Simple iPhone trick frees up storage space you didn’t know you had

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If you've got a smaller iPhone SE, this might really help.
If you've got a smaller iPhone SE, this might really help.
Photo: Sam Mills/Cult of Mac

Quick — go check and see if you have enough free space on your iPhone.

I’m guessing you’re like the rest of us, and can use a little more — especially if you’ve got a smaller iPhone in the 16 GB range.

If you’re looking to free up some storage space on any size iPhone, here’s a bizarre little trick that just might astound you.

First, head into your Settings app to check out how much space you have left. Tap on General, then About. See the Available spot? That’s how many GB you have left on your iOS device.

How much space do you have left?
How much space do you have left?
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Now, launch the iTunes Store and find a movie you can rent that has a file size larger than the space you have left on your iPhone. The Two Towers, from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, is a good size at 6.83 GB, but you can see the file size of any movie by clicking through to its information page, then tapping on the Details button. Swiping down below the Cast and Crew info will show you the size of any film.

Find the file size of any iTunes movie here.
Find the file size of any iTunes movie here.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Now, tap on the Rent button. You won’t be charged until you’re able to start the download process. Since you’ve chosen a movie larger than your available storage space, you’ll be fine. Just in case, though, only use the Rent button; tap it twice and then you’ll get a “cannot download” error.

Hit the Settings option in the error dialog to go back to Settings. You’ll likely see an increase in the Available section. Do this a few times until you no longer see the increase in free space.

I saw a huge return in space when I did this, from 6.3 GB to 23.6 GB the first try. I couldn’t find a movie bigger than 23.6 GB, so I stopped at that point — your mileage may vary. Some users over on reddit report large gains (from 800 MB to 4.9 GB), while others don’t see so much (from 2.0 GB to 3.6 GB over many attempts). Rick Broida at CNET reports an increase from 4.0 GB to 4.4 GB after a rental, with no more increases after that.

Let us know how it works for you, and if you see huge gains or not.

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  • Angel Varela Faroppa

    hahah APRIL FOOLS!!!

    • Rob LeFebvre

      Maybe – but I tried it and it seemed to work.

    • grimes

      not a April fools joke. I just tried went from 1.6 to 2.2

    • Corvus2

      It works, mine went from 2.5 GB available to 3.1…

    • Andres Skliarevsky

      Nope, it worked indeed!

    • Doug Just Doug

      That was my first thought, but I fact-checked it first. I went from 1.5 available to 4.6 on my aging but still good as new iPhone 5. This was AFTER I first cleaned it up by deleting unwanted photos and messages, etc. so whatever this process is doing it’s not simply getting rid of the low-hanging fruit.

  • Fernando Scheps

    I guess what this is doing is deleting your photos if you said you wanted to keep them all on your device and just keeping a smaller version just for your device? Otherwise where is all that free space coming from :/

    • Rob LeFebvre

      I’ve seen conjecture that it’s Apple Music caches.

    • 5723alex .

      No, iOS is deleting cache, temp, logs… No data is deleted.

      • Drestin Black

        Which prove at least some of the cleaners work. I use Battery Doctor regularly and gained nothing by doing this.

      • 5723alex .

        I use battery doctor regularly and gain more than 1GB of free memory each run and 300-500MB of storage on my iPhone 6s Plus.
        I use the tool on my aging iPad Mini 1 and gain 300MB of free memory each run.

      • Drestin Black

        Yep, I get good gains which check out in storage and it depends on how long between scans. I have an ipad mini 2. Battery doctor is the best I have found.

        I also use disk dr. on my mac and just now I gained over 500mb in app cache and logs. It also checks out on my disk usage, so it’s not fake as some appear to be and it does not mess anything up. It’s the best for mac I have found.

        Yet there are still those adamant that these are not needed for ios or osx which is bs. NONE of the os’s are perfect and deal with these things efficiently.

        I do agree that some are fake, do nothing or even mess things up. Not all though.

  • sadyhr

    Quite sure, it’s not an aprils fool – the linked reddit thread started out a month ago.

    My guess would be, that the system moves temp files, high res pictures (if you have iCloud Photolibrary enabled and asked just to keep low res on phone). Might be over the air not yet installed iOS upgrades, that are removed too.

    Besides that; I don’t know.

    Aby how: happy Aprils fools day ,-)

  • Sheldon Davis

    Just went from 2.1 to 3.3 gb available. Crazy!

    • Rob LeFebvre

      Glad to hear it worked for you!

  • Coonah

    Rob, I had 5.9 gigs free, rented the same movie as you have listed but did not get a download error and have now lost 4 euro

    • Rob LeFebvre

      Ugh – that’s no good. Sorry to hear.

    • Colin Smith

      LOL you’re supposed to TRY to rent a movie BIGGER than your available space. Read the instructions again. Enjoy your movie, sir.

      • Coonah

        And that’s exactly what I did. Enjoy your day, sir ;)

  • This is not an April Fool’s joke. I read this earlier in the week and was able to clear up a lot of space. It appears to be clearing memory cache from apps that are hogs, Facebook & Twitter were the ones I noticed that freed up the most space.

    • Ryan Cavitt

      If only iOS would allow you to clear up cache with one click, kinda like Android and I think WP allow you to do.

      • Lisa

        There’s an app for that. Battery Doctor lets you clean the cache, delete junk files, and the “trickle charge” is supposed to help your battery life. Hope it helps.

  • I think it sucks that we have to endure this kind of voodoo on our phones. And guessing where the reclaimed memory comes from is ridiculous. Apple needs to get this right and provide a true complete solution allowing us to have unlimited (practically speaking 5Tb) iCloud storage and smart syncing. 5gb free is unacceptable. I hope they’re finally addressing this with their new iCloud and server manufacturing divisions and facilities.

  • itstoospicy

    Got two gigs back! Thanks for the tip!

  • Daniel Krause

    Got similar numbers, but on an iPad. So no foolin’.

  • Marek Kouřil

    I’m doing the same, but with apps, for a long time.

  • Maria G

    I did it and went from 2.5 to 4.6! Thanks for the tip!

  • Vicky Toshach

    worked like a charm

  • John

    It works. Spooky.

  • Volkan Kartal

    Got up to 4.7 from 2.8. That’s pretty neat. No April fools.

  • Prasad Asokan

    I was able to reclaim 1.7GB. Thanks for the info. But just to be safe, we may have to try downloading the movie that we already have purchased. We never know if Apple might change the process. I mean, they might charge us first and then attempt download too.

  • Nnamdi CöölBreeze Wakwe

    Great Tip. Went from 750mb to 3GB after 4 tries

  • Rick Fernández

    An ever easier way to accomplish this without risking any money is DELETE FILES YOU DON’T NEED.

    • Colin Smith

      most of the deletable files are not accessible on an iPhone/iPad in the way they are on a PC or Android, so no, that won’t work

  • Joshua Goetz

    Just did this on two phones and it works great. I did it with an existing movie that I own that wasn’t downloaded yet. Takes away the chance of getting charged for the rental.

  • Scott

    Instead I do a full iTunes backup, reset my device and restore. Got over 10gb of space freed up

    • Colin Smith

      this is a little bit quicker ;-)

  • Skip Bermundo

    From 1.6GB to 2GB. True

  • Andres Skliarevsky

    It worked for me! From 4.0Gb to 5.6Gb, maybe not much, but something in the end. Thanks for the tip, Cult!

  • Boris Ekner

    iPhone 6, 16 GB: Followed the instructions and went from 282MB to 1,1GB.

  • What are some of the larger movies? Larger than LOTR

    • Kristen

      Cleopatra was 10.3 GB I believe. But I haven’t been able to find a larger movie than that.

  • artificialArea

    Thanks! 3.0GB > 5.1GB!! =D

  • Javier Jose

    Mine went from 4.2GB to 12.7GB

  • Dr. S

    It works, from 1.4 to 2.1! Why?

  • QueenNafre

    I started out with 2.2 and now have 5.5 MB of additional storage…try downloading Gone With the Wind; it has a whopping 8.84 GB!

  • Richard Thygesson

    Really works, went from 154 mb free to 1,8 gb free. A lot of others disappeared.

  • Colin Smith

    just went from 300mb to 1.0gb in one go on my 8gb 5c so this is really useful. Usually I have to sign out of Apple Music to clear this much space (that’s another useful technique if you stream Apple Music, because it caches everything your listen to until you sign out)

  • skillzilla

    does anybody know if this will work on a mac running el capitan?

    • I think that’s it’s own ball of wax—and you will find various apps online to clean up your laptop-desktop. Choose carefully, though.
      And boy, does this trick work on iOS, most of which is walled off from we humble users. There are apps that will let you view those contents, but never sure what to delete beyond logs. Trick released half again as much free space.

  • Kristen

    So far this will not try to charge you if you don’t have enough space for the movie. I did notice, that once you have gained enough free space to actually download the movie, iTunes will ask you to sign in… that is when you know to cancel as you might have enough space to actually rent it now, and go find a larger movie to try instead

  • Drestin Black

    I do not gain any space, but I use Battery Doctor to clean my cache regularly. This actually proves that cache cleaners, good ones anyway, actually work and that those claiming ios does not need it is clueless