Can a Metal Detector Find a Lost Phone?

Can a Metal Detector Find a Lost Phone?
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If you've just lost your phone, it can be a gut-wrenching experience. And if you don't have a backup, you could potentially lose all of your pictures, videos, text messages, and more if you're unable to find it. On top of that, they're expensive to replace—the average cost of a new smartphone in 2021 is between $600 to $1000.

But you can find your lost phone with a metal detector.

Whether it's an iPhone or Android, there's a lot of metal inside them. From logic boards to wiring and batteries, to the housing of the phone itself, there are many types of metal in a phone, making them relatively easy to detect compared to a ring or other lost object.

In this article, we'll show you how to find a lost phone with a metal detector. We'll cover which kind of metal detector you'll need depending on where you've lost your phone. Next, we'll describe which settings to adjust. Last, we discuss search tips to maximize your potential for success.

Common Questions

First, let's answer a couple common questions about metal detectors and phones.

What kinds of metal are in a phone?

Modern iPhones and Android phones are primarily composed of aluminum or stainless steel, depending on the model. Lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries are, as their name suggests, mostly made of lithium. The logic boards, wiring, and components contain trace amounts of gold, tungsten, copper, zinc, and tin.

Will a metal detector damage a phone?

No, a metal detector will not damage a phone. It's a common misconception that metal detectors use magnetic fields to detect metal, but this is not true. They detect metal based on electrical conductivity, not magnetism.

And even if they did use magnets, the solid-state storage used in smartphones and most other electronics are unaffected by magnetic fields. In fact, many phones now use magnets to charge their batteries. A metal detector won't corrupt the information stored on your phone, nor will it adversely affect the battery or screen.

Choosing the Right Detector to Find Your Lost Phone

Depending on where you lost your phone, the specific type of metal detector you need to recover it will vary.

At a minimum, you'll need a metal detector with adjustable sensitivity, and the ability to set custom discrimination patterns. We'll cover both of these settings in the next section.

If you will be searching in the rain; a river, lake, or stream; or in deep snow, you'll need a waterproof metal detector.

If you're searching along a hiking trail or in the mountains, you'll need a metal detector that's lightweight and preferably collapsible, like the Minelab Vanquish 440, so that you can put it in your pack.

And if you're searching in highly mineralized areas like the beach, ocean, or iron-rich soils, you'll need a metal detector with ground balancing features to counteract the false signals that mineralization can produce.

Adjust Your Metal Detector's Settings

Most metal detectors are oriented around searching for coin-sized objects, which also includes rings, bottle caps, small metal toys, and nails. Because a phone is much larger than a coin, we'll need to adjust the detector's settings to compensate for this difference in size.

To find a lost phone, there are three settings we'll need to adjust: Search Mode, Discrimination and Sensitivity.

Set the Search Mode to Custom

First, we'll set the Search Mode to Custom.

  • On a Garrett ACE 300 or 400, use the and Mode buttons to cycle through the five available search modes until you see Custom is outlined with an oval on the left-hand side of the screen.
  • On a Minelab Vanquish 440 or 540, press the button to cycle through the four available search modes until you see Custom on the right-hand side of the screen.

Set the Discrimination Pattern

Next, we'll set the discrimination pattern to detect only the most common metals found in a phone.

Photograph of the Garrett ACE 300 metal detector's control housing

Garrett ACE 300 or 400 

Use the and DISCRIM buttons to move the cursor right and left across the 12 available segments of discrimination. These segments correspond with the legend directly above them, and range from 0 to 99.

To locate a phone with a Garrett ACE 300 or ACE 400, activate segments 45 to 90.

Once you've arrived at a segment you want to ignore, press the ELIM button to eliminate that segment from detection. If you make a mistake or need to change your pattern, you can press the ELIM button again to reactivate that segment.


Photograph of the Minelab Vanquish 540 control housing

Minelab Vanquish 440 or 540 

Use the buttons to move the cursor right and left across the 25 available segments of discrimination. These segments correspond with the legend directly above them, and range from -9 to 40.

To find a phone with a Minelab Vanquish 440 or Vanquish 540, activate segments 10 to 35.

Once you're on a segment you want to ignore, press the   button to remove that segment from detection. You can press the   button again to reactivate that segment.

Set the Sensitivity

Our last setting to adjust is sensitivity. The higher we set the sensitivity, the deeper our metal detector can detect a metal object. It also improves our ability to detect smaller objects.

The downside of setting the sensitivity as high as possible is that, in doing so, we'll primarily be detecting metal that is underground. This includes things like pipes, water valves, buried trash, and any number of other oddities.

Since we're looking for a lost phone, we know that our search target (the object we're searching for) is probably on the surface. We also know that it's pretty big compared to a coin.

Taking these two facts into account, we'll set the sensitivity to be within two segments of the lowest setting. This allows us to ignore any metals that are deeper than surface-level.

If you've lost your phone in deep snow, you'll want to set the sensitivity higher. We'd recommend setting it at the halfway point.

Metal Detecting Search Tips

To detect metal properly, a metal detector needs to be in a constant swinging motion. The way in which you swing the detector back and forth across your search area greatly affects whether you are successful in finding your phone.

Search Coil Orientation

Most importantly, you need to keep your detector's search coil parallel with the ground at all times. This ensures that all of the electromagnetic waves that the detector sends into the ground actually get there, rather than drifting off into the air.

Think of your swinging motion as less like a pendulum, and more like stirring something halfway, then stirring in the opposite direction.

Swing Speed

Another important piece in your recipe of success is swinging the detector at a pace that isn't too fast nor too slow. Instead of aiming for a specific speed (something like 3' [0.91 m] per second), we recommend swinging the detector at a pace that's comfortable for you.

If it feels right, you're at the right speed. If it feels like you're going too fast, you probably are. Swinging it like a baseball bat is not conducive to success.

On the other hand, if you're just holding the detector while walking around, you'll need to put a little more energy into your swings if you want any hope of finding your phone.

Overlapping Swings

Our last tip on the swinging front is to overlap your swings. As you walk across your search area, pay attention to how much distance you're covering. Notice how much unexamined ground is between each swing of your metal detector. It's likely a lot.

Slow down. Take smaller steps. With each consecutive swing, consciously overlap half of your previous. This way, you won't miss any potential hiding places where your phone is waiting for you to find it.


To ensure that you're covering every bit of ground, we recommend using a search technique called Gridding. Gridding consists of dividing your search area into an imaginary grid of squares. By process of elimination, you'll work through your search area one grid section at a time.

The key to making the most of a search grid is to approach each section from multiple directions. For instance, let's say you have a 4x4 grid in your search area. For each individual section of that grid, you'll want to search it from left-to-right and right-to-left. Then rotate 90 degrees, and repeat a left-to-right and right-to-left search.

Why do we do this? It's because the orientation of the phone you're searching for affects its ability to be detected.

If it's somehow landed vertically (rather than face-down or face-up), there is much less surface area for the metal detector to work with, making it more difficult to locate.

By approaching from all possible directions (you could even go diagonally if you want to), you maximize your potential for a successful find.

About the Author

Gary Iverson

Gary Iverson is a staff writer at Metro Metal Detectors covering all things metal and metal-adjacent.

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