SEARCH

How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: How Do You Manage Cable Clutter?

Despite the advances in wireless technology the cable-free future we’ve all been waiting for hasn’t arrived yet. Whether you’re wrangling network cables, peripheral cables, or a nest of charging cables, we want to hear your cable clutter busting tips and tricks.

Your printer might be Wi-Fi enabled and your iPad might only get plugged in to charge, but for the rest of your gadgets and computers there are yards upon yards of cables to be wrangled and stowed. This week we want to hear all about your tips and tricks–whether you’ve found a just-right commercial solution or cobbled together a MacGyver-style DIY fix–for cable management.

Sound off in the comments and don’t forget to check back on Friday for the What You Said roundup!

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/11/12

Comments (61)

  1. Dave

    For my TV setup, I’ve got everything behind the drywall. Just cut a hole behind the TV and another behind the remaining entertainment pieces and all the wires disappear.

  2. Mike Hathaway

    1 word Velcro… Lots of velcro

    I also set everything up measure the distance cables need to go and order the closest sized cables from monoprice.com It ads a few days for setups some times but the results are much less cable clutter to deal with.

  3. Paul

    No useful tips from me, just wanted to say that that picture reminds me of when I used to work at Northwestern Mutual. Their cable clutter is atrocious

  4. 5mith

    Zipties and Velcro.

  5. Trevor

    I always start by mounting a power strip in an unobtrusive but easy to place. After that I use a lot of zip ties. Getting cables that are as close to the exact length as possible, or making your own help out a lot as well. Then I always try to bundle as many cables as possible into a single “line” with my zip ties. You will almost always still end up with a couple of small bundles of folded cables that you have to find some place out of the way to hide.

  6. Mitch Bartlett

    I sort them in plastic bags then place them in a bin. http://www.technipages.com/untangle-your-cable-mess.html

  7. xana452

    Computer: Its a jungle behind that thing.
    TV: Small plastic tubing to route everything to one place.

  8. JL

    I don’t manage cable clutter…
    After trying just about everything, I gave up.

    Now my cable clutter manages itself and emails me every now and then to say I should get a bigger place

  9. Robert

    I’m with JL on this, I gave up managing my cable clutter. I’ve found it best to just ignore it.

  10. Wayne

    Old school… Toss all the cables behind the desk and let the fairies tangle them over time.

  11. Mike

    If it’s not seen it is ignored, I deal with the tangles latter. If it is seen and needs to look nice I use Velcro, wire tires, twist ties, and smurf conduit. I also use cable racks and patch panels when I can.

  12. Jono

    Lots and lots of insulation tape.

  13. semiretired

    Hdmi to a tv, that has speakers, eliminates the speakers and wires needed for a monitor. Wireless helps in some cases. For some of our tv’s, shorter cabling worked well. I have a few organizers attached to tables. Giving up and ignoring the mess has worked well in a few areas. I do need to label. Oh what messes I have!

  14. the flap

    custom sized cables my brand, wire ties and a detailed plan.

  15. Antriksh

    Simply put, I don’t have a lot of cables. My house has exclusively laptops and mobile devices.

    The few cables I use (Apple and Amazon’s micro-USB for Kindle) usually lie coiled up on a shelf that is made into my bed’s headboard. Loads of network cables, hard drive with backup etc. all stay in an old laptop bag in the corner of the room.

    I think the best solution to avoid cable clutter is to plan ahead and not have any cables at all.

  16. sup3rbird

    What’s wrong with clutter?

  17. Sakisds

    Usually I ignore it. I taped most cables to the back of my desk (it’s against the wall) and I don’t care anymore since nothing is visible. There are 3 cables on the top of my desk (namely for phone, drawing tablet and arduino) but I manage them with binder clips.

  18. gpdaddy59

    Zip Ties….and more zip ties. However I’m gradually going wireless on everything I can (All-in-one Desktop, Wireless surround-sound speakers, etc.).

  19. J0003

    I gave up managing my cable clutter at home I just attempt to nicely throw them behind the desk or entertainment center so that they are out of sight. At work though we stick with velcro. It’s easy to remove and reuse unlike zip ties.

  20. TechnicalServiceGuy

    I used to use Zip Ties. the I worked for a data Center and some how always ended up with Extra Velcro pieces, at the end of my carrer there I had over 300 ft of pieces between 1 inch all the way to 6 feet. Velcro has served me well between the HTPC, TV, and Home Theater Setup in my living room. I also use a rather heavy duty plactic cable managment piece. It was 8 feet but I have since cut it into smaller sections and still have another 3 peices of the entirety. In the end I still use more vlecro than anything, and I make sure to leave enough slck in the cables, and the velcro loose enough that if something is tugged on, all my cables to not fall out.

    I have also thought of runing PVC pipe throughout the attic if I need to make long runs of cables to another part of the house, not sure it will keep pests and roddents from chewing the pipe, anyone have any ideas about that?

  21. Ozzy

    I used to be a cable tie man (zip ties in the US?) and then my wife got fed up with the cut-offs she kept finding on the floor so for a joke she got me a long strip (about 4m) of 1cm wide velcro.
    I just cut it the required lengths and then bundle cables neatly together and velcro them off (I’ve actually glued some velcro hook sections to the back of my desk and hey presto everything is out of the way, neat and tidy and easy to re-use. Cables that need to go up on the desk (e.g. mouse, joystick, camera connector) are then held in place and don’t fall down and get tangled with other cables that involve hours of yanking and swearing
    Economical and environmentally friendly too boot!

  22. Rajesh Prajapati

    I use to hide them behind table/club the wire of equal length/make roll and clamp. Still I am irritated with the cable wires of fixed length. When components are very near to each other, you have long wire hanging around.

  23. Holly Lewis

    I enforce my pet peeve: Remove unused cables and tie up all cabling! Our data centers would look like the picture if I didn’t stay on my IT coworkers about keeping things neat. I think my past Marine Corps career instilled in me a readiness gene that wants me to have everything ready for troubleshooting which includes keeping cabling neat so you can easily trace out the cables. We use velcro straps for easy access and route like cables together. My other OCD neatness peeve? Don’t use a 14 foot patch cable where a 3 foot one will do! I hate finding 10 feet of cable coiiled up where you do not need a service loop.

  24. Barney Farcus

    When I worked for Motorola, their cable room had contractors come in at night and replace any ‘yellow cables’ we ran just to get things working during the day (setting up new workstations, etc) with nicely bound cables, that went from one rack to another in cable trays. Removing cables we tagged both ends and unplugged them, and the cable gnomes would come remove them over night. For a large cable plant it can’t be beat.

    At other companies I worked for, we managed our own. We used zip-ties or velcro wraps (depending on the local standard), and routed cables through cable trays or panduit. Yes, after a while being lazy every ‘now and then’ makes a rats nest of cables. So periodically (every 3 mo or year or so) we would make a major project of pulling and re-routing cables. Depending on the company, we also tagged each end of each cable with appropriate information, either using wrap around write on tape, or putting write on ‘flags’ 6 inches back from the connection.

    At home, I use velcro, keeping power away from signal cables (just separate bundles, even if they run close to each other). I put the little bread bag plastic tabs and write what it is for and put that on each end of cables. Depending on where it is, I may also put some masking tape around the cable to make a ‘flag’ and write on the flag what the cable is with ink.

    Keeping track of cabling has caused me to develope a low grade OCD, where even when running power for outlets, I mark both ends of a power cable run, as well as in the breaker box.

  25. Greg

    I’ve tried over the years to manage my cable clutter,but gave up…I maintain that there’s gremlins at play, whose sole purpose is to wrap,tie, and snarl cables… It also seems to me if I wire tie or Velcro all the cables,a week later some wall wart or such fails and you have to rip the whole thing apart anyway,so why bother??

  26. Erick Salazar

    Lots of Velcro ties and those little tabs found on bread (those little plastic ones that tell you what day it was made). Bundle your wire then label them with the tabs.

  27. brodiemac

    I adopted this method for my computer: http://lifehacker.com/237789/diy-under+desk-gadget-mount
    I also zip tied empty CD spindles to wind up extra cable length. Behind my entertainment center I just used zip ties and velcro wire ties to manage all the extra length.

  28. Kieno

    Velcro and bread tabs to label which cord goes to which device.

  29. Hisa

    We have OCD. We use velcro and ceiling racks in our server room. It actually looks like we have NO cable in our server room. We terminate our own cable so we don’t have to depend on fixed lengths. We bundle the longer cables in 20s and navigate it through a system of ceiling racks to ensure no one steps on the cable, accidentally trips over it or pulls it out, etc. All racks are set to partially rotate (custom built system) so we can easily access the back to connect, move, or tone our cables. Then we can rotate the back of our servers to the wall so we don’t even see that maze of cable. Love it!

    But at home I gave up. ^^ No matter what I do, a kid, dog, or cat will eventually undo it, so I just shove cables behind the nearest thing to keep it out of sight.

  30. Frank

    I don’t know about bundling the leads. When you have to remove one cable because you’re removing the peripheral you have to open up the bundle and then you gotta do them all over again. I read somewhere that a length of rain gutter attached to the wall would do wonders, just lay all the cables therein and enjoy the new found kick space. I think the most important thing to do is label both ends of each cable, then let’em lie where they fall. That’s the creed by which I live. I did however mount a big hook on the wall and just lifted up the major mass of wires and hung them on that. Works pretty well.

  31. tommy2rs

    Let the dust bunnies cover up the tangles? Not that I would ever do that…

  32. jthelw

    I can’t manage it; never really have been able to! That being said, though, life’s getting better all the time: my new printer has allowed me to dump a usb cable and and a phone cord. More to come, probably.

  33. shelby

    In my house I use bridle rings for all of the cable runs and home-shaped j-clips made out of thin aluminum where bridle rings aren’t appropriate. This keeps my cable runs clean yet allows me to easily add/remove as needed. I label the ends (at the terminus) with clips repurposed from bread bags.

    I just ignore the mess on/under/behind the desk.

  34. Fodaro

    I don’t own a desktop, so I don’t have that many cables, and those I have often need to be removed often when I take the laptop out, so they can’t be tidied particularly.

    For cables that are not in use, however, (chargers, headphones, etc.) I wrap them with the “over-under method” and secure them with cable ties. This keeps them neat and stops them from trying to coil again when you use them. There’s a video on it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcND46YrB1o , if you can stand the guy’s arrogance.

  35. Ryan

    Cable labels at each end then wrap the whole thing in spiral wrap. Use it a lot in avionics.Then it looks like be ugly cable.

  36. SteveK

    Like most of us, I prefer velcro straps and zip ties. Biggest advantage of velcro, aside from ease of removal when necessary, is that it doesn’t damage the cable as a zip tie could.

    Mounting pads are great for securing an individual cable, or even a bundle of cables, to a desk. Again, though, don’t cinch the zip tie too tight or hang too many cables supported by a zip tie.

    Innerduct is great for bundles of wires under floors and up in ceilings.

    Spiral wrap may be best of all for reducing cable clutter. Disadvantage comes when you have to take it apart to remove or add a cable. Still, if you know your desk or stereo system is not changing for a long while, spiral wrap should be on your list of considerations. It can be cut as long or short as you want.

    One of the most valuable tools of all is a good label maker.

    In 2006 I was working Helpdesk in Iraq. During the quiet graveyard shift my buddy and I would go to the server rooms, where we found a situation similar to the photo at the top of this article. It took us a few months, but we eliminated the rat’s nest completely. Got a letter of appreciation from the military we were supporting, and each of us got a $1000 bonus from our employer.

    Hope this helped.

  37. Sirus

    I have found that there are so many options out there for wire and cable management. Velcro ties, zip ties, tapes, clips, clamps, sleeving, shrink tubing and who knows what else.

    When I cleaned up the wires behind my home theater system I used a number of different products. I found everything I needed online at, http://www.wirecare.com. I wanted it to look clean so I used a larger diameter self wrapping sleeving in black. This allowed me to bundle everything without having to unhook all of the components. I did, however, first use some cable ties to keep everything tight. (but I cleaned up the cut ends so my wife wouldn’t find them – sorry Ozzy). I also used some colored shrink tubing to identify each wire or cable when needed.

    I thought about using the spiral wrap but I didn’t like the fact that it doesn’t give 100% coverage. The wires and cables can be damaged where the spiral wrap doesn’t cover plus it’s not very aesthetically pleasing.

    Good luck!

  38. mwh1935

    For cable neatness, and cheap, cardboard toilet rolls which are accumulated over time, and are thrown away. I have put 2 to 3 together with several cables going to the same spot.
    My wife think I am a genus and clutter is gone.
    There is another way for electrical wires to be hidden, and thrown into the back of the pick-up,
    I learn this from an electrician. Its macro may , by coiling the wire looping it together like a chain,
    it will not get tangled with other cables and it just zips like a zipper back to the way it was.

    I have taken enough time but I have a million of them.

    mwh1935

  39. Shawn

    Clutter for me only becomes a problem when I disconnect the whole system and later when I need to reconnec,t lose track of what goes where. It would be nice to have some sort of color code system on the cables and/or a place to label them at the ends.

  40. Liz

    My fella who gets a bit over enthusiasic when he watches DIY programmes has drilled a 3 inch hole in the chimney behind the tv, inserted a small section of drainpipe then drilled another hole near the floor where the sockets are and dropped the cables down inside the wall.

  41. Huisie

    I used to get a little technic(an)al about cable clutter, but my system has devolved to “simplest is best”.
    Needing to move items regularly (or even only once in a while), I now only use 3 things:

    1. Staple gun with white cable staples – for long runs of cable that aren’t likely to move often
    2. Binder clips – easy to move/adjust, keeps cable runs/drops routed and tidy
    3. Rubber bands – easily adjust cord lengths for different locations, bundled cord can be tucked away.

    I live in rented accommodation, so holes in the wall are not an option.
    I work from home, so my working space is more flexible, requiring a flexible cabling approach.
    Also, for cleaning purposes, cabling and cords that can be easily moved/detached makes moving furniture easier (for cleaning under/behind).

  42. brent stansbury

    foam insulation tubes from your local hardware store, easily cut to size and are pre-slit to slip cables within, if necessary, secure with your choice of advice from the others on this thread!

  43. Ziggurat Vertigo

    I tinker too often to affix the cables in any way. I’m constantly reconnecting this to that and hopping between different computers. This makes cable management impossible except for one important way: remove unused cables. Keeping the mess lean keeps it manageable.

    My only other option would be to throw out older but still useful computers to replace it all with brand new devices that still won’t connect as quickly – gigabit Ethernet is way faster than 802.11n. Not worth the money just to eliminate a little clutter.

  44. Nachol

    My gosh! I don’t have a tip for cable mess-ups, but I have noticed that this is about the third time that I’ve seen myself reflected on other people who have the same “geeky” problems as myself. In these How-To Geek forums, I even found that I’m not the only one struggling to find the correct “up side” for USB connectors, I found that I’m not the only one involved in “hours of yanking and swearing” (like Ozzy here) with the cables, and that I’m not the only one trying to figure out the best way to reinstall my applications after having my hard drive wiped out because of windows’ problems. Hahaha
    Thanks for the ideas, HTG and users!!!

  45. Rick S

    I have three setups in my house because repairing is my hobby.
    Hanging everything from the ceiling cured most of the things that bugged me.
    At least I don’t have to bring in my diesel air compressor to clean the table off.

  46. Ken

    The little tab that comes on a bread sack wrapper has worked well for me after seeing the idea here. You can even label those

  47. Terry

    Use a Brother label at each end of each cord. Then let the cords go where they want (they will anyway).

  48. Daniel Cavanaugh

    Well, I tried laying out the wires along my desks metal struts and using twist ties (from assorted electronic equipment) and clips to hold them in place. It seemed to work for a while. Apparently elves came in one night and practiced their macrame on the wires. Now it looks like an explosion in a noodle factory!

  49. jhcDC

    Gaffers Tape. Many colors, but black 4″ is best for me!

  50. smokingwheels

    When you build your house run lots of wires under the plaster more than you think you will ever need casue its a real pain to do it afterwards.

  51. E.W.

    Twisty Ties and duct tape. Twisty tie them together and duct tape them to the back of the desk.

    It’s always fun when I decide to rearrange the office, but, by that time, the duct tape needs to be replaced.

  52. Cobaltqube

    I’m a big fan of rip-tie it’s a cut to fit Velcro strip in many widths and colors and has been a lifesaver for an OCD geek such as myself.. Everything from network room cables to power bricks etc. Zip ties are great too for long runs and other permanent items but Velcro is slowly taking over in my house and my work. Hope this helps.. I have found some great ideas in this thread and others.. Thanks HTG!

  53. John

    You have to use velcro, if you pull zip ties too tight you can damage the cables, CAT 5 and above cables are NOT meant to be zip tied or have sharp bends in them, your data throughput will suffer.

  54. Les.

    I guess I’m the cheapskate of the group. For years I have always had short lengths of 2 & 3 core household cables left from jobs. I open out the cables & cut a single core to the length I want. Twist it once round the main cable of a bunch give it 2 twists & just hold the other cables together, give the 2 ends another twist, job done. Do this along the length of the cable every 2 – 3 feet for support. I use it for extension cables, etc. give the wire a few twists about one end of the cable to anchor it, leave the ends long & you just have to open the ends round the rest of the coil to use & coil up the cable & twist again when finished. I use this on the sliding table for my keyboard.
    I have 2 extension strips with 6 sockets each 13 amp. So I can switch off computers or scanners printers etc. when not in use. Leaving the cables long so there is no drag, I have a screw under the table with a cable twisted round tight then all of the cables held together & of cause all the sockets labelled.

  55. Ray Cooke

    I never get it in the 1st place !! Once when working for North Yorks County Council I was sent to a small school that had massive connection problems..I stayed late on a friday night when all had gone home and ripped it all out and replaced/re-terminated the the whole lot. Only took 4hrs and when they all came to school on the monday everything worked. It’s always easier to do it right in the very beginning..then all who follow may at least try and keep it as it was found !!!! Then again……….maybe not.

  56. REnninga

    “Cables? We don’t need no stinking cables”.

  57. Rove-IT

    Bluelounge cable box for powerboards. Ikea cable trays for under desk (cheap). Velcro and cable ties.
    Plastic split tubing over groups of cable to computer. What the point of having cool gear if it’s not tidy in it’s environment. Bluelounge is a great company everyone should know about them!

  58. Joolyer

    I’m with JL. Gave up long ago. Cables everywhere in our house (TVs, 5 computers, cd players, heaven knows what that machine is/does etc) just watch your feet!

  59. Bud Vitoff

    In a 5′ wide cubbyhole, I used plywood to give me three shelves and a back-panel about 3″ away from the wall. The panel has a hinged and latched access door. The area is occupied by my desktop iMac, printer, burner, hard drive, USB hub, router, UPS box, and an adding machine (of all things!). Each device’s cables are run through a nearby 1″ hole in the back panel. The clutter is there — you just can’t see it.

  60. Bud Vitoff

    I forgot to mention the mutli-outlet surge protector mounted on the the back side of the access door which gets all the plugs, and its single plug into the UPS.

  61. swtracey7

    I make all my own cables so they are the proper size for my equipment. I also use Velcro where needed.

Enter Your Email Here to Get Access for Free:

Go check your email!