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Apple Watch strap stuck? Here's how to remove it

Apple engineers its products to really tight tolerances. Sometimes a little too tight!
Apple Watch Series 8
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

About a year after Apple released the first Apple Watch, I started getting messages from owners who were having problems removing the strap (or bands, as Apple calls them) from their watch.

While I was able to help those people release the strap without damaging the watch, I've never come across it myself.

Well, today I have one of my own.

I've just swapped to the Apple Watch Ultra and was just giving my old Apple Watch Series 7 a clean-up before letting it move on when I noticed that one end of the strap was stuck in place. 

And it was stuck fast.

This band has been on the watch for a year, and I don't think I've removed it in that time.

Also: I made a huge Apple Watch mistake

One end of this Apple Watch band is stuck fast!

One end of this Apple Watch band is stuck fast!

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

What better time to outline how I unstuck a stuck Apple Watch band.

One thing about Apple is that the company engineers things to a really tight tolerance, and sometimes that can work against customers. Little gaps and crevices fill in with dirt and grease and other random schmoo.

In order to remove a stuck band safety, it's useful to know how it's held in place.

Review: I put the Apple Watch Ultra through a Tough Mudder: Here's how it held up

To release a band, you press this pill-shaped button on the bottom of the Apple Watch. Note I'm pointing at it here with a metal tool. I wouldn't use this to press the button in case it scratched the case.

Band release button

Band release button

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

This presses down a little dimple on the strap, allowing it to slide out.

Two things can prevent this from happening:

  • The button can get stuck
  • The dimple on the band can get stuck

Here I am pressing the band release button with a plastic pry tool from my iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit. If you don't have one of those, then you can use a toothpick or something similar.

Sometimes pressing methodically back and forth along the button will free it.

But not this time.

Pressing the button with a plastic pry tool

Pressing the button with a plastic pry tool

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Time to unleash my secret weapon when it comes to repair -- isopropyl alcohol (which I call IPA for short). I use this for all sorts of things, from cleaning circuit boards to freeing Apple Watch bands. You could use warm water, but in my experience IPA is a lot more effective.

Also: This stuff is better than superglue for repairing broken plastic   

Some people worry that it might damage things, but I've been using IPA for 30 years without any problems. Use it sparingly, don't soak the watch in it, and you'll be fine (but if you are worried, use warm water).

Note: Don't use lubricants like WD-40 as that will stink up your band! IPA evaporates without leaving a residue.

My secret weapon - isopropyl alcohol

My secret weapon - isopropyl alcohol

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Oh, and the other secret weapon is Q-Tips (called cotton buds here). Yes, they do have uses beyond sticking them in your ears (don't stick them in your ears!).

All hail the mighty Q-Tip!

All hail the mighty Q-Tip!

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

I pour a little IPA into the cap of the bottle, dip the Q-Tip in, and apply a little around the band release button.

Applying IPA to the band release button

Applying IPA to the band release button

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

I also apply a little to the edge of the band. IPA creeps into gaps really well and will free up stuck parts.

Applying a little IPA to the edge of the band

Applying a little IPA to the edge of the band

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Next up, press the button and work the band.

Slowly working the band

Slowly working the band

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

It might be necessary to apply IPA a few times.

And finally, success!

Success!

Success!

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

This end of the strap was really stuck in place, but by taking my time I was able to remove it without damaging anything. I then used a little IPA on a Q-Tip to clean the end of the band and the slot it fitted into, and everything was working perfectly.

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