Does deleting old iCloud delete everything?

Deleting old data from iCloud can help free up storage space on your account, but it’s important to understand exactly what gets deleted when you remove content from iCloud. The short answer is that deleting content from iCloud does not delete everything. Here’s a more in-depth look at what happens when you delete data from iCloud.

What Gets Deleted from iCloud

When you delete photos, documents, or other files from iCloud, those individual files get removed from your iCloud storage and are no longer available via iCloud on any of your devices. So if you delete a photo or document, that specific item will be deleted from iCloud.

However, deleting files from iCloud does not delete anything from your devices – it only removes the iCloud copies of those files. If you have a photo or document saved locally on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, deleting it from iCloud will not delete the local copy on your device.

What Stays in iCloud

While individual files you delete are removed from iCloud, some data is not deleted:

– Settings and preferences: Any settings, app data, preferences, or other configuration data that is synced between your devices via iCloud is not deleted when you delete files. So your iCloud settings, keychains, bookmarks, and other synced data remain intact.

– Backups: Any backups stored in iCloud, like iPhone or iPad backups, are not deleted when you selectively remove files from iCloud. So your backups and their data remain available.

– Email, contacts, calendars: Even if you delete documents or photos from iCloud Drive, your iCloud email, contacts, calendars and any associated data are not removed.

– iCloud-synced app data: Data synced between apps via iCloud, like data from iWork apps, is not deleted when you remove files from iCloud Drive or Photos. App data remains stored in iCloud.

So in general, deleting content like files only removes those selected files, while all other iCloud data and settings remain intact.

What Gets Deleted From an iOS Device When You Delete iCloud Data

Now that we’ve covered what gets deleted and stays in iCloud when you delete content, what gets deleted locally on your iPhone, iPad, or other iOS device when you delete iCloud data?

Deleting Photos

If you delete photos or videos from iCloud Photos, the copies stored locally on your iOS device(s) are not deleted. Your local photo library remains intact.

However, if you turn off iCloud Photos entirely, then all the photos that were only stored in iCloud will be removed from your local device storage, as there will no longer be a connection to those photos in the cloud. Any photos only stored locally on your device remain unchanged.

Deleting Documents

When you delete a document from iCloud Drive, any local copies of that document on your iOS devices are not deleted. For example, if you have a Pages document stored in iCloud Drive and on your iPhone, deleting it from iCloud Drive will not remove it from your iPhone’s local storage.

However, if you have a document that was only stored in iCloud Drive and not locally on an iOS device, deleting it from iCloud will remove access to that document from your devices, as the only copy was in iCloud.

Turning Off iCloud Drive

If you turn off iCloud Drive entirely, then any files that were only stored in iCloud and not locally on your device will no longer be available or synced to that device. So be cautious before turning off an entire iCloud service like iCloud Drive.

Managing iCloud Storage

As you can see, selectively deleting files and data from iCloud removes those selected items, but does not broadly delete everything associated with your account or devices. However, because storage space in iCloud is limited, you may need to actively manage what’s stored in your iCloud account. Here are some tips:

Review and Remove Unneeded Files

Regularly review files like photos, documents, and app data stored in iCloud and delete anything you no longer need. This can quickly free up storage space.

Use Optimize Storage for Photos

The Optimize iPhone/iPad Storage setting for Photos stores full resolution photos in iCloud while smaller versions are kept on your device, saving local storage space.

Upgrade iCloud Storage

If you’re still low on space, you can upgrade your iCloud storage plan to get more capacity for files and backups. Upgrades start at just $0.99 per month for 50GB.

Use App-Specific Storage Settings

Check the storage usage for individual apps like Notes or Mail and adjust their iCloud settings or delete old unneeded data to free up space.

Backup Then Delete Device Backups

You can back up your iOS device, then delete old backups you no longer need from iCloud to regain storage space. Just make sure you have a current backup.

Remove Device From iCloud Account

As a last resort, you can remove an old device entirely from your iCloud account if you no longer use it. This deletes the device backup and all synced data.

The Impact of Deleting iCloud Data

Here is an overview of what exactly gets deleted when you delete iCloud content:

Data Type Gets Deleted from iCloud? Deleted from iOS devices?
Individual photos, videos, documents Yes No
iCloud settings and preferences No No
Backups of iOS devices No No
Emails, contacts, calendars No No
App data synced via iCloud No No

As you can see, deleting content removes only the specific files you select, while other iCloud data remains intact. So you don’t have to worry about accidentally deleting everything by removing a few files from iCloud.

When Deleting iCloud Data is Permanent

In most cases, deleting data from iCloud does not permanently erase that data, as a copy may still exist on your device or in an iCloud backup. However, there are a few scenarios where deleting iCloud data is permanent:

Deleting data not stored locally or in backups

If you have a file like a document that is only stored in iCloud Drive and nowhere locally on your devices, deleting this file from iCloud means it is gone for good.

Turning off iCloud services entirely

If you disable an entire iCloud service like iCloud Drive or iCloud Photos, then any files stored exclusively in that service and nowhere locally will be permanently deleted.

Removing a device from your iCloud account

If you remove a device from your account, including any backups associated with it, that backup data is permanently gone. So only remove devices you are certain you no longer need to access.

Deactivating your iCloud account

Deactivating your entire iCloud account permanently deletes all data solely stored in iCloud with no local copies on devices. Only deactivate your account if absolutely certain.

Recovering Deleted iCloud Files

If you’ve deleted a file from iCloud that you later determine you still need, there are a couple of options for recovery:

Device and computer local storage

Check your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and other connected devices to see if you have a local copy of the file still available, as deleting it from iCloud does not remove local copies.

iCloud website

Log into and see if the file is still in your Recently Deleted folder, which holds removed files for 30 days before final deletion. You may be able to restore it from there.

iCloud backups

If you have an iCloud backup that contains the deleted file, you can restore that backup to a device to retrieve the file. Backups include data from iCloud Drive, Photos, and more.

Time Machine or other backups

Non-iCloud backups like Time Machine on a Mac may contain copies of files before they were deleted from iCloud. Connect to those backups to see if you can restore the file.

So those are some of your options if you need to recover an accidentally deleted file within a limited time span. But regular local and cloud backups are your best protection against permanent data loss.

Key Takeaways

Here are some key points to remember when deleting data from your iCloud account:

– Deleting files removes only those selected files from iCloud, not all of your content.

– Local copies of files on your devices are not deleted when removing files from iCloud.

– iCloud settings, backups, email, contacts and app data remain intact when deleting files.

– To delete a lot of data/free up space, first delete unwanted files, then review app data, backups and devices.

– Deleted files can be recovered from local device storage, iCloud Recently Deleted, or backups, if available.

– Only removing entire services or devices from iCloud permanently deletes data with no backup available.


In summary, deleting files or data from iCloud removes specifically selected content, but does not broadly delete everything or remove local copies from devices. Be mindful when removing entire services or devices from iCloud, as that can permanently erase data. Overall, carefully deleting unnecessary iCloud content can free up valuable storage space while retaining your important files, app data, and settings.

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