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How to clean your earbuds and headphones the right way

Do you know how to clean earbuds? Plenty of us love our earbuds, AirPods and headphones. But we don’t all use a regular care care and cleaning routine on them. Think about it, though. We put these things in and on our ears almost every day. The insides of our ears are, well, kind of gross. And even grosser are the backpacks, purses and gym bags where we store our earbuds and headphones. That’s a lot of dust dirt and, yeah, bodily fluids.

Earbuds clogged with earwax and dirt are both unhygienic and have compromised sound quality. And if you wear them while you work out like, sweat builds up, which literally stinks. If it sounds like we’re trying to convince you to clean your listening devices, we are. But we’re not about to present a problem to you without offering a solution. Read on for step-by-step guides to how to clean earbuds and headphones.

how to clean earbuds gross


How to clean earbuds and earphones

  1. First things first, gather your supplies. The good news with this cleaning process is that you can use products you probably already have around the house so no need to make an extra run to the store. You’re going to need a small microfiber cloth, a soft-bristled toothbrush, rubbing alcohol and a reusable putty adhesive.
  2. Start with the part of the earbud that actually goes into your ears and where the sound comes from. Hold your earbuds so that the mesh side is facing down and use a dry, soft toothbrush to gently brush the wire mesh. This should unclog any dirt and earwax.
  3. Use the putty to pick up any remaining gunk from the mesh. Then dampen the cloth with a small amount of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer and wipe down the mesh and wires. If you don’t have rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer will do. Be careful that your cloth isn’t too wet with the alcohol or sanitizer, as that may cause damage.
  4. If your earbuds come with those soft, removable tips, you can soak them in regular soap and water for a few minutes to get them clean. Be sure to rinse them off and let them dry thoroughly before you put them on on your earbuds (and in your ears).

How to clean headphones

When cleaning headphones that go over or on your ear as opposed to in your ear, you have to be a little more careful since they’re often made with leather or foam ear pads. For this job, you’ll need good old-fashioned soap and water, a small microfiber cloth, rubbing alcohol and cotton balls.

  1. Avoiding the more delicate padded parts of the headphones, wipe down the headphones’ exterior with a damp cloth that’s slightly damp with soap and water.
  2. Once they’re dry, use a different cloth that is damp with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer to wipe down the exterior of the ear pads.
  3. To clean the inner parts of the ear pads, soak a cotton ball in alcohol or hand sanitizer and wipe over the ear pad’s crevices.
  4. To get rid of the bacteria that live in the ear pads, put a drop like amount of alcohol or sanitizer on the foam mesh and rub the right headphone and left headphone together. Not only with this kill bacteria, but it will also get ride of any leftover dirt.
  5. Any cables can be wiped down with rubbing alcohol and paper towel.

The best earbud and headphones cleaning products

If an at home remedy isn’t doing the job, check out these helpful earbud and headphone cleaning products.

A hearing aid vacuum

Headphonesty recommends using a hearing aid vacuum. These cleaning devices remove earwax and dirt via small vacuum pumps.


CarePodd is the world’s first and only electric earphone cleaning device. It is compatible with AirPods and AirPods Pro, removes bacteria, gets rid of earwax buildup and cleans the dirt from the mesh part of your earphones.

Earbud cleaning kit

This Kikkerland Design Ear Bud Cleaning Kit is compact, but has everything you need to keep your buds clean – soft bristle brushes, cleaning swabs, cleaning spray and cleansing wipes.

PhoneSoap 3 UV Sanitizer

This is an option that lets you avoid having to constantly wipe down your listening devices. Just put your earbuds or headphones in and the PhoneSoap’s UV-C bulbs will zap the germs away on all sides of whatever you have in there — it works on keys, cash and credit cards too — at the same time.