How To Clean Headphones

Updated On February 10, 2021
By Harry Singleton

In Guides

Headphones are a popular accompaniment to many of our daily activities, from exercising outdoors in all weathers to playing video games at home. Often, we will carry our favorite pair of headphones with us at all times, so we have them whenever we need them. They offer entertainment on the go, superior audio quality when playing video games, and allow us to escape from busy daily chores, so it is easy to see how much we rely on our headphones throughout our everyday lives.

Unfortunately, our headphones can quickly lose their clean and new feel, even after being used just a couple of times.

They can quickly collect dirt and dust, not only when being used but also while being stored, especially if left at the bottom of our bag. If you wear your headphones while exercising then you can also expect them to get dirtier more quickly with sweat build-up.

Eventually, this grime will collect together and begin to affect the sound quality, as well as potentially affecting your health, so you might be thinking that it is time to start looking for a new headphone set.

However, you do not need to throw away your favorite headphones just because they are not looking their best, as you can easily clean your headphones in a few simple steps. There is no need to buy any expensive cleaning products either, as you can refresh your headphones using standard household products that you will have in your kitchen cupboard.

In a world where we are actively trying to reduce the number of items that we are throwing away, cleaning your headphones is a great way of giving them a new lease of life and preventing them from becoming unwanted landfill. It will also save you valuable cash, as your headphones will last much longer before needing to be replaced. This guide explains how to clean headphones and gives you handy tips for keeping them looking and sounding like new.

What is the best way to clean headphones?

When cleaning your headphones it is important that you are gentle when taking each section apart, as some parts of a headphone are fragile and can be easily damaged. If you do find that any part of your headphone become damaged or torn then you will need to replace it before you can safely use your headphones again. However, if replacement items are out of your budget then many popular headphone brands will also be compatible with cheaper, generic products. Just make sure that you check that any items you buy are compatible with your headphones before purchasing, to save yourself wasting any cash.

There are two types of headphone that are available to buy. They each have a slightly different cleaning process, so you need to know which one you use.

  • Over the ear headphones – These sit on top of the ear, often using a soft cushioned ear pad over the speaker. They may be wired or non-wired, but if they have a wire then you should remember to clean it too.
  • Earbud headphones – These sit inside the ear. They may have removable silicone ear tips that are often sized, so you can get the perfect fit.

What equipment do you need?

The equipment that you will need to clean your headphones can usually be found amongst everyone’s cleaning supplies. You will not have to go searching for any specialist items, making it a quick and simple job.

  • Isopropyl alcohol / Rubbing alcohol (at least 70% alcohol), hand sanitizer can be used.
  • Clean cloths or paper towels
  • Dry soft-bristled brush e.g.toothbrush
  • Soap
  • Water
  • Cotton swabs/buds or Q-tips
  • Blu-Tack or a similar item

Remember to perform a patch test on a hidden area of material, if you have not used these cleaning items on your headphones before. This will make sure that there will no staining or color change as a result of using any cleaning agents on certain materials. When using rubbing alcohol there is always a risk of color fading occurring as a result of repeated applications, so if you are not comfortable using alcohol-based products on your headphones then you can use a paper towel, warm water and soap to wipe down your headphones instead. If using soap and warm water to clean your headphones then remember to not get them too wet and to dry them straight away with a cloth to prevent any water damage from occurring.

How to clean over the ear headphones

Often you will find that the earpieces are removable to allow for easy cleaning. Just be careful when handling them as they can be very fragile and damage easily, especially if they are made from foam. Remember to clean every part of your headphones, even the extendable part of the headband and the microphone, if one is included.

Follow these quick and simple steps to get your headphones sparkling again.

  1. Remove the ear pads if possible. Then remove any dirt gently from the headphone pads with a damp cloth before cleaning with the alcohol or hand sanitizer, applied to a soft cloth.
  2. Use a damp cloth or paper towels to remove any dirt from the main headset, including any gaps or meshed areas.
  3. Apply rubbing alcohol sparing to the headset using a clean cloth and gently wipe over each surface. Ensure that you clean every surface and all crevices.
  4. Use the dry toothbrush to remove any dirt from the mesh covering the speakers.
  5. Blu-tack can be applied to a clean cotton swab, which can be gently applied to the mesh to lift off any remaining dirt.
  6. Use a cotton bud dipped in rubbing alcohol to clean each mesh speaker.
  7. Let each part dry completely before putting your headphones back together. Then they are ready to be used.

How to clean earbuds

It is especially important that earbud headphones are cleaned properly, as they will sit inside the ear. This provides a greater risk for any bacteria on the ear tips being transferred inside the ear canal, which can potentially cause an ear infection. To avoid this from happening you should ensure that your earbuds are clean before using them.

The process for cleaning earbud headphones is slightly different from over the ear headphones due to their style but you should still be gentle when handling to avoid damaging any part of the headphone.

  1. Remove the silicone ear cups, if your earbuds have them. Be gentle to avoid tearing them. Once removed, soak them in soap and warm water for 5 minutes, before wiping them with a cloth and leaving them to air dry.
  2. Wipe down every part of the earbuds with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove any dirt. Remember to include any wires.
  3. Using the dry bristled brush, clean over the mesh speakers to remove any dirt.
  4. Apply the Blu-tack to the mesh to remove any leftover pieces of dirt.
  5. Using cotton buds to apply the rubbing alcohol and gently wipe over the top of the wire mesh.
  6. Apply rubbing alcohol to a cloth and wipe over every surface of the earbuds.
  7. Let each part dry completely before putting the earbuds back together.

How to clean earbud and headphone cases

You should also ensure that you have a storage container or bag where you can keep your headphones when they are not in use. This will offer your headphones protection against any damage, and prevent any dirt or dust from accumulating on them while they are being stored. However, you will need to make sure that your storage container is also kept clean, otherwise, any dirt can be transferred onto your freshly cleaned headphones. To keep your storage container clean you can use a dry toothbrush or Q tip to remove any dirt. The bristles will help you get into any hard to reach places and the Q tip can clean any places the brush cannot reach. This should be followed by wiping down the container with a cloth and alcohol solution.

When storing your headphones, some people like to add silica gel packets to the storage container to help protect their headphones and to prevent any mold growth from occurring. Silica gel acts to reduce moisture, so if your headphones are slightly damp after use, they can give you peace of mind that they will help stop anything nasty from growing until you get a chance to clean them. We would always recommend cleaning your headphones after use and to only use silica gel for additional peace of mind, or for occasional use, as it will not be able to absorb excess moisture.

How do you clean headphones without damaging them?

When learning how to clean earbuds and over the ear headphones it is important that you know how to take them apart without damaging them. Some parts can be particularly delicate, especially the ear pads around the speakers, so it can be easy to damage the material if you are not sure how to take your headphones and earbuds apart. Any fabric, leather, or foam ear pads can be easily torn, so take extra care when handling them.

If you are unsure which bits of your headphones can be removed then have a look at the advice from your headphones manufacturers, as they might tell you how to remove certain them. Some headphones will come with instructions, but if you don’t have these then you may be able to find out this information on the manufacturer’s website.

Sometimes accidents happen, and if you do end up damaging a part of the headphone then it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are only fit for the trash. You may be able to get replacement parts for certain brands, which will give your headphones a new lease of life.

How do you clean ear wax out of headphones?

Ear wax can commonly build-up inside the speaker mesh, and along with being unsightly, it can also increase the risk of ear infections. Dirt and bacteria will be able to accumulate alongside ear wax, so to keep your headphones hygienic you will need to ensure you thoroughly clean your headphones regularly. Earbud headphones are the worst type for enabling ear wax build-up, as the ear tips come into close contact with the ear canal. This means that you should concentrate on keeping this area of your headphones clean to ensure that you reduce the chance of getting an ear infection.

To avoid getting an ear infection from headphones you should also avoid sharing headphones with other people, especially the earbud type with internal ear tips. If you do need to share a pair of headphones with someone else, even for a short period of time, then you should clean them between use.

To remove ear wax from the inside of headphones, you should follow the cleaning instructions above and this should be sufficient to remove the majority of the wax, especially if the headphones are cleaned regularly. However, if you want a deeper clean then you will need to look at purchasing a vacuum device that is designed for cleaning hearing aids. However, this option can be expensive, so it is usually more economical to ensure that your headphones are kept clean.

How often should you clean headphones?

The frequency that you will need to clean your headphones will depend on how often you use them. Ideally, you should wipe them down with a cloth and alcohol solution after every use, particularly if you have been exercising. This will help remove any dirt and ear wax before it gets lodged in hard to reach areas and prevent any bacteria and grime build-up. Allow your headphones time to completely air dry before putting them back in their storage case.

If you use your headphones on a daily basis, then you should aim to completely clean them once a week. This will stop any dirt and grime from building up, protect against bacteria, and preserve the audio quality of your headphones. This will ensure that your headphones and earbuds have a long-lasting use, so you will not have to worry about the cost of replacing them.