Apple’s Podcasts app has always been a mess. In the first iOS version, users complained about Podcasts’ skeuomorphic tape player that moved as a podcast played, but the real issues were its clunky interface, inconsistent playback behavior, and syncing failures. Apple recently overhauled the Podcasts app for the gazillionth time in iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, and macOS 11.3 Big Sur, but unfortunately, it appears that Podcasts is still a hot mess.
Most tellingly, MacRumors lists a litany of user complaints in “Users Despair at Apple Podcasts App After iOS 14.5 Update.” Some are as old as the Podcasts app, like syncing not working properly, whereas others are new to the latest release.
Finding the Podcasts Data Thief
I immediately noticed that I was already suffering from one of the complaints: Podcasts resetting your download settings and downloading every episode of every podcast you subscribe to or that has even a single episode in your library.
I subscribe to a few podcasts in the Podcasts app but generally leave downloads off to save space—streaming works fine for me. However, a few weeks ago, I specifically tracked down and downloaded an episode of the Ham Radio Crash Course podcast so I could listen to it while driving out of cellular range. I didn’t subscribe to the podcast, as I don’t usually listen to it, but I was interested in that particular episode.
When I opened the new Podcasts app on my iPhone, I found that it had me “following” Ham Radio Crash Course—you no longer “subscribe” to podcasts in the Podcasts app, but instead “follow” them like “friends” on social media—and it had downloaded episodes before and after the only one I intended to download.
I went to Settings > General > iPhone Storage and was aghast to discover that the Podcasts app was now taking up 14.2 GB of space. Luckily, I have 256 GB of storage and plenty of free space on my iPhone, but if I’d had less available storage, it could have gotten awkward quickly.
My suspicions alerted, I launched Podcasts on my MacBook Pro running macOS 11.3 and caught it trying to download a slew of recent podcast episodes. Happily, I was able to click Cancel All before it could finish.
When I opened Podcasts on my iPad running iPadOS 14.5, it asked me if I wanted to restore downloads, and I was able to respond No Thanks. So far, it doesn’t seem to have automatically downloaded anything.
Fortunately, my Internet service isn’t metered, but if yours is, you might want to check your monthly usage. I also didn’t have to worry about running out of space on any of my devices, but I’ve certainly been in situations in the past where losing lots of free space to unwanted podcast downloads would have been problematic.
Read on to learn how to stop Podcasts from downloading all these additional episodes and recover the space if it already has.
Stop Automatic Podcast Downloads
To stop automatic downloads, you must either unfollow each show individually or go into the show’s settings and turn off automatic downloads. Both are easy.
iPhone and iPad
- Tap the Library tab at the bottom.
- Tap Shows. (If Shows doesn’t appear in the Library, tap Edit and select it before proceeding.)
- Tap a show for which you want to turn off downloads.
- Tap the ellipsis button in the upper-right corner.
- Either tap Unfollow or, to disable downloads, choose Settings.
- Turn off Automatic Downloads.
- Tap Done.
To make sure that Podcasts doesn’t automatically start downloading episodes of new podcasts that you follow, go to Settings > Podcasts and, under Automatic Downloads, turn off Enable When Following.
The process is similar on the Mac.
- Click Shows in the sidebar.
- Move the mouse pointer over a podcast to reveal an ellipsis button.
- Click the ellipsis button and choose either Unfollow or, to disable downloads, Settings.
- Turn off Automatic Downloads.
- Click OK.
To prevent downloads from cluttering your drive in the future, open Podcasts > Preferences > General and deselect Automatic Downloads.
Delete Unwanted Podcasts Downloads
What if Podcasts has already downloaded episodes? If you have plenty of space, you could just wait for them to go away as you listen to them, but it’s likely that Podcasts has downloaded episodes you’ve already listened to or never will. Here’s how to reclaim that space.
To remove downloaded episodes, navigate to Library > Downloads (again, if Downloads doesn’t appear in the Library, tap Edit and enable it). Then swipe left on any episode and tap the red Trash button to delete it.
This approach works fine if you have only a few to delete or if you want to pick and choose which episodes to remove. But what if Podcasts downloaded hundreds of episodes?
Happily, there’s an easy way to delete them en masse. Go to Settings > General > iPhone/iPad/iPod touch Storage > Podcasts. There, you can see exactly which shows you have downloaded episodes of and how much space they consume. Swipe left on a show to reveal a Delete button that lets you remove all downloaded episodes at once.
Or, if you want to get rid of your Podcasts headaches once and for all, you could also tap Delete App.
On the Mac, click Downloads in the sidebar to see all your downloaded episodes. To delete all of them, click the first download to select it, press and hold Shift, scroll down to the last podcast, and click it to select all the intervening episodes. (You can also Command-click individual episodes to select or deselect them if you want to leave some.) Control-click any of the selected downloads and choose Remove Download.
Try Overcast Instead
We’ve had Apple’s Podcasts app available on various platforms for nearly nine years now, but it has never been very good. After that amount of time, it’s hard to imagine that Apple will ever make it more than a lowest-common-denominator app for those who don’t know to find a better alternative in the App Store.
Speaking of alternatives, most of us use Overcast for our podcast listening, and we recommend it to our readers. It’s well-made and straightforward, and it boasts innovative features like Smart Speed, which dynamically shortens silences in talk shows, and Voice Boost, which boosts and normalizes the volume so every show has the same audio levels. For our coverage, see “Overcast Refines the iPhone Podcast Experience” (16 July 2014), “Overcast and Apple’s Podcasts Make the Apple Watch a Decent Podcast Player” (15 October 2018), and “Overcast Gains Podcast Clip Sharing” (29 April 2019).