Three ways to Delete Photos with Google Photos

Losing precious photos is what we want to avoid! Google Photo’s primary purpose is to keep your photos backed up and safe, but if you don’t understand where they’re getting backed up and how delete works, you could still end up losing them! I have three important points for you:

  1. Be sure to verify that your photos are, in fact, backed up. Please check your account, on a computer, at to verify that your phone’s photos have successfully made it to your account online. Even if you trust the “all backed up” message, I still advise that you view your photos online to verify that you know the username and password for the account that is being used!
  2. Don’t use the trashcan icon unless you never want to see that photo again.
  3. If your goal is to make room on your phone by deleting pictures, use Google Photos “Free Up Space” command. Settings, Free Up Space.

Delete from All Sync’ed Devices with Trashcan icon

When you use the trashcan icon in Google Photos, you are saying this picture is garbage. You don’t want it anywhere. This will delete the selected picture(s) from the current location – the phone/tablet in your hand or the web ( if you’re using a computer. The trashcan will also delete the selected picture(s) from any sync’ed devices. A sync’ed device is a smartphone or tablet that has the Google Photos app with Backup and Sync turned on. A computer is not a sync’ed device – if you have these same pictures stored on a computer’s hard drive, they will not be affected.

Delete from Device Only by using the menu

If you want to remove some pictures from your phone, but leave them untouched on the website don’t use the trashcan! Instead:

  1. Select photos to remove
  2. Tap 3-dot menu
  3. Android: Delete Device Copy
  4. iPhone: Delete Device Original

If you don’t see an option to delete from device only, you may have selected photos that weren’t taken with that device and therefore do not exist to be deleted! That is also the explanation for the image at right where 15 pictures are selected, but only 6 device originals are among them.
On Apple devices, there is one more step. Whenever you delete a photo on an iPhone or iPad, it’s not actually deleted, it’s just moved to the Recently Deleted Album. So, those photos are still taking up space on your device. If you want to completely erase them, you need to go to the Apple Photos app, Albums, Recently Deleted, and erase them from there.

Delete all Backed Up Photos from the Device with One Command: Free Up Space

Google Photos keeps track of the photos that have successfully been backed up (uploaded to your Google Account.) Therefore, it can delete all the photos from your device with one command.
  1. Tap the 3-line menu
  2. Free Up Space
  3. It will report how many photos and videos are found and then you tap Remove

Androids with SD cards

If you are using an Android device with an SD card, odds are that Google Photos does not have permission to write to that SD card. (February 2017 update: the Android update to Nougat has fixed this for most people) That means, if you try to delete a photo using Google Photos, it can’t. You have to use the native gallery app to do that. Although this renders your SD card rather useless, I don’t see it as a huge problem. I set my camera to use the internal phone memory even though I have an SD card available. This memory will fill up fast, so I use Google Photos “Free Up Space” command often. Very few of my photos are actually stored on my phone, but Google Photos shows me all the photos in my account – all 50,000 of them – as if they were on the phone.

If you are a member, here are several tutorial videos on this subject:

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Chris Guld is President and Teacher-in-Chief at She has been in computer training and support since 1983 and owned a Computer Training Center called Computer Savvy from 1983-1996. She was one of the first WordPerfect Certified trainers in 1986; President of the International Computer Training Association in 1993; Author of the Beginner’s Guide to Picasa and the website. She is now a Top Contributor for the Google Photos Forum and owner of the blog. She loves to teach! If you want to learn, you’ve come to the right place.

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