How to fix Joy-Con error on Nintendo Switch

Whether I'm building an island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, soaring on a glider across Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or just enjoying the chaos of MarioKart 8, the Nintendo Switch ($414 at Amazon) is my absolute favorite piece of tech released in the past few years.

But with its plastic build, weird kickstand and just-OK battery life, it's far from perfect. And now after two years of use, my Switch suffers from Joy-Con drift which makes games seem possessed.

When I'm not touching a Joy-Con, characters walk off on their own or selection screens become a rapid scrolling mess. It's like someone else has taken over the console and they're not great at playing games.

Joy-Con drift has been known for years, but with the increased gameplay happening during the coronavirus pandemic, more Switch and Switch Lite ($200 at Best Buy) owners are experiencing the annoying phenomena for the first time. In fact in June, Nintendo's president Shuntaro Furukawa apologized for the "inconvenience that Joy-Con issues have caused."

The good news is you have options to fix this inconvenience, some of which don't involve tools or spending any money at all. Here are five ways to fix, clean and replace your Joy-Cons on your Nintendo Switch.

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1. Calibrate or recalibrate your Switch Joy-Cons

The first thing you should do if you notice Joy-Con drift (especially on the left Joy-Con) is calibrate your controllers. This is the most straightforward way to bring things back to normal. It's worth knowing how to do this because you'll end up checking the calibration at some point for pretty much all these tips.

Here's how:

  1. Remove your Joy-Con from the body of the Switch
  2. Go to System Settings
  3. Scroll to and select Controllers and Sensors
  4. Select Calibrate Control Sticks
  5. Then press down on the control stick for the controller you want to calibrate.

You'll come across a calibration check screen. If you're not touching or moving the control stick, you should see a plus sign in the middle of the circle. And when you're touching the controller or moving it, you should see a dot. Move the problematic joystick around and you should see the color of the circle change from black to blue. If not, it's time to recalibrate your control stick.

To recalibrate, press the X button. You'll be asked to move your joystick in a specific direction and let go. Eventually, after doing this left, right, up and down, you'll be prompted to rotate your control stick in a circle clockwise.

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2. Clean your Joy-Con's joystick

If you still experience Joy-Con drift after calibrating and recalibrating, the next thing you should do is clean the control stick. In the body of the Joy-Con at the base of the control stick is a sensor. Cleaning that sensor will resolve the problem of Joy-Con drift for most people.

If you look closely at the joystick, it looks like it's wearing a graduation cap, the bottom of which has a rubber or silicone covering over the top part of the mechanism. Saturate a cotton swab with 70% isopropyl alcohol and then dab the swab against the bottom part of that "graduation cap" to get some of the alcohol under it.

Once you've worked your way around, rotate the joystick for 30 seconds to work the alcohol across the sensor inside. After you do that, let it sit for 15 minutes and check the calibration. 

Two warnings: Don't apply the isopropyl alcohol directly to the joystick. It could seep past the joystick mechanism and onto other parts in the Joy-Con. Also, make sure your Joy-Con's battery is fully drained before cleaning. Electricity and liquids don't always mix well.

When I first did this, it worked well. Cleaning the control stick periodically got my Joy-Con back in tip-top shape.

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3. Nintendo will fix Joy-Con drift for you

If calibrating and cleaning don't help, get Nintendo to fix it. The company has a Joy-Con repair program for hardware within its one-year warranty. However Nintendo has been fixing Joy-Cons with drifting issues for free even if they're out of warranty.

The catch here is that because of the coronavirus pandemic, Nintendo's repair facilities are scaled back and shipping might be delayed. So who knows how long it will take for you to get your Joy-Cons back.

Go to Nintendo's support page for more information.

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4. Buy a new Joy-Con for your Switch

Another option (possibly the most costly on this list) is to buy a new single Joy-Con for around $50. However, single Joy-Cons are often out of-stock. Even if you find one to buy, it might not be the side or color you want.

And at $80, a pair of Joy-Cons will cost you even more. I also wouldn't recommend buying used ones because they might already suffer from Joy-Con drift.

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5. Replace the joystick yourself

This last tip is the most drastic. You can remove the problematic joystick and put a new one into the housing. There are numerous kits online. I got one on Amazon for $14 which comes with two new analog stick modules, and tools. 

Opening up the Joy-Con, removing the joystick and putting it all back together requires an intermediate level of skill and a high level of patience. Also, this process will void Nintendo's one-year warranty.

To see what the process entails, please watch my step-by-step guide. I should note that since I did this, my Joy-Con no longer has drifting issues. That said, in the process of putting the controller back together, I snapped a cable and lost the use of my left trigger button. This was obviously not the ideal outcome, but I'm happy to sacrifice my trigger button to get rid of Joy-Con drift.

Now that your Joy-Cons are sorted, check out how to connect your PS4 DualShock controller or Xbox One controller to a Mac.

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