How to Clear Phone Line Noise

Several things could be causing your phone line noise.

"Can you hear me now?"

This question has become synonymous with the reliability of a certain cell phone provider, but problems hearing people on the other end of the phone aren't limited to cell phones. Static, hissing, echoes and other noises coming from a phone line can cause equally frustrating problems for people chatting on landline phones.


People who still connect to the Internet using a dial-up connection also may feel the effects of phone line noise, which can interfere with their online surfing. Some modems are so sensitive that even the tiny beep caused by call waiting can terminate an Internet session.

As the frequently asked questions section of any telephone or Internet provider's Web site will attest, unwanted sounds on your phone line pose a common problem. Thankfully, clearing phone line noise on your landline isn't hard.

As you might guess, the first step in clearing phone line noise is to pinpoint the culprit. Faulty house wiring, long cables or the phone line itself could be indirectly disrupting your conversations. Other culprits include the following:

  • Weather: Precipitation can leak into phone lines and cause disruptions. Lightning, even at a distance, can damage the connection.
  • Electrical interference: Power lines, radio or television transmitters, transformers and other electronic devices may cause noise on the phone line.
  • Other phone devices: Fax or answering machines, other phones and line splitters -- devices that allow two phones to fit on one phone jack -- can cause phone line noise.
  • DSL services: The high-frequency signals coming from DSL (digital subscriber line) devices sharing the phone line can create problems for other technology connected to the line.

A good rule of thumb is that if the noise only happens occasionally, then weather is to blame. If it's a constant annoyance, then it's probably another offender. Learn what steps you can take to find and stop the annoying noise interrupting your phone conversations on the next page.


Finding and Fixing Phone Line Noise

Bad wiring could be the source of the phone line noise.
Paul Taylor/Image Bank/Getty Images

If you're still desperately reading this article, then your landline problems probably aren't caused by weather. A simple way to determine the source of the noise is to remove each potential suspect one by one until the noise goes away. For instance, disconnect all the other phones to see if that helps. If it doesn't, see if moving the phone line away from other electronics gets rid of the static noise.

Another easy way to find the source of your woes is to listen. The type of sound could indicate your problem. For instance, static sounds tend to be caused by cordless sets, answering machines, poor weather and faulty wiring. Buzzing or high-pitched squeals, on the other hand, often result from the high-frequency signals coming from a DSL modem.


Sometimes the phone itself and its related equipment are the issue. Here are some steps you can take if you suspect your phone.

  • Find out if all of your house phones suffer from line noise. Sometimes inexpensive or older phones can malfunction and create problems.
  • Make sure the phone cord plugged into the jack is straight, in good condition and no more than 12 feet (3.7 meters) long. The farther the data has to travel, the more likely it is to encounter problems along the way.
  • Try plugging the phone in a different phone jack; sometimes electrical surges damage jacks.
  • Check that the cord is at least 2 feet (0.6 meters) away from other power cords, speaker wires, and other electronics, and remove all other devices from the phone line.

Other times, your Internet service may be to blame.

  • If you have a DSL device, make sure you have a good quality DSL line filter on every phone and fax machine, as well as any other device in your home that shares the connection. Sometimes the DSL line filters provided by your Internet service provider aren't effective. You can buy better DSL phone filters for wall phones and other appliances at an electronics store for as little as $5; ask the salesperson for a recommendation.
  • You can also try purchasing a line noise filter or phone noise filter. These small contraptions plug into your phone and can help to alleviate some noises.

Lastly, if you think the source of the noise is a radio transmitter, a filter might help you reduce the interference. [source: ARRL] .

If none of the suggestions in this article succeed in clearing your phone line noise, you can always call your telephone company and ask to have the line tested for noise. Many will do it free of charge, and they may be able to help you get to the bottom of your conversation killer. Be sure to tell the phone company if you use the phone line for just voice, or data and voice. As far as other annoying noises -- like those family members of yours -- you're on your own.

For more information about phone line noise and how to clear it, try some of the links on the next page.


Phone Line Noise FAQ

What causes noise on phone lines?
The main reason for a noisy phone line is electrical interference from transformers, power cables and TV transmitters. Other possible reasons include the weather, faulty wiring and technical issues in the main line operated by your service provider.
How can I test my phone line for noise?
An easy way to test your phone line is to put it on mute. If you hear buzzing, humming or crackling sounds, your phone line is bad (not your actual phone).
How do you fix a noisy phone line?
Try to plug your phone into a different jack to see if the noise goes away or is reduced. If not, tighten the connectors on the cable or change the phone cable all together. If none of the work, contact your service provider to get them to check the connection.
Does a noisy phone line mean my phone has been tapped?
Not always, but noise can indicate the line has been wiretapped. Common signs of a tapped phone line are background sounds of static, beeping, high-pitched humming, buzzing, clicking and very faint background voices during a call.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Anderson, Nate. "Your friends and neighbors still use dial-up." Ars Technica. Feb. 27, 2006.
  • Brandywine Net. "Dealing with line noise." (May 21, 2008)
  • Federal Communications Commission. "Telephone Interference Bulletin CIB-10 August 1995." The National Association for Amateur Radio. (Oct. 2, 2008.)
  • iConnectTo.Net. "What causes Disconnects?" (May 21, 2008)
  • Tennessee State University. "Line Noise Questions." 2006. (May 21, 2008)
  • University of New South Wales. "Information Sheet 2." 2004. (May 21, 2008)