How to fix Joy-Con drift on Nintendo Switch

Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite
(Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

The Nintendo Switch, Switch OLED, and Switch Lite are excellent consoles that can be enjoyed wherever you go. But unfortunately, there's this annoying thing called Joy-Con drift that can happen on these systems, which makes it so that your on-screen characters or cursor just starts moving around without you touching the joysticks. Thankfully, there are a few ways to fix the dreaded Joy-Con drift issue instead of sending it in for repairs.

But why is this happening?

Many other controllers with analog sticks can be subject to the same problem, but it seems as if the Nintendo Switch is uniquely vulnerable to drifting. Here are some common reasons why this happens:

  1. The software needs an update: Making sure that your Joy-Con controllers are calibrated properly and have received the latest updates help them function properly and can fix some minor drifting issues.
  2. There is build-up: After frequent use, dust and grime can build up inside the sticks, which can hurt the contacts within. This isn't surprising considering that the Switch devices are portable and therefore get subjected to more contaminants indoors and outdoors.
  3. The contacts are worn down: The joystick contacts can get worn down over time causing them to work improperly and detect input when none is actually given.

Whatever the reason, Joy-Con drift is something that everyone will want to fix when it starts happening to them. Let's go over what you can do to resolve this issue with step-by-step instructions for different fixing methods.

How to conduct a system update on the controllers:

OK, enough chitter-chatter! You have a drifting analog stick, and you want to fix it. The first thing you want to do is perform a system update, which is very easy and doesn't require anything as invasive as opening the system up.

  1. From the main menu, go to System Settings.

(Image credit: iMore)
  1. Click on Controllers and Sensors.

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  1. Scroll down to Update Controllers.

How to fix controller drift Nintendo Switch (Image credit: iMore)
  1. If the controllers are already up to date, a message will pop up saying so. Click OK. If you didn't get this message continue to the next step.

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  1. Wait until the controllers finish updating with the latest firmware.

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  1. A message will pop up reading Update Complete. Click OK.

(Image credit: iMore)

Now you can check to see if the drift issue has been fixed. If it hasn't, you can also try recalibrating your Joy-Con controllers by following the next set of steps.

How to recalibrate your Joy-Con and joysticks through software:

It's possible that your joysticks could just be off and need to be recalibrated to the right parameters. Here's how to recalibrate your analog sticks through the software:

  1. From the main menu, click on System Settings.

(Image credit: iMore)
  1. Scroll down to Controllers and Sensors.

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  1. Select Calibrate Control Sticks.

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  1. Press down on the stick that you want to calibrate.

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  1. If your joystick is behaving normally, you should see a green cross in the middle of the crosshair. If it shows a circle or the cross isn't in the center, click the X button to calibrate.

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  1. A message pops up warning you only to recalibrate if something is wrong with your joystick. Click Calibrate.

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  1. What follows are several instructions for you to complete. First, maneuver the joystick towards the green triangle and release it when it changes color. This will repeat a few times. It can be tricky if there is something wrong with your joystick. If it proves too tricky, exit by pressing the B button.

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  1. Next, it will ask you to rotate the sick. Follow the direction it indicates.

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  1. A message will pop up stating Calibration complete. Click OK.

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If updating your system and calibrating your Joy-Con sticks didn't do the trick then it might be a more physical issue. Keep reading to know how to fix it. 

Add foam or cardboard inside the Joy-Con

Spawn Wave's channel on YouTube discovered a critical fix that has relieved Joy-Con drift for many users. They found that placing some kind of padding between the analog stick and the Joy-Con casing can solve the drifting issue as this prevents the worn-down contacts from touching the casing and sensing input. 

Best of all, you can easily do this fix using things you find around your house. For step-by-step assistance, you can follow the video above and find the basic steps below.

WARNING: Opening Joy-Con controllers and performing home fixes can permanently damage parts if done incorrectly. Additionally, replacing parts or customizing Joy-Con will void any active warranty. Proceed at your own risk.

  1. Use a Tri-Wing Screwdriver to open your drifting Joy-Con and be careful to remember where each screw goes.
  2. Cut out a small square of foam or cardboard. The thickness should be 1mm or less and have roughly the same shape as the metal casing surrounding the analog stick.
  3. Use some adhesive to attach this square cut out to the back of the metal casing. Be careful what adhesive you choose to use, and don't put it on too thick.
  4. Screw the Joy-Con casing back into place. Once that's done, the Joy-Con should be ready to use.

This method puts spacing between the worn-down contact points and the Joy-Con casing, which should prevent the joystick from sensing input simply from touching the case. If that doesn't do it, then there's one more thing you can try before getting really drastic.

How to fix drift with compressed air:

It's possible that removing particles from your Joy-Con sticks using compressed air could make them work properly again. Joy-Con controllers have slightly different designs between the original Nintendo Switch, Switch Lite, and the Switch OLED, but this method will work on all of them.

WARNING: If you're going to use compressed air, make sure to use the WD-40 Specialist Electrical Contact Cleaner or the rebranded WD-40 Specialist Contact Cleaner Spray (or something similar from a trusted brand) and not the regular WD-40 as the regular version can cause additional problems for your Joy-Con controllers.

  1. Identify the analog stick that is giving you problems.

(Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)
  1. Follow the instructions on the compressed air can. This usually means you'll need to shake the can thoroughly before using it.

(Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)
  1. Place your thumb on the joystick and pull it to one side.

(Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)
  1. Gently use the straw to lift the rubber skirt of the joystick.

(Image credit: Rebecca Spear /iMore)
  1. Give your stick several quick cleansing blasts from different angles.

(Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)
  1. Leave the Switch Lite, or the Joy-Con tilted to one side and allow any debris to run down the side.

(Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)
  1. Wipe up any debris that got dislodged from the Switch Lite or Joy-Con.

(Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)
  1. Let the joysticks dry thoroughly before using them.

(Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

Hopefully, that dislodged any debris or dust that was causing problems for your joysticks. If controller drift continues after cleaning, you might want to send your Switch in for repairs, or, if you're handy, you can replace the joysticks yourself.

DIY fix by replacing the analog stick

If you're still having Joy-Con drift issues after using the canned air method, foam fix, and recalibrating the controllers, you may need to replace the analog sticks. Some cheap options are available on Amazon, but remember that replacing the joystick will void any active warranty your Joy-Con may have and can lead to damages if you don't do the replacement correctly.

We recommend using the Veanic Replacement Joystick for Nintendo Switch as it's inexpensive and works well. Checking out the video above from TronicsFix on how to replace your Joy-Con analog sticks for additional help.

How to prevent it from happening!

(Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

If you haven't had this issue yet and you would like to try to avoid it, or if you had it and don't want it again, there are a few things you can do to try to keep it from happening.

  1. Make sure your hands are clean: This may seem obvious, but if you have clean hands, your Switch will stay clean. Additionally, if you have young ones playing on your Switch, they don't always wash off Cheetos crumbs before they start playing.
  2. Use a protective carrying case: When taking your Switch on the go, I seriously recommend using a case. If you are just tossing your Switch into a backpack without a protective case, your sticks may be subject to collecting some particulates or getting smashed against various surfaces, which can wear the contacts down faster. If you don't have one yet, check out the best Switch carrying cases: 
    1. Best Nintendo Switch carrying cases
    2. Best Nintendo Switch Lite carrying cases
    3. Best Nintendo Switch OLED carrying cases

Minor issues like drift can be incredibly frustrating. There have been times when I had a controller stop working as it was intended, and I sure did want to toss it across the room. Hopefully, these tips will help keep you in the game and frustration-free!

Nintendo warranties and sending Joy-Con in for repairs

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Joy-Con drift has been an issue for many Switch fans since its launch, and unfortunately, it affects Nintendo Switch Lite owners as well. The prevalence of this problem has resulted in lawsuits against Nintendo. With so much attention brought to the issue, the gaming company has made it much easier to start a ticket for repairing Joy-Con on its customer support page.

"At Nintendo, we take great pride in creating quality products, and we are continuously making improvements to them," a representative from Nintendo told Kotaku in response to questions about Joy-Con drift. "We are aware of recent reports that some Joy-Con controllers are not responding correctly. We want our consumers to have fun with Nintendo Switch, and if anything falls short of this goal, we always encourage them to visit so we can help."

According to Vice, Nintendo's customer support reps have been instructed to aid anyone who contacts them about Joy-Con drift by first going through troubleshooting steps. If that doesn't fix the problem, Nintendo will make repairs at no charge without requiring proof of purchase. What's more, anyone who contacted Nintendo previously and paid to get their Joy-Con fixed will be issued a refund.

Of course, some people find this process too time-consuming and prefer to purchase a new pair of Joy-Con. It's more expensive but allows Switch owners to continue playing their games rather than waiting for their controllers to come back. Unfortunately, Switch Lites don't have removable controllers, so you won't be able to disengage the problematic joysticks easily. 

Additional products to help with controller issues

If you need more than one replacement joystick or if you'd prefer a new controller altogether, here are the products we recommend most.

Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.

When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.