A pair of Nintendo Switch joy cons
Corbin Davenport / How-To Geek
You can sometimes fix stick drift by cleaning your controller with isopropyl alcohol, but replacing the joystick modules inside the controller is often required for a permanent solution. You can also try to work around the problem by calibrating or adjusting the deadzones where possible.

Stick drift is inevitable on most controllers due to the potentiometers used in the thumbsticks wearing out. Replacements can be costly, so why not attempt a repair to save some money and learn a few DIY skills along the way?

What Is Stick Drift?

Stick drift, or joystick drift, describes an issue where a joystick registers input in a particular direction without being actuated. This can manifest in games as unwanted movement, affecting any analog stick input. It can make it difficult to aim in shooters or steer in racing games, and generally makes controlling a game less precise and more frustrating.

Analog joysticks typically use a potentiometer to measure input on the X and Y axis. Potentiometers measure the change in voltage based on the location of a sliding contact within the mechanism. When the contact becomes worn or dirty, this voltage reading becomes unreliable.

This can cause the “neutral” position of the stick to shift. The stick will begin to register input in a particular direction, or even register erratic inputs in all sorts of directions.

All major consoles use these types of analog inputs, including Sony’s PlayStation 5 (DualSense) controller, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One controller, and the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con and Pro Controller. Valve’s Steam Deck also uses potentiometer-based analog sticks out of the box, as do previous generations of consoles and most off-brand third-party controllers.

It’s important to state that stick drift isn’t necessarily caused by improper use, though keeping your controller clean and avoiding contributing to a build-up of dust and grime may keep the problem at bay for longer. Damage can cause stick drift, particularly liquid spills and excessive force being placed on a stick. Over time, you may notice sticks beginning to drift in the most commonly actuated direction.

Is Your Controller (or Console) Under Warranty?

While stick drift is more likely to affect older controllers, it can strike suddenly even in relatively new ones. This is especially true if the controller has been used heavily. The problem can be more common if you play a lot of games or the controller is shared among several people in a single household.

The first thing you should investigate is whether or not your controller is still under warranty. If it’s the controller you received with your console, be aware that it’s covered by the same warranty period as the console itself. For most, this will be a one-year warranty from the date of purchase. If the controller was purchased separately, dig out your receipt and check your coverage.

Don’t open up your controller or attempt any kind of deep clean if it’s covered by the warranty period. You should be entitled to a replacement, so make sure you contact Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, or whoever manufactured your controller for a refund. You can also try returning the affected unit to the retailer you purchased your controller from in the first place.

If you’re a Nintendo Switch user with a Joy-Con that drifts you can use Nintendo’s Joy-Con Repair Program to get a free repair in the United States. Switch Pro Controllers aren’t included, but they’re still subject to the same warranty conditions as any other similar purchase.

Try Cleaning Your Thumbsticks with Isopropyl Alcohol

If you’re about to either pull your controller apart to replace a joystick module or spend three figures on a new one, you might as well try one last-gasp fix first. There are many tales on the internet about this fix having some merit, but severely damaged controllers probably won’t benefit much from this quick fix.

Detach any removable batteries if possible before you start, though this isn’t necessarily possible with PlayStation or Nintendo Switch controllers. Don’t charge the controller while you’re doing this either.

Clean PS5 DualSense controller analog sticks
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Grab a cotton ball and some isopropyl alcohol (70% or higher) and apply a moderate amount of alcohol to the cotton ball. Now rub the alcohol around the base of the thumbstick, moving the joystick around in circles to expose more of the plastic or rubber cover. Repeat this process a few times, then wait for the isopropyl alcohol to evaporate (this should take a minute or two maximum).

If your drift was caused by a buildup of grime between the controller cover and thumbstick base, this should help to alleviate the problem. Test your controller again, and repeat as necessary until you’re ready to give up and move on to more drastic steps.

Using Windows? Calibrate Your Controller

If you’re using your controller to play games on Windows, you can use the built-in calibration tool in an attempt to counter stick drift. To do this, launch Control Panel then click on Devices and Printers. To reset any stored calibration data, right-click on a controller and, under the “Settings” tab, click on the “Reset to default” button.

At this stage, you might want to test your controller by playing a game to ensure that incorrect calibration data wasn’t to blame for your issues. If you don’t have any joy, head back to Control Panel > Devices and Printers, then right-click on your controller and (on the “Settings” tab) hit the “Calibrate” button. From here follow the prompts to calibrate your controller.

Calibrate a game controller in Windows 11

If you use Steam you can also run a controller calibration. To do this, launch Steam and log in, then enable Big Picture Mode. Select the Settings “cog” followed by the “Controller Settings” option. If Steam detects your controller you’ll be given the option to “Calibrate” it. Use the “Lock Out Joystick Navigation” button followed by “Start Full Autocalibration” to let Steam take care of it for you.

You can also manually adjust the dead zone of each stick in this menu. Increase this to potentially bypass small unwanted inputs at the cost of overall precision and sensitivity.

Try Adjusting the Deadzone in Game Settings

Increasing a controller’s dead zone effectively tells it to ignore certain inputs closest to the neutral point. As stick drift starts to occur, it will generally begin as small unwanted movements very close to the “neutral” position of the stick. By increasing the dead zone, you can ignore these inputs and effectively counter the stick drift.

Unfortunately, you’ll also reduce sensitivity. You’ll need to make bigger inputs to register joystick input, which can make fine controls a little more cumbersome. This may be worth it to regain the use of a controller that’s on the way out, but you should try and limit how much you increase the dead zone to avoid making the controls feel laggy and unresponsive.

Steam Deadzone

You’ll need to do this on a per-game basis, and many games may lack the option entirely. That said, there are plenty of games both on PC and consoles that allow for manual dead zone adjustment, so have a look in the Settings menu and see what you can find.

Fix Stick Drift on an Xbox Controller

You can buy replacement joystick modules for Microsoft’s Xbox One, Xbox Series, and Elite controllers. You can get these from retailers like iFixit, Amazon, and other reseller websites. Those purchased from iFixit are generally a bit more expensive but they’re advertised as having a lifetime warranty that’s good for “as long as you have” the product.

One joystick manufacturer, SOSS Gaming, has produced a detailed video guide that should help you replace the joystick in an Xbox One or Series controller. This process is regarded as difficult, involves soldering, requires additional tools and screwdrivers, and could take a few hours to complete.

There’s also a video from the channel focusing entirely on the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller.

Fix Stick Drift on a PlayStation Controller

At the time of writing, we couldn’t find replacement joystick modules for the PlayStation 5 with reputable (or at least well-reviewed) listings. The pricey new DualSense Edge controller uses replaceable stick modules that you can purchase direct from Sony.

iFixit has a guide for replacing DualShock 4 stick modules which is rated as “very difficult” plus a guide for replacing DualSense stick modules with the same difficulty rating.

Fix Stick Drift on a Switch Joy-Con or Pro Controller

Nintendo Switch Joy-Con drift is well-documented. You can use the calibration tool under System Settings > Controllers and Sensors > Calibrate Control Sticks to attempt a fix, but the problem is likely to worsen at a rapid pace once it shows up.

iFixit has guides for Left or Right Joy-Con stick replacement, Left or Right Switch Lite joystick replacement, and Nintendo Switch Pro Controller joystick replacement.

Hall Effect Joysticks Are the Future

Electromagnetic hall effect joysticks are the future, providing a drift-proof mechanism by which to measure input. Some controllers are already using them but we’ll have to wait until the next generation of consoles is here to see if they’ll be adopted on a mass scale.

For now, check out our top recommended game controllers for playing console, PC, and retro games.

The Best Gaming Controllers of 2023

Xbox Core Wireless Controller – Carbon Black
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Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller
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8BitDo Pro 2 Wired Controller for Switch, Windows, Steam Deck & Raspberry Pi (Gray Edition)
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8BitDo Pro 2 Wired Controller for Switch, Windows, Steam Deck & Raspberry Pi (Gray Edition)
Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller
Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller
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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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