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Fix iPhone 5 Charging Problems

The first indication that my iPhone 5 had a problem was during a car trip. I had plugged the iPhone into the charger while using it for battery-sucking GPS navigation, but it still ran out of power and shut down. Fiddling with the cable restored the connection, and the iPhone booted back up and charged fine. Every so often after that, when I plugged the iPhone into a Lightning cable — and it didn’t matter which one — there wouldn’t be a connection, and the iPhone wouldn’t report that it was charging. That it happened at all was concerning enough, but the problem got worse. For the last several weeks, I’ve had to apply firm upward pressure on the Lightning cable to make a connection, and the last few nights, I had to stack books on the iPhone to maintain the necessary pressure.

Needless to say, I was worried, since the iPhone 5 is well out of warranty and I don’t want to have to buy a new one. The charging problem had all the indications of some solder joint or internal wire slowly breaking, and the amount of force I had to apply to the Lightning cable felt like it might cause damage on its own.

I was preparing myself for what looked like a rather complex teardown — thanks as always to iFixit — and perhaps $40–$50 in parts and tools, when I did just a bit more research. That’s when I came across a discussion in the Apple Support Communities suggesting that the problem might in fact just be lint or other crud in the Lightning port. Given that my iPhone lives in my pocket all day long, it would be entirely understandable if a little fuzz had worked its way in there.

No crud was visible in the Lightning port, and a quick blast with a can of compressed air didn’t blow out anything I could see, but even so, it solved the problem. Since I cleaned out the port, the iPhone charges properly with any Lightning cable, and with no pressure necessary. Others have reported using a paperclip or pin to clean out the Lightning port, but the compressed air approach seems safer.

I won’t pretend that pocket lint is the only possible reason an iPhone might not charge, and if you’re experiencing a similar problem, make sure you eliminate all the variables. A particular Lightning cable might be bad (particularly if it’s not an Apple-branded cable), a USB port or wall charger might have failed, or you might even have a flipped circuit breaker to a particular outlet. (I once thought an electric toothbrush had died because it wasn’t charging, and it took quite some time before I realized that particular circuit’s breaker had flipped, since nothing else was plugged into it. Doh!)

And, of course, it’s entirely possible that my initial worry about the Lightning port connection failing could be true for you, at which point iFixit’s teardown might be necessary. Another discussion thread on the Apple Support Communities runs through all of these possibilities and more, so if my suggestions don’t help, browse through all 18 pages of replies to see if anything else sounds worth trying.


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Comments about Fix iPhone 5 Charging Problems
(Comments are closed.)

Charles  2014-01-03 12:04
Yes, this is the primary reason the Lightning port exists, it collects less pocket lint and is easier to clean. In fact, it's usually self-cleaning, the connector pushes dirt out of the points of contact.

I had this problem with the original iPhone. The old connector could wedge pocket lint into the socket where it was very difficult to dislodge. Sometimes compressed air wouldn't blow it out and I had to scrape the dirt out with a pin. I am surprised I didn't ruin the connectors during the 5 years I used it.

Now with my iPhone 5, I don't have that problem. I just have problems finding Lightning-compatible accessories like a car dock. I do note that as my iPhone is reaching the end of its warranty, during the last month I had to replace both my power adapter and the Lightning cable. The cable insulation broke due to the strain of flexing, even just on my desktop dock and moving it around once in a while. I am grateful that Apple quickly replaced these items under warranty.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-01-03 12:30
Interesting. I never had any issues with crud in the dock connector port on previous iPhones. I could see an argument for the larger dock connector port attracting more but cleaning itself more easily.
Adam, I literally just had the same problem with my 5S. I had to charge it by wrapping a rubber band around the end of the lightning connecter and then looping it over the top of the phone so that the rubber band maintained constant upward pressure. New Year's eve, I made an appointment at the local Apple Genius bar in Norfolk. While waiting for my appointment, I had to talk to one of the techs to provide the details. He took a look at the phone, took a pick or little screwdriver, dug into the port and pulled out some lint. Blew it clear once or twice and like magic, it charged perfectly again. I was pretty embarrassed because, like you, I made the assumption that it was a bad connector internally. Anyway, valuable lesson learned. Interesting side note though, I've had an iPhone 3G, 4, and 4S prior to this phone, carried all in my pocket and never once had a lint problem. I've had the 5S only since late October and already had this lint issue.
Whoa now Adam. I was expecting some thread on iPhone5 defective cables or connector, when in fact it is user's issue: pocketlint. Hey, I have a picture of the dust bunny that lived in a user's macbookPro cooling fan! Seriously.

So, lint from your pocket accumulates inside the jack, and when lightning connector is inserted, it compacts and now changes the interior space. This will limit the depth of the inserted connector. Thus, not charge properly.

Canned's cheap and best quick fix (also-if used properly...).
Or for us "oldskool" photographers, a lens brush-blower works well on lint in little spaces.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-01-05 15:05
Yeah, I was surprised that this was the fix too, and the fact that others are running into it was why I wrote the article. It's easy to test bad cables or outlets, and I'd expect most people to have done that. But as jdh above noted, it's all too easy to think your iPhone is failing when a little puff is all that's necessary. :-)
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-01-06 09:34
"it's all too easy to think your iPhone is failing when a little puff is all that's necessary." I suppose that means fewer iPhone failures are to be expected in Seattle and Denver… 😉
Jim Rea  2014-01-06 16:13
I guess this is another potential advantage of the Mophie Juicepack, leaving it attached all day prevents crud from getting into the port. I only take of the Juicepack when charging — when the phone is in my pocket, the Juicepack is always attached.
Doodpants  2014-01-07 09:44
I admit that this somewhat amusing to me, because I've always found it silly that most people "protect" their device by wrapping it in some kind of body armor that leaves the ports exposed. Of course it has to leave the ports exposed, because you're supposed to leave the device in the case while you're using it.

This is why I prefer sleeve-style slip cases. While my device is in my pocket, it is completely enclosed within the case, the only exposed part being the very top edge of the device, which is still recessed behind the opening. The ports at the bottom, as well as the screen, camera lens, home button, and side buttons, are all covered and protected.
Chris  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2014-01-07 17:00
"A particular Lightning cable might be bad (particularly if it’s not an Apple-branded cable)"
Hmm, in this household Apple-branded cables have performed pretty badly: dock connectors falling apart, cable strain relief breaking up to leave wires exposed. But then so did the non-Apple cables.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-01-08 09:08
I've had decent luck with Lightning and dock connector cables (less so MagSafe cables for laptops), but I've heard a variety of woes related to Lightning cables from other vendors.
George Pence  2014-01-09 12:42
Saved me a trip to the Apple Store. Thanks
John A  2014-01-15 21:07
This happened to my son's iPhone, and the Genius Bar came up with the same fix. The genius said that the connector didn't seem to click in firmly. Although he didn't see anything inside, after blowing air in, the connector clicked in much better and charging was reliable again.
Patrick Taylor  2014-02-15 06:58
I used a needle to clean out the port and it's worked brilliantly. Even my in car charger works now for the first time since I brought it! Thanks for the great advice
Mine was full of lint too cleaned it out and problem solved :)