10 Tips to Clean Earbuds

Earbuds can accumulate dust, earwax and other impurities that put the health of the ear at risk. But how to clean them? In this article, we'll tell you how.
10 Tips to Clean Earbuds
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Written by Jonatan Menguez

Last update: 28 October, 2023

Learning how to clean earbuds properly is key to extending their useful life and avoiding possible ear infections. These objects are used on a daily basis, since they’re often used to listen to music or to have conversations through mobile devices.

However, as with any electronic device, contact with water and cleaning products can damage them permanently. Therefore, it’s necessary to be very careful during the sanitization process.

In addition, these are objects that tend to accumulate earwax due to contact with the ear. Damp cloths, swabs and soft brushes are the keys to cleaning them. Here are 10 tips.

Why is it important to be careful when you clean earbuds?

The frequency of use of earbuds, as well as the direct contact with the ear, means that it’s important to keep them clean. Here are the two main reasons why:

  • On the one hand, this is to prevent infections caused by dirt, dust,or wax residues in the hearing aid, particularly if they’re used on the street and in public spaces.
  • On the other hand, this can help to extend the useful life of the device. Several manufacturers assure that keeping the earphones and the charging cases clean – in the case of wireless devices – improves their operation and duration.

However, care and precision must be taken during the process, in order to avoid getting them wet. These devices tend to accumulate wax on the external rubber bands and on the grids, especially the intra-aural models, i.e. those that are placed inside the ear.

Although wax is a substance that protects and lubricates the ear canal, excess wax is unhygienic and, if it hardens, can cause plugs.

According to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics in Primary Care, several factors favor the generation of wax plugs. Among them, age, since the glands that produce it atrophy and the substance becomes drier. Also, obstacles that make it difficult to expel wax, such as earbuds.

¿Por qué es importante aplicar estos consejos para desinfectar los audífonos?
Earbuds accumulate traces of earwax, dust and other contaminating agents. Hence the importance of cleaning them regularly.

10 tips to clean earbuds

Prolonged use of earbuds is linked to hearing hygiene problems and ear canal infections. Hence the importance of taking a few minutes to clean them. Here are some recommendations.

1. Take into account the type of earbud

Cleaning the external parts and components is not the same as cleaning the internal grids. To know what parts make up your personal earbud, it’s important to know the type of device you own.

  • In-ear earbuds. In-ear earbuds are those that are placed directly inside the ear. Therefore, they have internal grids in which dirt and earwax usually accumulate. They are the most delicate earbuds to clean due to their delicacy and close contact with the ear.
  • Over-the-ear buds. These earbuds rest on the ear without completely covering it and are held in place with a headband, so they don’t directly enter the ear.
  • Headphones. Headphones are like over-the-ear buds but are larger, so they surround and cover the ear completely. In addition, they provide external sound cancellation.
  • Wireless earbuds. There are wireless versions of all types, although the most common ones are the intra-aural ones, with the difference that they don’t have cords. The cleaning process is similar, but the charging case must be included in the process.

2. Have the right tools on hand

To clean them correctly and without damaging the internal circuits, the following cleaning elements must be available. In some cases, you can opt for one of them, since they fulfill similar functions.

3. Clean the external parts of the earbuds

For the outside parts of the device, it’s possible to apply a cloth previously moistened in a container with soap and water. It’s important that the cloth is damp but not wet, since liquid can damage the hearing aids.

To remove dirt from holes and complex spaces, a toothbrush or any similar item with soft bristles can be used. Disinfectant wipes or with cloths moistened with water and isopropyl alcohol can also be used.

4. Carefully disinfect the grids

In-ear earbuds require more care. As a first step, the protective foam or rubber should be removed. Then, wipe the headset and the external part with a cloth dampened with soap and water. Always place the hearing aids facing downwards, so that neither particles nor water enter inside.

The internal grids – where earwax usually adheres – can be cleaned with a cotton swab or a toothbrush. It’s advisable that it’s dry, since this part of the object is the most sensitive. Any remaining moisture can damage it. It’s also advisable to use gentle movements and, if there are still remains stuck, it’s possible to help yourself with a needle for specific hard-to-reach places.

5. Include the charging cases

The wireless version of earbuds include a case for charging them. This is an object that also accumulates dirt, which can affect the recharging circuit. It’s important to keep these cases clean using a dry or slightly damp cloth. Don’t wet the internal sector.

6. Disinfect the pads of the hearing aids

The rubber or pads that cover the hearing aid are suitable for soaking. However, it’s always advisable to check the manufacturer’s instructions. To clean them, first remove them from the earphone and then immerse them in a container with soap and water.

In this way, the dirt will be wet and will be much easier to remove with a soft bristle brush. Then, let them dry on a towel and do not put them back in until they are dry.

7. Never soak earbuds

The removable rubber tips are the only component of earbuds you can submerge. On the other hand, the grilles and cables should always be dry. In general, they do not tolerate water, so it is very likely to cause permanent damage.

8. Keep your ears clean

Another aspect to take into account is to sanitize your ears before putting on the earbuds. It’s also important that they’re dry. Otherwise, you can transfer moisture to the device and affect its functioning.

9. Clean earbuds regularly

Since earbuds are often used frequently, you should clean them frequently. Although daily cleaning is best, you can also do it on a weekly basis. Never let more than 15 days go by without cleaning them.

Consejos para desinfectar los audífonos
It’s important to disinfect earbuds regularly to prevent them from accumulating dirt and germs.

10. Let the earbuds dry

To finish, leave the components on a towel so that they dry well and no moisture remains. Then, put the pads back in place and use them again. Never use, assemble, or charge them when wet.

Use these 10 tips to clean earbuds and extend their useful life

The reasons for cleaning this accessory that comes into direct contact with the ear go beyond general hygiene. It’s also a way to take care of the object, since it’s functioning can be impeded by the accumulation of earwax or dirt.

In general, each manufacturer sets out specific methods for cleaning, but all suggest avoiding bleaching products. With these 10 tips to clean earbuds, it’s possible to complete the task effectively and keep your earbuds in tip-top shape.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Benito Orejas, J. I., Garrido Redondo, M., Velasco Vicente, J. V., Mata Jorge, M., Bachiller Luque, R., & Ramírez Cano, B.. (2015). Extracción de la cera de los oídos. Pediatría Atención Primaria, 17(67), e223-e231. https://dx.doi.org/10.4321/S1139-76322015000400021
  • Althobaiti, H., Aljuaid, Ms., Alotaibi, Sh., Sarriyah, A., Alsuwat, M., Alfaqih, He., & Almnjwami, R. M. (2022). Ear-related problems among headphone users in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Journal of Otorhinolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery (Vol. 24, Issue 1, p. 27). Medknow. https://doi.org/10.4103/sjoh.sjoh_50_21

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.