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How to clean your earbuds and headphones

Check out the best way to clean your earbuds and headphones – they're dirtier than you may think.
July 30, 2021
How to clean headphones 1
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Even if we weren’t in a global pandemic, we would still tell you to keep your headphones clean. There are plenty of reasons to give your hygiene a boost, and cleaning your headphones is an easy way to do so. If you use the same headphones or earbuds every day, there’s a good chance they’ve picked up some germs along the way. Here is everything you need to know on how to clean earbuds and headphones.

This How to clean your earbuds guide comes from the audio experts at our sister site Sound Guys. Check out their in-depth guide on earbud and headphone sanitation.

Why should you clean your earbuds?

We’re not here to tell you that it’s a good idea to disassemble your earbuds or headphones for fun. After all, there better be a good reason to go through all of this effort — and there is.

Back in 2008, a study showed that dirty earbuds might not directly cause infections, but they can play a crucial role in transferring them. So essentially, if you share your headphones with somebody with an ear infection, you increase your chances of contracting it. The same is true if you have an ear infection yourself — you can easily pass it to a friend by accident.

Furthermore, increased use of earbuds and headphones can increase the level of humidity in your ears, making them more bacteria-friendly.

Also read: How to clean and disinfect your phone to prevent the spread of germs

This may be obvious, but you should clean your earbuds or headphones if they fall on the floor. Unfortunately, the five-second rule doesn’t really exist, no matter what you were told as a child. The second your precious ‘buds fall to the floor, it’s safe to assume they’ve picked up some germs. Because of this, it’s not a great idea to pop them back in your ears right away before cleaning them.

What do you need to clean your headphones?

How to clean headphones 1
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Different headphones require different cleaning techniques, but the core cleaning tools remain the same. While you may not use every tool on our list, it’s better to have them than to find out you need them later. Cleaning your headphones doesn’t pose a health risk, but we’ve added a few of these items to be extra safe:

  • Paper towels
  • Toothbrush
  • Tweezers
  • Q-Tips / Cotton swabs
  • Rubbing alcohol (more potent than 63%) or Diluted bleach or Hydrogen peroxide
  • Hand soap
  • Gloves
  • Safety goggles or Glasses

You’ll need the correct type of equipment to ensure that you’re properly cleaning and killing whatever bacteria or viruses call your earbuds or headphones home while also keeping yourself safe. It’s easy enough to clean rubbing alcohol or bleach off your hands, but if it comes in contact with your eyes, it can cause some serious pain — hence the glasses.

Now that we’ve got the what and the why out of the way let’s get on to the how.

Related: How to clean your computer screen

How to clean on-ear and over-ear headphones

A photo of the Sony WH 1000XM4 noise cancelling headphones held by a man in front of indoor plants.
Adam Molina / Android Authority

Depending on your headphones of choice, you may have to do a little bit of disassembling before you get to cleaning. You’ll want to remove the ear pads if possible and extend the headband as long as you can so you can clean every last inch of your headphones. After all, your cans won’t truly be clean unless you cover both the inside and outside.

Cleaning large dirt and debris

Once you have the earpads off, it’s time for your toothbrush to shine. Go to town on as much of the large dirt as you possibly can, but be careful when you get to your headphone drivers. The last thing you want to do is push dirt or debris further where it doesn’t belong.

After you’re content with your toothbrush, it’s time to track down the smaller bits of dust or individual hairs. You’ll want to grab your tweezers for this part, as they offer far more precision than your fingers. Once all of the dirt and debris is gone, it’s time to get into disinfecting.

Related: The best Bluetooth headphones

Disinfecting your headphones

Start by placing your headphones on the towel or paper towels and fetch your cleaning liquid. Hydrogen peroxide works best, but you can go for diluted bleach or alcohol that’s 62% or higher. If you choose to use rubbing alcohol, make sure you proceed with caution — alcohol doesn’t play nicely with plastic or leather. Use a cotton ball or Q-Tip and dab it in your liquid as needed.

Since you’ve already removed the earpads, we recommend cleaning them first. Then, follow up with the headband, which should be the most accessible section to clean. The large, smooth space should give you a feel for the pressure you’ll need to clean off dirt and spots without damaging your headphones.

It’s pretty apparent that most headphones don’t exactly love liquids, so it’s vital to keep your cleaning liquid away from the drivers. Try holding your headphones open so that the drivers are facing the floor. That should allow you to swab them gently while gravity pulls the cleaner away from the precious internals. Once you’ve cleaned your headphones to your heart’s content, pat them down gently with a towel or paper towel to dry them off.

How to clean and disinfect earbuds

How to clean headphones 3

You could probably guess this, but earbuds are a bit different to clean than large over-ear headphones. Their smaller size demands a gentle, steady hand. The first thing you’ll have to do is remove the rubber ear tips, much as you did with your headphones. In this case, they’re tiny and easy to lose, so it may help to have a small bag to store them in.

Before you store them away, take a Q-Tip and clean them thoroughly. This should help to remove both earwax and dirt that may have built up on your earbuds. Once you finish cleaning the ear tips, dry them carefully and store them for later. If you decide that your ear tips are too far gone, don’t be afraid to bid them farewell and just grab yourself a new pair.

Some earbuds come with a cleaning tool nowadays, and it plays a vital role in the process. Use it to remove any built-up earwax from your earbuds, taking care not to push it through the tiny grate. You can also grab a Q-Tip and wet it with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to do the same thing, but be careful not to jam any cotton fibers into the grate.

See also: What are the best noise-cancelling earbuds?

How to clean and disinfect true wireless earbuds

How to clean headphones 2

Cleaning true wireless earbuds, like the AirPods Pro, is almost identical to cleaning regular earbuds. However, you’ll also probably have to give your charging case a good scrubbing.

Read also: The best wireless earbuds

Once you follow the steps above for your earbuds, you can put them to the side and allow them time to dry. Repeat a similar process with the charging case, using Q-Tips dipped in your preferred cleaning liquid to scrub the case both inside and out. Just don’t replace the earbuds in the case right away — let them sit out while the moisture dries from your charging case.

That’s all there is to it! You should now have some squeaky clean headphones, earbuds, and charging cases.