Person using an Xbox controller to play games on a Nintendo Switch
Corbin Davenport / How-To Geek
Many common gamepad problems can be fixed with replacement parts, a good clean, or aftermarket accessories. Sometimes it's easier, more economical, or more desirable to replace the gamepad outright.

Game controllers take a lot of abuse. From sweaty gaming sessions to spills and drops, some parts simply aren’t built to last beyond a few years. Here are some of the GamePad problems you’re likely to encounter and the fixes you’ll need for each.

Stick Drift

The analog sticks in most gamepads rely on two potentiometer-based modules in the X and Y axis. Potentiometers measure the change in the voltage that occurs when you move the stick and rely on metal contacts that wear out over time. This can cause the joystick to eventually register a change in voltage even when the stick is at rest.

This is known as stick drift, and it’s a fate that awaits all but the most advanced gamepads out there. A better way to do this is to use hall effect sensors like the ones found on the latest electromagnetic joystick modules. Unfortunately, very few companies are using these yet including Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.

Xbox Series X joystick module from iFixit
iFixit

When a joystick starts to exhibit stick drift, you may notice movement on the screen even when you’re not touching the stick. It can make precise movement difficult, affect your aim in first-person shooters, and make driving in a straight line impossible. The only fix is to replace the joystick module with a new one.

Some systems, like the Nintendo Switch, feature joystick calibration in the console settings. This allows you to counter stick drift by resetting the deadzone. Keep in mind that this is a temporary fix. If the contacts have started to degrade, it won’t be long until stick drift rears its head again. A more permanent fix is to replace the joystick modules.

Nintendo Switch controller calibration screen

You can find most of the parts you need for major brand joysticks online. This includes Nintendo Switch Joy-Con joysticks or Xbox Series X and S controller joystick modules on iFixit and Sony DualSense joystick modules direct from PlayStation. You can even replace the worn-out joystick on your old Nintendo 64 controller.

Depending on your controller, the difficulty can vary wildly so make sure you use a guide to help you. Nintendo Switch owners may even be eligible for a free Joy-Con replacement.

If your device is compatible with superior hall effect joystick modules which use electromagnets, as is the case with the Valve SteamDeck, you can even replace your sensors with a GuliKit Electromagnetic Joystick kit to avoid stick drift altogether.

Mushy or Sticky Buttons

Face buttons can become mushy or sticky after being exposed to sugary drinks, beer, and anything else you might happen to spill on them. You can replace these buttons as you can joysticks, by buying spare parts online and performing surgery on your controller.

You may also find that a deep clean is all it takes to get your buttons back to normal. Soak a cotton bud (Q-Tip) in isopropyl alcohol and run the tip around the edge of the affected buttons. Press the button repeatedly to work any grime loose, as the alcohol soaks into the mechanism. You can repeat this until the buttons feel normal again.

Fix Sticky DualShock 4 Buttons with Isopropyl Alcohol
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

The alcohol will evaporate quickly and you’ll be able to test your controller in no time. Another tip involves slicing a plastic straw open so that you can feed the sharp edge down into the crevice between the button and controller chassis. Work the grime free as you do this, using the cotton bud to deposit alcohol as needed.

Check out our other tips for cleaning up your game controllers.

Failed or Dislodged Springs

Controller triggers can be temperamental since they rely on small springs and plastic. Squeeze too hard and you might find your trigger no longer returns to the neutral position, and you’re firing or accelerating indefinitely. Over time, springs may lose tension, dislodge, or break entirely.

The good news is that a stuck or flappy trigger often doesn’t mean that the trigger button needs replacing in its entirety. Replacement spring sets can be found for a range of controllers including the DualSense, DualShock 4, and Xbox One. You’ll need to do some searching to source reliable parts and a guide you can follow.

Joystick Wear

Rubber-tipped joysticks wear out over time, exposing the smooth plastic underneath and making for a less tactile gaming experience. In addition to being less comfortable, plastic can be slippery and impact your gameplay. Fortunately, there’s a simple and cost-effective solution: aftermarket thumb grips.

Setex Gecko joystick grips
Setex

You can buy thumb grips to fit just about every type of controller, like the Setex Gecko Grip covers. You can even get raised thumb grips like the Foamy Lizard DualSense grips for added comfort and precision.

Replaceable Thumb Grips

Setex Gecko Grip

Aftermarket thumb grips for your DualSense, DualShock 4, Xbox, Switch Pro Controller, and Valve SteamDeck.

Wireless Connection Problems

If your console isn’t recognizing your controller when you turn it on, try pairing it again. For most consoles, this is a simple case of taking a USB cable and plugging one end into the controller and the other into the console. Turn both on and a connection between the two should be established. This works for the PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series, and Nintendo Switch.

An Xbox Wireless Controller with a USB Type-C cable

If your console flatly won’t recognize your controller or work over a wireless connection, try using a wired connection instead. You’ll need a USB cable that’s long enough to reach your console from where you normally sit for this to work.

Poor Battery Life

Rechargeable batteries lose capacity over time, and controllers are no different. You should avoid leaving your controllers plugged in when you’re not using them since storing lithium-ion batteries at maximum charge will shorten their lifespan.

Regardless of how you treat your controller batteries, they will eventually need replacing. Microsoft considered this in the design of their Xbox controllers, allowing you to simply buy another Xbox Rechargeable battery pack and replace it easily without the need for surgery. You may also find a better deal on third-party Xbox batteries.

For Xbox Series and Xbox One Controllers

Xbox Rechargeable Battery Pack

Make your Xbox controller rechargeable or replace a failing rechargeable battery with a new one. A fully charged battery should allow for around 30 hours of play.

This isn’t the case for PlayStation batteries, including both the DualShock 4 and DualSense. Fortunately you can buy replacement batteries for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, not to mention Joy-Con and Switch Pro Controller. Consult a guide on a website like iFixit to help you replace the internal battery correctly.

If you’re looking for a simpler fix, a battery pack like the Rii Rechargeable 2000mAh DualSense Battery Pack adds around 10 hours of battery life to the PlayStation 5 controller at the cost of 1.8oz (51 grams) additional weight.

For DualSense PlayStation 5 Controllers

Rii Rechargeable DualSense Battery Pack

Extend your DualSense playtime by 10 hours with this battery back that slots into the back of your controller and adds only around 1.8oz (51 grams) additional weight.

As a last resort, you can always plug your controller into a power source and play wired instead. This doesn’t have to be your console, since you can connect most controllers to a power source like a USB battery or power adapter and continue to play over Bluetooth.

Hand Cramp and General Discomfort

First-party controllers are generally very comfortable, though this depends on factors like hand size and physiology. Outside of adding controller grips like the eXtremeRate PlayVital Xbox Series grips (also available for DualSense controllers) there’s not a lot you can do beyond replacing your controller.

If you have an issue with Nintendo’s detachable Joy-Con controllers, you’re not alone. You could replace your Joy-Con with a Hori Split Pad Pro for a more comfortable portable experience, or get a grip like the Satisfye ZenGrip Pro. You could even mount your Switch above your Pro Controller with a Fixture S1.

For Nintendo Switch Joy-Con

Satisfye ZenGrip Pro 3

Make your existing Joy-Cons more comfortable by slapping the Satisfye ZenGrip Pro 3 on your Switch. This latest version is compatible with both the original Switch and revised OLED model.

You Get What You Pay For

Expensive controllers are generally more comfortable with superior build quality compared to cheaper products. Your choice may be limited on a console, but if you’re looking for a controller for your PC you have a huge range of controllers available to you.

Take a look at our best game controller round-up or best retro controller round-up, depending on what you’re going to be using your controller for. If you’re looking for a solid controller for use with a PC, Mac, iPhone, or Android device that’s comfortable and sturdy, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and S controller gets our top gong.

For Xbox, PC, Mac and Mobile

Xbox Core Wireless Controller

The Xbox Core Wireless controller is available in a range of colors and designs and allows other players to join you in local competitive and co-op multiplayer experiences.

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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