What to do when your Lightning cable won't charge your iPhone or iPad

Posted:
in iOS
It's not a common problem -- but knowing that is no help when it's just happened to you. AppleInsider shows the steps that can save you a trip to an Apple Store.




We get asked about this a lot. Your iPhone or iPad has been working just fine but now you can't plug your Lightning cable into it and get the phone to charge.

There's been no apparent warning and you can't see any problem, but it won't go in all the way and click into place. The most likely thing is that the iPhone's Lightning port is blocked.

If it's just happened to you, all you want is the fix. We'll talk about prevention later -- but first here's what to do.

Since you know what you're doing, this is going to seem so obvious that it goes without saying -- but it's so important that it must be said anyway. If you're not careful, you could seriously damage your iPhone Lightning port.

Also, do not attempt this with your MacBook or MacBook Pro's USB-C slot. The port design is not the same, and if you break off the center pins on the female end of the plug, you'll be very, very sorry.

Unfortunately, this is not guaranteed to work because it's possible there's already some serious damage and only Apple can fix it. Or, the cable might be dead -- but we suspect you tried a new cable already.

However, what's most likely is that you've got some debris in the port. Even though it is so small that you can't see it, it's stopping the cable from handshaking with the iPhone.

1. Switch off your iPhone

Switch it off and get some tools, starting with a bright light. Shine that light into the port and see if you can spot anything. Remember that dust and lint will not only have got in there but they will have been pressed in firmly each time you connected the cable. So look to the sides and back of the port.




You will find things often enough that it's worth looking frequently. But, when this just happened to us, we would've sworn there was nothing there. We even took this photo so that we could pinch out and examine it.




Still, try gently shaking the phone to dislodge the debris. Do not blow into the port!

2. More serious tools

If at all possible, get a can of compressed air. You will also need some kind of pick but choose very carefully: don't use anything metal.

A small brush like a clean and unused toothbrush works well. Rub it across the port, getting the fibers into it, and see if it loosens anything. Use the compressed air to force out anything loose.




You may well see a small clump of material come out. Even if you don't, periodically try fitting the Lightning cable in again. When it works, stop messing with your port and just be relieved.

Until it works again, go up a notch with a stronger tool. The next we'd suggest is that you take a Q-Tip and, with scissors, cut diagonally across the plastic between the buds. That plastic is hollow so cutting it this way gets you a little pick. Really, really carefully scrape inside the port.

We're not kidding. Pick really, really carefully. Avoid scraping the top and bottom where the Lightning connectors are: you're aiming for the back of the port instead.

Again, try the cable.

3. Last resort

This is a divergence point. If you're not comfortable with this step, just make an appointment at a Genius Bar.

Take a sewing needle and use the rounded end in the port. Extremely gingerly scrape at the back of the Lightning port.

Again, you can often see something coming out. If so, it may be so small that you aren't even sure you saw it. We wondered if instead of debris, we'd scraped some metal off the phone.




When we tried the cable, we saw that things were a little better. It still wasn't working, wasn't connecting, but it went in further. So we scraped on with the needle and after a few minutes, the cable connected just fine.


4. Call the experts

If you've tried a known-good cable already, and have progressed through the clean-out steps as fas as you're comfortable, and there's still no charging, it's time to get help. Set up an appointment with Apple or an authorized service provider to take a look at your iPhone.

Sorry. You might have a hardware problem that a clean-out won't fix.

Now, prevention

We've said that it's debris and we've mentioned lint. If you have your iPhone in a shirt pocket, in particular, it is going to pick up things in this Lightning port and eventually it's going to be enough to cause a problem.

Look at the plug on a Lightning cable. It has gold connectors on the top and bottom but nothing at the actual end. In the port on your iPhone, there are the same gold top and bottom and the cable clicks into place when these connectors all align.

The debris is building up at the base of the port and the problem comes when there's enough that the cable is kept from going all the way.

Even though there's nothing on the tip of the Lightning plug, that part has to go all the way to the back of the port or the connectors won't line up.

In our case it was just the smallest of flecks of dust: so small that we could not see them. Sand is a big problem here too, especially if it wedges in there really firmly.

The odds are that it's going to take a long time before this happens to you. You may, seriously, have sold the phone before you even came close to getting it. Equally, though, if you just bought your iPhone secondhand then you may be well on the way to having the problem.

What will prevent it is having an iPhone case that has a flap over the Lightning port. Just being able to have that port covered over until you're charging will stop this happening.

We did say that you get no apparent warning, that one day the cable just won't click into place and that's true. However, for a long time before this happens, we've seen instances where the connection is sporadic, and the charging bleep sounds at random.

You've plugged in, it's charging away fine and then there's a bleep. It bleeps, wakes up the screen and carries on charging. What's really happened is that the connection has failed for a moment and one possibility is because of this debris build up.

So listen out for that or get a case for your iPhone.
«1

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 34
    plovellplovell Posts: 784member
    A wooden toothpick is a good tool too. More effective than a Q-tip.
    neo-techStrangeDaysroundaboutnowMplsPracerhomie3retired4goodbb-15GeorgeBMacarthurbachunkpylon
  • Reply 2 of 34
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 213member
    I guess ignorance is bliss - didn't know that scraping metal at the bottom of the port could do any damage - so a straightened paper clip has always worked for me.  Not sure I'll go to something more 'gentle' because of this article :-)
    edited August 10 berndogjaribbsGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 3 of 34
    uraharaurahara Posts: 170member
    1st step. Try charging another device with the same cable. 
    If it doesn’t charge,
    2nd step. Try a new cable. 
    CheeseFreezed_2jaribbsretired4goodbb-15neutrino23
  • Reply 4 of 34
    Prevention: wireless charge.
    SoundJudgment
  • Reply 5 of 34
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,323administrator
    urahara said:
    1st step. Try charging another device with the same cable. 
    If it doesn’t charge,
    2nd step. Try a new cable. 
    FTA: "Or, the cable might be dead -- but we suspect you tried a new cable already."
    king editor the grateneo-techStrangeDaysracerhomie3GeorgeBMacairnerd
  • Reply 6 of 34
    I think my case has made my X more disgusting. I never used one on my 5 or 5S and ne'er had an issue. Now I have a buildup of skin and hairs all around the edges (inside clear case) but the bottom is particularly caked because the holes let in gunk but don't let it back out.

    Curious that compressed air is fine but blowing is not. Is that due to moisture?
    ihatescreennamesGeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 34
    boboqboboq Posts: 5member
    My experience has been that a hard reset often fixes this problem. That’s my first step. 
  • Reply 8 of 34
    shaminoshamino Posts: 399member
    Looking in my phone's Lightening port (iPhone 6+), it's pretty obvious that the connectors are only on the bottom of the socket (the side furthest from the display).  The rest of the socket (including the back) is plastic.  So just be careful to keep your tools away from the lower surface and you should be fine.

    That having been said, I've never had a problem getting a cable to insert, but I have often gotten into a situation where the cable won't charge.  Or it won't start charging for several minutes.  Usually, I end up throwing out the cable and using a new one (fortunately, they're not too expensive these days - I buy Anker brand cables from Amazon in multi-packs).

    Sometimes I've found that a cable in this state will work just fine if I unplug the USB-A plug from the charger brick (or car charger) and plug it into my Mac (where it makes a data connection as well as charging).  And after that, it will work fine when re-attached to the charger.  I have no explanation for this except perhaps that the ID chip in the cable had crashed and plugging it into a computer reset it.
    TomEwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 34
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,323administrator
    I think my case has made my X more disgusting. I never used one on my 5 or 5S and ne'er had an issue. Now I have a buildup of skin and hairs all around the edges (inside clear case) but the bottom is particularly caked because the holes let in gunk but don't let it back out.

    Curious that compressed air is fine but blowing is not. Is that due to moisture?
    Yes. On occasion isn't deadly, but it should be avoided.
    king editor the gratebb-15
  • Reply 10 of 34
    My 6S+ quit charging due to a pocket lent build up. I cleans it with a vacuum device.
    TomEGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 11 of 34
    grifmxgrifmx Posts: 67member
    not a common problem? excuse me? unless you wear plastic clothes and live, work, and drive in a clean room and never venture outdoors
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 12 of 34
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,323administrator
    grifmx said:
    not a common problem? excuse me? unless you wear plastic clothes and live, work, and drive in a clean room and never venture outdoors
    Getting lint in there is common. It building up until it causes a cable connection problem is greatly less so.
    king editor the gratebb-15
  • Reply 13 of 34
    I’ve always used the little disposable plastic tooth flosser things that come in packs of like 50 or so. They usually have a pick at the other end. They’re flatter than actual toothpicks and fit the port well. 
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 14 of 34
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 614member
    plovell said:
    A wooden toothpick is a good tool too. More effective than a Q-tip.
    This has worked well for me many times.
    grifmx said:
    not a common problem? excuse me? unless you wear plastic clothes and live, work, and drive in a clean room and never venture outdoors
    Getting lint in there is common. It building up until it causes a cable connection problem is greatly less so.
    I have to disagree with you here - I've had to clean the lightning port on my 6s several times, as well as my wife's and my kids' and several coworkers, so by my experience it happens quire frequently. The lightning connecter is surprisingly finicky with this - anything that keeps it from seating completely, even a fraction of a mm, is enough to disrupt connection and charging. 
    edited August 10 GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 15 of 34
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,323administrator
    MplsP said:
    plovell said:
    A wooden toothpick is a good tool too. More effective than a Q-tip.
    This has worked well for me many times.
    grifmx said:
    not a common problem? excuse me? unless you wear plastic clothes and live, work, and drive in a clean room and never venture outdoors
    Getting lint in there is common. It building up until it causes a cable connection problem is greatly less so.
    I have to disagree with you here - I've had to clean the lightning port on my 6s several times, as well as my wife's and my kids' and several coworkers, so by my experience it happens quire frequently. The lightning connecter is surprisingly finicky with this - anything that keeps it from seating completely, even a fraction of a mm, is enough to disrupt connection and charging. 
    Well, that would explain why we keep getting asked about it, I guess.
    king editor the grate
  • Reply 16 of 34
    Solution for me is a Magsafe copycat magnetic charging cable. The adapter is always in the Lightning port, so no lint problems. Also gives a little protection against splashes. Cost me $3 shipped on eBay, including magnetic adapters for micro-USB and USB-C. I liked it so much that I bought one each for my iPhone and iPads, as well as charging my micro-USB devices. No struggling to get the cord into the charging port, either. Just put it close to the cable and it snaps in automatically.

    What aggravates me is how Apple's USB access limit in the latest iOS makes me unlock before I can even charge. Okay, limit USB data access, but don't even let me charge? That's stupid.
    edited August 10 TomEtokyojimuneutrino23
  • Reply 17 of 34
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,466member
    jgrant said:
    I’ve always used the little disposable plastic tooth flosser things that come in packs of like 50 or so. They usually have a pick at the other end. They’re flatter than actual toothpicks and fit the port well. 
    Good idea. Same with the plastic toothpick that is in your Swiss Army knife. It’s flat. You could also flatten a round wooden toothpick, I suppose.

    You’d be crazy to use any kind of metal in there. I’d suppose there are capacitors in some of the circuits that could short out even if the phone is off.

    Also, why would you want to blow compressed air in and blast the dirt further in? If you can’t pick out the dirt with a nonconductive tool of some kind, which has worked for me twice on my 7, I’d say use a vacuum cleaner with a bit of space between the Lightning jack and the vacuum nozzle while you pick at the crud, so you don’t pull too hard on anything in there.

    Anyway, I’ve started turning my pockets inside out, shaking out the debris from all the gardening and mechanical work, before I put the clothes in the laundry.
  • Reply 18 of 34
    TomETomE Posts: 106member
    A Vacuum Device
    Wooden Toothpick
    Compressed Air - Blowing ever so slightly at first
    Plugging the cable into a Mac USB connection might reset the chip in the cable - that is interesting.
    I look at the cable connector with a magnifying glass to check it out.
    I also use a Vinyl Artist or Engineering Drawing Eraser ($1).  It does not leave #2 Pencil Eraser Powder on the connector.
    Using the Vinyl Eraser, I clean the Lightening Connector.
    I also use spray Alcohol on the connector - but ever so slightly and I wipe it off.  $1 at DG.

    I don't spend a lot of time on cleaning a cable, etc.  I replace it with a spare - never using a cheaply made Apple Cable.  Sorry AAPL.


  • Reply 19 of 34
    volcanvolcan Posts: 1,713member

    You will also need some kind of pick but choose very carefully: don't use anything metal.
    I took mine to the Apple Store and the Genius took out his handy LiquidMetal simm ejector and scraped inside rather vigorously. Bunch of pocket lint came out and that fixed the problem. Another time I found that my cable only worked on one side. It was no longer reversible. Decided to buy a new one before it went completely dead.
  • Reply 20 of 34
    plovell said:
    A wooden toothpick is a good tool too. More effective than a Q-tip.
    I second that recommendation. It works well and the flat toothpicks are particularly effective.
Sign In or Register to comment.