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

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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 on headphone mode, an awesome trick to get junk out of your headphone jack, and how to fix the problem for good. 

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

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

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. It can take 20 seconds or so for your iPhone to turn off, and that’s completely normal. Next, hold the power button until the Apple logo appears on the screen, and then let go.

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

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

Take A Look Inside The Headphone Jack

Grab a flashlight and shine it inside your iPhone’s headphone jack. 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 is extremely difficult, and some Apple techs won’t even try.

Poking around in your iPhones headphone jack can damage it, 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.

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.
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  2. Use pliers to pull the pen tip awayfrom the plastic housing.
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  3. The tip is attached to a circular plastic cartridge that contains the ink.
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  4. The opposite end of the cartridge is the perfect size to remove debris from the headphone jack.
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  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.
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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. iFixit.com has excellent teardown guides of iPhones if you’d like to try, but I don’t recommend you do. 

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, headphone jacks on iPhones 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 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 is one of the only openings on the outside of the iPhone, and that makes it particularly susceptible to water damage. Even if the rest of an iPhone works perfectly after it gets wet, the headphone jack 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 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?

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After a while, the strain from the headphones wrapped around the iPhone on the end plugged into the headphone jack becomes so great that the entire headphone jack starts 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. 

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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

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.

To make matters worse, debris stuck inside your iPhone’s headphone jack isn’t covered under warranty, so repairing this simple problem can be very expensive. If you’d like to repair your iPhone today for a lot less than Apple, CellSavers 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. iResq.com is a great mail-in service that offers headphone jack repairs for several iPhone models.

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 of your iPhone.

Thanks for reading and remember to Pay It Forward,
David P.

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David Payette

I'm David Payette, the founder of Payette Forward, Inc. I am passionate about helping people to grow personally and professionally using the power of technology. Thank you for visiting payetteforward.com and I look forward to hearing from you!