Video game controllers, whether you’re using the ones that came with your console or a third-party option, bear the brunt of the wear and tear of regularly playing games. They’re often the first thing you touch, and remain in constant contact with your skin while you play. A comfortable companion that’s literally shaped to accommodate your hands.
Discoloration and grime build-up are common problems for controllers, but fortunately, with a bit of time, you can turn even the worst looking controller into something that’s clean, if not almost as good as new.
What you’ll need
Surprisingly, console manufacturers don’t offer as much guidance on cleaning video game hardware as you might expect. Microsoft offers limited instructions for the Xbox, and Nintendo has official instructions for the Switch, but Sony has absolutely nothing public to say about cleaning PlayStation controllers.
In general, while you’ll need to get your controller slightly wet to get anything off of it, this process is all about maintaining the right amount of dampness. Enough to actually clean things without damaging any of the electronics inside.
To help in that process having an isopropyl alcohol solution (usually mixed with water) that easily evaporates helps a ton. Any solution that’s 70 percent isopropyl alcohol or less is safest, though if it makes it easier, a 50/50 alcohol and water solution should work fine. You’ll also want to avoid disinfectant wipes unless the controller manufacturer specifically says they’re safe to use.
Here’s a whole list of what you’ll need:
- Soft microfiber cloth or lint-free towel
- Isopropyl alcohol solution (70 percent alcohol or less) or gentle soap (unscented)
- Toothpick or rubber-tipped cleaning tool
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Prep controller — First, make sure your controller is completely turned off and unplugged from your console or wall charger. You can remove batteries if they’re easily accessible.
Clean the cracks — Next, using a toothpick or other cleaning tool with a fine point, run through the creases, cracks and crevices of your controller to get out any gunk that’s gotten stuck in there. You might be surprised just how much you find. Controllers are a magnet for gross stuff.
Wet your towel — Then, using your soap and water or the alcohol solution (depending on what you have on hand) wet the microfiber enough to make it damp, but not dripping. You can wring it out if you need to, the main goal is not having so much liquid that it can seep into anything important on the controller.
Scrub it — Now you can start cleaning. You can use whatever cleaning pattern you like, but I focused most of my efforts on the parts of the controller that touched the palms of my hands since they seemed to be the dirtiest and looked the worst. Small scrubbing circles help, as does a podcast to help zone out while you clean. Just watch out that the sticks and face buttons don’t get too wet.
Dry — Once you’re done, let the controller completely dry before you put your batteries back in, turn it back on, and reconnect it to your console. You should have a nice clean controller again!
Like medicine, the best care is preventative care. Make sure to clean your controller regularly and wash your hands before you sit down and play for long periods of time to avoid the worst.
As a slightly less involved alternative, you could risk it, and try and use a “Magic Eraser” to clean your controller. Keep in mind it’s far more abrasive than a soapy microfiber cloth, so you can’t apply too much pressure. The results can be impressive, however.
Or just buy a colorful controller that doesn’t show dirt as easily.