Dirty headphones? Here's a deep-cleaning how-to
Whether you’re plugged in during your daily commute, or drowning out noise at the gym, your headphones get a lot of day-to-day use. But how often do you clean your in-ear devices?
The grime that builds up in our headphones can be gross—after all, there’s often earwax involved. But the importance of cleaning earbuds and over-ear headphones goes well beyond general cleanliness.
According to Consumer Reports tech editor Thomas Germain, any debris trapped inside of your headphones can muffle the sound coming from the device’s driver, the component that converts electrical signals into sound. Without regular cleanings, this can lead to lasting damage—and with some units running as much as $500 that could be a costly misstep.
“Cleaning your headphones every once in a while will keep them sounding great and help them last longer,” Germain said.
Luckily, experts say all you need to clean your headphones is some common household cleaning items.
What You’ll Need
Most manufacturers recommend using cotton swabs and a dry, soft-bristled brush, like a clean toothbrush, to remove debris.
You’ll also want to grab a towel moistened with warm water and drop of soap or mild detergent to clean any outside surfaces, and a second towel for drying things off when you’re done.
How to Clean Your Headphones
If you’re using in-ear headphones with removable tips, you’ll want to take off the buds and clean them separately. Germain recommends using a toothpick to loosen any debris inside the rubber tip.
“If your headphones have a mesh screen covering the drivers that can be a hot spot for wax—you can just use the toothbrush to clean that off,” said Germain. “Brush it gently across, you don’t want wax getting pushed further into the screen there.”
Each manufacturer has its own recommendations for cleaning these rubber tips. For example, Bose recommends applying a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to the mesh surface of the earbud using a soft cloth or tissue.
Apple recommends using a dry cotton swab to clean the mesh screens that cover their headphones, including the wireless AirPods.
“For larger over-ear headphones, if the ear pads are removable you want to go ahead and take those off and you can clean these separately. For the screens, you want to use your toothbrush again and just brush gently across. Don’t push in, because the drivers here can be delicate and you don’t want to damage those,” Germain explained.
To clean the outer surfaces of your headphones, use a cloth with some water and soap and be sure to wipe it clean with a dry cloth when you’re done.