About a month ago, I started having trouble charging my iPhone 6S. I’m not talking about the need to charge my phone more often because the battery isn’t what it used to be, although that’s definitely happening and I need to cough up the $30 to get the battery replaced. No, I’m talking about the Lightning plug on the charger cable not seating well in the port on the bottom of the phone. The plug would wiggle and often lose contact, leaving me with a phone that was still draining when I thought it was charging.1

My first thought was that lint had built up in the port and needed to be cleaned out. I was at home without good lighting or good magnification, but I got a toothpick and dug around in the port, figuring that if anything was in there, that would loosen it and pull it out. When nothing emerged, I started thinking there was a problem with either the port itself or with the third-party cables I was using.

Yesterday afternoon I learned the truth. On the cusp of a long weekend, I didn’t feel like working and neither did my clients, as the usual stream of phone calls and emails dried up. I decided to go back in the lab at work and take a serious look at the Lightning port though a stereo microscope.

Lightning port before cleaning

Depth-of-field is terrible in optical microscopy, and I didn’t adjust the white balance before capturing the image, but you get the idea. The lint had been compressed by the plug until it was almost as solid as felt.

For whatever reason—most likely because the lint was too tightly packed—the toothpick hadn’t done its job a month ago and led me to think the port was clean when it obviously wasn’t. I went at it with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers and, after several minutes of digging, had a little pile of lint and a clean Lightning port.

Tweezers and lint

Lightning port after cleaning

The Lightning port is so narrow that even these tweezers couldn’t reach in and pluck out the lint. I had to use one side of the tweezers as a pick to poke at the lint and draw it out. And it took several minutes to clean because even the sharp pointy ends of the tweezers had trouble digging in and getting under the lint.

The two lessons here are don’t assume you’ve done something right without checking and don’t wait over 2½ years before cleaning out your Lightning port.

  1. I keep my phone on Mute, so there’s no sound when contact is lost. The phone does still vibrate, but I don’t always notice that because the phone isn’t in my hands.