iPhone Storage Full? 13 Killer Hacks to Set Your iPhone Free!
In our last post we showed you exactly how to make the most of the 5GB of iCloud storage that you get from Apple for free but we also promised to show you how to free up space on your iPhone.
So, in these 13 hacks, we’re going to deal with this other huge issue that plagues many of us – fixing that moment when we see the dreaded messages ‘Not Enough Storage’ or, even worse, ‘Cannot Take Photo’ or ‘Cannot Record Video’ which pop up as we attempt to take a photo, film a moment, install a new app or download a movie to our iPhone.
This article is not about you not having enough storage to backup your iPhone to iCloud. That problem is what our earlier article fixes!
How Much Storage is There on My iPhone?
The lack of storage that we’re looking at in this article happens when you’ve filled up the storage capacity of your iPhone (or iPad).
Your iPhone might have anything from 16GB to 128GB of storage if it’s a recent model (such as an iPhone 6) but it might have as little as 4GB if it’s something like an older iPhone 4.
If you’re not sure which model you have and how many GB of storage you have on your iPhone you can check it by going to Settings > General > About > and scroll down to ‘Capacity’.
The number you see there tells you how much storage is available to you on your device. It won’t be the amount Apple lists in their advertisements as around 10% of the total memory available is used to store the iOS operating system itself and the native pre-installed apps (Mail, Safari etc) – and the exact amount depends on the version of iOS you’re running.
So, look at that number and round it up to the next highest number of 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB or 128GB.
In the case of my iPhone 5S in the picture below, I see Capacity as 55.7GB so I know I have a device with 64GB of storage.
What Uses the Most Storage on an iPhone?
This storage gets used up by every photo and video you take, every app you install, music you download as well as text messages and email and other random bits and bobs.
As an example, a single HD movie can use up 5GB (or 2.5GB for a non-HD movie), a complex graphics heavy game app could be 2GB, roughly 125 photos will use up 1GB (on the latest devices with the best definition cameras), and approximately 200 songs (stored not streamed) will also take up 1GB – again, depending on the quality settings of the files (higher quality files will use more space!).
Many of us will never use up all the storage available on the built in drive on your iPhone, whereas others will find it surprisingly easy to use up the whole of it in a relatively short space of time.
It all depends on the sort of stuff that you download and store. Folks downloading a lot of movies and taking a lot of pictures will find that they gobble up that memory pretty sharpish!
So, let’s look at the specific types of data and files that take up all that valuable space and what you can do to free some up so you can keep using your iPhone the way you want. And, as we’ll see, one key tip from our iCloud storage space article is also the biggest tip for this iPhone storage problem since it also frees up massive storage space on almost everyone’s device!
1. Check How Much Storage You’re Using
Before we look at freeing up storage space on your iPhone or iPad, the best place to start is by looking to see what you have on your device that is using up your available GB.
Handily, Apple makes this very easy.
Go to Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage
Click through and then under the heading ‘Storage’, select ‘Manage Storage’. (‘Storage’ gives you the data for storage on your iPhone and ‘iCloud’ will give you the data for storage in iCloud – as we covered in the earlier article).
At the top, you’ll see headline figures for storage – ‘Used’ and ‘Available’.
This should be fairly self explanatory and lets you know how severe your storage issue is. If you are down to the last few 100MB of ‘Available’ storage, you should follow these hacks now to clear out some space!
Under that section you’ll see a list of all the apps on your device and next to each the amount of storage on your iPhone that each one is taking up.
This screen is very useful for seeing what is unnecessarily taking up storage on your device since it lists them in order of the amount of memory they’re using – i.e. the largest memory hog is at the top.
Therefore, if you take a minute to look through this and see which type of file is using the most storage space (photos, podcasts, music or apps etc) you can take steps to delete those you can do without, or, as we’ll see transfer them (or back them up) to another location and then delete them to free up space.
2. Back Up and Delete Your Photos
It will be extremely common for people reading this to see that the thing using the most memory on their device is ‘Photos & Camera’!
Most of us take a lot of photos with our iPhones these days and these build up into the hundreds and thousands and are the main culprit in using up available space on your device.
Although using iCloud Photo Library does help in reducing the size of the images on your phone, we know that for most users it still leaves them with too much storage being used by photos.
The fix for this is to back up your photos to another device or service and we looked at this in full detail in the section headed ‘The Problem with Photos on iOS Devices’ in our iCloud storage article. As we cover exactly what we recommend you do in that article, read that section there (Note that the link should take you to the right section of that article but if not, scroll about two thirds of the way down to find it).
Our conclusion is that most iPhone users are better off backing up all their images to Google Photos or Flickr and then deleting them from their iPhone Photos app.
You’ll see on my iPhone in the image above that Google Photos uses much less data to store all the same images, but I can additionally delete these from my device entirely but they’d still be available in my Google Photos back up.
Don’t keep both Photos!
It’s worth noting that a great first step in managing your photos on your device is to not keep all the rubbish photos you take!
Get in the habit of checking your Camera Roll every few days and delete all the dross you have – trust me, you won’t need them ever again!
But, in addition, there’s a little setting that most of us don’t deal with.
Most of us allow our iPhone to take photos using ‘HDR (‘High Dynamic Range’). This is a setting in the Camera app itself – you’ll see it at the top of the screen and it can be set On / Off /Auto. When in use your camera takes three separate exposures and combines them to make the best possible quality image.
It’s a great way to try and get the best photo.
But, most of us leave a setting on that makes your iPhone keep the ‘normal’ photo as well as the HDR one. For most of us there’s no need and you are doubling the amount of photos you store on your camera.
So, switch it off by going to Settings > Photos & Camera > scroll down to ‘HDR’ and toggle off ‘Keep Normal Photo’.
Clear out ‘Bursts’!
It’s also well worth looking to see if you have lots of ‘Burst’ photos on your Camera Roll. That’s when you hold down the Camera button and it takes a series of pictures really quickly. These are shown as one image in Camera Roll but when you click on a ‘Burst’ photo, it will say ‘Burst’ in the top left.
Click ‘Select’ in the bottom tool bar when viewing a Burst photo and you’ll see all the individual shots – and can delete those that you don’t need to keep!
Burst is a brilliant way to take a series of photos at lightning speed so that you can go back later and pick the best shot to ensure you managed to get the best picture, but you’ll never need to keep every frame you took.
You may also be doubling up on photos if you’re a big time Instagram user. In this case you might want to keep photos that you’ve filtered and posted to Instagram, but equally you might not need to.
Every time you take a picture and filter it and then post to Instagram, it is saved to your Camera Roll on your device by default.
If you often use a photo that’s already on your Camera Roll rather than taking a picture with the Instagram app then you may well not need to keep both.
If you want to avoid the Instagram versions saving to your Camera Roll go to the Instagram App, click the ‘gear’ icon for ‘Options’, scroll down and toggle off ‘Save Original Photos’.
You may well be doing a similar thing with WhatsApp.
In the WhatsApp app, go to Settings and then ‘Chats’. You’ll see ‘Save Incoming Media’. This automatically saves any incoming photos or video to your Camera Roll.
If you’re an avid WhatsApp user you might want to switch this off! You can always individually save any image or video that you do want to keep by tapping on it in a Chat and saving.
3. Delete Apps You’ve Given Up On!
Although it makes sense to scroll down the storage usage list in volume order (starting with those apps that have associated data and files using the most space at the top), I’d suggest making your next step be scrolling through and deleting any apps that you see as you go that you just don’t use. You’ll probably be surprised how many apps you have that you have either never used or totally forgotten about and some may be taking up several 100MB of space.
If you want them later you can re-download them as your Apple ID remembers all your purchases from the App Store and they can be downloaded again at any time in the future without paying for them again.
In the list, click on the app and you’ll get the option to ‘Delete App’. Click this and you’ll be given a second confirmation. Click ‘Delete App’ in this new pop-up at the bottom of the screen and the app will be gone.
Of course, you can also go back to your Home Screen and look through the apps that way. Click and Hold on any app to enter ‘Edit’ mode – by making all your apps ‘wiggle’ – and then simply click the ‘x’ in the top right of any app you want to delete.
My guess is that an ‘average’ iPhone owner might be able to free up as much as 500MB (which is half of 1GB) just by deleting apps.
Although it is technically possible to delete some of Apple’s Native Apps (such as Stocks or Calendar) this cannot be done without ‘jailbreaking’ your iPhone – so we won’t go into that here!
4. Delete Useless Documents & Data
As you scroll down the list and click through to the apps that are showing lots of storage usage you’ll see that there is a figure next to the text ‘Documents & Data’ that tells you that data associated to the app is using up that much space – that’s in addition to the memory used just to store the app itself.
Often these will be files that you’ve copied and kept elsewhere so you can go the app individually and delete the files associated with it.
A good example is ‘Pages’. I have 1.2MB of ‘Documents & Data’ files stored there but I have long ago copied them to my Dropbox so I can open Pages, click ‘Edit’ and delete those files.
You might find lots of old data or files accumulated in apps such as Numbers, Garageband (if you make music), Shazam, Skype, Messenger and many more – basically any app that might have a need to save information is worth looking into if it appears high on the Storage usage list.
Each app will require deleting of files in a slightly different way but generally it will be obvious in the app.
Look for those that have a lot of ‘Documents & Data’ showing in the Storage list, go to each app and delete the files and data as appropriate!
5 . Delete All Old Podcasts
If you are an avid listener of podcasts (as I am) you’ll be likely to see the Podcasts app (or a third party podcast app that you might use) next on your list of memory hogs.
Podcasts tend to be quite long recordings and they’re downloaded to your iPhone when you listen to them. You may also have the app set to download new episodes from the podcasts you subscribe to as they are released. So, they can easily end up talking up a lot of space.
It’s simple to fix – from the list, click on ‘Podcasts’ and you’ll see a list of all the podcasts you have on your iPhone and the amount of memory they are each using. Make a note of the worst offenders and then go to the Podcasts app itself.
In that app, click ’My Podcasts’ and then click through to those where you want to delete episodes you’ve already listened to or that you don’t need. Click ‘Edit’ in the top right corner and you’ll get the option of deleting each episode.
You can also got to Settings > Podcasts and fiddle with the settings there so that played episodes are automatically deleted and also tinker with how and when new podcasts are downloaded.
This can free up a lot of space if you have a thorough clear out!
6. Delete Music that You Don’t Listen To!
If you have a lot of music stored on your iPhone you’ll have seen ‘Music’ near the top of the Storage list. I don’t have that much on my iPhone anymore as I use Spotify more than I use my iTunes library but I still have over 3GB of music that I really don’t listen to very much.
If you have too much music hogging up your space, you’ll need to get brutal and delete some stuff that you don’t listen to that often.
From the storage screen, click on ‘Music’ and you’ll get a list of all the music on your device listed by Artist. Click ‘Edit’ on the top right on this screen, or the artist screen, or the album screen (as you click deeper through the menu) and you can delete music by artist, album or song simply by clicking the red ‘minus’ icon.
You can also go into the ‘Music’ app and do the same thing. In ‘Library’ in the new Music app, click the three red dots to the right of the song name and you’ll get the option to ‘Delete from My Music’.
If you have embraced streaming and use Spotify or the streaming part of Apple Music you can probably delete most of your iTunes library (that are downloads).
The way these streaming services work allows you to have some tracks also stored on your iPhone or iPad as long as you have a current subscription. These will obviously take up storage space on your iPhone as they’ve been downloaded but you can almost certainly download less music than you would if you only had your own library as the service’s entire catalogue is available to stream as long as you have an internet connection.
We have a very comprehensive guide to Apple Music here on our premium membership site.
7. Delete Years of Text Messages!
Are you SMS crazy? If so, you’re likely to have a lot of memory used up storing old messages.
Click on the ‘Messages’ app in the Storage list and you’ll see a figure for the amount of space your saved messages are using.
I’m not a huge user of texting but still I had 460MB of wasted storage clogged up with old messages – and, honestly, how often do we need to go back and look at these?
There’s a couple of things you can do to get rid of unnecessary messages.
In the messages app you can simply swipe left to bring up a delete option for a message thread.
Also in Settings > Messages > scroll down to ‘Message History’ and choose how long to keep all messages. This is set to ‘Forever’ by default, but most of us could easily get by with 1 Year or the short option of 30 Days. Selecting any of the shorter time options will delete older messages and free up a lot of space.
8. Deal with Old Email
This is a tricky one as it depends massively on the particular email set-up you have on your device, and there are immeasurable ways you could be dealing with email.
However, if you have thousands, or tens of thousands, of emails and their attachments stored on your iPhone (rather than on a remote server that your device accesses), then, clearly, they will potentially be using up a lot of your storage space.
Alas, as your particular settings will affect what you can do on your device, we can’t do more than offer a basic approach.
If you use the Mail app and have the same email on a remote server or on another device (most likely a desktop or laptop computer) then you can retrieve space on your iPhone by deleting older email and their attachments.
It is notoriously difficult to delete emails in bulk from the Mail app and the ‘no fun’ solution is to go through your mailbox when you have some down time, individually selecting and deleting email that you think you won’t need.
Hopefully the other hacks in this guide will mean that you can live with the email you have in the Mail app and not have to go through this process but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how it can gobble up space!
9. Delete Movies, TV Shows and Music Videos
Any films (movies), TV shows or music videos that you’ve downloaded from the iTunes Store can safely be deleted from your device – since, as with apps, you can download them again without paying a second time (simply go to the iTunes Store app on your device, click the ‘More’ section on the bottom right and then ‘Purchased’ – you can download these at any time). Apple has more on that here.
Similarly, if you have downloaded or added videos yourself, you could delete these if you have another copy on another device.
To delete any videos (other than stuff you have filmed yourself or saved to your ‘Camera Roll’) simply open the Videos app, click on the section you want (e.g. ‘Films’) and then tap ‘Edit’. Click the ‘x’ to delete the videos one by one.
Clearing out videos from your iPhone that you haven’t watched in an age is going to liberate space very quickly!
10. Delete All the Books You’ve Read
As with videos, you may well find from the Storage list that you’ve got plenty of old books or pdfs hanging around in your iBooks app that you’ve either long since read or are never going to get around to!
If iBooks appears high up the list in the Storage screen, then you’ll want to follow your now standard procedure (after you’ve taken the advice in these hacks!), go to the iBooks app, select ‘All Books’ from the drop down menu at the top and then press ‘Select’ on the top right. A check box will appear next to all the books you have in iBooks and if you click that you’ll be offered a two-stage option to delete any book.
Get rid of those that are cluttering up your iBooks app and iPhone storage!
11. Look in Your Other Photo Apps
If you have a bunch of alternative camera or photo editing apps (I have loads such as Camera+, Hipstamatic, Snapseed and many more) you might see them appear in the Storage list as having a lot of ‘Documents & Data’. In the case of camera or editing apps that usually means that the app stores photos you’ve taken or edited in that app but these are almost always on your Camera Roll as well.
Each of these apps will have different settings but open up the relevant app and look for a ‘Lightbox’ or ‘Saved Images’ and see if the app is saving photos in the app as well as to Camera Roll. If it is, you can delete them from one or other location – probably within that app being the best option if you’ve set yourself up following ‘Hack 2’ to back up all your photos on your Camera Roll to Google Photos or Flickr.
12. Clear Your Browser History
This might not clear up a vast amount of space on your iPhone but it will liberate some for everyone and it’s good practice in any event to have an occasional look at what cookies and history data your browsers are storing – whether that’s in the native Safari app or third party browser apps such as Chrome.
For Safari, go to Settings > Safari > scroll down to ‘Clear History and Website Data’. Click and then confirm in the pop-up.
For Chrome, go to the app itself, click the menu (three vertical dots on the top right), click ‘Settings’ and then under ‘Advanced’ click ‘Privacy’ where you’ll come across a section headed ‘Clear Browsing Data’. Go through each of these and ‘clear’ the data.
As I said, this might not free up very much space but it’s worth doing in any event!
13. Clear Out Voicemail and Voice Memos
This is the last full hack.
Any audio recording on your device is going to take up an amount of space that’s worth retrieving – so that means ‘Visual Voicemail’ in the Phone app and ‘Voice Memos’ if you use them.
I know plenty of people that have never deleted a voicemail and have every voicemail that they’ve ever received since getting that phone still stored. Surely there’s no need for that….!
To delete old voicemails, go to the Phone app and click on ‘Voicemail’ in the bottom right. Then from the visual list of voicemails you can just swipe left on any that you want to delete and click the red delete button. Or, you can tap on the voicemail to expand it and click on the ‘Delete’ text to the right.
You’ll need to go through these one by one as there is no bulk delete option nor is there an option in Settings to automatically delete these after a set period of time.
It’s a similar deal in Voice Memos. I use these sometimes and can end up with a reasonably large audio file that I’ve recorded. To delete them, open the Voice Memos app and click on the memo from the list and then just click the trash icon. Simple.
And Just a Few more….
Although we’ve numbered the killer ‘must-know’ hacks up to 13 in this article, we’ve already covered more than that with a few little asides about double photos and the like. However, although this is the ultimate guide to freeing up space on your iPhone, I haven’t covered absolutely everything that you can do to save space.
That’s because, on the one hand, we hit the law of diminishing returns. Everything else that we haven’t covered can free up some space, but we’ve covered all the major culprits above.
The other stuff you can do is much less significant in getting results. If these 13 hacks haven’t freed up enough storage on your iPhone, the other things you can do are not going to get you much further!
And, on the other hand, there’s a few things that you could do which are options if you didn’t follow the advice so far.
For example, it’s great advice to not have ‘My Photo Stream’ switched on as this duplicates every photo (up to 1000) that you have in My Photo Stream and saves them to your device again, in addition to having them on your Camera Roll. So, switching off ‘My Photo Stream’ is a great space saver.
However, if you followed our advice above – in ‘Hack 2’ – you’ll have your photos backing up automatically and in real time to Google Photos or something similar. If you’ve done that, and if you have all of an iPhone, iPad and a Mac you might choose to have My Photo Stream on to share your most recent 1000 photos across your devices via iCloud just because you want access to them on all your devices……and, crucially you have enough space, because you have dealt with the mass of older photos by following our advice!
Similarly the old advice used to be not to use iTunes Match (we won’t go into why here!) but with the increased use of Apple Music and Spotify for streaming we’d recommend switching to one of those and not bothering with a library of download music at all – as we said above.
If you want to go the whole nine yards, then let me know in the comments if you come across anything that you think will help all our community.
Either way, get hacking and freeing up your iPhone space.