates without issue, till now? I spent a couple of hours reading advice off of the net yesterday followed by an hour on the phone with Apple Care with no solution. After downloading the iOS 14.6 update on Sunday night, I woke to find all my passwords missing and the settings page for it reconfigured, followed by the calendar info gone and colour related tabs replaced, why I have no clue. Despite all my settings being set… Read more »

Janice Godfrey
1 year ago

I pay for Google cloud, plus I have Amazon, having Apple ICloud seems redundant. I’m a new IPhone user, so this phone has been a learning curve as it is. Can’t it just continue with Google?

Editor
Colin Boyd
1 year ago
Reply to  Janice Godfrey

Hi Janice, unfortunately, Apple products play well with other Apple products. It’s the same with Google, Samsung, and everyone else.

Olivia Loya
1 year ago

Hi!
Thank you so much for this article
very helpful
I just got an email from ICloud saying my storage is complete Full!

Tee L
1 year ago

Very, very helpful article. TY so much!

Liam Shotwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Tee L

No problem! I’m glad it worked well for you!

Denise
1 year ago

Hi ! I have 461 mb on iCloud and yet it says I don’t have enough storage to back up my phone . Like what the heck ?

Benjamin Skinner
1 year ago
Reply to  Denise

461 mb is very little space. It’s no wonder that you don’t have room to backup your phone.

Woo
1 year ago

I think you misunderstood 0.4G of the 5G free space. So has 4.6 free space available on iCloud and yet says it can’t back up.
I have the same issue and think its the messages app.
This article was wriiten long before apple included messages as a backup.
Though I think it’s a bug as even woth message not selected to backup it still seem to count toward the total.
Can anyone else confirm this?

asfand
1 year ago

i don’t have an ipad, a mac or a pc. i just have the iphone 12 pro max. how do i use my photo stream? will it work for me if i just turn it on and stop my photos from backing up on icloud?

Amaira
1 year ago

Hi, can you tell me I have to pay continuously every month for iCloud upgrade?! if yes or not how many month do I have pay? Please! I beg your response! I need to know that immediately!

Liam Shotwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Amaira

Hi, Amaira. Here are Apple’s iCloud pricing rates for each region. I hope this helps!

Kurt
1 year ago

I hope you respond David. I followed your instructions. Although, the way the Settings were organized is a little different since you wrote the article. For example in step 2, I never saw a “This iPhone” option under Manage Storage. Anyway, after completing all the steps I received an email from the iCloud team stating, “You must download your full resolution photos and videos to at least one device before they are deleted from iCloud Photos in 30 days.” I must say this is a little disconcerting. I’m inclined to turn iCloud photo back up back on. How do I… Read more »

Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Kurt

I think you missed the part in the article where he mentions to use your lightning cable to plug up to your iMac and it will automatically download those photos, if it doesnt, you can still download them manually, page three of article explains it beautifully in 5 steps

Michael
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian

Both article (and you Brian) refer to some “pages” to which there is no any link or instructions how to find them. Instruction as it is on this page is misleading. “You are done” implies – nothing else has to be done. Instruction reassures – turn off and delete Photo Library, it is going to be OK. Actually, you are not going to be OK and definitely you are not “done”. What about backing up pictures from Photo Stream before they get deleted AFTER completing all explained steps??? Unlike Kurt I was not alerted by e-mail. The guess is whoever… Read more »

Editor
Colin Boyd
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael

Hi Michael, thanks for your feedback! What specifically would you like us to update about this information? The last thing we would want is to bring anyone to tears!

itasara
1 year ago

For a LONG TIME I have disabled and not used photo library. I recently started backing up my iphone to another computer.But still had backups on this computer. Today I got a notice my icloud was full. I I donot save pictures on the cloud but back them up from my computer. I thought shutting off mail would help only to find out I can only use icloud mail if the icloud preference for it is on. I have a lot of other mailboxes I used. I have been trying to delete pictures from messages, but I get so many… Read more »

Jamie
1 year ago
Reply to  itasara

I was under the impression that the my photo stream feature was an old feature that only is an option for people who had an iCloud account before it was eliminated. ??‍♀️

Luis Zacarini
1 year ago

I have always had this problem. “Your iPhone hasn’t been backed up for weeks” “Your storage is full” etc. I would buy some space and in days it would be full again. I was completely at a loss. I was considering moving to another Cloud platform. I am so happy to have come across that page. Thank you David.
A tad of criticism to Apple for foul play would be appreciated.

Jon
1 year ago

What if you have a house fire or robbery etc that destroys your phone and pc etc as all in same location, even the hard drive backup of your pc as it was stored in your cupboard.
the reason I pay for iCloud is to hold an OFF SITE backup of everything.

Liam Shotwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon

That’s a very good reason to still use iCloud or another storage solution! I think that it really depends on user needs.

Jon
1 year ago
Reply to  Liam Shotwell

Your article should include this to make users aware of the risk and limitations. All your devices and backups in one physical location could potentially be disastrous , and if you follow your article, that potentially increases the risk of losing data and not being able to recover it . From experience many people don’t have a good home backup process.

Liam Shotwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon

That’s a fair point, I’ll mention it to the others. Thank you!

Robin
1 year ago

What if I’m out of storage on my computer for backup?

Liam Shotwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin

An external hard drive might be able to help you.

Anita O
1 year ago
Reply to  Liam Shotwell

Hello Liam, can you suggest some external storage devices that are compatible with iPhones please? I have ton of data but I cannot keep up with a subscription for now.

thank you

Liam Shotwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Anita O

Hey there, Anita. I found you some great options! The SanDisk 128GB iXpand Flash Drive Go is a great portable choice that won’t break the bank. It’s also pretty stylish! It plugs right into the charging port on your phone. The other option is the iDiskk Certified by Apple 1TB External Hard Drive. This gives you a TON of storage but it’s a bit more expensive and is a little less portable than the flash drive. However, I find that larger devices are easier to keep track of so you won’t lose them as often. ?

Debbie
1 year ago

What can you do when you don’t have a computer ..just iPad and phone

Liam Shotwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Debbie

You can do most of the steps in this article without a computer I think. However, keep in mind that uploading a ton of photos and videos will always take longer on a wireless connection. A wired connection to a computer will save you a lot of time!

Carl
1 year ago

Excellent article and still very accurate. Hugely helpful. Thank you so much!!

Janice Knight
1 year ago

I don’t have a computer to backup my photos to. All photos are on my phone and IPad. How do I back them up?

Kerri
1 year ago
Reply to  Janice Knight

Reply
Liam Shotwell
5 months ago
Reply to  Debbie
You can do most of the steps in this article without a computer I think. However, keep in mind that uploading a ton of photos and videos will always take longer on a wireless connection. A wired connection to a computer will save you a lot of time!

qwrqheuh
1 year ago

Can I use iCloud for free?

Coffeetea
1 year ago

If you turn off Photo Library in iCloud Backup and use My Photo Stream to back them up instead, will all the photos in iCloud be GONE???

Ginger
1 year ago

I need to replace my iPad. Would I save all of my photos to my Mac, then remove the photo backup to the cloud when I do a backup? When I get the new iPad and down load the cloud saved data, will there be any photos? Does my iTunes music or books come back?

Cameron
1 year ago

does this actually work?

Deana
2 years 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.

Swarupa
2 years 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?

Tums
1 year ago
Reply to  Swarupa

Exactly idk either

Alison
1 year ago
Reply to  Swarupa

Yes, it starts a monthly subscription and you share that extra space with the devices connected to the same cloud.

Alan
2 years ago

Is this info still accurate in 2020?

thx

amuoio
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan

did you hear back?

Helen McMahan
2 years 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?

Karen
2 years ago
Reply to  Helen McMahan

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

Emily
2 years 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.

KSPITTS
2 years ago

I can’t find any place where it is labeled photo stream

Denise Sawatzky
4 years ago

Did you find the answer to this question, Im afraid to lose the pictures already in icloud.

Marianna Virides
3 years ago

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

Dana Mc Daniel Clemeaux
3 years 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
3 years 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
3 years ago

Excellent article. Thanks for the help.

May Thomas
3 years 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
3 years 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
4 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
4 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.
4 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
4 years ago

If I turn off Photo Library backups for iCloud will it delete the photos already backed up on my iCloud?

Alex Linnae
4 years ago

Wheres the next page? Ill explain why your iCloud storage is always full on the next page.

Elaine Scheer
4 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
4 years ago

awesome articles, thank you so much!

Leah Harper
4 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
4 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
4 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
4 years ago

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

Peter Baker
4 years ago

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

Suzanne Jansen Yerton
4 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
4 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??