How to Clean Earbuds

Updated On February 8, 2021
By Harry Singleton

In Guides

Whatever you wear from head to toe, from hats to socks will eventually eed cleaning, just as your clothes get dirty from everyday life so will your headphones. Headphones will pick up dirt from all around you, and just like your clothes they need to be cleaned and folded properly to be preserved and still looking good. Taking a little care or your headphones will keep them working like new.

As we wear our headphones in day to day life our skin, sebum, ear wax and facial products will stick to the buds that touch the ears and face. The earphones are ever getting stickier and continue to gather more and more dirt from the world around us and even in our pockets every time we take them off.

If you take a little time doing some earbuds cleaning they will last longer and sound better, here are a few tips in how to clean earbuds and how to clean headphones.

Cleaning Earbuds Safely: Top Tips

Before cleaning

Disconnect the earbuds

Earbuds usually get power from the thing they are connected too such as a phone or smart device. Before you begin to clean them it is advisable that you ensure they are unplugged. The chances of getting shocked or electrocuted are very slim but it isn’t worth the risk, plus if your headphones cut out and short circuit your device won’t get shocked.

Assess the damage

The method of cleaning may depend on how dirty the earbuds actually are, and where the dirt is. Most commonly it will be a build up of earwax that you are cleaning on the grills of the earbuds that emit the sound. Most earbuds will be able to remove the ear tips, wether that is plastic or the silicone or foam part that goes directly into your ear canal to get a better view of what needs cleaning.

If the majority of the dirt is on the mesh grill, you will need to be careful when you are cleaning, if this is the most clean area you can basically scrub the rest of the earphone unit with little to no care.

Cleaning options

Now we will go through the best ways on how to clean earbud headphones. None of the explanations are expensive but you may need to spend a little bit of money if you are worried about damaging more expensive models when you are going through the cleaning process.

It is worth mentioning that you should not submerge your earbuds in liquid at any time, it could work well if they are waterproof, but it could also damage them if the water resistance isn’t strong enough, and there are much safer and more effective options.

Soft Cloth

If you are working with a single piece earbud such a the Apple AirPods you should avoid using any soaps, shampoos, or other cleaning solutions as these earbuds can be very sensitive. The best method is to slightly dampen a soft, lint-free cloth and wipe them clean. You should try to stop any liquid getting into the openings near the microphones and the speaker mesh by cleaning them with a dry cotton swab. You should always let them dry before using them again, and also let them dry before you put them back into the charging case. This is how to clean apple earbuds in the most effective way.

Soap and water

If you’re are going to use soap and water, your first thought will to probably create a solution with antibacterial soap and warm water, then use a soft cloth to wipe down your earbuds, and that is probably the best way to clean your ear headphones. Soap and water is an effective way to clean the outer casing and wires of any earbuds. The best practice is to fill a bowl with warm water and add a few drops of liquid detergent or hand soap. After the solution has been created, dip a soft cotton or microfiber cloth into the bowl, wring out the cloth until it is not dripping and just a little damp you can start the process.

If you are getting grime from the speaker mesh this isn’t the process you want to do as if you get water inside the earbuds you will probably run into problems. If you clean this way it is also worth avoiding the jack input, and also be careful in the area the wire comes from the earbud as there could be gaps in this space so water could get stuck in this spot.

When you feel the earphones are clean enough, put them down in a safe spot to dry for a few hours, making sure they are in a position where water wouldn’t be able to drip into any areas you want to avoid getting wet.

Rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol, which is also known as isopropyl alcohol is a common solution as a cleaning product to clean earpods. Just as when you use soap and water, it is a great choice for cleaning the less sensitive areas of your earbuds such as the wire and the casing. Rubbing alcohol is a little more potent than soapy water and you will need to dip a cotton swab into the bottle, shake it out until it is almost dry. After this begin to wipe any dirt or wax on the earbuds with the rubbing alcohol.

You don’t want to use the method of rubbing alcohol just as you wouldn’t with soap and water to clean the actual speaker grills for two different reasons. First of all, you want to avoid alcohol dripping into your earbud, and secondly, when you are using a cotton swab they are prone to leaving little bits of cotton on the things they touch. Metal filters can trap the cotton swab bits maing them much more difficult to clean in the long run. Trapped cotton could also lead to the muffling of audio.

Just as with other methods, when you are finished set aside so the earbuds can dry.

Using a toothbrush

Using a spare toothbrush can be a great solution with the nylon bristles. That is basically every toothbrush you can find these days and they are not much money most costing as much as the change in your pocket. Nylon bristles will not break off and get stuck in the buds of your headphones and they are also a non-static material that doesn’t conduct electricity.

If you want to clean the mesh grilles, toothbrushes are a great option to choose from mainly due to there being no danger of any unwanted moisture finding its way into your earbud speaker. You should be extra careful and brush i circular motions and not pushing too hard otherwise you may end up pushing down the dirt you are cleaning further into the speaker, making the cleaning process a lot more difficult.

Using adhesive

While toothbrushes can be a really effective way to clean the speakers of your earbuds and liquid based solutions can bring some extra worries, dry adhesives such as blu-tack are a nearly foolproof method in cleaning some of the most sensitive parts of your earbuds.

The best thing to do is mould the putty into a shape were you can press one end into the mesh grille of the earbud. When you apply pressure the putty should grab any wax or dirt and pull it off as you lift it away from the earbuds. Just try to make sure that you get into all of the smaller areas as well as the main places where the obvious dirt is.

Combo methods

If you find that none of the methods we have gone through about work then you can always employ more than one of these solutions and create your own way of creating the perfect cleaning solution for your earbuds for you. If you are careful you could use a needle or pushpin to pull out any hard to reach dirt from hard to reach areas, although there are a few more risks of damge in trying this method.

Cleaning ear tips

When you buy earphones they usually come with silicone ear tips, with some more expensive models coming with memory foam ear tips in an accessory pack in multiple sizes. Cleaning silicone ear tips is easy, you can simply remove the tips and dip them in a solution of warm soapy water then wipe them down with a cloth. These silicone ear tips are really hard to damage and the only time you will need to be particularly careful is taking them off the actual speaker. Another worry is that you could lose them as they are fairly small parts but if you are careful this will not happen.

Foam tips are a harder clean than the silicone versions. You can try to clean them but they are designed to be disposable and not designed for cleaning. Ear wax and dirt buildup will stick to the foam, and trying to pick it off to remove can sometimes tear the foam it is stuck too making the earbuds unusable. We recommend switching to silicone as they are easy to clean and arent that expensive.

Cleaning true wireless earbuds

If you have true wireless earbuds such as the Apple AirPods a lot of the steps above will work just as they would on wired versions. We don’t recommend submerging them under any water even if they boast a waterproof coating. In our opinion the best techniques are the toothbrush cleaning method and the dry adhesive putty with there being the least damage probabilities.

Always remember your earbuds are sensitive so take care!