Stick drift has been cursing gamers for decades. If you regularly use controllers to play games, you will be all too familiar with drift. It can be disheartening to find out that the cool new controller you just spent $70 on is starting to drift after only a few months of use.
How to tell if your controller has stick drift
Basically, stick drift is when your controller seems to work on its own. If you notice your in-game character keeps looking around by themselves, or if your gun keeps shooting without you ever pressing the trigger—your controller has almost definitely developed drift.
Playing with a drifty controller can be incredibly annoying at best and in the case of fast-paced shooters, detrimental to your performance.
What causes a controller to drift?
The overall build quality of controllers vary from brand to brand. Some are much more prone to developing drift in a shorter timeframe than others (cough Joy-Cons cough). So the way drift develops is the same for all controllers.
The main natural cause for controller drift is dust and other debris. Things like food particles, pet fur, and dead skin can accumulate inside your controller and cause it to drift.
The other reason your controller might start developing drift is natural wear and tear. The longer you use your controller, the more its internal modules (especially on thumbsticks and triggers) are worn down.
Newer controllers aren’t built to last
According to iFixit, newer generations of controllers have a shortened lifespan to entice you into replacing them more frequently. For instance, the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller and the Nintendo Joy-Cons are famous for being weaker than their predecessors.
Fixing drift on a DualSense PS5 controller
There are some extra steps you can take to fix your PlayStation 5’s controller. Keep in mind that these are all suggested fixes, and your mileage may vary when it comes to them actually working for your particular use case.
1. Reset your DualSense controller
Doing so will disconnect your controller from the PS5 and reconnect it with factory settings, which might eliminate drift in some cases. First, turn off your PS5. Next, take a paperclip or a sim ejection tool and press and hold the tiny button on the back of your DualSense controller for 5 seconds. After that, turn on your console again and reconnect the controller.
2. Adjust the deadzone threshold
This isn’t really a fix, but a workaround.
This is much more subjective based on the game you are playing. If your controller is drifting, you can adjust its input threshold. This ensures that it does not reach the ranges of motion where drift becomes apparent.
Unfortunately, the Dualsense doesn’t have a built-in setting to adjust the deadzone of the controller. So you will be at the mercy of the games that do offer it. The Dualsense Edge however does have deadzone adjustment.
3. Update the DualSense controller software
It’s not likely but outdated controller firmware can in some case be the main culprit behind the developing of drift.
To update, connect the DualSense controller to the PS5 using a USB cable, then press the PlayStation button and open the Accessories menu. Navigate to the Wireless Controller Device Software section. If your controller is up to date, you will see it here. If not, the console will automatically update your controller when it’s connected via cable. You can manually update it from this screen as well.
As a side note, make sure you keep your PS5 on its latest firmware as well. On the home screen, open Settings, System, System Software, System Software Update, and Settings. Here, select the Update System Software tab, and select either using Wi-Fi or USB.
4. Replace the joysticks
Technically you can replace the sticks on a DualSense. The joysticks used on it are the same as the DualShock 4’s, and you can find plenty of replacement sticks online.
The replacement process is quite difficult though, you can see for yourself on ifixit the steps needed.
The Dualsense Edge has tool-less replacement joystick modules if you’re a drift god.
Fixing drift on Nintendo Joy-Cons
If you own a Nintendo Switch, you already know how bad the Joy-Con controllers are. With only a thin film of soft plastic standing between dust and its delicate internals, it’s very prone to developing drift early on in its life.
1. Try calibrating your controller
The neutral point of a controller is its resting position where it does not register any movement. You can also make use of the calibration feature on some Switch games to make sure any inputs caused by drift aren’t registered.
To start a calibration:
- Remove your Joy-cons from the switch
- Go to System Settings
- Select Controllers and Sensors
- Then hit Calibrate Control Sticks
- Then follow the instructions on the screen
2. Clean your joystick
The Joy-con stick has a little plastic sheath covering the stick, if you lift that little covering, you can try to use a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol to clear up any debris in there.
You can also get some canned air and spray to dislodge any particles from the sensor.
Afterwards, rotate your stick around for 30 seconds to clear out anything in the sensor itself. Let everything dry out and try the calibration again.
3. Send it to Nintendo to repair
Nintendo may or may not be able to repair your joysticks for free, check through their support site to see.
4. Replace joystick modules
There are also replacement joysticks available for the Joy-Cons. iFixit and GuliKit offer both analog and Hall effect joysticks for the fraction of the cost of a brand new pair of controllers. Hall effect joysticks are far superior to analog ones as they are much less likely to develop drift over time. They are a bit more expensive than analog sticks, but well worth it in the long run.
Fixing drift on an Xbox controller
Apart from the fixes I have already mentioned, there is one more trick you can try to eliminate drift from your Xbox controller.
1. Clean the joy stick
First, turn off the controller and remove its batteries (this is important!). Next, apply some isopropyl alcohol to a cotton swab. Use this to wipe around the base of your joysticks, wipe thoroughly and carefully, and really get it in there.
Rotate the joystick 30s to ensure the module gets particles dislodged.
Leave the controller to dry for about a minute before putting the batteries back in.
2. Replace the joystick
Replacing the joystick is quite difficult on Xbox controller, but possible. iFixit sells replacement modules and has a guide to replace joysticks.
3. Adjust the deadzone
Only available for Elite controllers, you can adjust the deadzone under controller settings.
Unfortunately, non-Elite controllers are out of luck, you’ll have to rely on adjust in-game deadzone settings, if they exist.
How to prevent stick drift from happening
I hate to break it to you, but there’s no way to completely eliminate the risk of controller drift. It’s part of a controller’s life cycle, and it will always happen at some point.
But that’s not to say that you can’t prolong it. By being careful and taking some extra measures, you can give your controller a little bit more life in the tank. Below are some basic steps you can take to prevent drift from developing for any type of controller.
Keep your controller clean and dust free
You can prolong a controller’s life by minimizing the amount of dust and other particles that make their way inside. Here are some tips to keep the debris away:
- Do not store your controller in dusty environments. If your controller remains unused for extended periods of time, make sure it’s not lying on a shelf somewhere gathering dust. Passively exposing your controller to the environment is one of the worst things you could do to it.
- Clean your hands before using the controller. Wipe away any Cheeto dust before putting your hands on it.
- Store your controller in an unexposed, cool, and dry place. A clean drawer or a case is a great way to store your controller.
Go easy on your controller
Ultimately there’s only so much you can do to prevent the environment from causing your controller to drift. The rest is up to you.
Tossing your controller around, chucking it in a bag when you go out, or simply throwing it on the floor when you get sniped for the fifth time in a row is generally not considered proper controller etiquette.
Don’t mash your thumbsticks
Try to press down on your thumb sticks less. First-person shooters in particular have actions bound to the L3 or R3 buttons that require you to press down on your joysticks, but this is one of the worst things you can do to their longevity. Try remapping these to a different button, or get yourself a controller with dedicated back buttons.
Try not to flick your sticks too aggressively or often.
Aside from the maintenance tips I mentioned above, another quick fix you can attempt is to lift and rotate your thumbsticks. ****Yes, really. Some controllers let you lift up the thumbsticks by about a millimeter. Try this very gently with your controller and rotate them around for a bit. This can sometimes dislodge any gunk that might interfere with your thumbsticks’ movement.
Controllers will wear out
It’s the circle of life (for a controller, at least). This means that a day will come when you will have to reluctantly throw your trusty controller into the recycling bin. But by following the tips I mentioned above, you can make sure that day will take a very long time to come