10 quick ways to clear space on an overstuffed Android device

Zap cached app files in a single tap, clear the Downloads folder, delete unneeded offline maps, take charge of music downloads, and more.

6 quick ways to clear space on an overstuffed Android device
Ben Patterson/IDG

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Updated June 28, 2018 to reflect Android O (Oreo).

Few things in life are as annoying as finding that your Android handset refuses to install any more app updates because it’s run out of storage. Unlike many of life’s little annoyances, though, this one’s easy to fix. You can quickly clear out hundreds of megabytes or even a gig or two by sweeping up stale downloads, rooting out offline maps and documents, clearing caches, and wiping unneeded music and video files. And if these tips don’t do the trick, check out our picks for the best Android phones for every need and budget. 

1. Clear out all cached app data

If you dig into the Apps storage setting screen and tap on an individual app, you’ll notice that each app has its own stash of “cached” data—anywhere from a few kilobytes to hundreds of megs, or even more.

Clear out all cached app data Ben Patterson

The “cached” data used by your combined Android apps can easily take up more than a gigabyte of storage space.

These caches of data are essentially just junk files, and they can be safely deleted to free up storage space. Tap the Clear Cache button to take out the trash.

If poking through each and every app looking for cached data to clear sounds like a chore, there’s an easy way to clear all cached app data in one fell swoop. Tap Settings > Storage > Cached data, then tap OK in the confirmation window.

2. Clean up the Downloads folder

Just like on a PC or a Mac, your Android device has a Downloads folder (or Files on Pixel and some Oreo phones). It’s a favorite hideout for miscellaneous junk files downloaded from the Web or by your various apps.

Clean up the Downloads folder

Tap and hold a file in the Downloads folder and then tap the Trash button to delete it.

Open the app drawer and tap Downloads or Files to see what’s lurking inside. Tap the three-line menu icon in the top corner of the screen and sort the list of downloads by size, then take a look at what’s hogging the most storage space. If you see anything you don’t need, tap and hold the file to select it, then tap the Trash button.

3. Dump photos that are already backed up

One of the best features of Google’s Photos app is its ability to back up your entire photo library to your online Google account. Once your snapshots are safely backed up, Photos can zap any locally stored images to free up more space.

Dump photos that are already backed up

Google Photos will quickly delete any pictures on your device that have already been backed up to your Google account.

Open the Photos app, tap the three-line menu button in the top left corner of the screen, then tap Free up device storage. The Photos app will let you know how many pictures it can delete from local storage; tap OK to pull the trigger.

Note: If you’re using the “High quality” setting for unlimited but lower-resolution cloud storage of your backed up photos, keep in mind that the “Free up device storage” feature will delete your full-resolution originals. Make sure you’ve stored them elsewhere before you tap the OK button.

4. Manage downloaded music and podcasts

Google’s Play Music app gives you two options when it comes to storing tunes on your device: You can manually pick which purchased or uploaded Google Play songs and albums get downloaded, or you can let the app make those decisions for you. Either way, music lovers may end up with a significant amount of their device storage gobbled up by their favorite artists.

Keep an eye on downloaded music & podcasts Ben Patterson

Downloaded tunes and podcasts in the Play Music app can gobble up an impressive amount of storage.

Same goes with podcasts, with Play Music’s default setting geared to auto-download the three most recent episodes of each subscription. If you subscribe to more than a few podcasts, those episodes—and the space required to store them on your handset—can add up quickly.

To check exactly how many megabytes or even gigabytes of storage Play Music has reserved for tunes and podcasts, tap the three-line menu button in the top left corner of the screen, then tap Settings > Manage downloads. To wipe a song download or a podcast from local storage, tap the orange Downloaded button to the right of its name. You can do the same thing with Spotify, YouTube Music, or Apple Music, depending on your streaming app of choice. The process is slightly different, but each app allows you to find and delete anything you’ve downloaded.

Bonus tip: You can use the same method to manage your downloads in the Play Movies & TV app.

5. Erase offline areas in Google Maps

Downloading a map in the latest version of the Google Maps app is a great way to navigate when your device is offline, especially now that both searching and driving directions are supported.

Erase offline areas in Google Maps Ben Patterson

Just tap one of your offline maps in the Google Maps app to update it or—if you’re running low on storage space—delete it.

But those searchable offline “areas” come at a cost: storage space, and potentially lots of it. Indeed, a single offline map can consume more than a gigabyte of storage depending on the size of the area.

You can check how much space your offline maps have staked out by tapping the three-line menu button in the top left corner of the main Google Maps interface, then tapping Offline. The storage used by each offline map is displayed below its name. Tap the map and tap Delete to reclaim its storage space.

6. Unload your least-used apps

I love the fact that I can download and install Android apps to my devices remotely from a desktop web browser. The downside? My Android handsets tend to be overstuffed with too many apps, many of them used only once (or even never).

Play Store app least used apps Ben Patterson / IDG

You can find out which apps you use the least with help from the Play Store app.

The solution, of course, is to delete some of those apps—ideally, the ones you use the least. There are also several apps that can track your app usage and tell you which apps you’re using the least, among them: App Usage, App Tracker, and QualityTime. But the best judge of the apps you don’t want is you. You can either browse your app drawer to find any apps you don’t need anymore, or check out your library in the Play Store.

To find a list of everything on your phone, open the Play Store app, tap the three-line menu button in the top right corner of the screen, tap My apps & games, then tap the Installed tab. Next, tap the Sort button near the top-right corner of the screen, then pick an option, such as Size or—better yet—Last Used. If you sort your apps according to Last Used, scroll to the very bottom of the list to see which apps you use the least. See a seldom-used app you could do without? Tap it, then tap Uninstall.

7. Use Oreo’s storage tools

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone that’s been updated to Oreo, Google has built in some great tools for tracking and managing your storage limits. Head over to the Setting app and tap the Storage tab. Inside you’ll find a handy rundown of everything that’s taking up space on your phone, just like on Nougat. But in Oreo, you have more control over your files. Tap on any of the sections and you’ll see a list of related apps and how much space they’re using. Tap again, and you’ll be able to clear anything inside by selecting the “Free Storage button. Just keep in mind that this will clear any files being help inside the app.

android oreo storage Michael Simon/IDG

The storage manager in Android Oreo will help you see exactly what’s eating your phone’s free space.

You’ll also find a new “Free up space” button at the top of Oreo’s storage manager. Tap it and you’ll see a list of your downloads and infrequently used apps, as well as an option to clear any photos and videos that have already been backed up to the cloud. It’s essentially a shortcut, but it’s a handy one.

8. Turn on smart storage

Oreo includes a new toggle called Smart Storage that can work wonders without needing to do a thing. Flip it on, and your phone will automatically clear out the biggest space-stealing culprit: photos and videos.

android oreo smart storage Michael Simon/IDG

Android Oreo’s Smart Storage can free up space without your needing to lift a finger.

Since we all forget to clear out our photo libraries regularly, you can choose to automatically remove backed-up photos and videos after 30, 60, or 90 days, making sure you phone isn’t stuffed with duplicate photos.

9. Get an SD card

Nearly every Android phone you can buy in 2018 has a slot for expandable storage, so you’ll be able to double, triple, and quadruple the space on your phone for just a few bucks. You’ll want to get a micro SD card from Samsung or SanDisk in at least 32GB capacity. Prices per gigabyte decrease substantially as the capacity increases, so you should buy the biggest card that you can afford. As a very general rule, around $0.40 per gigabyte is a good price.

android sd card Michael Simon/IDG

The best way to free up space on your Android phone is to add more of it.

Once you select the size you want, installing it is a snap. There’s no formatting to worry about, just pop open your SIM card slot and slide in the SD card. Then, you’ll be able to shift files and apps onto the card as needed to free up precious internal space.

10. Take advantage of Google Drive

Google gives 15 gigs of free cloud storage with every account, so you might as well use it. Anything inside your Downloads or Files app can be jettisoned to your Google Drive by tapping the menu button in the top right corner and choosing “Send to...” This will open the share sheet, where you can select select Save to Drive to choose which folder to add it to. Then you can delete it from your phone without losing it forever. 

android google drive Michael Simon/IDG

Your phone comes with 15GB of free space that you might not be utilizing.

And if 15 gigs isn’t enough, you can upgrade to Google One and increase your storage by an order of magnitude for just a few bucks a month. For just  $1.99 per month you’ll get an extra 100GB of space, and a buck more ($2.99/month) will double it to 200GB.

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