During the pandemic, video games are more vital than ever to our mental health (and we aren’t just saying that). And as more people are playing video games than ever, controllers are a focal point at many parties and family gatherings — which is why it’s important to regularly clean your controllers and other shared gaming hardware.
Whether it needs a disinfecting wipe down or it’s time for a deeper routine cleaning, here’s how to safely clean your gaming controllers. Though we’re focusing on console controllers, you can use the same strategies to clean your keyboard and mouse, portable devices like a Nintendo Switch, and VR headsets and peripherals.
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First step: wash your hands (or wear gloves). Then make sure everything is disconnected and properly turned off to prevent shock or electrical damage. Unplug any charging cables or headphones wires from your PlayStation or Xbox controllers. If you’re cleaning a Nintendo Switch, remove the Joy-Cons, turn off the system, and take out the game cartridge. For VR headsets, power down the headset and controllers, then unplug all cables.
With everything turned off and disconnected, the next step is to wipe down your controllers with a safe disinfectant. The key here is to use a solution that is strong enough to disinfect but won’t damage the device, but the right product will depend on what you’re cleaning.
Screens — such as the Nintendo Switch’s display, your TV, a smartphone screen, or a VR headset’s lenses — should not be cleaned with alcohol or cleaners like Windex, as these will damage the glass. Use a dry microfiber cloth to clear away smudges and dust on the controllers or system body, and be sure to remove your Switch’s Joy-Cons before disinfecting (the Switch Lite’s controllers can’t be removed, so use extra caution to avoid touching the screen when wiping the console down with cleaners).
On controllers, use non-abrasive disinfectant products. Nintendo’s official support page suggests using products with no more than 70% alcohol on the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers, and that’s a safe ratio for most other gaming peripherals as well. Most disinfectant wipes are safe to use, but make sure you check any liquid cleaners you’re using, and definitely don’t submerge your controllers or accessories in water.
After using the disinfectant wipe, let the controller rest for about 10 minutes before fully drying with a dry microfiber towel.
This should be enough if you’re just disinfecting between general use. However, if you want to give your controller a deeper cleaning, use a dry toothpick or cotton swab to gently remove dust and grime from the seams around each button and any other areas prone to collecting buildup. Give the controller another quick wipe down when you’re done, and you’ll be good to go.
This article was originally published in December 2020.