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The 1-2-3 Guide To Spring Cleaning Your Android Smartphone

By Chris Hoffman2013-08-26

Android smartphones fill up over time with apps, photos, media, and even leftover app data. Worse yet, if your smartphone is nearly full, the write performance of its flash memory will decrease, slowing everything down. Luckily, cleaning up your smartphone and freeing up files should be fairly easy.

You can do this all yourself with tools built into Android. The steps here were written for Android 4.3 on a Nexus 4 and should be very similar on devices running Android 4.0 and newer. Devices running older Android versions like Android 2.3 may not have all of these features available in the operating system, while the interface will look different on devices running skinned version of Android like the Samsung Galaxy S4.

The Quick Option: Factory Reset

We’ll go through all the things you need to do to clean up your device, but before you go through the rest of this article, consider whether you want to start over from scratch. Using your smartphone’s factory reset option will allow you to quickly reset it to its factory default state, eliminating all the apps you’ve installed and files you stored on your device’s storage.

For many people, this is a good, quick option. Much of your data — your emails, contacts, and more — is stored online tied to your Google account or synced with the other apps you’ve signed into. Setting your phone back up again will be a simple process of installing the apps you use and signing into them. Even apps you’ve purchased are tied to your Google account and can be redownloaded from Google Play.

You will lose some stuff if you do this. Anything not backed up online — such as text messages, photos, music, and video files stored on your device — will be lost. Many games don’t use cloud saves, so you’ll likely lose your progress in Android games such as Angry Birds or Cut the Rope.

Photos will be automatically backed up online if you’ve configured Google+ or Dropbox to automatically upload them to your account, so you don’t have to worry about losing those if things are correctly considered. Be sure to check if your photos are backed up first — this option isn’t on by default.

android-google -photo-backup

A factory reset isn’t for everyone, but it may be faster to start from a clean slate. Note that Android will try to automatically install the apps you had on your phone when you reset it — you’ll want to uninstall the apps ahead of time or cancel this option while going through the Android first time setup process.

To perform a factory reset, open your phone’s Settings screen, tap Backup & reset under Personal, and tap the Factory data reset option. You can even perform a factory reset if your phone won’t boot.


If you have a rooted device, you could use Titanium Backup to back up an app’s data before wiping your phone and restore it afterwards.

Uninstall Apps

First thing’s first: Get rid of apps you don’t use. Go through your app drawer and uninstall those games you haven’t played in six months and apps that seemed useful but weren’t. On Android 4.0, you can simply long-press an app in the app drawer and drag it to the Uninstall icon at the top of the screen to get rid of it. If you have a large amount of apps you want to remove, consult our guide to bulk-uninstalling Android apps to speed up the process.


This is a good way of freeing up space, but it’s unclear which apps are taking up the most space. Some apps may only take up a few MB, while other apps — especially large games — may take up a GB or more.

To determine which apps are hogging space, open your phone’s Settings screen and tap Apps to view your installed apps. On the Downloaded tab, tap the menu button and select Sort by size. You’ll see all your installed apps sorted by how much space they’re taking up — tap an app and tap Uninstall to remove it.


Delete Files

To see an overview of the types of files taking up space on your device’s storage, open the Settings screen and tap Storage. Android will show you a categorized list of the types of files consuming storage.

You can tap a category to see the files on your device and start deleting them. For example, tapping Pictures, videos will open the Gallery app, where you can long-press photos and tap the delete button to remove them from your device. Note that the gallery may also show photos stored online in Google+ Photos, formerly known as Picasa Web Albums. You won’t free up space by deleting photos stored online. However, if you configure your device to automatically upload your photos, you won’t need them stored on your phone.


Other categories include Audio, Downloads, Cached data, and Misc. Downloads opens the Downloads app so you can remove downloads, and Cached data and Misc will show you files stored by apps on your device’s storage. You can use all of these categories to delete data and free up space.


Tapping Audio opens your music player so you can delete songs, but this will depend on the music player app you’re using. If you’re using Google Play Music, the default music player app, you can unpin songs you’ve manually pinned to your device. However, this still leaves songs stored on your device’s storage and cached songs alone. To delete songs you’ve copied to your device’s internal storage, you can either connect your phone to your computer with a USB cable and delete the song files in Windows Explorer or use a file manager app, such as ES File Explorer. If Google Play Music (or any other app) is using lots of storage space for cached data, you can clear it manually. Go into Android’s Settings screen, tap Apps, and use the Clear data and Clear cache buttons to clear the app’s downloaded data.

If you want a better overview to help you delete files, install the DiskUsage app. This app shows you a graphical overview of the folders and files on your device, allowing you to see what’s using the most space and delete it.


If you have important photos that you don’t want backed up online or other important documents, you can connect your phone to a computer with a USB cable and copy the files you want to back up onto your computer. They can then be deleted from your phone to free up space.


If you’ve followed this guide, your phone should now have lots of available free space and perform much more speedily. You don’t need to use a task killer or defragmenter.

How do you free up space on your old Android devices? Do you use any tools we didn’t mention here? Leave a comment and share!

Image Credit: Garry Knight on Flickr


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