An old Netgear router, sitting on a filing cabinet.
Jason Fitzpatrick / How-To Geek
You can significantly improve your Wi-Fi experience with small adjustments to the placement of your Wi-Fi router and its settings.

Cruddy Wi-Fi performance is frustrating, but so is spending money when you could improve your Wi-Fi without spending a dime. Here are ten tips to improve your Wi-Fi for free, plus three bonus tips for people with more room in their budgets.

Move Your Router to Another Room

There’s a good chance the location of your Wi-Fi router is wherever your Internet Service Provider (ISP) put the drop in your house. The line came off the pole, to the nearest corner of your home, and that’s where the hardware went.

Moving your router is one of the easiest ways to fix Wi-Fi issues. This is because the signal from your router radiates out from the router in roughly a donut shape. If you have the router parked against the wall in the far corner of your house, around half that donut shape (or less, if it’s on a corner) is inside your home, and the rest is outside in your yard or neighbor’s apartment.

Just moving your router from an outside wall to a central location will do wonders for your Wi-Fi experience as the “umbrella” of the router is now over the most used spaces of your home. The more spread out your home (like if you live in a ranch with a utility drop at the far end of the house) the bigger the impact moving the router to a central location will have.

Raise Your Router Up High

On top of moving your router to a more central location in your home, you can also significantly improve your Wi-Fi experience by moving the router up high.

Putting aside the actual physical structure of the home, the bulk of the mass inside a home is between the floor and about 4-5 feet off the ground. That’s where the majority of our stuff—like couches, chairs, televisions, bookshelves, counters, appliances, etc.—is located.

If your Wi-Fi router is sitting on a shelf under your TV, a large portion of the Wi-Fi signal is being absorbed by all the stuff down at its level. Just putting the router on the tallest bookshelf in your living room or using the mounting holes on the back to mount it up near the ceiling will get it above most of the things that are interfering with the signal.

Routers aren’t exactly the most beautiful thing to look at, so if you want to conceal your router to make it stand out less you can do so. But if you cover your router to hide it, you should follow these router concealment guidelines to ensure that your camoflauge job doesn’t make your Wi-Fi signal worse than when you started.

Move Wi-Fi Blocking Decor

Whether you’re able to easily move your Wi-Fi router or not, also pay attention to all the things in your home that block Wi-Fi signals, including decor.

You might have assumed (correctly!) that your fridge or other large metal appliances would block your Wi-Fi signal. But you probably never considered that a large fish tank is incredibly good at blocking Wi-Fi or that the reason your signal is so bad on the opposite side of your open-concept living and dining room is beacuse your Wi-Fi router is parked behind your TV—and the giant metal RF shield in the back of your TV is messing with the signal.

Maybe you move the router, or maybe you move the large mirror or metal wall sculpture that is screwing with your Wi-Fi coverage. But either way, always be aware of what is between you and the router that might cause interference.

Ditch the Wi-Fi for Ethernet

If somebody told you the best way to improve your Wi-Fi is to not use it, you might consider that advice to be a bit flippant. But there’s a very good reason we advise people to do just that.

Wi-Fi is great but it’s easy to overload your Wi-Fi router with many devices—especially if you have many high-demand devices running simultaneously. One of the simplest solutions to that problem is to stop using Wi-Fi and offload some of the bandwidth demands onto Ethernet. This frees up the Wi-Fi for devices (such as your phone) that don’t use Ethernet.

If your Wi-Fi router is in your living room near your smart TV, for example, there’s no good reason to not plug the TV directly into the router with an Ethernet cable. Not only will you get a better experience on the using Ethernet with the TV, but all the Wi-Fi resources that were previously allocated to delivering what ever streaming content you were watching are now free for other people in your home to use.

Enable Quality of Service Rules

You might find that your Wi-Fi experience is great when you’re home by yourself but not so great when your spouse and kids are home and using the internet too.

If your root problem is that you simply don’t have enough download bandwidth to support all the activities your family is engaged in, Wi-Fi tweaks aren’t going to help—and we hope affordable broadband finds its way to your locale sooner rather than later.

But if the issue is that one particular activity is putting the hurt on your bandwidth allocation to the deteriment of all other network activity, it’s worth looking into whether or not your router supports Quality of Service (QoS) rules.

Put simply, QoS rules allow you to instruct your router to favor certain activities (such as streaming video content) over other activities. You can also prioritize devices over each other. In that way the smart TV in your den can have bandwidth priority over, say, your ten-year-old’s tablet.

Update Your Firmware

You should stay on top of router firmware updates to ensure your router isn’t vulnerable to known (and already patched) security exploits.

But it’s also a great idea to stay on top of firmware updates because for every zero-day exploit that gets patched up, most firmware updates are actually performance patches. If you read over the update notes for your router, for every entry that details patching a critical vunerability, you’ll find hundreds of entries that read like “Fixed bug that affected iPhone fast roaming” or “Update improves beamforming performance in high-density environments.”

Router firmware updates are a free way to get performance improvements out of the hardware you already own.

Adjust Your Wi-Fi Channels

If you live in an apartment or neighborhood with closely packed homes, it’s possible that your router’s Wi-Fi channel allocation is conflicting with the allocation of other nearby routers.

By scanning for both your Wi-Fi channel settings and the settings of nearby routers, you can manually change the Wi-Fi channel allocation for your router to take advantage of the least used space.

This has the greatest benefit for devices on the 2.4Ghz band is it is more prone to congestion compared to the 5Ghz band, but investigating both bands and making adjustments is worthwhile.

Change Your Wi-Fi Band

Speaking of the 2.4Ghz band, which bands you use can have an impact on performance. The majority of routers use the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands (the newest Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 routers use 6Ghz, but as of early 2023, very few people have such routers).

While your router should, ideally, manage which band devices use to create an optimal experience for everyone and every device, that’s not always the case. You may want to experiment with manually managing the bands your router uses.

For instance, some people find that disabling the 2.4Ghz band entirely yields a superior experience. But because 2.4Ghz has a longer range than 5Ghz,  relying only on 5Ghz might not be the right solution for you.

You’ll get faster speeds closer to the router thanks to the increased bandwith capacity of the 5Ghz band, but you’ll get a shorter range (because 2.4Ghz carries further). If your goal isn’t a faster connection but the ability to use your phone in the farthest reaches of your home or yard, that’s not a good tradeoff.

Update Your DNS Servers

This is the only trick on our list that isn’t specifically about Wi-Fi as a wireless function, but it’s a surprisingly good trick if your issue is that loading webpages and other content feels sluggish.

Everytime you click on anything while browsing the web, cast a stream from your phone to your Chromecast, or do anything at all using the internet, your router makes a Domain Name System (DNS) request.

By default, your router uses the DNS server your ISP assigned (which is most likely the ISP’s own DNS server). Switching to a third-party DNS server can make requests resolve quicker and give you a feeling that your connection is much snappier, despite making no changes to the Wi-Fi or upgrading to faster internet. It won’t make an aging DSL connection feel like a new fiber installation, but every bit helps.

Put In an Upgrade Request with Your ISP

Although some ISPs are good about upgrading customer equipment, most aren’t. Once your equipment is installed, there is a good chance you’ll have it for as long as you have that ISP or until a major update to the ISP’s infrastructure forces them to update everyone’s hardware.

Rather than slog along with an old modem and Wi-Fi router, call up your ISP and request an upgrade to their newest model. Be sure to emphasize that the old equipment just isn’t meeting the needs of your household as asking for a new model for the sake of a new model likely won’t get you very far.

If your ISP has a local office you can just walk into, it might be worth taking a trip there with your equipment in hand. Many times the customer service people you talk to in person are much more sympathetic to your blight, especially when you have the equipment right there to turn in for the upgrade they have sitting behind the counter.

Not Free, But Try These Cheap Wi-Fi Boosting Solutions

If the above tips don’t give you enough of a boost and you’re on a tight budget, we have two very inexpensive tricks for you to try.

First, if your router has detachable anntenas, you can upgrade the antennas to higher-gain models. Routers use a standard attachment point called Reverse Polarity SubMiniature Version A (RP-SMA). You can pick up a three-pack of RP-SMA antennas for around $15. You can even attach them to other compatible devices, like the Wi-Fi card on your desktop PC, to get a better signal.

Second, if your issue is poor range, consider picking up an inexpensive Wi-Fi extender. Overall, we’re not huge fans of Wi-Fi extenders as they are ultimately a band-aid for a problem that would be better solved with a total Wi-Fi router upgrade.

But if you follow our tips to selecting and deploying a Wi-Fi extender, you’ll likely find that using a Wi-Fi extender to get better Wi-Fi coverage in those out of the way areas of your home and backyard is a satisfactory temporary solution until you’re able to upgrade.

Finally: Seriously Consider Upgrading

You can get a lot of mileage out of the Wi-Fi tips and tricks we’ve outlined in this article. Truly, you’ll be amazed how much moving your Wi-Fi router from a side room to the center of your home can improve your experience. Or what a difference it makes to plug your smart TV or computer directly into the router instead of leaning on Wi-Fi.

But there’s only so much tips and tricks can do to make an old router feel new again. At some point your router will be old enough that it doesn’t receive updates, can’t keep up with your needs, and should be retired.

If you’re at that point, it’s worth looking at upgrading to a better stand-alone Wi-Fi router or addressing Wi-Fi coverage issues in your home by opting to ugprade your old router to a nice new mesh Wi-Fi system. Mesh platforms are so user-friendly we even recommend getting mesh Wi-Fi even if you just need the base station to cover your home.

The jump from a budget router using last generation Wi-Fi tech to new router with all the latest and greatest optimizations offers so many benefits you’ll wish you’d done it sooner.

The Best Wi-Fi Routers of 2023

ASUS AX6000 (RT-AX88U)
Best Wi-Fi Router Overall
ASUS AX6000 (RT-AX88U)
TP-Link Archer AX3000 (AX50)
Best Budget Router
TP-Link Archer AX3000 (AX50)
TP-Link Archer A8
Best Cheap Router
TP-Link Archer A8
ASUS GT-AX11000 Tri-Band Router
Best Gaming Router
ASUS GT-AX11000 Tri-Band Router
ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8) (2 Pack)
Best Mesh Wi-Fi Router
ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8) (2 Pack)
TP-Link Deco X20
Best Budget Mesh Router
TP-Link Deco X20
NETGEAR Nighthawk CAX80
Best Modem Router Combo
NETGEAR Nighthawk CAX80
ExpressVPN Aircove
Best VPN Router
ExpressVPN Aircove
TP-Link AC750
Beat Travel Router
TP-Link AC750
ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000
Best Wi-Fi 6E Router
ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000
Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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