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Here's an easy fix for Google Pixel 2 fingerprint sensor issues

The Google Pixel 2's fingerprint sensor is in a perfect place to effortlessly use. But what happens when you put your finger there and it just ... doesn't work? After a few attempts of the sensor not recognizing your fingerprint, the software actually fails out and requires you to enter your passcode to get past the lock screen or password to enter a secure app. That's not fun — particularly when it happens regularly.

It's easy to think that the fingerprint sensor itself just isn't good or there's a problem with the software. It's actually likely something much simpler: the sensor is just dirty.

I was having a seriously frustrating time using my Pixel 2 XL. Unlike my smaller Pixel 2, the fingerprint sensor just stopped working regularly. I was consistently tripping the "too many attempts" counter trying to get the fingerprint sensor to work, and even removing and re-adding my fingerprints wasn't fixing it. I thought the sensor was failing ... until I looked closely at it and saw just how much grime had built up on the sensor over the weeks I've had it. Ew. But this is totally normal — we wash our hands often because they get dirty, but how often are we washing our phones?

With just a few swipes of a damp cloth, you'll see the film of grime start to disappear.

If you're facing the same issue, it's time to clean up your fingerprint sensor. But first, you might as well start fresh in the software as well by removing your previously learned fingerprints. Go into Settings, Security & location and Pixel Imprint and then confirm your screen lock. Tap the little trash can icon next to all enrolled fingerprints to delete them — now it's time to clean the sensor.

Cleaning your fingerprint sensor is simple. You don't need a fancy cloth or special cleaning solutions. For most situations of regular "yeah you get some stuff stuck on there" you can just use a damp non-abrasive cloth or even a paper towel. Remove your case, if you have one, and get the towel damp (not dripping wet). Give the sensor a good little scrub — there's a good chance you'll start to see the film of grime come off right away. Without placing much pressure on it, continue to rub in a circular motion for about 15 seconds to make sure it's all cleaned up.

Set the phone aside and let the sensor dry out. Provided you didn't soak your cloth to start, it shouldn't take long. Once it's dry, open up those Security & location settings again and enroll your fingerprints. It's very likely that this simple process of cleaning the sensor has just fixed your recognition woes. It completely alleviated my fingerprint sensor problems, and I think it will for you too.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

27 Comments
  • #1 culprit....Cheeto fingers. I would think that keeping the surface of something that reads information is common sense for anyone who owns advanced tech. Most gloves don't work on on touch screens.
    Pictures may be blurry if the lens is dirty or obstructed.
    DVDs/Blu Rays may not play if their surface is dirty or scratched.
  • That didn't work for me at all. I was having problems starting last week. I had already cleaned it and re-enrolled my fingerprints. The solution was upgrading to 8.1. It immediately became reliable again, for me.
  • I clean my entire phone at least once a month.. Never once had an issue with fp scanner. Only if I move too quickly.. OG Pixel
  • Good on you for keeping your phone clean!
  • Moisture will do it too. I've had failed attempts when there is actually moisture on the sensor, or wet fingers. Just a little will cause it to fail.
  • Smooth out the sensor very carefully with a very fine sand paper. Never had a problem afterward. The coating messes up the sensor.
  • Definitely not something I would recommend doing.
  • I was swinging in about 20% success rate. After 8.1 update my Pixel Xl is around 95%. I was going to RMA if the update didn't work. Way better now!
  • Luckily I haven't had too many problems with my Pixel 2 XL. I've only noticed a problem with the notification swipe down gesture, but I blame the Pixel Fabric Case for that - it doesn't accommodate as well as the carpet case did on the Nexus 6P.
  • Never had this issue.
  • I had this problem with my P2 at initial setup. Not a great OOBE. The "reader is dirty" msg made me look at the reader screen that Google cleverly textured to resemble the back of the P2. I thought it was a mistake - some doofus sprayed texture-coat on my fingerprint reader! Nah, they designed it that way, to scrape dirt off your fingertips onto the reader. Several cleanings with a damp cloth failed to solve the problem, so I moved on to setting up my BT headset. OOPS, that would never summon the Google Assistant. Several call, resets, useless calls to Plantronics and Google Tech Support's final advice was, "The device is working as intended...just not compatible with your headset." That was total BS. I returned mine during the 15-day return window because they refused to extend it until the BT connectivity was resolved. Very sad for this happy owner of 3 previous HTC flagships.
  • I have a brand-new pixel 2 with a perfectly clean fingerprint sensor. My hand is also perfectly clean. The sensor refuses to recognise my fingerprint, repeating that the fingerprint sensor is dirty. As I have just unwrapped the phone from the package a few moments earlier I simply don't believe this. Are there problems with fairly indistinct fingerprints? As I am reasonably elderly my fingerprints are crisscrossed with faint fault lines which are more obvious than the fingerprints themselves. One of the reasons I bought the pixel 2 was because of the fingerprint sensor. If it doesn't work I will be very disappointed.
  • Right out of the box, in the Verizon store, my P2 wouldn't register my fingerprint, on any finger. I am also "reasonably" elderly, and have crosshatched fingerprints. (The phone gives no reason, and acts like nothing is happening at all when I touch the sensor.) It would recognize the younger salesman's fingerprints, much to his frustration, but not mine! I've tried cleaning me, the phone, lotion, etc. At this point, I don't even WANT it to recognize me, as I would probably never get back into the phone again! I'm happy enough with the other security methods, & it's not a deal breaker for me as I didn't have it on my former phone. I'm very happy with the P2 otherwise.
  • I haven't had any issues with the fingerprint reader on the Pixel 2 but the fingerprint reader on the original Pixel would error out at least once a day.
  • Well I can honestly say the FPS on my Note 8 has never built up a layer of grime....because it's so hard to reach it barely gets touched.
  • Ha!
  • Remember to register fingerprints with a case on if you use a case. Also, 98 percent success with fingerprints on pixel 2 and way faster than Note 8.
  • The FPS on the Note is slow. It's not slow as in super slow but in the realm of super fast sensors, it does feel slower
  • My OnePlus 3 is covered in muck, blood n all sorts but it still works a treat.
  • Live in Minnesota, and if the phone gets really cold, like it has been for weeks now, the fingerprint sensor also will not register. Pixel 2 and cold weather do not work well together. Fair weather phone, lol
  • I see this story reposted here from time to time. I'm sure it has some validity, just nothing that I've ever encountered as a problem. Who knows, maybe it's because I clean my phone.
  • Wash. Your. Hands. Is this rocket science?
    Don't eat garlic parm wings and then use your phone without washing up.
    Don't pick up your phone while preparing said wings.
    I could probably go on with the dirty hands thing but i won't.
    I only have this issue with my scanner when my hands and phone are atrociously dirty.
  • I had this problem when I updated my original Pixel XL to the January 2018 security patch. I cleaned the fingerprint scanner many times, deleted my fingerprints, restarted the phone a bunch of times and booted into safe mode and nothing helped. I eventually cleared out the data and cache for some apps and I got it to work again but I don't remember which apps I cleared the data and cache from. (I believe it was most Google apps I cleared) I really, really didn't want to factory reset my phone.
  • I had this issue right out of the box, and it took a few days for me to fix. I tried the usual cache resets, factory reset, cleaning my hands every few minutes etc. I was still getting constant 'cannot process your fingerprint', 'finger moved too quickly', 'too many attempts, try again later'. Infuriating. Rubbing the sensor with a baby wipe for about 5 minutes before registering the fingerprints is what eventually did it, and i've had a 99% success rate with the sensor since. I can only think that the coating on the sensor was causing the issues, as it is much smoother now and working properly. I've gone from wanting to throw the phone against a wall to loving this thing.
  • I haven't had any issues with the finger print reader on my 2 XL under normal usage. The only time it doesn't respond is when the sensor is wet. I have yet to "dirty" it.
  • Seems like a software issue. Sensor should be very dirty before it stops working.
    Wet could be an issue.
  • Pixel Sensor has never failed me