How to clear out Google Drive and free up space for new files

If you use Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Drive to store files in the cloud, you might reach your storage limit sooner or later. It can be a bit confusing figuring out what’s using up your memory and why deleting files doesn’t seem to help. But in this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you what to do to free up space quickly so you can keep using these services.

What uses up Google Drive storage?

  • Emails and attachments in your Gmail account
  • Files you store on Google Drive itself
  • Photos and videos in Google Photos in original quality

What doesn’t count towards Google Drive storage?

  • Docs you create with Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and Websites
  • Photos and videos backed up with Google Photos in high quality

So almost everything counts towards your Google Drive storage and makes it full whether you’re paying for it or you’re simply using the free 15GB you get with Gmail.

A quick way to see how much space you have left is to scroll to the bottom of the first page of an email in Gmail. There, on the left is shown how much memory you used in your total allocation. If you run out of space, you’ll know about it because a big red banner will let you know at the top of Gmail and Google Drive.

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

The Manage link below will take you to the account page, where you can see an overview of where the storage is being used.

Alternatively, go to and your storage is prominently displayed on the left.

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

Obviously, a quick way to fix the full memory problem is to buy more. You can learn more about the cost and why the service is called Google One.

If you just want to delete the file, read on.

How to find large files that take up Google Drive storage space

Of course, your question is how to quickly free up space by deleting the largest capacity drives. No one wants to manually sift through files and emails to choose what files and emails to delete.

The good news is that there are several ways to do this.

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First, access your Gmail account. If you’re the opposite of a user with no inbox (like me) this is where you win fast.

Use the search bar (on the desktop version in a web browser) to find emails with large attachments. Type yes: larger attachment: 5MB and it will display a list of offending emails.

You can replace 5MB with 10MB or whatever number you want to start with. Gmail has a 25MB limit, then Gmail will force you (or the sender) to upload the file to Google Drive and just email the link. So the largest attachments will be less than 25MB in size.

You can also filter emails to keep all recent emails and delete old ones, and you can combine the search to see only old emails with large attachments.

Knock on old_than: 1y and you will only be shown emails that are more than a year old. You can use m for months and d for days, so old_than: 3m will only show messages received more than three months ago.

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

Check the box marked by the red arrow above to select all emails. If there’s too much to fit on one page, you’ll see a message at the top of the screen suggesting to select all, not just the first page.

Once selected, click the trash can (trash can) icon. Don’t forget you can use the boxes next to each email to select them individually if you want to keep certain emails and not delete everything.

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

This does not – as you can imagine – delete the emails. It puts them in the Bin folder so you have a chance to restore them to your inbox if you make a mistake.

To free up the space they’re taking up, click the Bin folder on the left. You may have to click ‘Add’ if you can’t see the Bin or Trash in the list.

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

There will be a message at the top explaining that messages are kept for 30 days, after which they will be deleted. But you can click the blue Empty Bin now link to delete everything in that folder immediately and reclaim storage space.

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How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

You may not see the space credited back to you right away. It can sometimes take a while, so be patient.

How to delete large files from Google Drive?

There is a really easy way to find the largest files: type into your web browser.

As long as you’re signed in to your Google account (you’ll be asked if not), you’ll see a list of files taking up space.

(Also note the Backups link, shown on the top right. This will show any phone, WhatsApp or other backups. Only delete these backups if you’re sure you don’t. still need them.)

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

The interface is different from Gmail: it’s more like Windows File Explorer. You can click and drag a selection window over the files, then click the Bin icon to delete them.

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

There’s no Select All option, but again you can use Windows Explorer-style keyboard shortcuts, so press Ctrl + A on your keyboard will select all files in the list.

However, just like Gmail, deleting those files doesn’t actually delete them.

You’ll have to click the Trash shortcut in the left column (it’s not called Bin here) and then click the Trash button, followed by Empty Trash.

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

How to free up storage in Google Photos?

Chances are, at some point, you used the ‘Original Quality’ setting to back up photos to Google Photos. Any photos or videos uploaded with this setting enabled count towards your Google Drive storage.

You can go to and change the option to High quality, but this will only apply to items that are backed up in the future. (You can also find this setting in the Google Photos app on your phone.)

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

Luckily, there is a solution: click the Restore Storage button and Google will compress existing photos and videos to High Quality.

The message will tell you how much space you will get back and some other items will also be compressed when you click the Compress button.

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

Before you do this, it should be noted that while compressing an image will not cause a significant loss of quality, the same cannot be said for video. So if you don’t have the original versions stored somewhere else, it might be a good idea to download the videos from Google Photos before you use this option.

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The slower process will also free up space to go through photos and videos and delete those that aren’t worth keeping. If you click the Albums link on the desktop version of Google Photos, you can see if there are any photos you can delete.

Another option is to filter your photos using the search option to find all screenshots that may have been backed up but that you probably don’t want and can delete.

Click on the magnifying glass icon and a list of folders will be displayed including Screenshots. Click here and you’ll see everything Photos thinks are screenshots or screenshots.

How to clear Google Drive storage quickly

Remember that deleting photos puts them in the Bin, and you must empty the bin – or wait 30 days – for the files to be permanently deleted and your storage space back.

With this three-pronged approach, you’ll be able to quickly delete files, videos, and attachments that are taking up your storage space on Google. And as mentioned, you always have the option to download those files to your device before permanently deleting them from Google so they won’t be lost forever.

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