My iPhone Is Stuck In Headphones Mode. Here’s The Real Fix!

You’re absolutely sure that headphones aren’t plugged into your iPhone, because, well, they’re not. You see “Headphones” above the volume slider when you press the volume buttons, but your iPhone isn’t making any sound. You’ve tried a hard reset, putting your headphones in, and taking them out again, but it’s not working. In this article, I’ll explain why your iPhone is stuck in headphone mode, an awesome trick to get junk out of your headphone jack or Lightning port, and how to fix the problem for good!

My iPhone Doesn’t Have A Headphone Jack! How Can It Be Stuck In Headphones Mode?

Apple got rid of the headphone jack when they released the iPhone 7. It was very controversial at the time, but many people have moved onto using Bluetooth headphones like AirPods.

However, Apple didn’t completely eliminate the ability to use wired headphones on newer iPhones. Your purchase of an iPhone 7 or newer model includes a pair of wired headphones that plug directly into your iPhone’s Lightning port (also known as the charging port).

A new iPhone 7, 8, or X also includes a dongle which lets you connect your old headphones to your iPhone’s Lightning port. However, Apple stopped including this dongle with the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR.

Even though the iPhone 7 and newer models don’t have a traditional headphone jack, they can still get stuck in headphones mode! The steps below will help you fix any model iPhone that is stuck on headphone mode.

No, iPhone, There Aren’t Headphones Plugged In!

Your iPhone is stuck on headphone mode because it thinks headphones are plugged into the headphone jack or Lightning port, even though they’re not. This is usually caused by a problem with the headphone jack or Lightning port itself. 99% of the time it’s a hardware problem, not a software problem.

iphone display headphones volume

Eliminate The Possibility Of A Software Problem

The easiest way to make sure a software problem isn’t causing your iPhone to stay stuck in headphones mode is to turn it off and back on again. To turn off your iPhone, press and hold the power button (also known as the Sleep / Wake button) and slide the button next to “slide to power off” across the screen.

slide to power off power icon on iphone

If you have an iPhone X or newer, press and hold the Side button and either volume button until “slide to power off” appears on the screen. Swipe the power icon left to right to shut down your iPhone X or newer.

It can take 20 seconds or so for your iPhone to turn off, and that’s completely normal. To turn your iPhone back on, hold the power button (iPhone 8 and older) or the Side button (iPhone X and newer) until the Apple logo appears on the screen. You can let go of the power button or Side button when the Apple logo appears.

If your iPhone is still stuck on headphones mode after your iPhone turns back on, there’s a hardware problem with your iPhone. At this point, this problem is being caused by one of two possibilities:

  • Debris stuck inside the headphone jack or Lightning port is fooling your iPhone into thinking that headphones are plugged in.
  • The headphone jack or Lightning port is damaged, either physically or by liquid.

Take A Look Inside Your iPhone

Grab a flashlight and shine it inside your iPhone’s headphone jack or Lightning port. Is there any debris stuck inside? I’ve seen everything from rice, to brown goo, to broken-off tips of cheap headphones stuck inside. Trying to extract something from your iPhone’s headphone jack or Lightning port is extremely difficult, and some Apple techs won’t even try.

Poking around in your iPhones headphone jack or Lightning port can cause damage, but most people I’ve worked with agreed it was worth the risk because they really had nothing to lose. If I had to guess, I’d say I was successful about 50% of the time when I tried to extract something from a customer’s headphone jack when I worked at an Apple Store.

How Do I Get Junk Out Of My iPhone’s Headphone Jack?

There’s no right way to do this, and Apple Stores don’t have any tools designed to extract debris from headphone jacks. There are, however, some unofficial tricks that Apple techs sometimes use to get stuff out. Be careful — none of these are Apple-approved methods because they can cause damage, but I’ve had success with each of them in different situations.

The BIC Pen Trick

I really wanted to write this article so I could share this trick with you. An Apple Genius showed me how to do it, and I still think it’s brilliant. Be warned: Your pen will not survive this procedure. Here’s how to use a BIC pen to remove debris from an iPhone’s headphone jack:

  1. Use a standard BIC pen and remove the cap.
    IMG_0277IMG_0278
  2. Use pliers to pull the pen tip away from the plastic housing.
    IMG_0282 IMG_0293
  3. The tip is attached to a circular plastic cartridge that contains the ink.
    IMG_0299 IMG_0298
  4. The opposite end of the cartridge is the perfect size to remove debris from the headphone jack.
    IMG_0304
  5. Insert that end into the headphone jack and gently twist to loosen the debris, and then shake it out of your iPhone or iPad.
    IMG_0309

I’ve saved lots of headphone jacks using this trick. Be careful not to press too hard. If the debris isn’t coming out, move on to the next tip.

Compressed Air

Try using a can of compressed air to blow air directly into your iPhone’s headphone jack. This may work even if you don’t see anything stuck inside. Compressed air can loosen debris just enough to shake it out or blow it out completely. Be gentle: Don’t stick the hose all the way into your iPhone’s headphone jack and start blowing. Start from the outside of your iPhone and work your way in.

If you don’t have a can of compressed air, you can try blowing it out yourself, but I don’t particularly like that option because our breath contains moisture that can damage your iPhone’s internal circuitry. If you feel like you have nothing to lose, then by all means, give it a try.

Tweezers

Really thin tweezers can sometimes reach just far enough inside to pull a piece of rice or other debris out of an iPhone’s headphone jack. Using tweezers is risky, though. It’s a lot like the game called Operation (by Milton Bradley). It’s very easy to damage the sides of the headphone jack if you shove tweezers in too far.

I Don’t Recommend This, But…

Some tech-savvy people (and secretly, some Apple Geniuses) have had success extracting debris from iPhone headphone jacks by disassembling the iPhone and poking the debris out from the underneath of the headphone jack. There are some excellent teardown guides of iPhones if you’d like to try, but I don’t recommend you do. 

How Do I Get Junk Out Of My iPhone’s Lightning Port?

Just like a headphone jack, it can be difficult to remove gunk and debris from from a Lightning port. The safest way to remove debris from an iPhone Lightning port is to use an anti-static brush.

clean ipad lightning port

If you try to clean out the Lightning port with an object like a paperclip or a thumbtack, you can run the risk of causing an electrical charge within your iPhone, which could cause even more damage. Toothpicks are also risky, because they can splinter and get stuck inside your iPhone.

However, most people don’t own an anti-static brush, and that’s okay. A brand new, unused toothbrush makes a fine substitute if you don’t have an anti-static brush.

The Cocktail Straw Trick

This method could also be called the “coffee stirrer” trick, as either utensil can be used. Flatten out the tip of your cocktail straw or coffee stirrer so it can fit inside your iPhone’s Lightning port. Use the flat tip of the straw to scrape or scoop any gunk out of the Lightning port.

clean iphone lightning port with cocktail straw

Compressed air and tweezers are also possible solutions if something is lodged in your in your iPhone’s Lightning port.

I’ve Tried Everything And My iPhone Is Still Stuck On Headphone Mode!

If your iPhone still isn’t working after you’ve tried everything above, there’s a good chance your iPhone needs to be repaired. Usually, the headphone jack or the Lightning port on an iPhone will stop working for one of two reasons:

Water Damage

A very common reason for iPhones getting stuck in headphones mode is water damage, and a lot of the time people don’t know how it could have happened. Here’s how the conversation went: I’d ask, “Are you an athlete?”, and they would say yes. I’d ask, “Do you listen to music when you run or work out?”, and they’d say yes again. Can you guess what happened?

A lot of the time, this is problem is caused when sweat runs down the cord of an athlete’s headphones. At some point, a small amount of sweat gets inside the headphone jack or Lightning port and causes their iPhone to get stuck in headphone mode.

Other types of water damage can cause this problem too — it doesn’t take much. The headphone jack on older iPhones and the Lightning port on newer iPhones are two of the only openings on the outside of the iPhone, and that makes them particularly susceptible to water damage. Even if the rest of an iPhone works perfectly after it gets wet, the headphone jack or Lightning port may not.

Physical Damage

If your iPhone is smashed into 1000 pieces, you probably know what’s wrong. If it’s still in one piece, there is another very common reason why iPhones get stuck on headphone mode: The headphone jack or Lightning port gets pulled away from the logic board.

“Wait a second. I keep my iPhone in great shape.”

Plugging headphones in and out of your iPhone should never cause this problem. I’ve never seen it occur from normal use. Here’s the question I’d ask: “Do you wrap your headphones around your iPhone when you’re not using it?” The customer would say yes. (Come to think of it, the same Genius who turned me on to the BIC pen trick told me this, too. I’d give him credit if I didn’t think he could get in trouble.) Can you guess what happened here?

IMG_0313 IMG_0316

After a while, the strain from the headphones wrapped around the iPhone on the end plugged into the headphone jack or Lightning port becomes so great that they entirely start to pull away from the logic board. It’s OK to wrap your headphones around your iPhone, as long as you unplug them when you do. 

IMG_0318

Unfortunately, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance the damage is already done and you’ll need to repair your iPhone.

Repair Options: Apple vs. Puls

This problem is especially frustrating for people who go to the Apple Store because the only repair option Apple offers to fix a broken headphone jack is to replace the entire iPhone. A lot of people simply refuse, opting instead to use a Bluetooth headset or speaker dock to make and receive phone calls, but it’s a major inconvenience when the sound doesn’t work on your iPhone.

The case is similar for broken iPhone Lightning ports. Apple will typically just replace your iPhone if its Lightning port is broken. The replacement is covered by your AppleCare+ warranty.

To make matters worse, debris stuck inside your iPhone’s headphone jack or Lightning port isn’t covered under warranty, so repairing this simple problem can be very expensive.

Puls

If you’d like to repair your iPhone today for a lot less than Apple, Puls will meet you at home or a location of your choice in less than an hour, and they offer a lifetime warranty on parts and labor.

Wrapping It Up

It’s frustrating when an iPhone gets stuck in headphones mode, because it seems like a simple problem should have a simple solution. It’s unfortunate that a tiny piece of debris or a little drop of water can have such a detrimental effect on your iPhone. I sincerely hope that your iPhone is no longer stuck on headphone mode, but if it is, at least you know what to do next. Feel free to leave a comment below. I’d like to hear about any creative ways you’ve found to remove debris from the headphone jack or Lightning port of your iPhone.

About Author

I'm a former Apple employee and the founder of Payette Forward, and I'm here to help you with your iPhone.

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Robbie
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Robbie

I tried the q-tip, and the air. Nothing worked. But someones comment down below gave me the idea to turn my bluetooth speaker on and connect my iphone to it. The i brought up the sound options where it says “iworld” clicked on it and it gave me the option to change the sound to come out of my iphone. THANK GOD. So relieved. Thank you random person for your comment and thank you for this site or elseni wouldve been out of luck!

Richard JR
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Richard JR

Do a restore from a computer and wired connection. It’ll fix the issue.

TeamStiles
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TeamStiles

Also there’s a grain of rice in the charger…

TeamStiles
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TeamStiles

I dropped my phone in the toilet and dried it off and put it on a bag of rice. Everything was fine but a grain of rice is stuck in the headphone jack and now I can’t use sound on my phone even with headphones. What would you suggest to get it out?

April caron
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April caron

I dropped my iPhone in water (long story, but there was a freak out over a tick involved)! Even though I got it out quickly, dried it off, and placed it in a bag of rice overnight to absorb any remaining moisture, I still found it stuck in headphone mode. Sure enough! There was water up in the headphone jack. Your article gave me the idea of using the Bic pen trick to see if I could extract any water. Then I realized that a Q-tip was slightly smaller than the Bic pen insert. I removed most of the cotton… Read more »

Dave_Bernazani
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Dave_Bernazani

I wish I had read this five minutes earlier; I have compressed air at work but I just left and have none at home. I’ll try it tomorrow!

Meg Eaton-Gammell
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Meg Eaton-Gammell

David, Thank you!! The compressed air worked!! You saved me a trip to the Apple store, my sanity and my daughter’s freedom. 🙂 You see, she borrowed my phone and gave it back to me with it stuck in the headphone setting. And of course.. She did nothing.. except put it in a bag with her bottle of water that was barely open.. I mean the bag was barely wet!! (her words.. haha It kind of reminded me of the old peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the VCR “trick” that she played 19 years ago LOL ) I read… Read more »

Karen H Hardin
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Karen H Hardin

David, “Thank you!” does not begin to express my friend’s gratitude for my finding your site! We went hiking and she dropped her iPhone in the only puddle of water in the desert mountains. ☹ Although she was thrilled that the phone seemed to be working, she soon found that the headphones setting was stuck. Her search only seemed to result in the basic “reset it” and plug a headset in and take it out solution followed by…if this doesn’t work you are out of luck. I am her “techy” friend and did my own searching- find this site. I… Read more »

Lec Zorn
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Lec Zorn

This article contains a lot of helpful information, but you need to just get to the point. You could’ve conveyed all the essential information in probably 1/3 as many words.

I went to your site in a hurry to get my phone speakers fixed and as I attempted to speed read your article, I kept thinking to myself “Come on, quit being cute and just tell me what I need to know. You’re wasting time that I could instead be using to get my phone going again.”

David Payette
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Hey Lec, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re right. I could have used fewer words to get the point across. I can relate to the “get to the point” mentality and I appreciate your candor. I try my absolute best to keep things short and sweet while not coming across like a technical manual. No doubt my writing style can be improved; it’s a process. I’m building a little team of people to help me run this website, and I do hope to keep improving my writing style, especially as I have more time to focus on the writing itself.… Read more »

Alexis Frances
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Alexis Frances

You … I like you, a lot!!! ?

Lec Zorn
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Lec Zorn

Hello David, and thanks for your kind and gracious response. I apologize for freaking out yesterday. I’m autistic and am calm about 99% of the time, but when I wrote that message yesterday, I was having a sensory overload, which is similar to a computer crashing. I was already having a bad week and a particularly stressful day, and then when I lost the sound on my phone and didn’t immediately find the answer, it drove me over the edge. Sure, your article could’ve been more direct, but it’s nowhere near as big a deal as it seemed at the… Read more »

Laurababy
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Laurababy

Thank you!! Compressed air worked for us!

Alex O
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Alex O

My iPhone was stuck on headphones but cleaned it and still didn’t work. I found a solution by connecting to Bluetooth then it gives you the option to output to phone.

Flint
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Flint

It didn’t work for me what did you do

Deepa Karu
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Deepa Karu

I think I have water damage, as I accidentally dropped it in the toilet. I picked it up in a second. It’s in headphone mode now. Can talk only with the headphones on, but just 1 call out of 4 I received today worked without headphones. Please advice me to fix it. This iPhone 6 Plus.

Corey
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Corey

Thank you for these tips! While none of these ended up working for me, they did point me in the right direction towards a solution. The stubborn piece of lint I had stuck up in my headphone jack just wasn’t budging, which lead me to the point of frustration and not caring about what additional damage I could cause the phone. so I took a paperclip and scrapped around the inside of the jack and voila! No more being stuck in headphone mode! So while the idea of vigorously scrapping metal around the inside of your phone sounds cringe-worthy it… Read more »

Intan
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Intan

Omg i’v tried ur way and it worked! Am so glad and thankful for it. I guess using the metal isnt a bad idea anyway.

Stephanie
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Stephanie

I tried everything to get the phone out of headset mode. I tried a toothpick, a q-tip stick, a blow dryer, Apple support, hard factory reset and the Bic pen is the only thing that worked. Thanks so much!

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[…] thinks there’s something plugged into it, when in fact there isn’t. My article about how to fix an iPhone that’s stuck in headphone mode explains why that happens and how to fix the […]

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