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Show your phone some TLC: Free up storage space on Android 

Why are phones like unloved cupboards? That’s not a riddle, but sadly, a fact of life for many devices. Junk just keeps building up in them and we don’t take the time to declutter. Here we’ll show you why your mum was right when she said a regular clean-out was crucial. If cell phones run out of space, they can run into all sorts of problems that slow them down and ultimately limit your digital enjoyment. From physically cleaning your phone to exploring the apps that promise a free phone clean at a click—it’s all in here. Ready? Let’s clear space on that device! (Next up: your cupboard?). 

What’s taking up storage space? And why should you clean up your Android? 

Like most of us, you probably use your phone for many hours a day. It’s bound to be packed with contacts, emails, important documents and even your entire photo collection. Today’s mobile phones are more than tools to keep in touch—they’re precious archives, personal assistants, and a digital mirror of our lives. To understand why it’s important to clear storage space, it’s helpful to understand how a mobile phone works and what happens to it over time.  

More than just a telephone, today’s smartphones and tablets are tiny computers made up of various hardware components including RAM and storage. These parts must be in good working order and function seamlessly together to smoothly run apps and processes. Every time you use your phone—whether you’re opening a document, viewing an image, or surfing the internet, temporary files are created. When they’re used, they’re essential for the function your phone is performing, but after that, they’re just digital junk. Then these old system files sit there clogging up your device like house guests that have overstayed their welcome. Over time, more and more junk is added.    

An excess of junk files is a major reason why computers, including mobile phones, slow down over time. Here’s a list of the common junk files that are probably slumbering on your smartphone while you’re reading this.  

  • Temporary system files make specific features or functionality work, but they become obsolete after this. 
  • Temporary internet files (the browser cache) are created automatically by your computer so websites you’ve already visited load more quickly.  
  • Downloaded program files are created to install applications or programs on your device. They’re essential at first to make the program run but have no function after that. 
  • Recycle bin files are files that were deleted but are still stored on the device. They’re kept in the recycle bin in case you want to restore them later.  
  • Thumbnails are image preview files that help an image load more quickly if it’s viewed more than once. If you delete these, the images will take longer to open the second time around.  
  • Improperly removed programs are program remnants like temporary files and installation files that hang around after you’ve uninstalled a program.

It’s a good idea to be aware of these files. If you regularly delete them, you’ll clear space, clear out memory, and help keep your Android device functioning at the level of a performance athlete (not a couch potato). 

Why does an Android device need storage space? 

As mentioned above, our phones accumulate data whenever we use them, and this data takes up valuable storage space and processing power. If storage is running low, the phone will exhibit a range of symptoms including CPU overheating, the battery draining faster, slower performance, and “buggy” apps that don’t run smoothly. When you don’t have enough storage space to run programs on the ROM (your phone’s main memory), the phone will store parts of programs on secondary (virtual) memory. Now, the phone must switch between primary and secondary memories, resulting in lag.    

Plus, if you want to download a new app, your Android phone may tell you “Insufficient Storage Available”. Your phone may also fail to update the Android apps you already have because it doesn’t have enough room to run the updating processes.  

Enough storage space is essential for your phone to fully flex its digital muscles! Most of us love taking photos and shooting videos, and apps and games are getting bigger all the time, so we’re eating through storage space faster than ever. Thankfully, it’s safe to delete junk files and there are many options to help free up more space for what really matters. Read on for some device care… 

The great Android clean-up part 1: We like to move it (move it) 

You could move everything onto another device and perform a factory reset but this is pretty drastic. Thankfully, there are other physical and virtual options to expand your storage.   

Use a micro SD card: Not many smartphones still have this slot, but if you do have one, a MicroSD card is often considered the easiest way to add storage space to your device. If you’re running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later, then you can also format your card as internal storage during the setup process.   

No micro SD card slot? Try a USB flash drive or external hard drive: Make sure that your device is USB On The Go-compatible (OTG), and get a USB OTG cable. Now you can plug in a USB drive, a MicroSD card with an adapter, or an external hard drive. Then you’ll be the proud owner of plenty of extra storage.  

Move photos and videos into cloud storage: Photos and videos can take up a huge amount of space, so using cloud storage may hugely impact your local storage capacity. Fortunately, nearly all Android phones come with Google Photos pre-installed. Since June 2021, Google Photos has capped its free storage at 15GB, and people are encouraged to sign up for the Google One storage subscription. At the time of writing, 200 GB of extra storage will cost you £2.49/month in the UK. If you’ve never set it up before or don’t have the app pre-installed, here’s what to do: Find Google Photos in the Google Play Store. Tap “Install” and when this is complete tap “Open”. When prompted, tap “Allow” to grant access to the photos and videos on your device. On the next screen, select “Turn on backup” and select your choice of image quality. From now on, the locally stored photos and videos will be automatically uploaded to Google Photos and are available across all your devices (up to the 15GB limit of course!). 

The great Android clean-up part 2: Save sparingly. Delete ruthlessly 

They say that a spring clean is good for the mind and soul. Sit back, relax, and start your digital spring clean by going through your phone and deleting old and duplicate photos, videos, contacts, and any documents you can do without. Do you really want pictures of your ex taking up storage space? Also, sift through your messages and delete anything unimportant, especially if it has an attachment. And don’t forget: Be mindful of the sizes of photos and videos. The higher the full-resolution of your photos, and the frame rate of videos, the more space they take up. Do you need to photograph your cat in the highest quality RAW format? (Yes, obviously).  

Did you know that many apps download files automatically and can chew through your storage at an alarming rate? Check the settings in the apps you use. Here is a useful guide for managing your WhatsApp storage. You can easily, for example, stop WhatsApp from saving photos and videos to your phone. In the Android Facebook app, tap the three lines at the top right to access settings. Scroll down to choose “Settings & Privacy” and then tap “Settings > Media and Contacts”. Here, you have many options, including switching off autoplay and sounds, plus not uploading photos and videos in HD.  

While you’re feeling ruthless about reclaiming your internal storage, don’t forget to delete your downloads! If you don’t already have a file browser app, download one free from Google Play Store. Then search your Downloads folder and throw away anything you don’t need. Don’t stop there. Next up: Delete the downloads from your web browser. (In Google Chrome, for example, tap the three dots in the top right-hand corner. Then select “Downloads”. In the next screen, press and hold any files you want to delete and tap the bin icon.).   

You’re on a roll! Now it’s time to clear out apps and app data but please make sure you don’t just delete the shortcut icon! Go to Settings > Apps, or Settings > Apps and Notifications, you’ll see a list of every app or game that’s installed on your device, plus how much space each is taking up. If you don’t use an app regularly, uninstall it. You can download and install it the next time you need it.   

Your app cache can take up a large chunk of storage so clearing it is essential. Here’s how: 

  1. Open “Settings” and select “Apps”. 
  2. Find and tap the app you want to clear app data from and then select “Storage”. 
  3. Click on “Clear Cache” to delete all cached data for that app. 
  4. Repeat the process for other apps and you’ll clear your app cache.

Remember that junk files only impact device performance when they start accumulating. If you regularly clear phone memory and clear phone storage, your phone should be fine! For an automated helping hand, see below. 

How to use automation tools to free up space on your Android device 

Manually finding and deleting junk files and uninstalling unused apps on a regular basis can be tedious and time consuming, even if you’re an absolute neat freak. Is there such a thing as a reliable free phone cleaner? Many apps promise to remove junk and boost the performance of your Android device quickly and easily. Some also have anti-malware software built in, so you’re better protected from online threats while maintaining phone health. See here to compare the performance and Google Play store rating of popular Android cleaning apps 

Also worth considering is the phone cleaner solution from Avira, which promises to “put the zip back into your chip”. Avira Antivirus Security for Android blends online security, privacy, and performance into a single cunning app. It clears your cache, junk files, and duplicate files on your phone and SD card, while the RAM cleaner optimizes memory usage and shuts down unnecessary processes to enhance your phone’s performance. It’s security-conscious too: The VPN helps you surf online anonymously and more securely (with a traffic limit of 1GB/month) and built in antivirus helps protect you from millions of mobile threats. Get it on Google Play Store  

A last word: Protect your (storage) space! 

While it’s tempting to save cash by opting for a lower-storage model of an Android smartphone or tablet, it’s worth remembering that apps and games are getting bigger all the time. Plus, most of us are taking ever more photos and shooting high-res videos. It’s a sad truth that even 128GB of storage can fill up more quickly than you’ll expect it to! Make clearing out your mobile a regular habit and consider an automated Android cleaner to mop things up in the background. With such good, clean habits, your phone will most likely reward you with faster, smoother performance and your grandmother would be proud.  

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Freelance Cybersecurity Writer
Nicola Massier-Dhillon is an experienced cybersecurity and technology writer. Nicola spent many years as a senior copywriter and creative lead in marketing agencies, crafting compelling content and campaigns for major tech brands like HP, Dell, and Microsoft. She originally hales from Namibia and is a passionate advocate for the conservation of wild habitats--also putting her words to work for charities, eco-tourism, and healthcare. Nicola spends her time looking after her (wild) twins, rescue cats, and a crested gecko called Giles.