12 tips to free up storage space on your Android phone or tablet

Huawei Nexus 6P
Free up storage space on Android
Simon Hill / Digital Trends
Simon Hill / Digital Trends

Many people save cash by opting for the lower-storage model when they buy a new Android smartphone or tablet. Manufacturers tend to overcharge for extra storage, so it often seems like a good place to save money. But apps and games are getting bigger all the time, and we all like to take photos and shoot video. The unfortunate truth is that 16GB, or even 32GB, of storage can fill up alarmingly fast. What do you do when there’s no room left on your device? How do you free up additional space? Our guide has the answers.

Use a MicroSD card

MicroSD Card
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Many smartphone manufacturers have ditched the slot, but if you’re lucky enough to have one, a MicroSD card is definitely the easiest way to add storage space to your device. If you can use a MicroSD card, you can snag an extra 64GB for less than $30. It’s important to choose a good MicroSD card with decent read and write speeds, however. Don’t be tempted to pick a card solely on the price tag, and make sure that you get a Class 10 card.

You won’t be able to move every app onto your new card, but with older versions of Android — Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and earlier — you can probably move some. To do so, go to Settings > Apps and tap on each app listed under Downloaded. Then, tap Move to SD Card, if the choice is available. Keep in mind that some phones house the option to Transfer data to SD card under Settings > Storage.

If you’re running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later, then you can also choose to format your card as internal storage during the setup process by selecting Use as internal storage. This is a good idea if you intend to keep the card permanently in your Android device. However, it also means that it won’t work with your PC or other devices. If you want to remove it and use it to transfer files, then opt for the Use as portable storage option. If you do format it as internal storage, then Android will automatically copy some apps and other data onto it. The operating system will also save new apps and files onto it by default when it decides that’s the best option.

Additionally, devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow and later feature built-in file management, which you can access via Settings > Storage > Explore. If you have a device running an older version of Android, then you’ll need a file manager app such as ES File Explorer. You may also find it easier to simply plug your device into your computer or laptop and drag and drop files from your phone to your computer and then onto your MicroSD card. This is a good opportunity to back them up, too.

Use USB OTG

USB OTG Android
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Even if you don’t have a MicroSD card slot, you can still potentially use a USB flash drive or an external hard drive to extend your storage capacity. Make sure that your device is USB On The Go-compatible (OTG), and snag yourself a USB OTG cable. Now you can plug in a USB drive, a MicroSD card with an adapter, or an external hard drive, and use it to store and your backup files. You can even play video files directly from the aforementioned devices.

Get rid of apps and app data

If you take a look in Settings > Apps, or Settings > Applications, you’ll see a list of everything that’s installed on your device and how much space each app or game is taking up. If you don’t use a particular app regularly, then uninstall it. You can always download and install it the next time you need it.

Apps will also take up more space as you use them. If you tap on an individual app in Settings > Apps, then you should see the option to Clear data. If you’re using Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later, you’ll have to tap on Storage in your chosen app. If you tap Clear data, you will reset the app. You may have to re-enter your password after doing so, however, and you may lose your progress if the chosen app was a game. Then again, sometimes your data is backed up separately. If you sign into your Google account via Google Play Games, for example, then it should save your game progress. Either way, check first.

Clear your app cache

Something you can wipe without any risk is the cache. For apps you don’t use frequently, this is space worth clearing up. You can do this individually for each app via Settings > Apps > [Your app] > Clear cache. There’s also an option that allows you to delete all your cached data at once in Settings > Storage. Simply tap Delete after tapping Cached data. 

Some older Android devices also allow you to wipe your entire cache partition in the recovery menu. The instructions vary from model to model, so look yours up. On Nexus devices, the instructions are as follows: Turn it off and hold down the Power and Volume down buttons until you see the Android mascot. Then, use Volume down to highlight Recovery mode and Power to select it. Press and hold Power and Volume up for three seconds, then let go of Volume up. An options menu will then appear, and you can use the volume keys to highlight wipe cache partition and the Power key to select it. With the introduction of Android 7.1 Nougat, Google did away with the cache partition.

Stream music, movies, and other content

netflix updates android app adds smartwatch control feature

If you want to avoid running out of storage space on your Android device, then don’t download music, TV shows, or movies on your Android phone or tablet. Instead, opt for streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix. If you stream content without a Wi-Fi connection, just remember to keep an eye on your data usage.

Delete old files

If you have any old documents, videos, or other files on your Android device that you could live without, get rid of them. To do so, go to Settings > Storage and take a look at the different categories. Consider deleting things like Other, Miscellaneous, or Files. You can tap on an entry and then tap Explore when it pops up, or scroll down to find the Explore option at the bottom. Folders like Download will often have old files you no longer need in them. You can tap and hold on an item or folder to select and delete it.

Remember to take a look inside specific apps, too. If you use a photo-editing app or a document scanner, for instance, you may end up with duplicate files or older files you’ve likely forgotten about.

Delete old messages

You should also sift through your messages and delete anything unimportant, especially if it has an attachment. Most devices will also give you the option to automatically delete old messages. For example, on a Samsung phone, open the Messages app and tap More > Settings > More settings and make sure Delete old messages is toggled on.

Check settings in apps like Facebook

The apps that you use often download files automatically and may chew through more storage than you’d like. Even if you clean up as we suggest in our other tips, apps like Facebook, for example, will start filling up your storage again immediately. But you can reduce the problem by tweaking the right settings.

In the Facebook app on Android we recommend tapping the three lines at the top right to access settings and then choose App Settings and tap Auto-play, then choose Never Auto-play Videos. You may also want to try Data saver, which reduces image sizes and turns off auto-play videos. Delve into the settings for your other most used apps and see if you can find similar options to reduce the storage they eat up.

Limit the size of photos and videos

Photos and videos are likely to be taking up a lot of space on your Android phone. While the camera will differ from device to device, you should always take a look at your default settings and consider the amount of space you have available. In general, the higher the resolution of your photos, the more space they will take up. For videos, you should also consider frame rate. Modes like HDR and 4K will use up more space, so use them sparingly or offload the video files quickly. To review these settings, open your camera app and find the settings menu — it’s usually depicted by a gear icon.

Back up your data in the cloud

A good way to deal with photos and videos is to back them up in the cloud. There are many different methods for doing so, but Google Photos remains the best given it’s free and straightforward. It’s always a good idea to back up your files for safety reasons, but doing so also allows you to delete local files from your Android device without having to worry about losing your data. To make sure Google Photos is set up to automatically back up your photos and videos, launch the app and tap the three horizontal lines to open the Menu. Afterward, select Settings > Backup & sync and check your settings. If a photo or screenshot hasn’t been backed up yet, it will have a cloud icon with a line through it at the top.

You can also get some free storage space with services such as Dropbox and OneDrive. Once you sign up for either service, simply offload the files you don’t need — you’ll still be able to easily download them when you need to. If you need some additional storage ideas, check out our roundup of the best online storage services.

Use a storage manager or cleaner

Clear storage on Android - Galaxy S7 Edge
Simon Hill / Digital Trends
Simon Hill / Digital Trends

You can shortcut a lot of the tips we’ve listed here by employing a cleaning service to do it all for you. If you’re lucky enough to have an Android Oreo device, you can look in Settings > Storage and simply tap the Free up space button at the top. It will give you a big check list and you can deselect anything you want to keep, then delete it all at once.

It’s also quite common for manufacturers to include storage manager apps on their phones nowadays. For example, Samsung has an entry in Settings called Device maintenance, and if you tap on Storage, you’ll get an option — powered by Clean Master — to delete unnecessary data like cached and advert files. LG has Smart Doctor and there are others, but we recommend a free app by Google called Files Go. It gives you a clear breakdown of what files you have, precisely where they are, and empowers you to delete anything you don’t need. You’ll find smart suggestions right there in the app, along with the option to securely back up files you want to keep in the cloud.

Perform a factory reset

Factory Reset Android
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Rather than deleting lots of different bits and pieces, you could just delete everything on your phone and start with a fresh slate. A factory reset will wipe your Android phone or tablet clean, so make sure that everything you care about is backed up first. You’ll also want to fully charge your device and ensure that you know the username and password for the Google account you’ve been using on your device. If you’re trying to free up space on your Android device, then you need to be selective about what you reinstall after performing the reset, or you could end up back where you started. To reset your device, go to Settings > Backup & reset > Factory data reset and select Erase everything or Reset phone.