How to Properly Clean Your Earbuds and Headphones

Whenever we buy a new product, we are trying to maintain it properly but, sadly, not for a long time. Most of us have the same problem – we get used to things we have after a longer period of time. By a longer period of time, we mean a few months at most. No matter how expensive this product is and how many times we promise ourselves that we will take care of it, somehow, we slowly start to forget about these promises and start treating the product as an old one.

The same thing happens with every pair of earbuds or headphones we buy, no matter how expensive they are. After a few months, we start carrying them around without their protective bag or case, leaving them lying unprotected on a desk or bed, etc. This kind of treatment can destroy even the most durable headphones on the market. They become flimsy, dirt enters every port and even goes through the protective mesh reaching the drivers, the cable becomes more prone to breaking, which eventually leads to bad performance, muffled sound, microphonics and shorter life length than predicted.

As all these negative consequences can be avoided by being just a little bit more careful and considerate, and by devoting just a bit more time to your earbuds or headphones, we have decided to thoroughly explain the best ways to clean and maintain them. Apart from this, we will also write a few words about all the consequences of inadequate maintenance not only in terms of device malfunctioning but also in terms of user’s health. Hopefully, this article will be helpful and you will realize the importance of regular and proper headphone maintenance.

Instructions for Proper Cleaning and Maintaining Earbuds and Headphones

Cleaning earbuds and headphones is not as time-consuming or difficult as it may sound to you. At the beginning, it may last a bit longer and require more attention but after a few successful cleaning treatments, you will be able to perform the whole activity in 10 minutes. It doesn’t sound too long, does it? Especially if we tell you that you don’t have to clean your headphones every day. Once a week or once in two weeks shall be enough to prolong their life length and keep the performance at the expected level.

How to Clean Earbuds?

Earbuds are small and their cleaning can seem tiring and complicated but that’s not true. You will clean them differently depending on the type of earbuds you have (if they are wired or wireless if they have removable parts or not, etc.) but the process generally takes a few minutes of your time and requires the use of a few things that can be found in any house. Here is the whole process explained step by step.

How to Clean Earbuds

Step 1: Take a small bowl, pour some warm water in it and add some soap. You will also need a piece of soft cloth, rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer, cotton buds, maybe some adhesive tape, ear wax loop, and a(tooth)brush.

Step 2: Disconnect the earbuds from the power source (computer, phone, tablet, etc.) and remove all the removable parts (tips, for example).

Step 3: In order to clean the tips, you will need the ear wax loop or something similar that can remove the piled-up ear wax and other dirt without damaging the tips. You can also use the cotton buds in case you notice they can remove the dirt completely. After removing the dirt, you should wipe the tips with the wet cloth. You can do it with both soapy water and rubbing alcohol because alcohol will kill all bacteria.

Step 4: Cleaning tips is usually the easier part. Cleaning drivers and housings requires more attention. You should be very careful so you don’t damage the drivers. While the drivers are facing downwards, use the brush to slowly clean the mesh. The brush shall remove the dirt without pushing it deeper in the housing and damaging the drivers. You can use the adhesive tape to remove the dirt and dust leftovers. After that, you should take the cloth and wipe the mesh with soapy water or alcohol.

Step 5: Wipe the housings and the cable with the wet cloth. Make sure that all the cleaned parts are completely dry before you put them together.

How to Clean On-Ear and Over-Ear Headphones?

In case you have big headphones, the cleaning process will be a bit different.

How to Clean On-Ear and Over-Ear Headphones

Step 1: Just like earbuds, headphones should be cleaned with warm soapy water or rubber alcohol, soft cloth and, optionally, an adhesive tape, so you should get these first.

Step 2: Unplug the headphones from the power source, detach the cable (if it is detachable) and remove all the other removable parts (ear cushions, for example).

Step 3: Wipe the headphones with wet soapy cloth or even alcohol if you want to remove all the dirt and also sanitize them. Alcohol will remove all the bacteria that get to the headphones from your hands, clothes, bags, etc. Make sure that you have cleaned the mesh completely in order to keep the drivers clean.

Step 4: Use the cloth to gently wipe the ear cushions. You can also use cotton buds soaked in soapy water or alcohol to get the hardly accessible parts cleaned.

Step 5: Let the headphones completely dry before you put all the parts together and use them again.

Note: In case you sense funny smell coming from your ear cushions, it is probably because you’re sweating a lot or you didn’t let them dry completely after cleaning. In this situation, you can try using silica gel bags that control humidity and absorb the excess moisture. The other way of getting rid of the smell is to replace the cushions completely (in case they are replaceable, of course).

If neither of these work for you…

Well, if this is the case, we have something else to recommend. It is a bit unusual but it gets the job done. We are talking about hearing aid vacuum that is used for cleaning hearing aids but it can be used for cleaning headphones as well. Hearing aid vacuum is more expensive than alcohol, water, and soap, and its filter shall be replaced every few months but it will effectively remove earwax and dirt from your earbuds/headphones.

How to properly store and maintain earbuds and headphones?

The way you store and transport your earbuds/headphones when they are not in use is one of the key factors that affect their life length and performance.

Whenever you are done with using your earbuds/headphones, place them in their protective bag or case. This will keep them protected from the dust and all the dirt that is in our apartments, on our clothes and body, as well as the dirt they can pick up in public transport.

Pay attention to the cable. If you leave your headphones lying around, audio cable is one of the first things that will be damaged.

If you use earbuds/headphones for workouts, make sure they are completely dry before you store them or use them again.

Don’t unplug them by holding the cable. Always hold the jack in these situations and the cable will last longer.

Things you shouldn’t do if you want your earbuds or headphones to last

Even if you’re cleaning your headphones/earbuds on regular basis, it doesn’t mean you are treating them perfectly. You shouldn’t use too much soap or dangerous chemicals. Soap can leave residue on the device and chemicals can damage the material the headphones/earbuds are made of. Some of them can even make the paint start to peel.

Also, don’t submerge any parts in the water while cleaning the headphones. Too much water can destroy the drivers, so try to squeeze the cloth as much as you can before you start wiping. The exception can be made with silicone ear tips that can be submerged in water and cleaned.

Be careful when using alcohol, especially when cleaning full-size headphones, as it can damage plastic and leather parts.

Consequences of Inadequate Headphone Maintenance

Apart from the previously mentioned device malfunction, inadequate headphone maintenance can cause serious health problems. All the dirt that piles up on the earbuds/headphones contains bacteria that eventually come in contact with our ears. This can cause rash or even serious ear infections, especially if you share headphones with other people.

However, if you avoid sharing headphones with others, clean them regularly and store them properly, we are sure you and your device will be safe, protected and that it will last longer and sound better.

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Hello, my name is James Longman.

I’m a writer and editor at AudioReputation. I disassembled my first portable AM/FM radio when I was only 8. At the age of 11, I burned the circuit board on my old boombox cassette player. I’m not going to explain how but it was reckless and stupid.

Since then, I have become much more careful around radios, boomboxes, and other audio devices (at least, I like to think so) but I have never lost the passion for audio equipment. Throughout 20 years of my professional career, I’ve been working for various audio equipment manufacturers and even started building speakers on my own in my little workshop.

I love the work we do here at AudioReputation. Testing, comparing, and evaluating all kinds of audio devices (speakers, soundbars, headphones, home theater systems, etc.) is something I truly enjoy. I try to be unbiased and give you my honest opinion on every piece of equipment I test. Still, you should take my reviews with a pinch of salt and always be just a little bit skeptical. The fact that I liked some speaker or soundbar doesn’t mean that you are going to love it. If you have the opportunity, you should test it/hear it before buying it.

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