How to Untangle Headphones Without Losing Your Temper: An Easy 3-Step Guide

When you ask yourself how to untangle headphones, it feels like you are asking a rhetorical question. I know because I asked myself the same thing many times. After reading this interesting article on a particularly long flight, I was compelled to dig into the matter further.

Tangled headphones are basically an everyday problem. To me, it usually happens when there’s an important call I should answer, or when I need to juggle a million things with my two clumsy hands.

But is there a way to untangle those cords quickly? The answer to this question is, quite plainly, yes. And it is not overly complicated either! However, I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t require any skill at all.

Don’t worry, though — it’s not rocket science, although it will test your patience.



How to Keep the Earbuds from Tangling

The research into the reasons why cords get tangled in the first place led me to a paper by two scientists from the University of San Diego. They thoroughly examined the behavior of strings and came up with quite interesting conclusions.

According to their study, the strings knot themselves following the laws of physics. There are three factors that cause the knotting:

  1. Stiffness
  2. Length
  3. Agitation

While elaborating on the theory of knots, they offered three invaluable pieces of advice.

First, a softer cable is more likely to tangle because it moves around easily.

Second, a greater cable length provides the opportunity for more intricate tangling. In other words, there is simply more material that can intertwine.

Third, the agitation space increases the probability of tangling. So, large headphone boxes and containers are particularly convenient for twisting.

Honestly, I was relieved to find out that it’s not my untidiness that makes my earphones tangle. Inspired by an article I came across while doing my research, I decided to find ways to prevent this annoying thing from happening all the time.

But, more importantly, I wanted to answer the question of how to deal with the situation once it happens. And believe me — it will happen.

Headphones with a long wire connected to smartphone

How to Deal with Tangled Cords

With the number of gadgets we carry around every day (phones, laptops, tablets, etc.), tangled earphones are a common occurrence, though we all promise we’ll take better care of them. I’m the first to claim that I will secure my headphones more carefully. But in the end, I’m untying knots more often than I’d like to admit.

Nonetheless, there is a technique that can help you deal with this issue effectively. A word of warning, though — patience is essential, as rushing will only make things worse. So I divided the process into three steps that you should follow to a T. Let’s get started!


Step 1: Unplug the Headphones

If you are anything like me, you never unplug the headphone cords while you are on the go. I always wrap them around my phone and stuff them in a pocket or a bag. Well, that gets things even more complicated.

So, before doing anything else, unplug everything and locate the earbuds. Also, make sure to take them off your head because there’s no way of dealing with all the tangles while talking or listening to music.


Step 2: Loosen the Knots

Once you can move the cords freely, start untangling from the bottom up.

Locate the knot closest to the loose end and try pulling the cable through it. You may have to loosen the knot a bit. I recommend using a pen or a similar object if the knot is too tight.

The trick here is to put the pen under the edge of the knot and slowly pull it up. The knot will loosen up a bit, so pulling the cable through shouldn’t be too hard.

When you untie the first one, repeat the process until you disentangle the entire cord. As I said, patience is key. If you start pulling in all directions, you can damage the cable. Unfortunately, the knots will probably still be there.

Take your time and work with the loose end to release each knot. Don’t start in the middle — it will make the cords entwine even more.


Step 3: Find a Flat Surface to Have a Better View

In case you cannot do the first two steps properly, my advice is to lay your earphones on a flat surface. Doing so should make the whole process much easier. You will be able to work your way through the entangled cable without damaging the wires.

Again, start with the loose end and freely work your way up. You can check out this video and see how it all works. And when you finish, don’t forget to store the cable properly in a small container.


How to Stop Headphone Wires from Curling

tangled wire headphones

At the risk of stating the obvious, prevention is the best method. I know; I rolled my eyes as well when I heard that one. But it makes perfect sense.

Since my headphones have, in a way, become a part of me, I’ve decided to start treating them better. I like to think of them as my hair. If I don’t want it to be messy, I must comb it, right?

To prevent tangles from ever occurring again, I realized that I needed two simple items:

  1. Earphone untangler
  2. A small case

Why You Need an Untangler

An untangler is a very small aid that was designed by a genius, or at least someone who dealt with knotted cables one too many times. The untanglers are easy to use and can guarantee that the cords will stay untangled.

Here’s a fun fact, though: most earphones originally come with an untangler. Unfortunately, we somehow choose to ignore it or just lose it, and end up stuffing our headphones into bags and pockets.

Essentially, an untangler serves as a divider and prevents the cables from twisting. I strongly suggest that you give it a go — it’s truly a life-saver.


Why a Case Is Necessary

The case is the other item that has made my life a lot easier. Again, the headphones usually come with it, but I have always ignored it, even though the manufacturer put it there for a reason. If you have been doing the same thing, the good news is that any small container will do as well.

As unlikely as it may sound, I’ve discovered that prescription bottles are an excellent option. Mind you, don’t just push the cords into the case. That won’t do the trick. Instead, use the untangler and then store the earphones.


Alternative Methods

In case you don’t have any of the items listed above, there’s also a wrapping method you can use, and keep the headphone cords in good shape. I use it whenever I forget my trusty untangler and case at home (which still happens relatively often).

Here’s the gist: I take both ends and wrap the earphones (starting from the earbuds) around three fingers. Some people may need to use four fingers — it all depends on how slim they are.

Then, when there are about three inches left, I take off the wrapped part and wrap the remainder around the middle of the headphones. Once there’s no cord left, I tuck in the loose end by pushing it through one of the loops.

Here’s a video that illustrates ways to wrap various types of cables. Please be aware that you still need to store the headphones in a pouch or a small pocket to keep them secure.


What Cords to Go For

To go back to my favorite scientific study, it seems that choosing the right type of cord can decrease the probability of tangling. So, when buying earphones, make sure that the cables are short and stiff.

Longer cables are more likely to twist and twine, so I prefer avoiding the issue altogether and always go for the shorter ones. Of course, most people prefer longer cords. But I’ve realized that the short variant is quite functional as well, except maybe when I’m making video calls or sharing earphones with someone.

Also, stiffer cables do not intertwine too much, so the risk of knots is pretty low. The safest bet is the ones with a metallic coat. Although they can be pricey, I do believe that it’s an investment worth making.


I really hope my advice will come in handy and make your life a little easier. At least in the case of tangled headphones.

Making a step-by-step guide helped me stay calm and efficient in the tricky business of untying knotted cables. And I’m pretty sure following this guide can do wonders for you.

Anyway, if you find this tutorial helpful, please share it. Most of us fight this fight every day, and we could be doing it without too much stress.

John Gurley

John Gurley

John Gurley is the Founder, CEO, and Editor At Muse Mini. He has a passion for music and headphones and loves to cover all things music!