An iPhone that won’t charge properly is more than a little bit frustrating. Before you tear your hair out, take a stroll down out troubleshooting checklist to rule out common causes of charging problems—and, fingers crossed, resolve your issue without sending your phone in for service.
There are a variety of issues that can cause problems when charging your iPhone or iPad, ranging from the easily-solved to the requires-Apple-service. Thankfully, in our experience, the problem is almost always a varying degree of easily-solved. Here are the first things you should try.
We really love the Lighting connector design: there’s no wrong way to put the cable in, it’s very difficult to damage the port itself, and the cable connector is very resistant to damage. The design of the Lightning port, however, does really make it an irresistible crevice for lint and debris to accumulate—especially if you carry your phone in your pocket every day.
Eventually, enough crud can build up in the port that when you insert the lightning cable you’ll fail to see the phone switch over to charging mode. After unplugging it and plugging it back in a few times, you might notice that it starts charging, but all you’ve succeed in doing—if debris is your problem—is packing that lint in tighter. Eventually the plug-and-replug technique won’t work, because you’ll have reached maximum compaction. How do we know? Because, although it took a little over 2 years and a few painful months of on and off charging issues, we eventually cleaned out our Lightning port which led to complete resolution of our charging problems.
How should you clean your Lighting port? You could, if you were playing things by the absolute book, purchase a specialty anti-static cleaning brush like this $5 OXO combination brush and silicone wiper. It’s a great tool for brushing debris out of a dirty Lightning port and not much different from the anti-static cleaning brushes they use at the Apple Store to perform the same task. But, frankly, we’ve had just as luck not playing by the book and using a wooden toothpick. No seriously, look at the photo above as evidence of our last cleaning excursion. A plain old toothpick is a pretty perfect tool: it’s not conductive, it’s exactly the right width, it has a point, and you can easily touch it to the back of the Lightning port (there’s nothing there but plain metal, the connections are on the top and bottom of the port) to hook your little packed up pile of lint and easily pull it out.
In fact, you can even every so slightly dampen the toothpick with a drop of rubbing alcohol and the tip very lightly over the top and bottom of the port: it’ll come out a dingy gray color—that gray color is the dirt and slight tarnish coming off the connection pads inside the port. At that point your lightning port will be as close to factory fresh as it’ll ever be.
If your Lightning port is squeaky clean (or, filthy or not, cleaning it failed to resolve your charging issue) the next culprit to investigate is the charger itself. Not all chargers are created equal and newer iPhones (and iPads, even more so) are both picky about their power sources and power hungry.
The best bet is to try charging your device with the official Apple charger that came with it. The second best bet is to try charging with high quality charger that meets or exceeds the quality and specifications of the Apple charger. Don’t bother running your test with a weak USB charger left over from a phone you owned 10 years ago—there’s a good chance that it’s significantly under powered for the task of charging a modern phone (and almost definitely underpowered for charging an iPad—remember, iPads require more power to charge!).
Need help picking out a charger? We’ve got a handy guide to selecting a charging station so you can recharge all your gadgets in one location.
If your charger seems to up to snuff but you’re still having problems, your issue may lie with the cable itself. After hundreds of plugging and unplugging sessions even the best of cables starts to show a little wear and tear. Further, Lightning cables need to be certified by Apple.
Check that your cable is intact and that the Lightning end of, especially, is free from damage. The little microchip that tells your iPhone that the cable is a legit Apple or Apple-certified product is in the Lightning end and any strain or damage on that end can disrupt the functioning of it. Need a new cable? Don’t stress about it, there are plenty of cheap certified cables to be had, including this $8 6 foot cable from Amazon Basics.
If your port is now clean, your charger is up to snuff (and can charge other devices), and the cables you tested can charge your other Lighting-connector-devices just fine, then you’ve reached the end of the troubleshooting line, and there’s a very good chance there is a problem with your iPhone’s hardware.
Although the metal-body construction of the iPhone and the design of the Lightning port makes it less likely to get a detached or otherwise damaged port (say, compared to a plastic body phone with a cheaper connector) it’s not unheard of. It’s possible there is some internal issue with your iPhone, like the tiny connection points between the contacts in the port and the circuit board in the phone are damaged, and your only warranty-preserving option is contacting Apple to get your phone replaced or repaired by an authorized service provider.