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How To Clean Earbuds?

Last updated: 2 years ago
5 min read

Just like you regularly clean your ears, earbuds require the same treatment. Dirt can alter sound quality and cause ear infections. Here’s how to clean your earbuds to make them like new.

Brushing earbuds with a toothbrush.

Want to learn how to clean headphones with earpads instead?

CONTENTS (show more)

    Why Clean Your Earbuds?

    • Earbuds pick up body oils, sweat, and earwax
    • Dirt gets stuck on your earbuds
    • Uncleaned gunk is a perfect place for bacteria

    Your body is never perfectly clean. It produces oils to protect our skin from getting dry, sweat to keep us cool, and earwax to prevent debris from hurting the eardrum.

    All of that transfers to your earbuds, making them dirty and unhygienic.

    You probably leave your earbuds outside a carrying case. As a result, the gunk they get in contact with sticks to earbuds.

    Not to mention, the inside of a case will get dirty over time too.

    What Happens to Your Earbuds if You Don’t Clean Them?

    Earbuds are especially susceptible to dirt buildup. They act as a cotton swab, collecting excess earwax that later creates a film over the nozzle.

    The worst thing is that earwax and the warmth of your ears is an ideal place for bacteria to grow.

    In most cases, bacteria accumulate on your earbuds when you’re not using them. Therefore, it’s important where you store them.

    In effect, you transfer the germs into your ears every time you give them a listen.

    Studies suggest in-ear headphones can house over 110.000 colony-forming units of bacteria, 330 times more than on the kitchen counter.

    Bacteria grows on your earbuds and you don’t see it

    In other words, most earbuds can be as nasty as some of the dirtiest places in your home. So if you don’t wear the same clothes for a month, why aren’t you regularly cleaning your earbuds?

    In some cases, earbuds come with replaceable speaker meshes inside a packaging, making the cleaning process much quicker.

    Does Ear Hygiene Affect Your Earbuds?

    Bad fit

    Excess earwax and sweat makes silicone tips slippery. Consequently, earbuds lose grip and can fall out of your ears.

    Altered sound

    If the nozzle is obstructed by a film of earwax, your earbuds will sound noticeably quieter.

    Higher frequencies will lose some power, whereas the bass might get bloated.

    Unpleasant looks

    As mentioned, excess earwax easily transfers over to your earbuds, where it hardens.

    The less you clean your ears, the quicker your earbuds get dirty.

    Sportspeople should be even more cautious about their ear hygiene when using earbuds.

    Sweat makes your buds sticky, attracting dirt over time.

    Dirty in ear headphones
    Earbuds get nasty after years of use. You can see how earwax collects on the nozzle.

    Is Sound Affected by Dirty Earbuds?

    Most certainly. If differently shaped earbud tips alter the sound, imagine what difference a thick layer of earwax makes.

    Earbuds start sounding noticeably quieter and lack detail. Consequently, you will want to crank up the volume.

    If you have these problems, pop off the ear tip and examine the nozzle. Especially the mesh that covers the driver. If it’s covered in yellow residue, it’s time to do some clean-up.

    How Do You Remove Ear Wax from Earbuds?

    Supplies for cleaning earbuds

    With these steps, you can clean all kinds of earbuds, even Apple AirPods. You only have to be a bit extra careful with the ones that aren’t waterproof.

    Before you learn how to clean earbuds, prepare everything you need for cleaning:

    Total Time: 15 minutes

    1. Clean ear tips

      Cleaning ear tips

      Take off the ear tips and clean them separately. Wash them with warm, fresh water and dish soap. Alternatively, you can also rub them with an alcohol wipe (or hydrogen peroxide), which will kill any bacteria. Eardrops of hydrogen peroxide are considered the best way to clean earwax at home (source a 2004 study).

      Silicone ear tips are less sensitive to the ear gunk, but memory-foam ear tips fit best when clean.

    2. Let ear tips dry

      Let ear tips dry

      Once the ear tips are clean, let them air dry completely before attaching them back to the earbuds. The soapy water can go inside the body and damage the drivers.

    3. Clean earbud exterior

      Q-tip the nozzle

      Use a cotton swab with isopropyl alcohol.

      To remove ear wax from the body, first, apply rubbing alcohol with a cotton swab. Gently rub over dry earwax. It will wet up the wax, making it easier to pick up.

    4. Use a toothpick

      Picking dirt with toothpick

      Once the wax becomes loose, grab a toothpick and carefully scrape it away. Try to keep your hand steady and don’t apply any pressure, especially on the mesh protecting the driver.

    5. Brush with a toothbrush

      Cleaning with toothbrush

      Use the next step only on earbuds with metal mesh.

      When all large wax pieces are gone, use a soft toothbrush to loosen up more resisting gunk before wiping with a soft cloth.

      Toothbrush nylon bristles will get through the small gaps at the tip of the body and do a much better job than mere cloth.

      After that, use the lint-free cloth to remove the remaining grime.

      Note that this is a quick solution for mildly dirty buds. If the mesh is still clogged with wax, it’s better to ask a hearing aid shop if they offer deep cleaning. You can also buy a tiny vacuum cleaner yourself, but they’re expensive.

    Estimated Cost: 10 USD


    • Isopropyl alcohol (at least 70% solution, over 90% is better since it evaporates quicker)
    • or hydrogen peroxide (3% solution, it can discolor fabrics)
    • Soap and water


    • Cotton swabs (Q-tips)
    • Toothpick
    • Toothbrush (clean toothbrushes for kids work best (only for earbuds with metal speaker mesh))

    Materials: Damp towel

    What If You Don’t Have Visibly Dirty Earbuds?

    If there’s no dry dirt or earwax buildup, you don’t have to follow the steps above. 

    However, since it’s best to prevent than cure, you still have to disinfect your earbuds and wipe them clean.

    You need:

    1. Rubbing alcohol
    2. Cotton swabs
    3. Damp towel

    Use a slightly dampen towel every time you end a listening session to wipe off any visible sweat or wax stains.

    Every couple of weeks (depending on need), dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and gently clean:

    • around the nozzle
    • around seams where the housing is glued together
    Disinfect earbuds

    If you’re too scared of using liquid alcohol, alcohol wipes (like the ones for cleaning smartphone screens) should be enough.

    Also, if you use foam tips, brush them with alcohol. They will soak it in, and kill all the germs in the foam. Let them dry before use.

    How Do You Clean a Charging Case?

    Charging cases also get quite dirty over time, but thankfully they’re easier to clean.

    You need:

    • Alcohol (70% or more)
    • Dry cloth (microfiber cloth works best)
    • Q-tips
    • Toothbrush (optional)
    1. First, wipe the inside of the case with a dry cloth. Try to reach all places and scrape as much gunk as possible. Use dry cotton swab for hard-to-reach areas.
    Cleaning case with cloth
    1. You can also use a toothbrush to gently brush away the gunk.
    Cleaning case with brush
    1. Suppose the case is extra dirty, slightly wet a cotton swab with alcohol and rub on remaining dry dirt. Wait a bit for the gunk to loosen up.
    Cleaning charging case
    1. Then grab a fresh cotton swab and scrape the gunk off. That should be enough to make your charging case looking brand new.

    The top true wireless earbuds with charging cases:

    Can You Damage Earbuds by Cleaning?

    Electronics don’t mix well with liquids. Follow these simple steps and prevent damaging your earbuds.

    • Use only as much cleaning solution as needed, and not a few drops more.
    • If you have true wireless earbuds, make sure to turn them off before cleaning.
    • Use high percentage alcohol for cleaning residue on electronic components since it evaporates quicker.
    Don't clean with metal bristles
    Don’t clean your earbuds with metal bristles or other sharp objects that could potentially ruin the earbud’s surface.
    • Of course, the secret is in moderation, so don’t drench it in alcohol since you can damage internal drivers, especially if your earbuds aren’t waterproof.
    • Even if your wireless earbuds are water resistant, you have to completely dry them first before placing them back into a charging case.

    What’s The Easiest Way to Keep Your Earphones Clean?

    Clean your ears regularly. You are the source of all the filth. If you keep your ear canal clean, less dirt will get on the earbuds.

    If you use your earbuds outdoors and get them dirty, clean them after use. Sports earbuds with an IPX7 rating are fully waterproof, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect them.

    Impurities are “food” for bacteria, which develop a bad smell and make your earbuds disgusting.

    How To Store Earbuds to Keep Them Clean?

    Use a carrying case. Small particles like dust are always present and can build up into a dirty problem over time.

    A protective case offers defense against daily exposure and accidents. Thankfully, most true wireless earbuds come with one.

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