5 Methods for Cleaning Earbuds That Really Work 

Earbuds can collect bacteria and debris after using them for a while. Get them looking clean again with these tips.

Published December 20, 2022
Earbuds headphone in female hand, new headphone technology

Earbuds are items that get a lot of use, but people seldom think about cleaning them. If you're like everybody else, it's likely you rarely ponder how to clean your earbuds, but you definitely should. They can build up bacteria and other gunk, and nobody wants to put that stuff back in their ears (hello, ear infection). Thankfully, earbud cleaning is simple, so with minimal effort, they'll be ready for your next commute.

Materials You Need to Clean Earbuds

Every one of us has grabbed our earbuds, and gahhh… gross. Ears are not the cleanest place in the world, so your earbuds can get jammed with all types of dirt, bacteria, and earwax. Clean them regularly with simple tools.

Type Problem Cleaner
AirPods, mesh ear buds Dirt, light wax build-up Canned air
Ear buds with rubber tips Dirt, bacteria, wax buildup Hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, toothbrush
Mesh ear buds Heavy wax buildup Toothpick, old toothbrush, putty or masking tape

How to Clean Earbuds, Air Pods, and Headphones With Canned Air

Do you have canned air handy? Then it's time to shine, or should it be blow? Grab your canned air and a microfiber cloth to get started.

  1. Remove rubber tips from the earbuds.
  2. Hold the speaker upside down.
  3. Blow a few puffs of air into the speaker portion to loosen any debris.
  4. If crud remains, brush it with the toothbrush a few times.
  5. Repeat.
  6. Use the compressed air to blow off the rest of the earbud.
  7. Wipe everything down, including the cord, with a clean microfiber cloth.

It's important to only use canned air for this process - don't blow into the earbud. You could accidentally blow saliva drops into the area, creating more issues. Plus, your breath rarely has the force behind it that canned air does.

How to Clean Rubber Earbuds

Earbuds that have rubber tips make your life a lot easier. Why? Because the tips come off and you can soak them in all the cleaner you want.

  1. Pop the rubber tips off your earbuds
  2. Create a solution of two cups of warm water, ½ cup of hydrogen peroxide, and drop or two of dish soap.
  3. Add the rubber tips to the solution.
  4. Let them sit for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Scrub the rubber with a toothbrush.
  6. Wipe them dry with a microfiber cloth.
  7. Use the brush and microfiber cloth to remove any debris from the body of the earbud and cord.
  8. Once completely dry, put the rubber tips back on the earbuds.

How to Clean Mesh Earbuds

You've probably grabbed your kids' earbuds a time or two and knew compressed air couldn't handle the gunk. You need to grab detailing tools. This method is effective if you have a lot of gunk built up in the mesh speaker area. Just be sure you use caution to not harm the mesh.

Use Detailing Tools

Hard plastic earbuds take some work to get clean, so toothpicks, cotton swabs, and a toothbrush come in handy.

  1. Use the cotton swabs to clean out as much gunk as you can.
  2. Clear away any crud in the mesh audio area.
  3. Take the toothpick and gently pick away the gunk. Focus on the buildup in the corners or stuck on those crevices. (Be careful not to jab or harm the mesh.)
  4. Run the cottons swab over it again.
  5. Use an old toothbrush to brush away any stuck-on crust.
  6. Once all the junk is gone, wipe the earbud down with a microfiber cloth.

Try Adhesive or Putty

Not too hip on putting a wooden skewer in your expensive earbuds? It can seem daunting. If you have any putty or masking tape lying around, you might not have to.

  1. Roll up the tape so the sticky side is out.
  2. Use the adhesive to remove any junk.
  3. Use the toothbrush and cotton swabs to help clean off any remaining gunk.
  4. Wipe down with a microfiber cloth.

Earbud cleaning putty also works exceptionally well to get into all those nooks and crannies.

How to Sanitize Earbuds

Ear Buds Tied Together With Golden String

If you're still concerned about bacteria buildup, then sanitize your earbuds. Just remember, earbuds, AirPods, etc. are electronic. Therefore, if you use liquids like rubbing alcohol, you might damage the interworkings of the earbud if you use too much. In fact, many manufacturers advise using only dry swabs or cloths. However, as long as you stay away from the speaker and mic, rubbing alcohol shouldn't cause any harm, and it will kill bacteria.

  1. Lightly dampen a cotton swab with alcohol.
  2. Allow it to dry for a few seconds. (You want it to be damp, not sopping wet.)
  3. Wipe down the hard plastic of the earbud.
  4. Steer clear of any open areas like the mic or speakers.
  5. Allow them to dry.

Don't Forget to Clean Your Earbud Case

Throwing clean earbuds in a dirty case could defeat the efforts you've made so far. Wipe the case down with a microfiber cloth and do any other cleaning it needs. Just be sure you follow the dos and don'ts for cleaning and sanitizing your earbuds case.

How Often to Clean Earbuds

Bacteria are everywhere on your body. So, it's reasonable to clean your earbuds after every use. You don't necessarily need to break out the toothpicks or putty every time, but you should give them a good wipe down. If you aren't working out in them or using them daily, then you can aim to clean them about once a week to avoid that buildup of dirt, oil, and gunk. And, when you notice your earbuds are looking a little gross, give them a good, deep clean to remove any built up crud.

Tips for Keeping Your Earbuds in Tip-Top Shape

You wouldn't wear clothing that was dirty, right? So, you shouldn't wear earbuds unless they're clean. You can keep them clean with a few simple practices.

  • Always close your case when storing or charging earbuds.
  • Keep a cloth in a plastic bag near your earbuds so you can wipe them down before and after use.
  • Store earbuds in a plastic bag if you don't have a case.
  • Soap your rubber tips regularly to remove germs.
  • Avoid using earbuds daily or for prolonged sessions.
  • Don't use earbuds if your ears hurt.

Clean Earbuds Easily

Cleaning earbuds is straightforward. Remove buildup, wipe them down, and keep them stored in a sanitary area. Just remember to always disconnect earbuds before cleaning and keep liquid away from the electronics.

5 Methods for Cleaning Earbuds That Really Work