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Why Do Headphones Get Tangled and How To Untangle Them

Why Do Headphones Get Tangled and How To Untangle Them

A few frustrations seem to really bond people in the modern world. Because we do not have to worry about hunting and gathering anymore or trying to create fire, we have to find new things to bond over. That usually involves the modern day’s search for fire: technology. 

These frustrations are varied and vast in terms of harm and silliness, yet we can all bond over them: a stubbed toe, an inability to find your keys, and pulling out a pair of wired headphones on the subway (or wherever you most need them) and finding that you might need an advanced physics degree to untangle the knotted mess on your hands. 

While we cannot help with the first two as much, we can at least alleviate the frustration of the last of these frustrations. In general, people might have switched to wireless headphones to avoid this all.

However, there are drawbacks to the wireless options, so if you are a wired-headphone die-hard, we will cover why the headphones in your jean pocket decide to test your aptitude for puzzles every day. Plus, we will give a few tips on preventing this and how to untangle it quickly.

Why Your Wired Headphones Get Tangled

There are a multitude of explanations for why they get tangled, but we luckily have had a top-notch team of scientists that were tired of this happening. So, they ran a study in which they tried to isolate the biggest reasons for the tangling, so we may better combat this in design or in day-to-day practices.

Here are some of their findings and how understanding this might help us keep them from being tangled:

The Importance of Agitation Time

According to the study, one of the biggest factors in the headphones becoming tangled was the “agitation time.” Basically, the longer the headphones are in your pocket, the more tangled they will be. This seems a bit intuitive, but now science is backing it up!

All that time allows the different strings (or cords) to shift above, around, and through one another. The time of agitation essentially acts as the motor of the operation, allowing the strings to become more tangled. 

You can help prevent this scientific phenomenon by decreasing the continuous agitation time. If you are walking around the office, consider putting the headphones down at your desk while you make your rounds. This will be one of the biggest aids in keeping them from being tangled. 

What Cord Length Has To Do With Tangling

Another one of their finds is that longer cords actually have a positive relationship with tangling that generally slopes upward. This means as you increase the length of the wires for your headphones, the tangling gets exponentially more intense.

Not only because more cords are able to be tangled, but the increased mass in a smaller space means more pressurized contact and friction, generally leading to more tangles.

Now that you know this, perhaps you might want to consider cords that are shorter. There are obvious drawbacks here, but if you can make the shorter cords work, you will be better off in the long run.

Space for Considerations

The researchers found a surprising relationship in their study: space actually has a negative relationship with tangling. This means the smaller amount of room you have for the cords, the less tangled they will get. Keeping your headphones in a smaller space will aid you in fighting tangles in the long run.

Try not to throw the headphones into a large, uncontained space such as the large compartment of a purse or backpack. Instead, try to fit them into small spaces well-wrapped. We will go into some products that will help with consolidation and keeping the cords together, but for now, finding the smallest pocket for your headphones is a good idea.

With this study, you can glean a few practical ways that you can keep your headphones from being tangled beyond help and repair, but there is still the inevitable truth that they are going to get at least a little bit tangled no matter what you do.

With this in mind, here are some tips and tricks to prevent tangling and what to do when the cords get tangled.

More Tips For Prevention

While scientifically-informed tips may be a bit more bullet-proof, there is also the wisdom of old tried-and-true practical advice from experience. That is what this section will sort through. People often say prevention is the best cure, and that is definitely true for tangled cords.

Is Wired the Best For You?

The first thing to consider is whether or not it is worth upgrading to wireless headphones. There are tons of pros and cons to doing so. Ultimately, the pros involve saving space, the near-constant protection of a case, and freeing up your hands and pockets. That being said, sometimes wireless headphones are incompatible with certain devices, and they usually all have to be charged. 

However, these drawbacks can be mitigated by buying a few cheap accessories such as a portable charger and a Bluetooth transmitter. Both of these can help alleviate the drawbacks of the wireless headphones way-of-life. Yes, wireless headphones can prove to be more expensive than their dangling counterparts, but more and more people are finding them totally worth the investment. 

The Cord Burrito

We at Andar feel your tangled cord frustration and exhaustion. That is why we have developed the Cord Burrito! These cord burritos are made of high-quality leather that is built to last while keeping all your cords from tangling. They are affordable and come in a full set of different sizes and colors to match every wardrobe. And best of all? They all are made from Andar’s renowned full-grain leather

They are supple enough to take on anything you can throw at them while looking great. The Burritos work well in reducing the storage space, a key point in avoiding hassle (thanks, science). By keeping your cords tight and rolled in the burrito, you will reduce the amount and intensity of tangles by a significant margin. 

Because headphones are a very common part of your EDC, building out the accessibility and ease of management of your EDC can be accomplished by upgrading to the cord burrito. 

How To Untangle Your Tangled Headphones

While we can try to prevent this from happening, the tangling of headphones is cut from the same cloth as Thanos: it’s inevitable. But you do not need to worry, as there are still some tips for you when this happens.

Most people know how to untie a knot, but there is actually a corner of mathematics and physics that deals with the science of knots. It is under the umbrella of topology (the study of changing geometric shapes) and is generally called “knot theory.”

We can glean a few insights from this study, along with a few step-by-step guides that employ the principles of knot theory to help us streamline our untangling hours. 

Work From Bottom Up

It is much easier to work with a knot from the bottom up. Generally, you can find the plug end of the headphones to use as the base of the operation. Your goal is to get that end through the tangled bit as easily as possible. Follow the cord from the plug to the knot, untying any small tangles along the way.

Knots are generally formed because of one simple loop over. There are small ones that build on this, but they will come undone once the original knot is taken care of. So, work from the plug up and once you find that base knot, try to pull the knot apart enough to slip the plug through the knot. This will sometimes not be possible with just fingers, so gently use a pen to pry one of the knots arms up to be able to slip it through. 

Knot Untangling Is an Art!

Much like solving a Rubix cube, undoing knots is a puzzle. A puzzle that you may not be in the mood for on your 6 AM commute. So, try the preventative measures that we have discussed, such as looking into our Cord Burritos, keeping them out of the pocket as much as possible, and making sure you want wires in the first place.

Past this, try to have a clear plan of attack for untangling the knots. Work from the bottom up, and just like that, the puzzle will be solved, and you can go back to listening to your favorite artists instead of hearing the annoying chatter of coworkers talking about last Wednesday’s happy hour! 



Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string | National Academy of Science in the United States of America  

How to Untangle Headphone Cords While Traveling | USA Today 

The Science of Knots Unraveled | Live Science