Around six months ago, I really started dreading the sense that I would have to buy a new phone soon. The iPhone 7 I’ve had in my pocket and hand for the last three years was beginning to have problems charging, and I could no longer use my Lightning connector headphones. It was really pissing me off.
I have absolutely zero desire to drop $1,000 on a new phone. Even if I wanted to, I hate the large size of the latest iPhones, and still haven’t gotten over Apple rolling everything into a solitary Lightning port—even three years later.
Everything I dislike about my phone is rooted in the Lightning port, so when it started acting up last year, my relationship with the most important device in my life became increasingly toxic. The first real hint that something was up was on a flight back from California to New York.
My laptop had died and there was no free in-flight entertainment, so my plan was to use my Apple Lightning earphones and just relax for the last few hours on the plane. To my horror, Ciara’s “One, Two Step” came blasting out of the phone speakers, startling my row buddies, despite my earphones appearing to be plugged in.
After ten minutes of fidgeting, I gave up and took one of the worst naps I’ve ever had. I haven’t enjoyed that song ever since. It even motivated me to flex on the casuals and buy AirPods.
Then the charging problems began. I would plug the cord in, it would signal that it was charging, and then as soon as I put the phone down, signal that it was unplugged. How irritating.
Over the months, I developed a strategy of either propping my phone up so that its weight kept the connector in contact, or an even more complicated process of charging a third-party battery case first, and then using that to charge my phone. It was needlessly stressful, but it prevented me from dropping a stack to replace an otherwise satisfactory phone.
That brings us to this morning. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. despite an alarm set for 7 a.m. Since I personally believe that going back to sleep in situations like this is detrimental, and the universe had awoken me for some purpose I’ve yet to discover, I rolled over to check my phone—only to find that it hadn’t been charging overnight and had dropped under 20 percent.
Not a great start to the day! But this frustration motivated me to finally figure out what was happening with my Lightning port. I had an extra hour before work to spare, anyway.
For a while, I just sort of assumed the little bearings, or whatever you call them, inside the phone’s port were wearing down after years of use, and just not holding the connector in place. At one point a couple months ago, I even poked at the port with an extended paper clip, suspicious that something could be in there, but for whatever reason, that didn’t work and I accepted that something else must be wrong.
But today, I held the ass of my phone up to the window light and saw a few flecks of color, a clear indication that something was wedged in there. In my questionable early-morning judgment, I grabbed the first hard, pointy object skinny enough to fit in the port I could think of: a fucking nail.
This all came out.
I’m not saying I’m any sort of genius, OK? I couldn’t even troubleshoot lint in a hole for over six months and was this close to just throwing it out for a new phone. This entire experience has been extremely humbling.
But whatever, because it worked! Using the sharp tip, which uncomfortably scraped against the metal housing inside my phone, I slowly dragged out bundle after bundle of lint. There was so much lint. Three years of lint. It was like cleaning a forgotten belly button that had only been dressed in wool sweaters for three years.
I stood by the window, sticking this nail in my phone again and again for about a solid minute, my mouth agape as my false reality of perceived cleanliness crumbled before my eyes.
This is a good time to advise all of you that, if you’re suddenly motivated to Marie Kondo your iPhone Lightning port, just take it to an Apple Care location where a coworker of mine reports they have a special brush specifically designed to clean out Lightning ports.
Even if you don’t want to do that, finding something small and non-metal, like a wooden or plastic toothpick, is probably a much, much smarter thing to do.
After stepping off the emotional roller coaster of shock, then morbid self-reflection of my personal hygiene, and then the strange satisfaction of feeling these super-packed bundles of lint unfurling as I removed them from their very expensive cave, I ran over to my charging cable and enjoyed the first satisfying plug-snap I’ve felt in over a year.
Reflecting on the lint situation, it’s not all that surprising how much was in there. My phone is always in my pocket with the hole exposed—I believe in minimal-to-no casing for the smallest possible phone profile—and when I charge it at night, it’s in my bed—a breeding ground of lint.
This is all to say, next time you are at the mall, or near an Apple Store, and have some time to kill, you should probably run in quickly and have them brush out your Lightning port. Just pray they don’t judge you too harshly.
Never before have I better understood the mood of the existential beach cow in my phone background than I did this morning.