When discussing earbuds, the topic of cleaning doesn’t come up too often. We can definitely understand why. Talking about ear wax, dirt, and dust is much less appealing than analyzing the latest and greatest products from major audio equipment manufacturers. But it’s a topic that deserves our full attention. In this article, you are going to find out why you should always keep your headphones clean, and you’ll learn a handful of cleaning tips and best practices.

Why You Should Clean Your Earbuds

If you are like us, you use your earbuds all day, every day. This means that your earbuds visit places that are very far from clean. This can be your front pocket, the bottom of your backpack, or your school desk. As a result, various bacteria accumulate on the surface and can cause ear infections.

The mere presence of in-ear headphones in your ears creates an environment that promotes bacterial growth. This is, usually, not a problem by itself, but it can lead to a condition called swimmer’s ear, which happens when a small skin damage allows bacteria to invade the skin inside your ear canal. Resulting inflammation or infection is usually treated with ear drops to prevent complications.

But it’s not just your earbuds that you should be worried about. According to researchers at Manipal University in India, 92 percent of people who share headphones with friends have harmful bacteria in their ears. Compare this to just 8 percent of those who don’t regularly share headphones.


Avoid aggressive solvents – It’s never a good idea to use aggressive solvents for earbud cleaning. Common solvents, such as benzene, acetone, or ethanol, can break down the top layer of protective coating and ruin the finish. Not only would your earbuds look ugly, but, depending on the material they are made out of, their structural integrity could be compromised.

A much better way to go about cleaning your earbuds is to stick to a warm water with a tiny bit of anti-bacterial soap. The soap will help get rid of any waxy residue that might be left on the surface of your earbuds and will also kill all bacteria.

Don’t drown your earbuds – You should never submerge your earbuds in water or use so much of it that it could get inside and come in contact with electronic components. Modern earbuds use sophisticated drivers and armatures, and it’s unlikely that they would recover from such damage.

It goes without saying that the earbuds have to be unplugged during the cleaning. If something should go wrong, you can leave them on a paper towel for a few days and wait until all moisture evaporates. There’s no guarantee that they will survive, but, at least, you have some chance.

Toothbrush to rescue – Many modern earbuds incorporate design features that, while nice to look at, attract a lot of dirt and dust. A simple wet wipe may not be enough to clean everything. In such case, a toothbrush or a wooden toothpick can be immensely useful cleaning tools. Just make sure not to jam them inside the driver compartment and puncture the filter or even the driver itself.

Replace old ear tips – If you are using foam ear tips, such as Comply, you really shouldn’t bother with extensive cleaning. Their structure easily absorbs ear wax and is a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. It’s best to bear the extra cost and buy a new pair once in a while. On the other hand, silicon ear tips can be easily cleaned in a soapy water or with alcohol wipes.


Take care of your ears – Contrary to a popular belief, there’s actually no need to go to any great lengths when it comes to ear cleaning. Earwax has a protective function and antibacterial properties and its absence causes itching and irritation. Your body naturally gets rid of old earwax by pushing it into the ear opening. A simple wipe with a wet towel will effectively clean any old, dry flakes.

When happens when people insert Q-tips (or some longer in-ear headphones!) deep into their ear canal is that the wax gets pushed near the eardrum where your body can’t naturally do anything about it. A solution is to use something to soften the wax and let gravity do its thing. This can be a baby oil or a few drops of peroxide.

Turn earbuds cleaning into a habit – Earbud cleaning should be a well-established habit; not something, you do only when your earbuds become too disgusting to look at. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to clean everything in just a few minutes and avoid potentially embarrassing moments later during the day.

Don’t forget about your hands – You can spend as long as you want on cleaning, but, if you use dirty hands to pick up the earbuds and insert them into your ears, all this effort will go to vain. Think about riding on a bus and holding onto the same safety handle as hundreds and thousands of people before you, then grabbing your headphones with the same hand and, effectively, transporting all those germs directly into your ear canal. Pretty nasty, right?

Fortunately, all you need to do is pick your earbuds only by their housing and avoid coming into contact with ear tips themselves. Of course, you can always keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer near you.

Be careful about skin damage – It always pays off to be careful and take your time when inserting and removing earbuds to and from your ears. Small cuts and scrapes significantly increase the danger of ear infection and are definitely not worth the rush.


As you can see, earbud cleaning doesn’t have to be complicated. It takes just a few minutes per week and your ears will thank you for keeping them healthy and pain-free. Our tips should give you a solid overview of the best practices that are commonly used by headphone enthusiast. You are, of course, free to experiment on your own and find out what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to contact us, if you discover a useful tip that you would like to share with others.