Sometimes you can fix stick misalignment by cleaning your controller with isopropyl alcohol, but replacing the joystick modules inside the controller is often required for a permanent solution. You can also try to solve the problem by calibrating or adjusting the dead zones if possible.
Stick drift is inevitable on most controllers due to wear and tear on the potentiometers used in the thumbsticks. Replacements can be expensive, so why not try renovating to save some money and learn a few DIY skills along the way.
What is Stick Drift?
Stick drift or joystick drift describes a problem where a joystick registers input in a certain direction without being actuated. This can manifest as unwanted movement in games, affecting any analog stick input. This can make it difficult to aim in shooters or steer in racing games, and generally makes the game controls less precise and more frustrating.
Analog joysticks typically use a potentiometer to measure input on the X and Y axis. 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 stick to move to a “neutral” position. The stick will start logging input in a specific direction, or even log random inputs in all kinds of directions.
All major consoles use this type of analog input, 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 also uses potentiometer-based analog sticks out of the box, as do previous generations of consoles and other brand third-party controllers.
It’s important to note that wood warping isn’t necessarily due to improper use, although keeping the controller clean and allowing dust and dirt to build up can prolong the problem. Damage can cause stick deflection, especially fluid leakage and excessive force on the stick. Over time, you may notice that the sticks begin to move in the direction they move most often.
Your controller (or console) is under warranty.
While wood drift is more likely to affect older controllers, it can strike 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 between several people in the same household.
The first thing you should investigate is whether or not your controller is still under warranty. If it’s the controller you received with your console, be aware that it’s covered by the same warranty period as the console. For most, this will be a one-year warranty from the date of purchase. If the controller was purchased separately, dig out 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 manufactured your controller for a refund. You can also try returning the affected unit to the retailer where you originally purchased your controller.
If you’re a Nintendo Switch user with a Joy-Con that moves, you can use Nintendo’s Joy-Con Repair Program to get a free repair in the US. Switch Pro Controllers are not included, but are still subject to the same warranty terms as any other similar purchase.
Try cleaning your fingerprints with isopropyl alcohol
If you’re going to rip your controller apart to replace the joystick module, or spend three figures on a new one, you might as well try a last-gasp fix first. There are many stories on the internet that this fix has some merit, but severely damaged controllers probably won’t benefit much from this quick fix.
Disconnect any portable batteries if possible before starting, although this may not necessarily be possible with PlayStation or Nintendo Switch controllers. Do not charge the controller while doing this.
Take a cotton ball and some isopropyl alcohol (70% or more) and dab a moderate amount of alcohol on the cotton ball. Now rub the rubbing alcohol around the base of the fingerprint, moving the joystick in a circular motion to expose more of the plastic or rubber coating. Repeat this process a few times, then wait for the isopropyl alcohol to evaporate (this should take a minute or two at most).
If your deviation is caused by a build-up of dirt between the controller cover and the fingerprint base, this should help alleviate the problem. Test your controller again and repeat as necessary until you’re ready to give up and move on to more drastic measures.
Using Windows? Calibrate your controller
If you use your controller to play games on Windows, you can use the built-in calibration tool to try to counteract the stick drift. To do this, launch Control Panel, then click Devices and Printers. To restore any saved calibration data, right-click the controller and click the Restore Defaults button under the Settings tab.
At this stage, you can test your controller by playing a game to make sure that incorrect calibration data is not to blame for your problems. If you’re not happy, go back to Control Panel > Devices and Printers, then right-click on your controller and (under the Settings tab) click the Calibrate button. From here, follow the instructions to calibrate your controller.
If you use Steam, you can also run a controller calibration. To do this, launch Steam and sign in, then enable Big Picture Mode. Select the Settings button followed by the Controller Settings option. If Steam detects your controller, you’ll be given the option to “Calibrate” it. Use the Lock Out Joystick Navigation button followed by the Start Full Autocalibration button to let Steam take care of it for you.
You can also manually adjust the dead zone of each stick in this menu. Add this to bypass small unwanted inputs at the cost of overall accuracy and sensitivity.
Try configuring Deadzone in game settings
Increasing the controller’s deadband effectively tells it to ignore some of the inputs closest to the neutral point. As stick drift begins to occur, it will usually start as small unwanted movements very close to the stick’s “neutral” position. By increasing the deadband, you can ignore these inputs and effectively counteract stick drift.
Unfortunately, you will also lose sensitivity. You have to make larger inputs to register joystick input, which can make fine-tuning a bit more difficult. This can be worth it to regain the use of a controller that’s on the way, but you should try and limit how much you increase the dead zone to avoid the controls feeling flimsy and unresponsive.
You’ll need to do this on a game-by-game basis, and many games may lack the option. However, there are plenty of games on both PC and consoles that allow you to manually adjust the deadband, so take a look at the Settings menu and see what you can find.
Fix Stick Drift on Xbox Controller
You can buy replacement joystick modules for Microsoft’s Xbox One, Xbox Series, and Elite controllers. You can get them from retailers like iFixit, Amazon, and other reseller sites. The ones bought from iFixit are usually a little more expensive, but they are advertised as having a lifetime warranty, which is good “as long as you own” the product.
One of the joystick manufacturers, SOSS Gaming, has prepared a detailed video guide to help you replace the joystick on an Xbox One or Series controller. This process is considered complex, involves soldering, requires additional tools and screwdrivers, and can take several hours.
There’s also a video from the channel that focuses entirely on the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller.
Fix Stick Drift on PlayStation Controller
At the time of writing, we couldn’t find any PlayStation 5 replacement joystick modules with reputable (or at least well-reviewed) listings. The expensive new DualSense Edge controller uses interchangeable stick modules that you can buy directly from Sony.
iFixit has a guide to replacing DualShock 4 stick modules rated “very difficult,” plus a guide to replacing DualSense modules with the same difficulty rating.
Aim Stick Drift at the Switch Joy-Con or Pro Controller
Nintendo Switch Joy-Con drift is well documented. You can use the calibration tool in System Settings > Controllers & Sensors > Calibrate Joysticks to fix it, but the problem will likely get worse quickly once it occurs.
iFixit has guides for replacing the left or right Joy-Con stick, replacing the left or right Switch Lite joystick, and replacing the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller joystick.
Hall Effect Joysticks are the future
Hall effect electromagnetic joysticks are the future, providing a tamper-proof mechanism with which you can measure input. Some controllers already use them, but we’ll have to wait until next-gen consoles come out to see if they’ll be adopted on a mass scale.
For now, check out our top recommended gaming controllers for console, PC and retro gaming.