Fixing A Faulty Smartphone Button

Two hands holding a smartphone while tapping on its screen

Smartphones, unless specifically designed to be tougher than the rest, are notoriously fragile. A drop from a couple of feet onto concrete or tiles, and you can say goodbye to the screen. Drop it in water, and you might have a chance at getting it back. Assuming you have the patience to dry it out the right way.

But one subject which doesn’t get anywhere near enough mentions is that of button faults. More and more models are now moving towards touch-sensitive home buttons, even the iPhone. The problem with this is that, should it stop working, you can’t fix it yourself. However the on/off switch and volume button may well be serviceable. If your phone is in warranty, take it back to the store of course. But, if not, you have nothing to lose in trying to fix it yourself.

First Things First

At this point, we’ll assume that the button itself is loose or displaced in some way, and there are no issues with the mechanism itself. For some of the solutions here, based on the problem, you may not need to open the case at all.

Opening smartphone sharp objectWhen digging inside most smartphones over the past few years, you will come across screws or other things that aren’t standard. To counter this problem even before you stumble across it, have the right tools handy. There are tons of PC and/or smartphone toolkits available on eBay and elsewhere which will have all you need. The main things will be the tools needed to separate the front and back of the case, and unusual screw head tools. Have these, and you’re halfway there.

Different makes/models will have different ways of getting the case apart, but you’re going to need to do this regardless of which phone you have and which button is loose or missing. YouTube will be an excellent ally in finding instructions for your particular phone, no matter how obscure it may be.

Making Sure It’s The Button

There are lots of things that can go wrong with a smartphone which can stop it turning on or behaving as you’d expect. If your phone just won’t turn on, it might be the power button, or it might be the battery. Anything else probably means a home repair is unlikely.

If you want to check for a duff battery, open the case according to your particular model and remove the battery altogether. Plug the phone into a charger and wait. If, after a few minutes, your phone can be powered up then it’s likely to be the battery and problem (almost) solved. If not, then taking a look at the on/off switch is your only option.

The volume button is even easier to diagnose. If the volume button just doesn’t do anything, or if you can increase but decrease the volume, then it’s almost certainly either the button or a loose micro switch underneath.  Fortunately, both are also fixable.

Non-Hardware Solutions for the Power Switch

If you have a fault with your on/off switch and have access to a charger or USB cable, just plug it in and it will wake the phone up. Another option is to have someone call your phone. Of course, these options won’t always be possible depending on where you are. In such cases, there may well be an app available that can help.

In the Google Play store, there are lots of apps you can try. Some will re-map the power switch to the volume rocker, others will use the proximity sensor. Just bear in mind that these are not permanent fixes. Most don’t allow you to reboot the device, for example. If you’ve ever had an app which hasn’t closed properly, you’ll know how quickly it will kill your battery, and a reboot is the only option. For all that, apps to “fix” the power button can get you out of an immediate hole, so are worth considering.

The Apple App Store also has apps to do the same thing, but far fewer of them, and with much less functionality. Apple, probably not entirely unreasonably, don;t like buttons being re-mapped. Because of this, they actively discourage the practice.

If it is the Hardware

Under all the buttons on your phone are micro switches. These simply send a signal to the phone to power on/off or whatever. Once you have your case open, the power switch mechanism is usually pretty easy to locate. Sometimes it may be concealed behind something else, but that should be easy to remove with the right tools.

Check the button to see if it has just worked loose. If so, try re-seating it correctly. Assuming it is in place, gently remove it and look for a small switch underneath which will probably give a soft click when pressed. If you are able to do all this without removing the battery, try pressing the switch to see if the phone will turn on. Take care not to touch any internal components to avoid damage when the power comes on.

If it does, then it should be just a case of putting the power switch back properly. If not, unless you can see an obvious and fixable issue, you’re out of luck and you’ll need expert help.

Replacing a home button on a smartphoneAll you really need is a keen eye and a steady hand to do any of the above. There are so few moving parts in a smartphone, that simply re-aligning one of the very few, like a switch, is fairly straightforward.

The Volume Button

The principle is actually very similar to the power switch. Beneath the up/down rocker will be two micro switches. Again, these are activated every time the volume rocker is pressed. If neither the volume up nor down work, then it may just be that the switch is misaligned. If one works and one doesn’t, it is more likely to be a hardware problem that is beyond a simple home fix.

Before you start taking things apart, try a Q-Tip and isopropyl alcohol. Make sure the Q-Tip is wet but not dripping, and turn your phone so the buttons are the lowest point. This will stop excess alcohol leaking further down into your phone. Work the Q-Tip as far into/under the rocker switch as you can. Intermittently press each end of the button a few times to loosen any dirt or grime. Do this a few times and see what happens. Hands and pockets are very greasy places. This brease can get into the switch and it attracts dirt like a magnet. The dirt then stops the button switch operating properly.

Finally, use a can of compressed air with the supplied straw to blow away any loosened dirt. Don’t aim the air directly into the button, as the pressure may damage internal components. Aim at an angle as though you were using  a hose to clear leaves out of a gutter. It may only take one go to fix the button if dirt is the reason it wouldn’t work. If not, do it a couple of times and see if it helps.

If there is still no joy, it will mean taking the case apart and checking for damage or other reasons for the button not working properly.

Other Things To Consider

These methods are out-of-warranty, who-dares-wins things. If you can’t immediately see a simple problem with any button, then the worst you can do is break your phone entirely.

Despite that, a little bravery and a willingness to accept the risks can get a previously broken smartphone working again. We can’t accept responsibility if you brick or trash your phone, naturally, but feel free to impress us by telling you if you did manage to fix things.

Rachel C.
Rachel C.
Rachel is the researcher and blog writer for the Mr Aberthon website. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York and eventually made her way to Connecticut in order to become a part of the Mr Aberthon Team. She is passionate about technology and electronics, and nothing gives her more pleasure than discovering insights into the latest gadgets to hit the electronics market.