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6 Ways to Fix Nintendo Switch Joy-Con Drift for Free


Hey there! If you‘re reading this, chances are you’re one of the millions of Nintendo Switch owners frustrated by Joy-Con drift. I feel your pain – the analog sticks on my Launch Day Joy-Cons started drifting shortly after the 1 year mark, making games unplayable.

Joy-Con drift is no minor flaw either. According to a poll by gamer website Nintendo Life, a staggering 55% of Switch owners have experienced drift issues. With over 111 million Switches sold, that means around 61 million faulty controllers!

Poll Statistics
Total respondents 5,770
Reported drift 55%
No drift issues 45%

Luckily, as seasoned Switch gamers know, there are ways to troubleshoot and fix drift yourself without immediately shelling out $80 for new Joy-Cons. In this guide, I’ll share six methods to resolve Joy-Con drift for free and get you back to enjoying your Switch.

These solutions range from quick cleaning fixes to full analog stick replacements. I’ll also discuss preventative maintenance tips to extend the life of your controllers based on the root causes behind this defect. Let’s start by going over what exactly is causing the problem.

What Causes Joy-Con Drift?

Joy-Con drift occurs when the analog sticks on the controller register movement even when not being physically touched. This “phantom” input makes characters walk, menus scroll, and crosshairs drift on their own.

The underlying issue is wear and tear on the components inside the stick module. This module contains tiny sensors that detect what direction you push the stick and communicate this to the Switch.

Analog Stick Module
Potentiometers Measure resistance to detect x/y tilt
Contact pads Register presses along cardinal directions
Springs Recenter stick in neutral position

Over time, dust builds up on these sensors and the contact pads can wear down from repeated use. This interferes with their readings, leading to drift. The fragile ribbon cables connecting each module can also become damaged.

Additionally, some users report the foam padding surrounding the bottom of the analog stick wears away after months of play, allowing the stick to over-tilt and cause more extreme drift.

Understanding the true root causes behind Joy-Con drift informed the solutions outlined in this guide. Now let’s jump into the steps you can take to fix it yourself and get back to gaming!

1. Clean Around the Analog Stick

Before attempting any internal repairs, your first move should be to thoroughly clean around the base of the problem stick using compressed air and isopropyl alcohol.

Dust and debris buildup is a frequent cause of drift, so blasting away any particles lodged near the sensors can often fix the issue. You’ll need:

  • Small phillips head screwdriver
  • Compressed air canister
  • Cotton swabs
  • 90%+ isopropyl alcohol

Start by powering off your Switch completely. Remove the drifting Joy-Con from the console. Turn the controller over and locate the 4 tiny phillips head screws on the back.

Joy-Con Back Screw Placement
Joy-Con back Image credit: BusinessInsider

Using your screwdriver, carefully unscrew these 4 screws and separate the two halves of the Joy-Con’s plastic housing. This will expose the internals, including the analog stick module on the left side.

Inside the Joy-Con
Joy-Con inside Image credit: iMore

With the Joy-Con open, position the stick so you can access its base without blocking your line of sight. Aim your compressed air canister around the edges and blast short bursts to dislodge any particulate matter.

Next, lightly dampen a fresh cotton swab with isopropyl alcohol and gently clean the contact pads under the stick. Slowly rotate the stick to access and clean the entire circumference.

After everything has fully dried, reassemble the controller and reconnect to your Switch. Boot up a game to test for drift on the cleaned Joy-Con.

Cleaning Supplies
Cleaning supplies Image credit: Amazon

If the issue seems resolved, excellent! Regularly cleaning your Joy-Cons this way helps prevent future drift. I recommend doing it every few months as maintenance.

If drift is still occurring, don’t fret – more advanced troubleshooting steps can still get your Joy-Con back up and running.

2. Recalibrate the Analog Sticks

The next solution to attempt is recalibrating the analog sticks through the Switch’s controller settings menu.

Recalibration re-centers each analog stick‘s neutral position in the console‘s software. If the deadzone has shifted over time, recalibrating can eliminate the phantom inputs causing drift.

Here are the steps to recalibrate your Joy-Con sticks:

  1. From the Switch home screen, open System Settings
  2. Navigate to Controllers and Sensors > Calibrate Control Sticks
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions to recalibrate the drifting stick

When prompted during the process, slowly rotate the analog stick fully in a circle before returning it to neutral center for a few seconds. This resets the entire tilt range.

Recalibration Screen
Recalibrate Image credit: SwitchBrew Wiki

Once complete, test the analog stick for drift again in a game. The recentering of the deadzone range should eliminate any phantom inputs.

If drift returns after recalibrating, you can also press Y on the recalibration screen to reset the analog stick fully back to the factory default calibration.

3. Update Your Switch and Joy-Cons

Another easy troubleshooting step is to update your Switch firmware and Joy-Con firmware. Nintendo regularly issues system and controller updates containing bug fixes, security patches, and performance improvements.

Updating to the latest firmware eliminates the possibility of your Joy-Con drift being caused by a known software bug versus a hardware defect.

Here are the steps to update:

Switch System Update

  1. Go to System Settings
  2. Select System
  3. Choose System Update

Download and install any available system software updates. Keep your Switch‘s operating system current.

Joy-Con Firmware Update

  1. In System Settings, go to Controllers and Sensors
  2. Select Update Controllers

Install any new Joy-Con firmware available. Updates are applied to each controller individually.

Let both actions complete, then power cycle your Switch and check for drift improvements. Keeping firmware updated may be enough to resolve minor software-induced drift.

4. Make Sure Joy-Cons are Connected Properly

Before cracking open your Joy-Cons further, double check that the controllers are actually seated and wirelessly connected to the Switch correctly.

Loose connections or sync issues can potentially cause intermittent drift problems mistaken for hardware failure.

To verify the Joy-Con connections:

  1. Go to the Controllers menu on the Switch home screen
  2. Check that the Joy-Con diagrams match their physical layout on the console

For example, the left Joy-Con should appear on the left side of the Switch image. Detached Joy-Cons will display as separate controllers.

If anything looks amiss, firmly reseat the Joy-Cons on the console rails until they click into place. You can also try disconnecting then reconnecting each one.

Test the analog sticks again afterwards to see if properly reseating the controllers had any positive effect.

5. Replace the Analog Stick

If you’ve made it this far down the list, the root cause of your persistent Joy-Con drift is likely a hardware problem within the analog stick itself.

Remember, the drift is stemming from wear, dust, or damage to the internal sensors and contacts measuring the stick‘s position.

The good news is that replacing the analog stick module is a straightforward permanent fix. Each module contains the key components that detect stick movement and communicate this to the console.

You can purchase replacement Joy-Con analog stick modules online for around $10-15. iFixit and Amazon have suitable options with the necessary tools.

Here is the full analog stick replacement procedure:

  1. Open the Joy-Con housing by removing the rear screws
  2. Unplug the ribbon cable connecting the analog module
  3. Unscrew and remove the original module
  4. Install the replacement stick module
  5. Carefully reconnect the ribbon cable
  6. Reassemble the Joy-Con
Analog Stick Replacement
Analog stick replacement Image credit: iFixit

When handling the thin ribbon cable, be extremely gentle to avoid any tears or damage to the wires. Use tweezers and move slowly.

Once fully reassembled, sync your Joy-Cons to the Switch and recalibrate the new analog stick. Resistor scans during calibration will set the replacement’s input range.

This fix fully restores normal function and avoids the drift issue from reoccurring. With brand new sensors and contacts, your Joy-Con should work good as new!

Analog Stick Kits
Analog sticks Image credit: Amazon

While more labor intensive than the earlier suggestions, analog stick replacement offers a permanent drift fix if you‘re up for some DIY repairs.

6. Send to Nintendo for Free Repair

If you aren’t comfortable performing the analog stick replacement yourself, Nintendo does offer a free mail-in repair program for affected Joy-Cons.

While you’ll be without the controller for 1-2 weeks, trained Nintendo techs will fix any drifting issues and fully clean and recalibrate the Joy-Cons.

To start the repair process:

  1. Visit Nintendo’s Joy-Con repair page
  2. Submit a ticket with your contact information
  3. Print a pre-paid shipping label
  4. Mail your faulty Joy-Cons in to the service center

You can submit up to 4 Joy-Con controllers per repair request. Make sure to safely package them for shipping.

When the repaired Joy-Cons are returned, they will good as new with all analog stick issues resolved. Nintendo may opt to just replace the whole controller if damage is severe.

Nintendo Repair Process
Nintendo Repair Image credit: Aol

Take advantage of Nintendo’s responsive customer service to get your Joy-Cons back up and running if you don’t have time for DIY repairs.

Preventing Future Joy-Con Drift

Now that you’re equipped to handle Joy-Con drift through various troubleshooting techniques, let’s discuss preventative maintenance steps you can take to avoid this nuisance altogether.

While flaws in the analog stick design are the true root cause, the following tips will help minimize wear and extend your controllers’ lifespan:

  • Use the included Joy-Con straps to avoid over-tilting
  • Handle the analog sticks gently to prevent damage
  • Apply joystick covers to improve grip and minimize dust ingress
  • Store Joy-Cons in a secure case when not in use
  • Clean around and under sticks every few months with compressed air
  • Recalibrate at first signs of drift to re-center deadzone
  • Update controller and system firmware promptly
  • Consider pro controllers for long play sessions to give Joy-Cons a rest

Hopefully Nintendo factors in more resilient joysticks and contact pads on the rumored Switch Pro. Until then, being cautious and proactive with your Joy-Cons will prevent premature failure.

The Drift Menace Conquered

As you can see, with the right techniques and some determination, Joy-Con drift can be defeated without breaking the bank.

Start by thoroughly cleaning the analog stick modules and recalibrating. Keep firmware updated and connections secure. Consider replacing components if needed. Or utilize Nintendo’s responsive customer service for free repairs.

With your Switch controllers working perfectly again, you‘ll be back adventuring through Hyrule, battling on synthetic tennis courts, or duking it out in Smash Bros before you know it.

Hopefully the steps outlined above help you get a handle on any drifting issues with your Joy-Cons. Let me know in the comments if you have any other effective methods for banishing Joy-Con drift!