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How to Clean Your Disgusting, Disgusting Video Game Controllers

How am I supposed to p0wn noobs with ‘skin, respiratory and possibly fecal species’ all over my friggin’ controller!?

If p0wning noobs while munching Doritos has been your only release during this infernal age of worldly collapse, your video game controllers are probably grimy as hell, coated in a robust layer of cheese powder, skin flakes and gooch sauce. Remember, those controllers are your personal gateway into virtual worlds more pleasant than our own, and they deserve respect. So tag along and learn how to clean video game controllers before you 360 noscope another 12-year-old.

Why Cleaning Game Controllers Is Important

Before we talk about how to clean video game controllers, allow me to scare you into actually doing it. “When it comes to a video game controller, you have two possible sources for contamination,” says Jason “The Germ Guy” Tetro, host of the Super Awesome Science Show. “The first are the hands, which may transfer skin, respiratory and possibly fecal species, depending on the hygiene of the individual. The second is the respiratory tract: Most players will be emotional as they play, and this could involve talking, screaming — maybe even singing. All of these result in the spread of droplets into the environment.” (For more specifics on what kinds of germs may be lingering on your video game controllers, check out our horrific rundown of what’s typically found on TV remotes.)

If you’re passing controllers back and forth between friends (many of whom, be honest, need a shower), that could mean a substantial risk of infection. “A frequently used video game controller is going to pose the highest risk due to the rapid turnover and the potential for poor hygiene on the part of the player,” Tetro explains. “An infrequently used controller will have lower risk. And of course, a frequently cleaned video game controller with a disinfectant wipe will offer the lowest risk.” 

Speaking of disinfectant wipes… 

How to Clean Video Game Controllers

While the anticipation of logging on to your favorite game can at times be overwhelming, washing your hands before gaming — and when you get up to use the bathroom — is the easiest way to maintain clean controllers. Likewise, regular wipedowns can save you from having to do a more thorough cleaning down the road. “The hardest controllers to clean are ones that have never been cleaned, so regular maintenance will keep gunk from building up to begin with,” says Colin Wirth of This Does Not Compute, a YouTube channel devoted to all things tech.

For cleaning game controllers, you need the following supplies:

  • Diluted isopropyl alcohol (50/50 water and alcohol)
  • Several cotton swabs
  • A microfiber cloth
  • A clean toothbrush

Isopropyl alcohol is great for cleaning electronics, because it evaporates quickly, ensuring a safe, spot-free dry. The actual process of cleaning game controllers is fairly straightforward:

  1. Use the clean toothbrush to scrub away as much debris as possible, rotating the joysticks to get in those pesky cracks and crevices.
  2. Spray the microfiber cloth with diluted isopropyl alcohol, and wipe down the controllers.
  3. Wet a cotton swab with diluted isopropyl alcohol, and clean out any nooks and crannies.

Expert tip: You may also want to run a toothpick or folded piece of paper along the seams of your controllers to dislodge any hidden grime.

Now you can get back to teabagging — but first, wash your damn hands!

How to Fix a Drifting Controller

If your controllers are so dirty that the buttons aren’t reacting properly, Wirth says,  “Disassembling them for cleaning is often the way to go. Surprisingly, while the outside appearance of controllers has changed a lot over the years, how they’re constructed on the inside has stayed relatively consistent. Typically, it’s just a few screws that hold the outside casing together.”

If you need help disassembling your controllers, here are a couple videos (or check your user manual, if you held onto it):

Once you have your controllers dismantled, put the circuit board and any other electronic components aside, as these need to stay dry. Then you can get to cleaning. “When cleaning controllers, I’ll throw all of the plastic pieces — the housing, buttons, thumbsticks and so on — into a sink full of warm, soapy water,” Wirth explains. “There will be silicone membranes that fit in between the buttons and the circuit board, and those can get nasty, too, so they’ll go in the sink as well. Next, I’ll use a soft-bristled toothbrush to scrub all of the parts, especially in the seams and crevices. Rinse them off, set them out to dry for a day or so, then put it all back together. A few controllers can be a little tricky to reassemble, but if you get stuck, there are plenty of guides online to help.”

And that should do it. Now plug in and watch the (real) world fade away, my sweet, sweet gamer bro.