How to Clean Sticky Playstation Controllers Quick and Safely

how to clean sticky playstation controllers buttons triggers step by step

The Playstation game library continues to grow with each new generation of the Playstation gaming console. This inevitably leads to players wanting to enjoy some of the older games as new sequels and prequels are released, and why wouldn’t any gamer want to replay the previous games in anticipation of new releases?… Pulling out old controllers and finding them sticky. 

How to clean sticky Playstation controllers? Follow these easy steps to remove the sticky:

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Remove debris around buttons and triggers with air duster
  3. Use a cleaner like rubbing alcohol
  4. Wipe the controllers down
  5. Go section by section as alcohol evaporates
  6. Wipe remaining alcohol off, if needed

While this is not a phenomenon that we see typically with controllers that are in constant use, some game system controllers, like Playstation, will develop a sticky substance on them, mainly on the analog joysticks. Often this is caused by not washing your hands before play, and all kinds of dirt and grime get on them during play, mixed with your natural oils.

Step By Step Guide to Removing Sticky Residue

Removing the sticky residue that can seem to appear like magic on a stored controller takes a little time and a little effort but is well worth it in the end—no need to throw away those sticky controllers when you can make them like new in minutes. 

Since the issue is that you are dealing with sticky Playstation controllers, there is no reason to take your controllers apart. If they were not functioning properly, this may be a concern, but in this case, we are looking at just cleaning the outside of the controllers. 

Fortunately, removing the sticky residue on your Playstation controllers does not require an electronics expert. All of the items needed most people keep in their homes, to begin with. It just may require raiding a couple of cabinets and potentially the first aid kit momentarily. 

Wash Your Hands First

While this may not sound like a big deal, your goal is to remove much of the dirt and grime that is being transferred from your hands to the controllers. I am not going to go into an in-depth explanation as to the proper hand washing technique, but removing the dirt, grime, and especially natural body oils from your hands will reduce the transfer to your controllers. 

Proper cleaning of sticky Playstation controllers begins with having the proper tools and making sure they are clean, and this includes your hands. It won’t do any good to try to remove the sticky residue that is on your controllers if your hands are dirty and put that same residue right back in place. 

Blow Dust and Debris Off Around Controller

air dust blow debris playstation controller analog joystick buttons triggers

Once your hands are clean, you’re ready to start tackling the proper way to clean Playstation controllers and remove any stickiness that may have been introduced over many gaming sessions.

But first, to avoid scratching or wiping particles even deeper into the body, buttons, and triggers of the controller, you want to make sure that you safely remove any debris that has accumulated before any wiping procedures begin.

I personally purchase air duster cans from Amazon in bulk, and keep them all around my office space and house, since dust can show up in and around electronics at moments notice, even if actively using them. So I make sure to air dust my gadgets on a regular weekly basis, making sure not to forget blowing air through USB ports, jacks, speakers, and fans so that they operate at peak performance and maintain longevity.

Using an Electronic Safe Cleaner

Electronics can be vulnerable to things like water or water-based cleaners. This is the reason that isopropyl alcohol is the best option to clean your sticky Playstation controllers. This is what any professional would use to protect the delicate circuits inside of any electronic.  

Things that are water-based can easily short out the circuitry inside of a controller or any electronic. Water conducts electricity, but alcohol does not. Water can also, over time, cause rust on the circuit board as well, which can ruin the controller. Add in the fact that the sticky coating is usually caused by oil; water-based may be ineffective against the sticky mess. 

Bleach based cleaners can be used for cleaning the outside of controllers, but great care must be taken to ensure that you don’t get any inside of the controller as bleach and bleach-based products can cause rust to develop even faster than water-based can. This is due to rust being created by oxidation, and bleach causes rapid oxidation. 

Certain other things, like that contained in baby wipes, can cause the rubber itself (like on the analog joysticks) to break down. This can actually cause more damage to the controllers than the sticky residue that you are trying to remove in the first place. While during the cleaning, you may remove some black, at some point, with baby wipes, you would get past the grime to rubber. 

Wipe Controllers Down

wipe cloth playstation controller joystick buttons triggers

When it comes to cleaning electronics, I usually keep the following near me, especially for something this size:

  • Washrag
  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton swabs

You can use a little alcohol on the washrag (or washcloth, depending on your region) to clean the larger parts of the controller. This is always a good idea to help speed things up, but still get everything cleaned. It is best that if you are cleaning the analog sticks that you are cleaning the rest of it as well. 

Using the cotton balls can be used to clean the analog sticks, which is probably where the majority of the sticky grime is. This is due to the absorbent nature of the rubber. You want to make sure the cotton balls are damp, but not wet. This means you want to feel the alcohol on the balls, but not so much that it is dripping wet. 

Cotton swabs are used to get into small spaces and crevices. Due to the smaller nature of cotton swabs, you will want to make sure you have about a dozen or more on hand. Cotton swabs can get dirty quickly, and you want to make sure that each area is cleaned until the cotton ball comes off of the controller still white. Any discoloration will mean some dirt remains. 

You also want to make sure to wipe down the wires that are connected as well, if you have wired controllers. This can be done by holding an alcohol wet rag in your hand and gently pulling the wire through your hand. This will allow you to remove any dirt and grime from the wire as well. 

Clean Small Areas at a Time

Take your time. Due to the evaporative nature of alcohol, cleaning smaller areas is best. Rubbing alcohol can evaporate easily because it has a lower temperature than things like water to change from a liquid state to a gaseous one. While water can sit for an hour or more before evaporation, alcohol can do it in minutes, if not seconds. So smaller areas are better. 

While you can use the rag to do a quick wipe down of the entire controller, this will help to remove dirt and grime that contribute to your sticky Playstation controllers, but it will not deal with the issue itself. You are best off starting with cleaning the larger portion of the controllers with the rag before you concentrate on the smaller areas. 

Once you are ready to start working on cleaning the actual sticky part of your controllers, you will want to start with the rag. This will be mildly abrasive, which will help to remove some of the more stuck-on dirt but won’t be so rough that it could risk damage to your controller. While this won’t be enough to remove all of the sticky feeling, it will be a good start. 

Next, move to the smaller cotton balls, which will allow you to use a little pressure and help to remove more. Cotton swabs will be needed around the buttons and around where the analog joystick connects to the controller.  In this case, you want to make sure that you remove as much dirt and grime as you can to prevent it from happening again. 

Wipe Up Remaining Cleaner

If you use an excess of cleaner, you may need to remove an excess. While alcohol will evaporate, if you use an excessive amount, it may take longer. Another thing to consider is that although alcohol is the safest thing to use with electronics, some surfaces don’t fare as well when exposed to alcohol, so care must be taken to protect those surfaces as well. 

No real precautions need to be used as far as what type of cloth you use to clean up excess alcohol. Clothing is not damaged by contact with isopropyl alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol), so either a towel or paper towel is perfectly safe to use. 

While the concern for a cleaner like alcohol to damage the electronics is minimal, there is a risk to some surfaces, such as wood or resin. Even a sealed surface, depending on the surface, can be damaged by alcohol, especially if it is allowed to sit. Even considering the evaporation rate of alcohol, there is still a risk of damage, so making sure you clean up after is the best option. 

How to Prevent the Sticky Residue

air duster q tip wipe clean playstation controller triggers and buttons

One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t end up with sticky Playstation controllers is with prevention. By taking a moment to properly clean your controllers can help to remove the current sticky residue from it. Still, if you take the time to prevent it from building up during both gameplay and before you store them, then you don’t have to worry about getting sticky. 

You may have heard the phrase that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this is kind of the philosophy that I am going for here. Rather than having to take the time to clean to remove sticky residue from your Playstation controllers, it is better to prevent it from forming, to begin with. 

Taking a little time and effort to prevent the ingredients to this annoying situation is better than having to take the time at a later date to have to remove it after it forms, and then you have it on your hands as well. Coming from someone who has had it happen, I know it’s one of the grossest things I have felt when trying to enjoy a game from a previous system. 

Wash Your Hands Before Use

While good hand washing is a huge topic of discussion right now, it is something that should be paid more attention to, even when we are not in a time of global crisis. Not just taking the time yourself to wash your hands before you use them, but also requiring anyone else that will be using your controllers to wash hands properly can help as well. 

This would require more than just getting your hands wet and drying them off, but actually, using proper handwashing techniques before use will help you to prevent sticky Playstation controllers in the long run as well. While this should be done to prevent the spread of disease during our global crisis, it will also prevent future issues with your controllers as well. 

Another thing that will help, and this may sound a bit dumb, is limit touching your face as well. Most of the oils that accumulate on our hands are actually from our faces. By limiting touching your face both before play and during, you can help reduce your risk of catching anything AND limit the oils that can lead to sticky Playstation controllers as well. 

Washing your hands is not just a way to clean up before eating or after using the restroom, but also a way to limit the spread of disease and issues like sticky Playstation controllers. Considering that the main issue that causes the sticky residue over time is from bodily oils mixing with dirt and grime. This dirt can include dust from your environment as well. 

Limit Eating While Gaming

A lot of gamers tend to snack while gaming instead of stopping for a break, and when you are getting close to solving a puzzle or beat a level, it can be hard to just hit pause to eat. Unfortunately, many of our snack foods can contribute to a greasy, grimy controller. This, in turn, will lead to the sticky residue if it sits too long. 

Take a few minutes away from playing games to properly have a meal or even just sit and a snack where you can talk face to face with someone. I know it can be hard when you are really into a game to get away from it, it can help make good use of any socialization that you do get and protect your gaming gear in the process. 

Some snacks contain a greasy type of dust, like cheetos or different types of potato chips. By not taking the time to wash your hands (not just dust them off on your pants) after eating, you can transfer this greasy dust to your controllers as well. 

Clean Your Playstation Controllers Regularly

Taking a moment to give your controllers a good cleaning at any time can extend the lifetime of your controllers. Prevention can save much more time than having to clean them after the issue starts. 

After Regular Use

Cleaning your controllers regularly does not have to mean taking them apart and cleaning every possible surface in and on them. It can be something as simple as using an alcohol wipe or two on the playable surface of the controllers. This will help to prevent the oily grime from building up, which results in sticky Playstation controllers.

This is especially important with the current global crisis in regards to COVID19 (at the time of this publication). Having friends come over for some limited socialization can help to relieve the stress and boredom of a quarantine, but it also means extra precautions should be taken. Using a quick alcohol wipe between players can help to limit risks of disease transmission, which can be important. 

Even if someone is asymptomatic, they could still be contagious, and this can help to prevent or at least slow down, the spread of both the current disease of concern, but also from spreading most diseases and viruses as well. 

Before Long Term Storage

Whether you are moving or just packing away an old system to make room for a new one, giving your controllers a good cleaning before you pack them away can prevent the issue before it even starts. 

You will want to, just as you do to remove the sticky residue, give them a good, thorough cleaning that includes rubbing alcohol to remove anything that could contribute to the sticky residue that you had to begin with. 

While our concern here is the controllers, you will want to run a washrag over the outside of your playstation console and any associated wires as well, since the residue can accumulate on these parts as well. 

How to Store Long Term

You also want to make sure that you store them properly rather than just letting them set in a box in your room. It may seem like a waste of effort, but storing your controllers in plastic bags, even zipper-lock bags, can help to prevent the dust and dirt that contributes to the sticky residue from accumulating on your controllers as well. 

Don’t just throw everything into a box, either. Make sure that everything is properly wrapped and stored to ensure the longevity of your Playstation, from the delicate wires, to preventing the sticky residue on your controllers; each piece needs to be considered during storage.

John Hammer

Hi i'm John Hammer, Founder and Author of Gizbuyer Guide. Ever since the original Xbox, PlayStation, and iPhone I've purchased and worked on all kinds of consumer tech products, gaming gadgets and operating system softwares. To this day my curiosity has never left, and my aim is to guide and share my knowledge on technology as I continue to experience the latest of the consumer electronics industry.

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