How to Clean Your AirPods [The Ultimate Guide]

Dirty Airpods (From: Pexels)
Dirty Airpods (From: Pexels)

Say goodbye to earwax and gunk clogging your AirPods with this guide on how to clean your AirPods the right way.

Dirt and chunks of earwax on your AirPods are not only unhygienic and ugly, but they can also make you feel uncomfortable, disrupt your AirPods’ sound and functions, or even give you an ear infection!

Unfortunately, while cleaning your AirPods can sound easy, AirPods can also be delicate so any mistake in cleaning them can lead to irreparable damage.

In this article, we’ve put together a guide on how to safely clean your AirPods (Gen. 1, 2, and 3) of all the dirt and gunk buildup from the daily wear. Let’s get right into it.

How to Clean Your AirPods

AirPods are generally durable and can withstand daily wear and tear (or even 10-feet drop tests). However, certain parts of AirPods can be a bit more fragile than others—especially the speaker mesh, which has been reported to fall off or get damaged while cleaning.

That’s why, it’s important to take extra caution when cleaning your AirPods. Any mistake may leave you with something much worse than a pair of dirty AirPods – a non-functioning one.

Fortunately, you probably already have most of the tools you need to do this at home, such as:

  • Soft, dry, lint-free cloth
  • 70% isopropyl alcohol
  • Cotton swab(s)
  • Toothpick
  • Toothbrush

Here’s how to properly clean your AirPods:

  1. Lightly apply isopropyl alcohol to a cotton swab and lint-free cloth. Use the them to clean the surface of your AirPods.

    Wiping debris with a damp cotton swab.
    Wiping debris with a damp cotton swab.
  2. Next, use the toothpick to remove debris from the inner edges and parts that the cotton swab couldn’t reach.
    Softly scooping out dirt from the insides using a toothpick.
    Softly scooping out dirt from the insides using a toothpick.

    DO NOT apply too much pressure when using sharp objects such as your toothpick. Aside from possible scratches, your AirPods’ speaker mesh is very delicate and can break easier than you’d think.
  3. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean the remaining finer debris in any dirty areas.

    Gently brush off remaining debris from the pods.
    Gently brush off remaining debris from the pods.
  4. Finish it up with a wipe using the lint-free cloth.
    The above solutions are for AirPods Gen 1, 2, & 3. For other variants, check out our articles on cleaning AirPods Pro and removing stains from AirPods Max.

How to Remove Stubborn Earwax on AirPods

If you have been using your AirPods regularly, there’s a high chance that there’s an earwax buildup in their speaker mesh. In some cases, these buildups are lodged so deep that the cleaning method explained above can’t possibly reach them.

Luckily, there’s an easy – albeit a little gross – way to safely clean stubborn earwax on your AirPods’ speaker mesh, i.e., suck them up.

Here’s how:

  1. Cover the speaker opening with a thin tissue or cloth.
    You shouldn’t skip this step at any cost. You definitely don’t want the dirt and debris in your AirPods to enter your mouth and respiratory system.

    A soft, thin tissue covering the speaker opening to keep dirt out.
    A soft, thin tissue covering the speaker opening to keep dirt out.
  2. Suck on the larger opening until you feel the air coming through the mesh.

    Suck through the tissue covering the opening.
    Suck through the tissue covering the opening.
  3. Clean up the speaker mesh with the toothbrush, and repeat steps 3 & 4 if necessary.

    Gently brush the loosened debris from the speaker mesh.
    Gently brush the loosened debris from the speaker mesh.

Yes, it’s not the most hygienic way to clean your AirPods. However, doing this might save you a few hundred dollars since you won’t have to buy an AirPod replacement just because of stuck earwax.

This weird way of cleaning AirPods has been gaining popularity for a while now. For instance, Kira Bindrim, executive editor at Quartz, gave this method a shot and said it helped improve her AirPods’ sound. u/StrachNasty on Reddit also suggested this method, and many users backed it up.

How to Clean Your AirPods’ Charging Case

A dirty charging case can cause two of the most common charging-related issues:

  • Dirt buildup can block the charging pins inside the case, causing one or both of your AirPods not to charge properly. This is also the main culprit for issues like AirPods that won’t reset.
  • If there’s a buildup in the Lightning charging port, it can block electrical current from going into the charging case.

To prevent these problems, you’ll have to regularly clean your AirPods’ charging case as well. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 70% isopropyl alcohol
  • Cotton swab(s)
  • Toothpick
  • Lint-free cloth (or paper towel)

Once you have arranged all the items mentioned above, follow these steps to safely clean your AirPods’ charging case:

  1. Lightly damp a lint-free cloth with isopropyl alcohol and clean dirty areas on the outside of your charging case.

    Gently wipe the case's outer areas with a moist lint-free cloth.
    Gently wipe the case’s outer areas with a moist lint-free cloth.
  2. Use the cotton swab to clean the inside of the charging case.
    Don’t forget to clean around the charging pins where the ‘handles’ of your AirPods would go.

    Dirt being softly scooped out from the inner areas of the case with a cotton swab.
    Dirt being softly scooped out from the inner areas of the case with a cotton swab.
  3. Dip the toothpick in isopropyl alcohol. Use it to clean dirty areas that the cotton swab couldn’t reach.

    Wooden toothpick dipped in isopropyl alcohol to remove remaining dirt.
    Wooden toothpick dipped in isopropyl alcohol to remove remaining dirt.
  4. Make sure to also clean debris in the case’s charging port by carefully picking out dirt using the toothpick.
    Be very careful when cleaning your AirPods case with a toothpick. Do not apply too much pressure to areas with electronic components.

    Same toothpick used to gently clean the charging port.
    Same toothpick used to gently clean the charging port.
  5. Clean away any loose dirt with a cotton swab.

    Final wipe of the charging case.
    Final wipe of the charging case.
  6. Dry the case using a paper towel or dry lint-free cloth.

    Case dried with a soft, dry, lint-free cloth.
    Case dried with a soft, dry, lint-free cloth.

What Not to Do When Cleaning Your AirPods

There are a few things you shouldn’t do when cleaning your AirPods. This is because you’ll risk damaging them to the point where they may be irreparable.

Don’t use too much water

Apple’s AirPods are not waterproof. In fact, the original AirPods (1st and 2nd generation) have no water resistance. And, while the AirPods Pro and AirPods Gen 3 have an IP rating of IPX4, they are, at best, only protected from sweat and light rain.

Since no AirPods model is certified for complete water submersion, using too much water while cleaning them can cause water damage to your AirPods.

Isopropyl alcohol (at least 70%) is arguably the best option for cleaning most electronics as it can kill bacteria and evaporate faster than water. It also doesn’t leave any traces of oil or liquid once it evaporates.

Most over-the-counter isopropyl alcohols are still electrically conductive since they contain water. So, make sure to properly dry traces of alcohol before turning on or charging your AirPods.

Don’t use abrasive materials

Apple advises against using abrasive materials to clean your AirPods as they can scratch and damage the outer surface of your AirPods and their case.

For your AirPods, abrasive materials are anything made with hard enough density that can scratch your AirPods’ plastic body. These items include any type of metals or hard plastic, rough clothes like denim, or even nail polish remover.

So, stick to objects with soft materials like cotton swabs, toothpicks, and micro fiber or cotton cloths when cleaning your AirPods. Ensure to also avoid harsh cleaning agents like bleach and 90%+ alcohol since they can also damage the plastic.

Don’t use Blu-tack

There are many articles that suggest using Blu-tack for cleaning AirPods. However, do not try this method because Blu-tack will only push the dirt and earwax from the mesh further into your AirPods.

There is also a chance that the Blu-tack will break down and leave more debris than it cleans – especially when you use it to clean the speaker mesh. As a result, it will be even more difficult—and nearly impossible—to clean without taking your AirPods apart.

Don’t use compressed air

Despite popular belief, compressed air should never be used when cleaning your AirPods. The high pressure of the compressed air can cause damage to the delicate parts of your AirPods and their case, namely the speaker mesh and charging port.

Don’t use the AirPods while they’re still wet

Even after you wipe your AirPods down with a dry cloth, there may still be traces of liquid that you can’t see. So make sure to air dry them completely before using them.

Using your AirPods while they’re wet exposes a risk of electrical surge that can break the circuitry.

The liquid may also not be able to completely dry when you wear them or put them in the case, which can lead to corrosion if left for a longer period.

If you suspect that there’s water lodged somewhere in your AirPods, check out our article on how to get water out of AirPods.

Why Is Keeping Your Airpods Clean Important?

Man in black hoodie wearing Airpods (From: Unsplash)
Man in black hoodie wearing AirPods (From: Unsplash)

Keeping your AirPods (and their case) clean is important for two main reasons:

Hygiene concerns

Cleanliness is often overlooked when it comes to items you use or wear daily, like AirPods. In extreme cases, not cleaning your AirPods and other headphones can even cause ear infections.

This is because your AirPods and their case often sit in places where they get exposed to all sorts of bacteria like your bag, pockets, under the car seat, or just random surfaces around your house.

To top it off, there are also natural bacteria inside your ears that you wouldn’t want nesting on your AirPods for a long time. This is due to the closed-off and moist environment between your ear canals, making them an effective breeding ground for such bacteria.

Research has found that the number of bacterial growth in earphones is relevant to the frequency of usage. It has also been found that sharing your earphones (AirPods included) with others can rapidly accelerate the growth of bacteria.

Impact on sound quality

Not cleaning your AirPods consistently means the old dirt and wax buildup will gradually be pushed back further, going through the speaker mesh and eventually getting to the speakers and the mic.

The initial buildup may only reduce the sound details. But once the buildup grows denser, it can cause your AirPods to be not loud enough to the point where it’s no longer suitable for outdoor use. This can also lead to various sound issues such as unbalanced sound from your AirPods.

Impact on functionality

While it may seem trivial, dirt buildup can affect the various functions of your AirPods. For instance, if there’s a dirt buildup blocking the charging plate in your AirPods case, your AirPods won’t reset, or one of your AirPods may not charge.

Impact on comfort

Frequently using your AirPods without cleaning them causes their tips to collect oil and earwax over time. This can ultimately cause your earbuds to easily fall out from your ears.

If this is the case, you might have to wear your AirPods in the wrong position to keep them from falling out. Then again, wearing your AirPods the wrong way for extended periods can hurt your ears.

You get the drift: the solution is to keep your AirPods squeaky clean as much as possible.

Can’t do without AirPods but also don’t know how to make them stop hurting your ears without constantly adjusting them? Here are some of the best solutions we’ve compiled for this issue that might help you!

How Often Should You Clean Your AirPods?

To avoid an excessive buildup of foreign bodies inside the AirPods, it’s a good idea to clean your AirPods every 72 hours of listening time.

To prevent oil buildup on the surface of your AirPods, you should wipe them down with a tissue or lint-free cloth after every use. While you’re at it, you should also spray the tissue/cloth with disinfectants or sanitizers to kill germs and bacteria.

In addition to this, it’s also essential to keep your ears clean. This will help reduce the amount of wax that enters your AirPods, which eventually keeps them more hygienic for longer.

Conclusion

No longer will you need to worry about others seeing your dirty headphones or grimy buildup affecting your audio quality. Keeping your headphones clean is a proactive step in making sure they’re performing at their best.

That said, it’s important to remember that while cleaning your Airpods may solve many related problems, it’s not a one-stop solution to fixing everything.

From pairing problems to audio concerns, a lot more can and does go wrong when using AirPods. Luckily, we have a comprehensive guide covering all possible reasons why your AirPods may not be working the way you want them to.

We have also created other guides that you can refer to, such as: what to do when Airpods keep disconnecting and how to use Airpods with Android phones.

Did the above cleaning methods work for you? Do you have another way of cleaning your headphones? Let us know in the comments below!

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