(Last Updated On: January 14, 2021)

Everything you need to know about the dangers of sharing headphones and using secondhand earbuds. And what you can do instead.

We all know how sweet it looks when two people share one pair of earbuds. It seems like they’re in their own world! Yet if you’re thinking of doing that with your loved one, think again.

Even if you think you know everything about someone, you can’t really say the same about their overall hygiene and health. And, sometimes, you share more than moments and tunes when sharing headphones, especially earbuds!

But what if it’s highly needed? Like if there’s a really important phone call two of you have to hear without letting anyone else know? Or when your headphones broke and the only way you can listen to your online class is to borrow a spare from someone else?

No to sharing headphones (From: Pexels)
No to sharing headphones (From: Pexels)

Well, read on as we teach you about the dangers of sharing headphones. We are also going to cover how to protect yourself when sharing is unavoidable. Plus, a quick discussion to cover buying secondhand pairs.

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Why You Should Think Twice About Sharing Your Headphones

You share more than you think by lending out your headphones! Our ears are vulnerable orifices, protected by earwax. So it’s not surprising when bacteria, yeast, and germs are trapped by this sticky barrier to protect the inner ear canal.

When headphones are used, this contaminated earwax then sticks to them. The wax and whatever else is on it is transferred to another person when the headphones are shared.

Earbuds and in-ear monitors are especially riskier than headphones since they are placed directly in the ear.

Ew, right? But, if you’re still not convinced why sharing headphones is a no-go, let’s look closer at these common reasons. Warning: it can be grosser than you think.

Friends sharing headphones (From: Pexels)
Friends sharing headphones (From: Pexels)

Bacteria-sharing

Earbuds and headphones can pick up bacteria from any unclean surface. Pockets, purses, and hands are all sources of bacteria. And, they also pick up sticky earwax.

When this happens, moist wax on headphones becomes the perfect place for bacteria to multiply into a bacteria-earwax sludge. It grows worse when headphones are shared, as bacteria within bits of earwax are swapped between users.

Contaminated earbuds and headphones can cause the bacterial count of a person’s ear to grow out of control, causing an ear infection.

Yeast growth

Yeast can live in the ear as well, where it can multiply and develop into a host of infections and problems. Like many types of fungus, yeast loves warm, dark environments just like the ear canal.

The yeast present in one person’s ear can easily stick to earbuds, especially if they have any sticky earwax already on them. It can then be spread after headphones are shared, placing one person’s yeast directly into the ear of another.

Yeast can grow out of control in the ear, causing infections that require medical treatment. A common ear condition caused by yeast is known as “swimmer’s ear.” Affected ears feel itchy and painful and often ooze drainage.

Yeast quickly multiples within the ear canal, and is difficult to get under control. Some treatments can even lead to more danger in the long run.

Exposure to disease-causing germs

Germs are everywhere, even in your earbuds and headphones. Like almost anything else, your headphones can host germs from the common cold to viruses like COVID-19.

When headphones are touched, carried, and set on various surfaces, they’re exposed to germs. And if left unsanitized, headphones can spread disease and illness through different users.

Sharing headphones with someone who seems healthy is still a risk since germs can last for days on plastic, rubber, and metal.

What to Do When Sharing Headphones Is Unavoidable

Photo of a man looking unsure about using a set of cushioned headphones (From: pixabay.com)
Photo of a man looking unsure about using a set of cushioned headphones (From: pixabay.com)

Saying ‘no’ to sharing headphones can sometimes be easier said than done. There are various situations when using headphones that were already used by others are unavoidable.

It doesn’t matter if you need to share headphones for medical procedures, employee training, speech class, or any other reason. Taking precautionary steps is crucial.

Protective equipment, and hygiene practices can reduce risks when you have to share headphones.

When sharing headphones is unavoidable, here are some simple hygiene practices you can take to minimize risk.

Invest in disposable headphone covers

A set of headphone cushion covers (From: Amazon.com)
A set of headphone cushion covers (From: Amazon.com)

Disposable covers place a safety barrier between your ears and the device. These covers shield you from previous users and protect the next user from you. Disposable covers like these are essential audiophile PPE.

Just like wearing masks in public, we should all carry disposable headphone and earbud covers for our health and safety.

Disposable headphone covers are made of thin, stretchy fabric. This is placed over the headphones before you put them on. For earbuds, on the other hand, you can simply bring your own earbud tips. That is if your earbuds broke and can’t buy a replacement just yet.

Disinfect before use

You can disinfect your headphones with rubbing alcohol when you have no other option. Using a cotton ball moistened with rubbing alcohol, rub every surface of the earbuds or headphones and allow it to dry before use.

You can also make use of sanitary wipes. Just make sure to not wet the headphones too much to avoid internal damage or corrosion.

Replace ear cushions regularly

Ear cushions make headphones more comfortable. But they can also harbor harmful germs and bacteria if not replaced regularly.

Cushions are made from a porous material like foam, and harmful bacteria, yeast, and germs can live deep within.

It’s a good idea to replace the cushions regularly. This is especially true for people who commonly share headphones at school or work.

No matter how well you disinfect the surface, it is impossible to completely sanitize ear cushions. Periodic replacement is a necessity.

Deformed, cracked, and foul smelling cushions signal that your ear cushions need to be replaced. With this in mind, we created a guide on how to replace ear cushions on any brand of headphones. Feel free to check it out!

Maintain proper hygiene

Of course, all these precautions will go to waste if you don’t practice proper hygiene. Using proper hygiene is always a good way to ward off ear infections, and can also protect others. By keeping your ears clean, you’re less likely to have harmful germs and infections to spread in the first place.

Ear candles and Q tips should never be used to clean the ear and can cause harm. It’s important never to clean your ears by placing anything inside the ear canal. Doing so can puncture the eardrum, causing pain and irreversible damage.

To clean the ear properly, use a washcloth to gently wipe the outside of your ears clean. A few drops of baby oil, hydrogen peroxide, or mineral oil can safely be used to help remove waxy buildup.

What About Secondhand Headphones and Earbuds?

Second-hand headphones (From: Pexels)
Second-hand headphones (From: Pexels)

From a health and hygiene perspective, second-hand headphones and earbuds are a risky investment. Since you won’t exactly know the hygiene of the previous owner, you will never be too sure about how clean the earbuds may be.

For example, they may contain contaminated earwax of the users that came before you. Keep in mind that even if it looks brand new, second-hand headphones are still used and can cause issues along the way.

Furthermore, you can never be sure of the quality of secondhand devices. The previous owner could have blown the internal components due to a technical error.

Be sure to do an advanced cleaning before use if you really must buy used headphones.

Conclusion

As recently established, sharing headphones and earbuds can cause ear infections and transfer dangerous disease-causing germs. These germs can stay on surfaces for days, even if you can’t see them. And the same goes for second-hand devices.

Hopefully, if sharing isn’t avoidable, following these best practices protect you from the dangers of sharing headphones.

Did this article help you understand the risks associated with headphone sharing? Did you find the suggested PPE items and methods for cleaning useful? Let us know if there’s anything you loved or anything you feel that we’ve missed!