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Cleaning Earbuds: How to Clean AirPods and Other Wireless Earbuds

Ivana Križanović
| Updated on
Cleaning Earbuds: How to Clean AirPods and Other Wireless Earbuds© 2022 Photo by Daniel Romero on Unsplash

Did you know that the average person spends about 961 hours listening to music every year? That’s nearly 18 hours a week. To make things even more interesting, an estimated 20% of those listening hours are spent using headphones or earbuds. 

So if you’re one of the many people using  AirPods or other wireless buds, you need to know how to keep them clean.

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Doing so not only ensures they’ll last longer and sound their best, but it’s also crucial for your safety. Sweat, dust, and other debris often accumulate in earbuds, which can cause unpleasant smells or even become a potential health risk. 

Fortunately, cleaning wireless earbuds is a simple task that doesn’t require special skills.

Keep reading to learn how to do it 👇

What You'll Need

  • Water
  • Dish soap
  • Small bowl
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol or alcohol wipes
  • Cotton swabs
  • A toothpick
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Toothbrush 
  • Earbud cleaning tool (optional)

Step 1 - Remove and clean the earbud tips and wingtips.

To clean the earbuds, remove silicone tips, foam tips, wingtips, or covers. 

In a tiny bowl, combine one part dishwashing liquid with five parts lukewarm water. 

Soak the earbuds' tips in the mixture for at least 30 minutes. 

After soaking, clean them a bit more thoroughly with a cotton swab dipped in the soap mixture. Rinse them well and allow them to air-dry for several hours or even overnight. 

Do not reattach them until they are completely dry.

 

Step 2 - Clean the mesh covers

Wax buildup can affect the sound quality of your AirPods or other earbuds. Cleaning it from the mesh covers regularly ensures that your volume levels won’t suffer and the audio will remain crisp.

If your buds don’t already come with one (some high-end models do), you can purchase an inexpensive cleaning tool for removing earwax.

Using the metal side of the tool (or a toothpick), scoop out the earwax. Do this carefully and gently, making sure not to damage the driver. 

Next, use the tool's brush (or a toothbrush) to clean away any leftover dirt or wax. While doing so, aim the earbud opening down to make sure any small bits of loosened wax don't fall into the earbud itself. 

 

Step 3 - Clean the earbud case

If you have true wireless earbuds (such as AirPods), their case and connector must be cleaned regularly to remain in good working order. If the pins and metal pads inside the case and the earbuds become obstructed with earwax, dust, or dirt, your earbuds will stop charging. 

To clean the case and earbuds, wipe them with a dry cloth. To clean the pins and earbud connectors, use a little bit of isopropyl alcohol on a cotton swab. 

The brush of the tool mentioned above will help clean charging ports that often get clogged up with pocket lint.

 

Step 4 - Disinfect the mesh (or don’t?)

Some people skip this step according to certain manufacturers’ instructions, while others still go ahead with it. Apple and Samsung do not recommend using anything wet or even damp on the earbud mesh. Instead, they recommend using only a dry cotton swab to clean the buds. This will not disinfect, but it will clean the buildup.

If you still decide you want to disinfect the mesh, you can do so by lightly dampening a cotton swab with isopropyl alcohol and using it to - again lightly - wipe the mesh. 

If you don't feel certain that this will not damage your buds, it might be best that you skip this step.

 

Step 5 - Disinfect the earbuds

To disinfect the outside (and cords if not true wireless), dip a microfiber cloth in a bit of isopropyl alcohol and wipe the outer surfaces and cords of the earbuds. Microfiber is lint-free and will not leave fibers on your buds. Alternatively, you can also use a prepackaged alcohol wipe.

 

Step 6 - Allow the earbuds and case to dry

Allow the buds and case to air dry for at least 15 minutes before adding back the tips and storing the buds in their case (or using them). Don't use a fan or hairdryer because they can blow lint or push moisture into the mesh screen.

 

How Often Should You Clean Your Earbuds?

Although earbuds are small, they can accumulate a lot of dirt and grime. So how often should you clean your earbuds? 

This depends on how much you actually use them and how dirty they get. If you regularly use them for exercise or outdoor activities, it’s best to clean them every few weeks. If you use them only occasionally, you can probably skip cleaning them regularly, but still, make sure to do it at least every few months.

 

How to Keep Your Earbuds Clean Longer?

  • Put your AirPods back in their case when you're not using them. Every time you put earbuds into your pocket, backpack, or purse, they will collect lint and dirt.
  • Even if your earbuds are water-resistant, don’t keep them wet for long, and don’t put them back in the case wet. If they become wet, allow them to air-dry away from direct heat.
  • If your earbuds don’t come with a case, don’t just keep them in your pocket or throw them in a bag. Again, this way, they will pick up dirt and lint. Get a microfiber or a sealable plastic bag and place it in that instead.
  • When using the buds for sports, make sure to at least wipe them down after each use to remove sweat and dirt.
  • Don’t leave the charging case open. No need to allow dust to settle in the case or on the buds.



FAQ

Why should you clean your earbuds?

The more you use your buds, the more bacteria and dirt build up on them. If cell phones are among the dirtiest things we own, imagine the bacteria that collects in earbuds. The more dirt and bacteria that build up, the more likely you are to get an ear infection or experience ear pain, so to avoid this, it’s important to clean your earbuds on a regular basis.

 

Do you need a special cleaning kit to clean earbuds?

Earbuds are a little bit harder to clean than headphones because they're smaller and more challenging to get at. 

This doesn't mean that you need a special cleaning kit to clean them, but getting one can definitely make this process easier. 

The cleaning kits are usually cheap, compact, and even convenient to pack so you can clean your earbuds while traveling or commuting. 

 

Should you use compressed air to clean earbuds?

Using compressed air to clean your earbuds may not be the best idea. 

Many people use compressed air to blow dust and debris off of their electronic devices, but this should be avoided when it comes to earbuds. 

Using pressurized air can force dirt and debris further into the earbuds, and even damage the delicate electronics on the inside.

 

Are there any self-cleaning earbuds?

While LG does make some self-cleaning earbuds, they are not truly self-cleaning. They don’t remove dirt and ear wax, but their cases do feature UV light to kill bacteria on the buds. 

 

Can you clean your AirPods with alcohol?

You can use isopropyl alcohol to clean and sanitize your earbuds, but make sure to follow the advice we gave above and not to get the earbud mesh wet. As mentioned before, Apple advises against using anything wet on that part of the buds.

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