(Last Updated On: June 16, 2021)

An in-depth guide on how to properly clean your earbuds without damaging them. 

For most of us, listening to headphones has become quite a big part of our daily routine. That’s why it’s extra annoying when your headphones suddenly sound muffled, or your ears start feeling irritated when wearing them. These problems are usually caused by one concern: dirty earbuds.

Cleaning your earbuds may not have crossed your mind ever since you got them. But dirty earbuds can cause not just audio problems, but even health concerns.

No worries, though! We got your back on this one. In this article, we’ll guide you through the proper methods of effectively cleaning your earphones, restoring them to tiptop shape. So let’s jump right in!

Dirty earbuds
Dirty earbuds

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The Different Types of Earbuds

Some of you may ask: “Why do I even need to clean my earbuds properly? I can just wipe them with a damp tissue.”

Yes, you can definitely wipe away the visible dirt with damp tissue. But chances are, the colonies of microorganisms inhabiting your earbuds are still there — making your earbuds a veritable cesspit for ear infections and other auditory problems.

There are several types of earbuds available in the market today. And each has its own proper ways of cleaning.

That’s why we have to identify what type of earbuds you have before we go through with the cleaning process. Doing so will help us determine what cleaning approach to take. It may fall under any of the following types:

  • Standard Earbuds: These are the most common type and are relatively inexpensive. They may either come wired or wireless.
  • In-ear Monitors: In-ear monitors (IEMs) are similar to standard earbuds. The difference is that they’re inserted into the ear canals. As a result, they generally have better noise isolation and fit.
  • Over-the-ear Earbuds: These earbuds have their wires made to loop around your ears for better stability. This type is usually used by stage performers for monitoring. Their design makes them less visible than other types and their wires are usually detachable for easier upgrade.
  • Beans Earbuds: Beans earbuds are a new type of earbuds cooked up by Samsung to compete with AirPods. Based on their name, beans earbuds are mostly shaped like kidney beans and don’t have the typical ear tips we’re used to seeing.
If you want to learn about a more in-depth classification of headphones, read our article on the nine types of headphones for more information.

How to Clean Earbuds: Preparation

Cleaning and preparing the workstation (From: Pexels)
Cleaning and preparing the workstation (From: Pexels)

Before we begin with the cleaning process, there are some things that you must first do before anything else. They may be dismissed as skippable steps, but remember that a few minutes of preparation can prevent hours of headache as we go through with cleaning our earbuds.

Earbuds are fragile pieces of electronics. Always handle them with care and consult their instruction manual. Never attempt to crack them open without professional knowledge. Not only will this void your warranty, but it may also cause irreparable damage.

Unplug your earbuds

Disconnect your earbuds from your audio device. Deactivate them if they’re wireless. Their low wattage means that there’s no danger of electrocution. But it’s still advisable to turn them off to prevent them from shorting out. Better safe than sorry.

Assess the damage

How we approach cleaning your earbuds will depend on at least two factors. First, is the level of dirt present. The amount of dirt build-up will determine the time required to complete the task.

Second, is its location. If the build-up is mostly on the speaker mesh, you have to approach this differently and more carefully. There’s the danger of damaging the earbuds when any liquid gets through the mesh. Additionally, carelessly breaking up the dirt in this area may allow their entry through the mesh — a situation we’ll try to avoid.

Set up your work area

Select a working area with ample lighting. Make sure to protect the surface of your temporary working space with some coverings. Keep some cleaning cloths handy, not for the earbuds, but for any accidental spillage.

How to Clean Standard Earbuds

Sample standard earbuds (From: Unsplash)
Sample standard earbuds (From: Unsplash)

As standard earbuds are the most common, they are also the easiest to clean. Using some household items you already have, we can go about cleaning them with relative ease.

The procedures portrayed in this section are actually applicable to other types of earbuds. Think of it as a general reference you can come back to when cleaning the shell/casing of another earbud type.

Clean the surface using a soft cloth

For this portion, you’ll need a soft cloth, preferably one that’s lint-free, and a bowl of lukewarm water.

  1. Dampen a soft cloth with lukewarm water. Wring it out to remove any excess water.
  2. Wipe the earbuds’ casing with the cloth, but avoid any openings, i.e. the speaker mesh or input jacks.
    Wipe earbuds with cloth (From: Jon Collins/Youtube)
    Wipe earbuds with cloth (From: Jon Collins/Youtube)
Make sure to completely dry the earbuds before plugging them in or using them again. Using wet earbuds may damage them further or cause short circuits.

Remove grime using soapy water

If there are any tough grimes, oil, or earwax remaining, level up the previous solution with a dishwashing liquid. We’ll still be using a soft cloth and a bowl of water in this procedure. But this time we’ll be adding dishwashing liquid to the mix.

  1. Mix one part dishwashing liquid in a bowl with five parts lukewarm water.
  2. Dip a soft cloth into this solution. Wring it out then wipe the grime off your earbuds. Again, steer clear of the mesh grill and/or any input jacks.
    Cleaning the shell/case of an earbud with a soft cloth
    Cleaning the shell/case of an earbud with a soft cloth
Most electronics manufactured these days have an IP Rating to indicate their dust and liquid resistance. This includes how much water your earbuds can take and for how long. You can find your earbuds’ IP Rating in its specs. As a general rule, however, never submerge your earbuds in any liquid or run them under an open water faucet.

Remove debris and dried residue using a toothbrush

For any dried residue and hard-to-reach edges of your earbuds, using a toothbrush is your best bet. Most toothbrushes sold today are made of nylon, which is fine for our intent. But if you can get a soft-bristled children’s toothbrush, do so. The softness and size will help immensely in this procedure.

  1. Hold the earbuds with the speaker side facing down.
    Holding the earbuds upside down (From: Raymond Strazdas/Youtube)
    Holding the earbuds upside down (From: Raymond Strazdas/Youtube)
  2. Using a toothbrush, gently brush away particles off the earbuds’ mesh and edges.
    Brushing the earbuds with a toothbrush (From: Jon Collins/Youtube)
    Brushing the earbuds with a toothbrush (From: Jon Collins/Youtube)
One material that’s being recommended by some to “effectively clean earbuds” is Blu Tack. But, it may cause more damage than good. You may accidentally leave off some Blue Tack in your earbuds’ edges, especially the mesh and speakers, blocking them further. And since it’s technically an adhesive, removing them is more difficult than your regular earbud dirt.

Disinfect using rubbing alcohol

Alcohol is an effective cleaning agent for electronics. This is not just because of its disinfecting capability, but also because it dries up faster than water.

However, when using alcohol with your earbuds, be extra careful not to get any through the speaker mesh. Alcohol, as with any other liquid, can damage the internal circuitry of earbuds. When wetting the cotton swab, make sure they’re not dripping wet.

  1. Hold the earbuds with the speaker mesh facing downwards, then gently clean them with a cotton swab.
    Cleaning the speaker mesh with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol (From: Jon Collins/Youtube)
    Cleaning the speaker mesh with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol (From: Jon Collins/Youtube)
  2. Use another cotton swab to wipe around your earbuds’ shell/casing.
    Disinfecting the shell of the earbuds (From: Raymond Strazdas/Youtube)
    Disinfecting the shell of the earbuds (From: Raymond Strazdas/Youtube)

How to Clean In-Ear Monitors

Sample in-ear monitors with extra eartips
Sample in-ear monitors with extra eartips

To reiterate, standard earbuds and IEMs are similar to each other. Their main differences lie in how they are worn — the former rests on the outer ear while the latter is inserted into the ear canal. And because of their form factor, IEMs have detachable ear tips people use to comfortably place them in the ear canal.

With that in mind, cleaning IEMs is almost the same as cleaning standard earbuds. But, it has some extra steps for the ear tips. You can follow the steps mentioned in cleaning standard earbuds if you want to clean your IEM’s shell.

For the ear tips, follow the procedure below.

How to clean eartips

To clean the ear tips of IEMs, you’ll need some hydrogen peroxide, a small container, and some water in a separate container.

  1. Carefully detach the ear tips.
    Detached eartips
    Detached ear tips
  2. Soak them for about five minutes in hydrogen peroxide.
    Submerging the eartips in 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
    Submerging the ear tips in 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
  3. After five minutes, grab a cloth and gently rub off any dirt or ear wax residue.
    Wiping the eartips clean
    Wiping the ear tips clean
  4. Make sure that the ear tips are completely dry before placing them back on your IEMs.
    Eartips of IEMs reattached after drying
    Eartips of IEMs reattached after drying
Be careful when handling hydrogen peroxide. Only use 3% formulation. This is deemed safe for household products. At higher percentages, it can cause epidermal damage.

How to Clean Over-the-Ear Earbuds

These earbuds are recognizable by their hook-like attachments running around the ears’ helices. These help keep them in place no matter the user’s activity. They may vary in design, but this peripheral is consistently present in all over-the-ear earbuds.

Also present in most over-the-ear earbuds are their detachable earpieces. This makes them versatile when it comes to cleaning and performance checks. A good example of this is the KZ AS16.

The KZ AS16 Earbuds
The KZ AS16 Earbuds

To clean the casing of the earpiece, you can follow along with the methodology used on standard earbuds. Over-the-ear earbuds also usually have detachable ear tips so you can refer to the previous instructions on how to clean ear tips for that.

However, cleaning over-the-ear earbuds can prove to be more challenging than other types. That’s because these have some hard-to-reach holes that couldn’t be cleaned with ordinary instruments. We’ll need specialized equipment for this purpose alone.

How to clean hard-to-reach holes in over-the-ear earbuds

When it comes to cleaning hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, the only way to do so is with specialized tools, specifically the Jodi Consumer Hearing Aid Vacuum Cleaner. This vacuum is originally used for cleaning hearing aids but it’s also a handy tool for cleaning over-the-ear earbuds.

  1. Connect the power cable and attach the needle to the Jodi Vacuum tubing.
    Attaching the needle (From: Helmsdrums/Youtube)
    Attaching the needle (From: Helmsdrums/Youtube
  2. Choose the tip you want to use.
    Attaching the tip (From: Helmsdrums/Youtube)
    Attaching the tip (From: Helmsdrums/Youtube)
  3. Carefully insert the tip in one of the holes, taking care not to push the particles even deeper. Take your time as the Jodi Vacuum does its work.
    Vacuuming the IEMs' hard to reach parts (From: Helmsdrums/Youtube)
    Vacuuming the IEMs’ hard to reach parts (From: Helmsdrums/Youtube)

How to Clean Galaxy Beans

Galaxy Buds Live (From: Unsplash)
Galaxy Buds Live (From: Unsplash)

The most famous earbuds in beans form right now are the Samsung Galaxy Buds. Luckily, Samsung has listed down the proper cleaning methods for their Galaxy Buds Live. We present its abridged version below.

  1. Carefully remove the wingtips and clean them using the same method as how to properly clean an IEMs’ ear tips.
    Careful removal of the wing tips (From: Tech & Lifestyle /Youtube)
    Careful removal of the wing tips (From: Tech & Lifestyle /Youtube)
  2. Wet a cotton swab wet with alcohol and disinfect the speakers, while holding the beans upside down.
    Cleaning the speaker mesh with a cotton swab (From: Tech & Lifestyle /Youtube)
    Cleaning the speaker mesh with a cotton swab (From: Tech & Lifestyle /Youtube)
  3. Using the same tools, also clean the charging contacts and their sensors.
    Cleaning the contacts and sensors with a cotton swab (From: Tech & Lifestyle /Youtube)
    Cleaning the contacts and sensors with a cotton swab (From: Tech & Lifestyle /Youtube)
  4. For other parts, wipe them using a soft cloth with rubbing alcohol.
  5. Reattach the wingtips carefully.
    Reattaching the wing tips back in position (From: Tech & Lifestyle /Youtube)
    Reattaching the wing tips back in position (From: Tech & Lifestyle /Youtube)

How Often Should You Clean Your Earbuds?

Earbuds should be cleaned at least every 72 hours of playtime. While that may sound complicated, it’s actually not.

Think of it this way: an average person’s safety threshold for listening to music is at eight hours per day (based on WHO safety standards). That would place your cleaning schedule at around every nine days.

But, if you’re busy with your schedule and can’t find the time to clean your earbuds, you can always slow down the accumulation of dirt in them by keeping your ears clean.

Make it part of your daily hygiene routine. This ensures that there are fewer chances of accumulating grime on your earbuds. Of course, it also prevents auditory problems.

Conclusion

By this time, you’re back to listening to music or watching shows alongside the activities you enjoy the most. Keeping your earbuds in tiptop shape lets you enjoy them even further with audio clarity in mind.

You may have noticed that the cleanliness of your earbuds is a literal reflection of how you maintain your own hygiene. The less you pay attention to your ears’ cleanliness, the easier for your earbuds to accumulate grime and cultivate microorganisms.

So, did you find any of the methods presented here effective? Were they relatable? Do you have your own tried and tested way of cleaning your earbuds? Please share with us in the comments below!