How to find lost AirPods and fix pairing issues

Do you know what to do when your AirPods are lost or just won't connect to your device and you need to jump online for a meeting? Learn how to find lost AirPods and re-pair misbehaving AirPods.

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Image: CNET

AirPods are quickly becoming the go-to listening device for Apple users everywhere. With iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur, your AirPods can automatically switch connected devices when you start playing audio or video on a device other than the one they're connected to. Despite all of the technological advances that are contained in the AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max, these devices can still misbehave and leave you wondering how to get them re-paired to your devices.

Let's take a look at some troubleshooting steps that you can use to fix misbehaving AirPods, find the AirPods when you misplace them, or completely reset them when things just aren't working right. 

SEE: 10 MacOS tune-up tricks for your Mac (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

How to fix AirPods getting "stolen" by other devices

With the latest updates to iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur, AirPods can automatically pair themselves to any of your devices on iCloud that begin playing audio. This feature is great for most, but if you're encountering issues with this where your AirPods are being "stolen" by a device that you don't wish to automatically connect to AirPods, then there is a fix.

To fix this situation, do the following on the device you no longer wish to automatically pair with:

  1. Open the Settings app and navigate to Bluetooth.
  2. Tap the "i" icon next to the AirPods.
  3. Tap Connect To This [Device] and select When Last Connected (Figure A).

Figure A

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You can disable automatic pairing of AirPods on a per-device basis by changing this setting.

When you select this, AirPods will not automatically connect to this device and will only ever connect automatically to this device when it was the last connected device to the AirPods, which was the former behavior of AirPods prior to iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur.

If this still isn't working properly and you cannot get the AirPods to pair to any devices, then follow the steps in the next section to re-pair your AirPods.

How to fix only one AirPod pairing to your device

If only the left or right AirPod will connect to your iOS or macOS device, then you can easily fix this by performing these steps: 

  1. On your iOS device, go to Settings | Bluetooth. 
  2. Tap the "i" icon next to the AirPods.
  3. Scroll down to Forget This Device and tap this option.
  4. Place both AirPods into the charging case, close the lid, wait 30 seconds, and then open it.
  5. Press and hold the Setup button on the back of your AirPods Pro or AirPods case and wait until you see the status light on the case begin flashing white (Figure B).

Figure B

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The Setup button is the small button on the back of the AirPods and AirPods Pro that can be pressed to reset the AirPods.

Image: Apple

7. Reconnect your AirPods by placing them close to your device and opening the lid (Figure C).

Figure C

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Re-pairing your AirPods will set them up as new and ensure that no software glitches are the cause of the misbehavior.

Image: Apple

After you perform these steps, test both of the AirPods to see if they're working. If they're still not working, then there could be debris on the bottom of the AirPods contacts keeping the AirPods from charging or detecting they're in the charging case. Follow Apple's guide to cleaning AirPods, place the cleaned AirPods into their charging case, and ensure the case is plugged into a lightning cable. After giving the AirPods an opportunity to charge, give them another try. If it's still not working, then it may be time to take the AirPods in for service with Apple.

What to do when you've misplaced your AirPods

When you set up your AirPods, they are automatically added to the Find My app and you can locate them by making the AirPods play an audible sound. To do this:

  1. Open the Find My app on your Mac or iOS device.
  2. Select the Devices tab.
  3. Tap on your missing AirPods to see the location or play a sound.
  4. Tapping on Play Sound will initiate the AirPods playing a sound that increasingly gets louder (Figure D).

Figure D 

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When you've found the AirPods, tap Stop to end the audio playing.

If you only need to find one of the AirPods, you can silence the audio playing on just one AirPod by tapping the L or R button, or tap Stop once you've found all the AirPods and the Find My app will stop playing audio entirely. If your AirPods are not in range, or their batteries are dead, then this feature will not work, however you can still see the last known location of the AirPods.

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