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How to Clean Headphones Using Simple Home Items

Last updated: 2 years ago
5 min read

Make your old headphones look like new again. Follow these simple steps.

Cleaning headphones with a toothbrush
Use a soft tootbrush to remove dry gunk.
Table of Contents

    In this “how to clean headphones” guide you’ll learn:

    • How to remove ear wax
    • How to clean ear pads
    • How to clean the headphone jack
    • What home items you can use for best results

    Perfectly new and clean headphones are always a joy to listen to. New headphones, freshly out of the box, are the most enjoyable to put on.

    But headphones get nasty over time, especially if you use them for working out. With greasy stains, leftover hair, and grime buildup, they can develop a bad smell and even look dirty. Nobody wants to wear those.

    Thankfully, you can clean your headphones and make them look and feel like new. You just need a couple of tools and a few minutes of your time.

    The Importance of Cleaning Headphones

    Accumulating dirt on headphones can result in unpleasant smells and visible neglect of your audio gear. Occasionally, cleaning your headphones should be on everybody’s to-do tasks.

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

    Bacteria closeup
    Bacteria is invisible to human eye unless it grows to large numbers.

    They get dirty over time. And while this isn’t a big problem for over-ear and on-ear headphones, it’s more of a concern for in-ear monitors.

    Due to impurities, the headphones leave an uncomfortable feeling and can results in ear infection, bad smell and ear wax buildup.

    Who wants to wear dirty gear? Especially if multiple people are using it, it can gather “dirt” from many people.

    Cleaning your headphones every once in a while is a good idea.

    Does Ear Hygiene Affect Your Earbuds and Headphones?

    Ear hygiene affects your headphones and your hearing. Years-worth of earwax buildup changes your hearing, and makes you hear less.

    Plus, some of that ear wax will remain on the headphones, and if it gets to the sensitive parts like drivers, it can shorten their lifespan. But generally, that’s not a problem.

    Is Sound Affected by Dirty Headphones?

    With on-ear and over-ear headphones, the sound isn’t affected. You’d need an extreme amount of dirt to block the drivers from performing normally. But in-ear headphones are a bit more sensitive, though the sound usually won’t be affected.

    When the dirt accumulates in the eartips and reaches the body neck where the sound comes from, it can change it. It’s usually not noticeable, but very dirty eartips on in-ear earbuds perform differently than clean ones.

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

    Dirty in ear headphones
    Headphones can get nasty after years of use.

    Easiest Way to Clean Headphones

    Use Alcohol

    The easiest way to remove greasy stains and ear wax is to use alcohol. And you don’t have to use expensive scotch, it will likely leave traces. But cheap isopropyl alcohol or ethanol mix, that is sold in every better-stocked supermarket. Hand sanitizer works too.

    Alcohol is excellent at cleaning fat and grease which is what visible stains are.

    Are your ear pads (ear cushions) shiny when you take them off? That’s skin oils that protect your skin but can buildup in grime and leave “fingerprints” on shiny surfaces.

    Here are simple steps for cleaning headphones:

    • 1. Take a clean, small cloth, can be a microfiber cloth (not too coarse)
    • 2. Apply a moderate amount of alcohol on it
    • 3. Swipe over dirty surfaces to remove stains (can also use cotton swabs)

    You can also use Hydrogen Peroxide in lower concentrations (3%) to the same effect, but understand that it can also bleach any fabric.

    If you don’t have any cleaning solution at home, you can always use a dry cloth or dampen it with some warm water and dish soap. Won’t have the same effect but will remove some dirt.

    Rub for about 1 minute, altogether it shouldn’t take you more than 3 minutes.


    Using paper towels because they can leave traces if you rub too much

    Using fancy alcoholic drinks, they consist of other ingredients that don’t clean.

    Alcohol is used for cleaning smartphone screens. You know, those disposable towels you usually get for free that clean up all the fingertips. The cleaning ingredient is alcohol.

    How Do You Remove Ear Wax from Earbuds?

    Take off the eartips and clean them separately. You can use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and even dish detergent. Wash them with warm water and soap and let them dry.

    Once the eartips are clean, fully dry them before attaching back on because water can go inside the body and damage the drivers.

    To remove ear wax from the body, use the same method but with a small twist.

    A piece of damp cloth with alcohol won’t remove most of the wax, especially if it’s dried up.

    So, use a soft toothbrush to loosen up the dirt before wiping with the cloth.

    Cleaning headphones with a toothbrush
    Use a soft toothbrush to remove dry gunk.

    Toothbrush bristles will get through the small gaps at the tip of the body and do a much better job than mere cloth. Clean toothbrushes for kids work best.

    But don’t use them for teeth brushing afterwards, for obvious reasons.

    After that, use the alcohol cloth to remove the remaining grime.

    Don’t drench it in alcohol because liquids don’t go together with internal drivers. You can damage them.

    Once they’re like new…

    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 of it will remain on the earphones.

    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. Have you spilled food and drinks over electronics before?

    If you use your ear buds outdoors where they get dirty, clean them after every use. Sports earbuds with high IPX rating are fully waterproof and dustproof, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect them.

    Impurities from outdoors are “food” for bacteria, which later develop bad smells and make your earbuds disgusting.

    How to Clean a Headphone Jack?

    The headphones jack, especially the socket, is likely to get dirty. The dust and moisture can create a seal of grime that blocks perfect connection.

    Dirty AUX connector

    You can’t really clean it with a swab, and pouring alcohol into it won’t do any good to the electronics.

    That’s why you should use compressed air. No rubbing necessary.

    It’s perfect for removing old dust out of the small opening like an AUX.

    Get an electric air duster or a bottled one and blast air into the socket.

    This should blow out all the impurities and fix a bad connection.

    Check the Dust-Off Duster – Compressed Gas

    How to Clean Velour Ear Pads

    Some headphones come with fabric earpads that are more prone to “attracting” dirt.

    Dirty velour earpads

    Using alcohol won’t do much. Instead:

    • Use laundry detergent and warm water
    • Wash them by hand in the sink
    • Rub the area with most dirt in it
    • Once clean, dry them well

    Tools and Equipment for Cleaning Headphones

    There are no special tools specifically for cleaning headphones, things you can find at home will do fine.

    Microfiber cleaning towels

    Blue microfiber cleaning cloth
    Microfiber cloth is the best for cleaning headphones.

    You probably already have some microfiber cleaning cloths. These are versatile and cheap and do a great job at many cleaning jobs.

    Make sure to buy quality and small ones, as they’ll do a better job at it.

    Another type of soft cloth is okay too, as long as it doesn’t leave traces and is fine enough to clean all the details on the surface.

    Rubbing alcohol

    Rubbing Alcohol

    It’s great at cleaning grease and other impurities from plastic, metal, and leather surfaces. It’s cheap and readily available in most supermarkets.

    Plus, it kills all the nasty bacteria, so you end up with nicely sanitized headphones.

    Cotton swabs (or Q-tips)

    Cotton swabs in bottle
    Cotton swabs can clean harder to reach places.

    They can be easier to clean small, hard to reach places, nooks, and crevices. You can use them instead of a cloth. Apply alcohol the same way for maximum cleaning effect.

    Silica gel packets

    Silica gel in headphones

    Silica gel is great at removing moisture, which is necessary for growing bacteria. If your headphones have a funny smell, put them next to a couple silica gels for a couple of days.

    This should remove the moldy smell most of the time.

    If the smell persists, it’s best to use more extreme measures like drenching them in alcohol or replacing the ear pads altogether.

    Persistence – Clean Them Regularly

    Now you know what home tools to use and how to clean headphones and keep earphones neat and ready to go. But you have to use it regularly.