HomeTechnologyNewsHow to fix joystick drift on Xbox, PlayStation and other controllers

How to fix joystick drift on Xbox, PlayStation and other controllers

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Corbin Davenport / Instructional Geek

Sometimes you can correct stick deflection by cleaning your controller with isopropyl alcohol, but replacing the joystick modules inside the controller is often required for a permanent fix. You can also try to fix the problem by calibrating or adjusting dead zones where possible.

Stick deflection is unavoidable on most controllers due to wear and tear on the potentiometers used on the thumbsticks. Replacements can be expensive, so why not try a repair to save some money and learn some DIY skills along the way.

What is stick drift?

Stick drift, or joystick drift, describes a problem in which a joystick registers an 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 hard to aim in shooters or maneuver 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 axes. 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 lever to drift. The stick will start to log inputs in a particular direction, or even log 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 it also uses out-of-the-box potentiometer-based analog sticks, just like previous generations of consoles and most third-party off-brand controllers.

It’s important to note that stick drift isn’t necessarily caused by improper use, although keeping your controller clean and avoiding contributing to dust and dirt buildup can keep the problem at bay for longer. Damage can cause the lever to shift, particularly liquid spills and excessive force applied to the lever. Over time, you may notice that the levers begin to drift in the most common activation direction.

Is your controller (or console) under warranty?

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

The first thing to investigate is whether or not your controller is still under warranty. If this is the controller you received with your console, please note that it is 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, find your receipt and check your coverage.

Do not open your controller or attempt any type of deep cleaning if it is covered by the warranty period. You should be entitled to a replacement, so be sure to contact Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, or whoever made your controller for a refund. You can also try returning the affected drive to the retailer where you purchased your controller in the first place.

If you are 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 are not included, but are still subject to the same warranty conditions as any other similar purchase.

Try cleaning your thumbs with isopropyl alcohol.

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

Remove removable batteries if possible before you begin, although this isn’t necessarily possible with PlayStation or Nintendo Switch controllers. Also don’t load the controller while doing this.

Clean the analog sticks of the PS5 DualSense controller
Tim Brookes / Instruction Geek

Take 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 joystick, moving the joystick in circles to expose more of the plastic or rubber covering. Repeat this process a few times, then wait for the isopropyl alcohol to evaporate (this should take a minute or two max).

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

Do you use 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 counteract stick drift. To do this, launch Control Panel, and then click Devices and Printers. To reset stored calibration data, right-click on a controller and under the “Settings” tab, click the “Restore Defaults” button.

At this stage, you may want to test your controller by playing a game to make sure incorrect calibration data isn’t to blame for your issues. If you don’t have any joy, go back to Control Panel > Devices and Printers, then right-click on your driver and (under the “Settings” tab) press the “Calibrate” button. From here, follow the prompts to calibrate your controller.

Calibrate a game controller in Windows 11

If you’re using Steam, you can also run a controller calibration. To do this, start Steam and log in, then enable Large Picture Mode. Select the Settings “cog” followed by the “Driver Settings” option. If Steam detects your controller, you will be given the option to “Calibrate it”. Use the “Lock Joystick Navigation” button followed by “Start Full Auto Calibration” to let Steam take care of it for you.

You can also manually adjust the dead zone for each club in this menu. Increase this to potentially avoid unwanted small inputs at the cost of overall accuracy and sensitivity.

Try adjusting the deadzone in game settings

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

Unfortunately, it will also reduce sensitivity. You’ll need to make larger inputs to register joystick input, which can make fine controls a bit more cumbersome. This can be worthwhile to regain use of a controller that is about to exit, but you should try to limit how much the deadzone increases to prevent controls from feeling sluggish and unresponsive.

steam dead zone

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

Fix Stick Drift on an Xbox Controller

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

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

There is also a video from the channel that focuses 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 PlayStation 5 with reputable (or at least well-reviewed) listings. The expensive new DualSense Edge controller uses replaceable stick modules that you can buy directly from Sony.

iFixit has a guide to replacing DualShock 4 stick modules that is rated “very hard” plus a guide to 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 in System Settings > Controllers and Sensors > Calibrate Joysticks to try and fix it, but the problem will likely get worse quickly once it appears.

iFixit has guides for left or right Joy-Con joystick 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 and provide 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 arrives to see if they’ll be widely adopted.

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

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