Let’s face it: Knowing how to clean headphones and earbuds is just as important as cleaning your kitchen and bathroom, and yet, for some reason, these devices often get forgotten. Earbuds and over-the-ear headphones quickly become a breeding ground for dirt, grime and germs (not to mention icky ear wax). We talked to experts on simple ways to keep your headphones clean and hygienic, using what you have at home. You may be surprised to learn that a tooth brush and mounting putty are tricks of the trade.
The difference between earbuds, headphones and AirPods
Often, people use the term headphones, earbuds and Airpods interchangeably, but they each mean different things.
Headphones are made up of two basic parts: the ear cups, which sit over your ears, and the headband, which goes over your head to hold the ear cups in place. Often the ear cups have removable pads (that can cleaned and replaced).
Earbuds is the broad term that encompasses various types and brands of portable audio devices designed to be worn in the ears.
AirPods is a specific brand of wireless earbuds created by Apple — the tips for earbuds below apply to them as well.
Why do we need to clean our headphones and earbuds
“Face lotion, hairsprays, sunscreen, and perfume contain oils and other substances that can leave a sticky residue on the surfaces of your headphones,” explains Jade Piper a former house cleaner who is also an operations manager for BetterCleans, a professional house cleaning company based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Over time, this residue accumulates and can become challenging to remove. Not only does it affect cleanliness, but it can also alter the look of your headphones (and cause discoloration).
Plus, dirt and debris can obstruct sound pathways, which can affect sound quality. If earbuds become clogged with dirt or sweat, it can lead to corrosion or electrical issues, resulting in a decrease in audio quality. Some headphones use noise isolation technology that relies on a proper seal between the ear cups or earbuds and the ears. Dirt and sweat can compromise this seal, allowing external noises to interfere with the noise-cancelling setting.
Lastly, dirty headphones can have an impact on your hearing. “When your ear cushions or ear tips are caked with dirt and oils, it can compromise the seal between your ears and the headphones,” says Dave Bringer, a home appliance expert and founder of Bringer Appliance Repair. He explains that this can lead to sound leakage and a loss of bass response, which might tempt you to turn up the volume to compensate. Over time, this can be detrimental to your hearing. So, keeping your headphones clean is a wise move for both audio quality and ear health.
How to clean your headphones and earbuds
How to clean earbuds
- “The most important tip and a must-do is to always use a soft, lint-free or a microfiber cloth for cleaning,” says Alivin Pullins, a certified home improvement and cleaning specialist.
- Remove earbud tips and clean separately.
- Most cleaning experts recommend using a dry cloth, but if you want to disinfect headphones (from sweat) while you clean them, then “slightly dampened with a mixture of warm water and a drop of mild dish soap,” says Ian Cushing, the founder of Because We Care Cleaning, a cleaning company based in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Gently wipe down the headphones, ensuring not to get any moisture in openings like the speaker mesh.” Wipe down the earbud tips and let dry before replacing.
- A gentle brush, like a toothbrush, works wonders for nooks and crannies and harder to remove gunky spots. Mounting putty or scotch tape can also work when cleaning the mesh.
Experts note that it’s best to use a cloth for cleaning liquids off earbuds (sweat, sprays, lotions) and a toothbrush for scraping off gunk (ear wax, dirt, and other solids).
How to clean over-the-ear headphones
To clean over-the-ear headphones use the same steps as above. In addition, make sure to do the following.
- Don’t forget the headband, It’s a hotspot for grime and comes in direct contact with our hair (and all the products we put in it). Make sure to stretch it to its longest dimension and clean thoroughly. Let it dry.
- Remove ear cushions and wipe down separately. Let dry.
- Also, be sure to wipe down the chords, plugs and any other parts.
How often should you clean headphones and earbuds
If you’re going to the gym every day and they are accumulating a lot of sweat, you can do it more often.
Similarly, living in a humid area can encourage bacteria growth, so keep a closer eye on them and you may want to clean them twice a week.
Don’t forget the case
“One major cleaning tip that people often miss or overlook when cleaning headphones, earphones, or airpods is that they don’t clean the case,” says Schulz. “Wiping your headphones will clean them, but you also need to wipe the case. Otherwise, you’re just putting the headphones back into a dirty environment.”
2 things not to do when cleaning headphones
Just as important as how to clean headphones is what not to do.
1. Don’t submerge in water or cleaning agents
“You need to minimize the moisture you use when cleaning,” says Schulz. “Most headphones have an IP rating that makes them water-resistant but not waterproof.” This means that they can tolerate some amount of moisture, but it’s a bad idea to get them too wet.
2. Don’t use toothpicks
If you see gunk in the medal nest, don’t stick toothpicks in there in the hope of getting it clean. “That’s a surefire way to damage something,” says Schulz. “Instead, use a cotton tip or old toothbrush, and always be gentle.” Mounting putty and scotch tape also work.
Here’s a one-minute video on how to quickly clean your headphones.
For more electronic cleaning tips, click through the links below!