It’s no secret that headphones and earbuds can get gross. Skin cells, sebum, ear wax, and facial products cling to the parts that touch your body. Increasingly sticky headphones, in turn, pick up more dirt from the world around you every time you put them down. And despite what the internet says, sucking on your AirPods is not a safe way to clean them. Doing so could damage the driver, protective mesh, and electronics (not to mention that it is just plain nasty). But there are easy ways to properly clean your personal audio devices (for your own well-being and hygiene and for when you lend or borrow a pair).
Unless you sanitize them, your earbuds have probably accumulated a great deal of dirt and bacteria, so the moment you put them in, your earbuds can introduce dirt and bacteria into your ears and increase ear wax buildup significantly. Excessive wax buildup leads to impacted ear wax that can affect your hearing.
Tips to clean your Samsung or Apple earbuds
Regularly wipe down your headphones or earbuds. Ideally, you’d want to wipe down your headphone earpads or earbud tips with a lightly damp cloth at least once a week.
Make sure the headphones are powered off and disconnected from your device. Immediately dry them with a soft cloth. Don’t use alcohol because it can remove color or break down leather or fabric. Soap and water will clean off any nasties just right.
Cleaning tools for cleaning earbuds
Wax buildup can muffle the sound of your earbuds. Get an inexpensive cleaning tool designed for clearing the wax (some high-end in-ear models even come with one).
First, pull the ear tips off the earbuds. Then use the tool’s metal-loop side to scoop out any ear wax present.
Do not jam the loop into the tip while it’s still on the earbud, or you may push the wax into the earbud and damage the driver.
Next, use the small, soft brush end of the tool to clean off anything stuck to the earbuds. Be sure to aim the earbud towards the ground to allow gravity to assist you and to ensure small bits of loosened wax aren’t falling into the earbuds themselves. Wipe the ear tips with a soapy, wet cloth and dry them thoroughly before reattaching them to the earbuds.
Clean the charging case
For true wireless earbuds, like Apple AirPods, stored in a charging case, it’s necessary to also clean the box and the connectors.
Most wireless earbuds charge via small pins and metal pads that can get gunked up with earwax and dust. When this happens, the earbuds won’t charge properly.
To clean the inside of the case, Apple recommends wiping the AirPods case and earbuds with a dry cloth. A cotton swab dampened (not dripping!) with isopropyl alcohol to wipe clean the pins on the inside of the case and the earbud connectors. You can also use this method on the charging ports for your over-ear headphones if they don’t seem to be charging consistently. The brush side of the tool we mentioned above will work wonders for little USB-C and Micro-USB ports, which can get clogged with pocket lint.
Drying your earbuds
Even if your headphones are water and sweat-resistant, don’t let them remain wet for long periods because water can slowly seep into battery compartments or the earbuds themselves and short them out or damage the drivers.
Dry off true wireless earbuds before placing them into their charging case. (Even swim headphones should be allowed to dry before you put them away.) Do not allow moisture into the earcups of over-ear headphones or the nozzles of in-ear headphones.
If you need to take your headphones out mid-run, or can’t wait for them to dry completely before leaving the gym, gently shake out any excess moisture, turn off the power, and store them inside the included case or a little zip-close snack baggie. Do not keep your earbuds in your gym-shorts pocket without a water-resistant case. Both places collect sweat and won’t allow the earbuds to dry. Then when you arrive home, wipe the earbuds, and let them dry as stated above.