How to free up space on your iPhone

The very first iPhone shipped with either 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB, and by today’s standards, that’s barely a sliver. We’re now downloading movies, TV shows, music, and packing our phones with nearly every app under the sun because we can. We need space and we need lots of it.

The latest iPhone 12 and its variants pack 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB of storage. Compared to the original, that’s an insane amount. But eventually, you’ll need to clean out that massive digital house to make room for all the new stuff you want to move in. This guide shows you how to free up space on your iPhone.

Check your remaining amount

To see where you stand regarding overall storage space, do the following:

Step 1: Tap to open Settings.

Step 2: Tap General.

Step 3: Tap iPhone Storage.

Here you’ll see a color-coded bar graph showing what is consuming the phone’s space, including apps, media, the operating system, and so on. In the case of a brand new iPhone 12 Pro Max we used for this guide, iOS 14.3 eats 7.16GB of the phone’s 128GB alongside 6.88GB of mysterious “other” data. We’ll get to the latter shortly.

You’ll also see tools for offloading unused apps, reviewing large attachments, and a complete list of all installed apps with the largest at the top. This is where we’ll start.

Remove the apps you don’t need

Keep in mind that certain apps aren’t necessarily big. For example, if OneDrive is using 7GB of space, it’s not the app itself hogging your phone’s storage but rather all the data you downloaded within for offline use. In this case, you’ll need to open OneDrive and manually delete all offline content to reduce the app’s overall size on your phone.

Other apps are just big in general, like Oceanhorn 2 using 2.66GB — it even saves an additional 397MB to your device, as shown above. Final Fantasy 15 Pocket Edition weighs at a smaller 903MB. If you want to remove these apps from your iPhone, here’s how:

Step 1: Tap to open Settings.

Step 2: Tap General.

Step 3: Tap iPhone Storage.

Step 4: Tap the App you want to remove.

Step 5: Tap Delete App on the following screen.

Step 6: Tap Delete App again on the roll-up menu to confirm.

Step 7: Rinse and repeat for all other apps.

Note: If you tap Offload App instead, as shown in the screenshot above, the app will be removed but its related data will stay on your phone. Otherwise, Delete App will remove everything, even saved data.

Another flag to look for on this list is apps that say Never Used. You should remove them from your phone if you never plan to use them. More importantly, enabling Offload Unused Apps will remove unused apps when you’re running out of storage, but keep all the related documents and data untouched.

If you’re looking for additional options, check out our guide on how to delete iPhone apps.

Limit the size of photos and videos

Your photos and videos captured with the phone are likely taking up a lot of space. While it’s a shame not to take full advantage of your camera’s cool features, turning some of those features off may clear up some much-needed space.

Turn off Live Photos

Each Live Photo is a three-second video, not a photo. This makes each shot slightly larger file-wise. To temporarily turn this feature off and save space, tap the Live Photos button located in the top right corner of the Camera app. It resembles a bullseye.

If you want to permanently disable Live Photos, do the following instead:

Step 1: Tap to open Settings.

Step 2: Scroll down and tap Camera.

Step 3: Tap Preserve Settings.

Step 4: Tap the Toggle next to Live Photo to turn this feature off.

Disable dual copies when using HDR

Photos look better with HDR flipped on, but on older iPhones, that means keeping two copies by default: One with HDR and one without. If you want to use HDR, toggling off the “normal” photo saves will free up space. Do the following so you’re not storing both:

Step 1: Tap to open Settings.

Step 2: Scroll down and tap Camera.

Step 3: Tap the Toggle next to Keep Normal Photo.

Note: You won’t see this option on phones with Apple’s A12 Bionic chip and newer. These devices have Smart HDR, which uses AI to combine the best of multiple exposures into a single photo.

Reduce video framerate and resolution

You should avoid recording 4K or slow-motion video if you have limited space, as both will use a lot of storage compared to ordinary video. Reducing the resolution and frame rate will help, as this creates smaller video files. Here’s how:

Step 1: Tap to open Settings.

Step 2: Scroll down and tap Camera.

Step 3: Tap Record Video and adjust the setting accordingly. You can also toggle off HDR Video if needed.

Step 4: Go back to Camera and tap Record Slo-Mo.

Step 5: Adjust the setting accordingly.

Back up to the cloud

A better way to cope with storage-hungry photos and videos is to back them up in the cloud. This allows you to remove these files from your iPhone and still have immediate near-local access. In this section, we use the native iCloud platform although OneDrive, Google Photos, and Dropbox work well too.

Step 1: Tap to open Settings.

Step 2: Tap on your Apple ID.

Step 3: Tap iCloud.

Step 4: Tap Photos.

Step 5: Verify that iPhone Photos is toggled On.

Step 6: Verify that Optimize Phone Storage is Checked. This will replace your photos with optimized versions on your phone while storing the full-resolution versions in the cloud you can download at any time.

We recommend OneDrive if you’re using a Windows PC, and Google Photos if you have a Chromebook. Consult our roundup of the best free cloud storage apps for more ideas.

Stream music and movies

Simon Hill / Digital Trends

Forget about downloading music, TV shows, or movies. Use streaming services instead.

Spotify and Netflix are our favorites, but there are loads of other options. Apple Music and SoundCloud are great for music lovers, while Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and HBO Max make the perfect companion for those looking for movies or TV.

If you use these services when you’re out and about, just make sure that you keep an eye on your data usage.

Delete old messages and attachments

Attachments in your messages take up local space. One way to keep it all to a minimum is to lock down the number of days your messages will remain on the phone.  You can adjust this setting by doing the following:

Step 1: Tap to open Settings.

Step 2: Scroll down and tap Messages.

Step 3: Tap Keep Messages listed under Message History.

Step 4: Select 30 Days, 1 Year, or Forever on the following screen. If you select a duration that’s shorter than your current setting, like switching from Forever to 30 Days, for example, you’ll see a prompt to delete messages older than 30 days.

If you’d rather just delete attachments without adjusting the message lifespan, there’s a tool for that as we saw earlier in this guide:

Step 1: Tap to open Settings.

Step 2: Tap General.

Step 3: Tap iPhone Storage.

Step 4: Tap Review Large Attachments.

Step 5: Tap Edit located in the top right corner.

Step 6: Tap each Attachment you want to remove from your phone.

Step 7: Tap the Trashcan icon located in the top right corner.

Purge unnecessary files