How to delete old backups and other ways to free up space in iCloud

iCloud automagically backs up all of the data on your iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. So, if you ever lose, replace, update, or simply restore your device, you can easily get back to right where you left off. Unfortunately, iCloud backup is so automagical that it can quickly fill up the 5GB Apple gives you for free, preventing future backups or forcing you to buy additional -- non free - storage.

Sure, you can go through and delete iCloud emails with hefty attachments, or be frugal about just how many -- and how large --documents you keep in the cloud, but you can also control just exactly what gets backed up, removing anything that's not urgent or important to you, and you can also manually delete old backups from devices you no longer have, or you simply don't need anymore. And that can instantly free up considerable, valuable space for the stuff you do care about.

How to delete an iCloud backup

Old backups, especially if they're for devices you've since lost, given away, sold, upgraded, or otherwise don't have anymore, can be a huge waste of your iCloud space. Likewise, even backups of the devices you do use, if they're several months old, might not be worth keeping around any more. Since all the iPhones, iPods, and iPads you've ever connected to your iCloud account share the same 5GB storage pool, cleaning out what you no longer need can give you back a lot of breathing room. It's easy to do, if tricky to find.

  1. Launch the Settings app
  2. Tap on iCloud
  3. Tap on Storage and Backup
  4. Tap on Manage Storage
  5. Check out your current backups stored on iCloud. (Here you can see two iPhones, including one replaced at the Apple Store last week and so no longer needed).
  6. Tap on the backup you want to remove from iCloud
  7. Tap on Delete Backup
  8. Tap on Turn Off and Delete

That’s it, that backup has now been removed and your iCloud account should show a nicer, healthier balance.

How to manually manage what gets backed up to iCloud

Once you've deleted all the old backups you don't need any more, the next thing to check is what's being backed up now, and whether or not all of it needs to be backed up. For example, backing up the Camera Roll can use up a large amount of your iCloud storage. Since Photo Stream captures all the photo data anyway, and isn't counted against your total storage usage, turning off Camera Roll backup can save you considerable space. You will LOSE backups of videos, but those same videos can chew through your free iCloud data allotment anyway. Again, it's easy to see and control what gets backed up to iCloud, once you know where to look.

  1. Launch the Settings app
  2. Tap iCloud near the bottom
  3. Tap Storage and Backup near the bottom
  4. Tap Manage Storage
  5. If you have multiple devices on the same iCloud account, tap on the name of your device
  6. You'll see a list of apps currently being backed up to iCloud. Not all apps will be shown immediately. Too see them all, tap Show All
  7. For any apps you don't really want or need to be backed up, switch the toggle button to Off

The Camera Roll above is 35GB. That could cost you quite a bit in iCloud storage fees. Turning it off, you save a ton of space. Just remember, while Photo Stream will keep your still photos safe, your videos won't get backed up so you'll have to take care of those yourself.

How to downgrade your iCloud storage

If you previously bought more iCloud storage space, and now, after having cleaned out your iClouds, you decide you don't any more, you can make sure you don't get billed again next time your payment comes due. iCloud billing is on a yearly cycle, so chance are you'll still get the extra storage you paid for for a while, but you won't get charged again.

  1. Launch the Settings app
  2. Tap iCloud near the bottom
  3. Tap Storage and Backup near the bottom
  4. Tap Buy More Storage
  5. Tap Downgrade Options near the bottom
  6. Login with your Apple ID password
  7. Choose your new plan from the available options

The downgrade will take effect at your next billing cycle (one year after you bought the additional storage).

How to get more help with iCloud

If you still need help with any other iCloud feature, head on over to our iCloud Forum and ask away! And if you have any of your own tips on saving space in iCloud, leave it in the comments below!

Ally Kazmucha and Chris Oldroyd contributed sections to this articles.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 9 comments. Add yours.

GrantXStorer says:

Ok I need some serious help.
I have both an iPhone and an iPad, and my next back up for my iPhone is 6.7GB... The problem is, I have absolutely no idea where that 6.7GB comes from! My highest app file is camera roll and thats only 400MB and I even turned that off. My highest active file is iBooks and thats only 35MB, and only 18 apps total (half are under 1MB.)

My iPad has significantly more apps on backup, and its highest app is iBooks with 200MB (second one drops to 15MB) and that only takes up 450MB.

Both my iPad have the same settings of backing up Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Bookmarks, Photostream, Documents, and Find my Iphone.

So how can there be such a disparity between the file size of these two devices and what exactly is taking all my iPhone space??

Gazoobee says:

The backup of your phone in iCloud is your entire device. You don't have to worry about adding this and that up, just look at the amount of space used on the entire device and that should be the size of your backup. Backups of data from programs are separate, and will add to that total over and above the size of the phone backup itself. Email is also separate, but that storage isn't counted against the total.

GrantXStorer says:

Ok, I don't think I quite understand.
If its my entire device its storing, then my iPad should significantly take up a bigger portion of my iCloud because its 64GB & my iPhone is a 32GB, and my iPad is consuming more GBs of data on both the HDD, and as well as the data represented on iCloud.

So at least in my observation, the iPad is dominating my data consumption in every measurable and yet is 1/12 of the iCloud demand compared to my iPhone.

waresdeb says:

I am having a problem learning how to get my Iphone 4S to back uo to Icloud on my computer...It keeps telling me there no backups on my computer or phone????

Journeyman2 says:

This article was extremely helpful; thanks Rene!!

Christi McElroy says:

If I delete my old iphone, will it delete everything I moved over from it? Right now mine shows my old and current iphone. I just want to make sure I won't lose anything.

Heather Morriss says:

I'm with Chris, my iphone was stolen and distroyed. I have all the stuff I "clouded" on my ipad now. I want to make sure if I delete the back up for the phone I won't lose my contact and pictures from the ipad. I haven't replaced my phone yet so I wasn't sure if I should wait or if I am okay to get it deleted. My computers a dino but I guess if I need to I can back up stuff to there but I would rather not. Please help!?

Stanyy says:

No, it won't delete your current device's data, though you have to have a backup saved for the current device just like Christi has done. The backup for the current device will be an independent backup, you can confirm this by checking the backup details from your iCloud storage settings, you would see all the items that are backed up there. You can also check the sizes of both backups to figure out that the data is contained in both places. I would advice you find a computer to save the old backup though, to eliminate doubts. To get a better understanding of iCloud backup storage, read http://iphonemonk.com/how-to-delete-icloud-backup-data-and-apps/

Juvia Chua says:

i try to delete an icloud backup in my icloud account and they told me that i cannot delete the back up because it is in use. but i wan to clear everything inside.. help, what should i do..