What to do when your phone or tablet won't charge

Whitson Gordon
CNBC | Erin Black

You go to plug in your phone, and … you're not getting any power. Maybe it says "Not Charging" in the corner. Maybe it says it's charging, but the battery doesn't seem to be going up at all. Or maybe your phone isn't even recognizing that it's plugged in. Whatever the case, here are a few troubleshooting tips to get your phone juiced back up.

Try another cable or wall adapter

Let's start with the obvious: your cable or wall adapter could be damaged, resulting in a bad connection that leaves your phone deprived of power. If you have another charger lying around, try a different cable, adapter, and even a different wall outlet. If your phone charges fine after swapping those out, you know one of them is probably the culprit, and can start doing some detective work to narrow it down.

In some cases, you may just be using the wrong charger — not all adapters are rated for the same power delivery. (The wall adapter that came with your old e-reader probably won't charge your new iPad Pro, for example.) In that case, you just need to make sure you use the right one for the right device.

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In other cases, you may have a cable or adapter that doesn't work at all, and it's destined for the garbage can (or the e-waste center, if you're feeling environmentally friendly). Cable failures happen from time to time, but they happen a lot more with cheap, no-name products, so try to stick to well-known and respected brands. It's tempting to buy cheap chargers from the checkout line at the drugstore — especially when Apple sells theirs for a hefty $40 a pop — but don't skimp. Cheap chargers are not only unreliable, but can even be a fire hazard in some cases, so go with a trusted company like Anker if you want to save a little money.

Plug it into a wall (not a computer, power strip, or USB hub)

While we're at it, make sure you plug your device directly into a wall outlet. Plugging your device into a computer (or a USB hub meant for computers) may not provide enough juice for your device to charge. Even if your USB hub has a dedicated AC cable plugged into the wall, the ports themselves may not be rated for the level of power delivery your device requires.

This is more common with tablets (which require more power to charge at a decent rate), but it can happen with phones too on certain USB hubs. If you're plugged into a power strip, take the charger out and try plugging it into a wall too, since you never know when a power strip's port might die. The fewer links in the chain between your phone and the wall, the better.

Check the charging port for lint or bent contacts

It sounds silly, but charging problems can often be something as simple as a dirty charging port. When your phone lives in your pocket, it's bound to pick up a little dust and lint, and every time you plug in your cable, you pack that lint in a little tighter. Eventually it may prevent the cable from connecting securely in the charging port. If you have a USB-C device, the "tab" in the center of the port may also be a little bent, causing similar problems.

Thankfully, both issues can be solved with a simple toothpick. Stick it into the port (lightly, lest you risk breaking the tip inside your phone) and try to grab any dust or debris that has accumulated inside. If you have a bent tab, gently bend it back toward the center and try plugging your phone in again. You may be shocked to find that a little toothpick surgery was all you needed to bring back its full charging capabilities.

Stop using the phone while it charges

If your phone says it's charging but the battery indicator barely seems to move, it could be because you're using your phone too much while charging it. You won't likely notice this if you're just browsing Facebook, but if you're playing games, using turn-by-turn navigation, or running some other power-hungry app while plugged in, your phone can discharge as quickly as it charges.

So if you're having problems, try plugging in your phone and letting it sit for a while. If the battery percentage increases normally, it's likely that nothing's wrong with your device — you just need to charge it during low-usage periods. And don't worry about putting it in Airplane Mode or turning it off — that will only shave a few minutes off the charging time. Just try to charge it when you aren't actively using it.

When all else fails: call the professionals

If none of the above options helps you diagnose the problem, you'll need to consider the possibility that your phone is damaged or defective. When that happens, your only course of action — short of opening up your phone yourself — is to take it to the manufacturer. If you have an iPhone or iPad, that means a (relatively) easy trip to the Apple store, but for other phones, you'll likely have to contact the manufacturer's customer support line and send your phone in for repair. Depending on the problem and whether your phone is still under warranty, you may have to pay for the fix — and go without your phone while it gets repaired — but either way, it's bound to be cheaper than buying a new phone.

This article was originally published in The New York Times.

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