iPads that won't charge, or charge very slowly - like non-charging iPhones - are a sadly common problem for Apple customers. Before long the battery will be empty and you'll be stuck with the world's most expensive chopping board.
This isn't a problem that's unique to Apple products: for various reasons the charging port and cable are almost always a weak point on tablets and smartphones.
Your iPad's Lightning port (or 30-pin port, if you've got an iPad 3 or earlier, or USB-C port if you've got a 2018 Pro) is open to the air and therefore susceptible to dust getting inside and clogging up the connections; the bit just behind the head of the charging cable often frays. And this all assumes that there are no problems with the plug or your power outlet, and that the iPad's battery unit is still performing properly - neither of which are safe assumptions.
In this article we walk you through a range of troubleshooting tips that will help you establish what is stopping your iPad from charging properly, and offer solutions that will fix many of these issues either permanently or temporarily. If all else fails, we explain your consumer rights, and offer some advice about getting Apple to step in and repair malfunctioning device for you.
Let's check the absolute basics first.
Make sure the cable is plugged firmly and fully into the iPad, that the USB end is plugged firmly into the power adapter plug, and that the adapter plug is plugged firmly into the wall outlet. (If you're charging via a Mac rather than through a wall plug, jump to the next step.)
Make sure the power outlet is switched on. Yes, we know - but it's still worth checking.
Charging via a Mac
Charging via a Mac is always slower than charging via a power outlet - it simply can't output the same wattage - and in some cases you'll struggle to see much increase at all.
The iPad may warn you if the Mac isn't able to charge it (in the past we've occasionally seen a message saying 'Not charging' in the status bar at the top of the iPad's screen), but in our experience that often doesn't happen: sometimes the charging icon appears yet the percentage doesn't increase, or does so at a glacial rate.
If you're charging via a MacBook, make sure the MacBook itself is plugged in: depending on the settings you've selected, there may be problems if the laptop is trying to preserve battery power. And whichever Mac you're using, be sure to plug into the Mac itself rather than a USB-connected keyboard or similar.
As in the previous step, make sure the USB end is attached firmly to the Mac. Similarly, make sure the Mac is switched on and awake. Technically, you should be able to charge from a sleeping Mac provided it was awake when you plugged your iDevice in - if it then goes to sleep the charging should continue. But let's play it safe here.
Stop using the iPad!
Are you using your iPad at the same time as charging it? Any charge you gain will be set against the loss incurred through working the processor and screen. Processor-intensive apps are particularly heavy burdens for the iPad to bear; games with high-end graphics quickly blitz a battery.
Charging via a Mac in particular (see previous step) is almost always a dead loss if you have the iPad's screen powered on at the same time - a sad fact we discovered after trying to use an iPad Air 2 as a spare screen at work. Despite being plugged into the main Mac and only having a (continually refreshing) web page open, the iPad was always dead by lunchtime. You're losing charge quicker than you're gaining it.
In other words, try switching the iPad off - at least power off the screen - and see if that helps.
Check the charging port for detritus
Remove the cable from the charging port and take a look at the connector at the bottom of your device. (We'll refer to it as the Lightning port for the remainder of this article, but if you've got an iPad 3 or earlier it'll be the wider 30-pin port, and if you've got an iPad Pro 2018 it'll be a USB-C port; the same principles apply.)
Make sure the port is free of debris, and give it a quick blow. If you're feeling really thorough, use a compressed air blower.
Are you using the right kind of plug adapter?
Apple Watches and iPhones come with 5W chargers, whereas iPads come with 10W or 12W models - but these are intercompatible, so you can charge up your iPhone with an iPad charger and vice versa.
However! Bear in mind that this will affect the charging speed. Older iPhones can't benefit from a 12W charging unit's extra oomph, but the iPhone 6 and later will actually charge significantly faster with that than with the 5W one they came with; and charging your iPad with the lesser 5W unit will result in a far slower charge.
You can have a look on Apple's online store to see what the different units look like, but the wattage is often labelled clearly on the charging adapter (see picture). If not, look for a model number you can Google, and then label the plug so that in future it'll be easy to work out if you're using the adapter that came with your iPhone/iPod/Apple Watch by mistake. Dig out the 12W charger instead.
Waiting, restarting and resetting
Apple advises owners of non-charging iDevices to unplug them, then reconnect to the power source and wait for 30 minutes - something which it can't hurt to try before we go any further.
You may then see an alert when you plug in your device, such as 'This accessory is not supported by this device'. In which case you know the problem is the charging equipment. We'll try swapping out various parts of the charging setup in the next step.
Work out which component isn't working
At this point we appear to be headed into the realms of component failure. But if we're lucky, the part that is misbehaving may be cheap to replace. Fingers crossed.
Set up the iPad, cable and plug as before - keep everything the same - but this time, plug into a different power outlet (or into a different USB port on your Mac). If it starts working, congratulations! Your power outlet (or USB port) is broken. Okay, that's not ideal but at least you know.
If it still won't charge, keep everything the same but this time use a spare charging cable or borrow one from a friend. A new charging cable is relatively expensive at £19/$19 (for iPad Pro 2018 owners, the USB-C version costs the same). There are alternatives, however: you can purchase a third-party MFI certified cable from Amazon or read our roundup of the Best Lightning cables.
Finally, do the same with the plug adapter on the end of the charging cable. A new 12W USB power adapter is also £19/$19.
If your cable or power adapter is at fault, it's possible you may be able to fix it, although in almost every case we would strongly advise paying for a new unit instead - the words "amateur repair" and "mains power" should never appear in the same sentence. But if you wish to consider all your options, have a look at our article How to fix a broken iPhone or iPad charger.
If none of these substitutions work, it's most likely your iPad that's misbehaving. If that's the case, we need to get help from the professionals.
Get Apple to fix your iPad
First of all, be warned that the Apple representative who deals with your issue will ask you to repeat some or all of the steps we have outlined previously. Try not to lose your patience!
Many of us prefer to speak to an Apple employee face to face while discussing tech problems, but it may be inconvenient to get to an Apple Store, or to make an appointment there. Instead you may choose to get in touch with Apple support, but you will most likely be asked to send or take in your iPhone or iPad for a service, and at that point you just have to sit back and wait for Apple's diagnosis.
If you're still in warranty, this should remain financially painless, but out of warranty we have heard of people being charged £200 for a repair of this kind. You may be able to claim for the repair through any insurance you took out specifically to cover the iPad, or even a good quality of home and contents insurance.
If not, consider whether the repair is worth the cost. Check the latest prices for the model of iPad (or other brand of tablet) you would choose as a replacement. Would you have been thinking about an upgrade soon anyway? At £200 for repair you're probably better off buying a replacement.