The Verge Guide to Cleaning Headphones (2023)

In-ear headphones have long been the listening choice of many, and sales of wireless in-ear headphones increased when Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and released itAirPods. Since then, seemingly every brand under the sun, and evensome rose from the depths, have released true wireless earbuds. Some are small and cheap. Some arebig and expensive. some haveOne size fits all hard plastic designs. some haveUser-replaceable rubber tipsthat adapt to ears of different sizes. But one thing that all earbuds have in common is that they eventually become disgustingly disgusting, with a buildup of earwax and debris that can degrade sound quality and reduce overall volume. Therefore, you must take the time to clean them from time to time.

Here we go over some of the different ways you can clean your headphones, from hard plastic to soft rubber headphones, with basic tools and methods anyone can feel comfortable with. Our goal is to keep your headphones clean and in good condition with minimal risk of damage.

The Verge Guide to Cleaning Headphones (1)

A little word of caution

It's important to note that most manufacturers recommend cleaning headphones with just a clean microfiber cloth or dry cotton swab. Instructions from well-known manufacturers such asSamsungjApplerecommend avoiding alcohol or other liquids. A simple alcohol wipe might be fine for some surfaces if you keep it away from speaker grills, microphone vents, or charging ports, but it does come with some dangers. If you attempt to use a wet process or cleaner, you do so at your own risk. And it may sound obvious, but it's worth emphasizing:oh noSoak earbuds or charging cases in any type of liquid to clean them.

Starting with the basics

The Verge Guide to Cleaning Headphones (2)

When cleaning electronics, the “less is more” approach is always the way to go. So let's start by going through the easiest and least risky methods of removing debris from most headphones. Start with the simplest cleaning tools and work your way up until your headphones are properly cleaned. No need to get invasive with a toothpick when a whiff of air will do, right? Always start small before jumping to extremes and only use what the job calls for.

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Many of the tools mentioned here are common household items. You can buyHeadphone Cleaning KitsThey have many similar tools, but you may already have what you need.

forced air

While blowing air from your mouth into the headphones can remove some dust or fluffy earwax, it's most likely inappropriate and you could accidentally deposit small bits of saliva on something you're putting in your ears, which isn't exactly hygienic. Try the following tools:

For hard plastic headphones, point the soiled speaker grilles away from you and toward the floor. Try aiming the fan up and towards the speaker grilles on the headphones, away from your face. You want to keep dirt from potentially flying into your eyes (there's no harm in wearing basic goggles or goggles; nobody's going to judge you), and you also want gravity to be on your side.

Gently slide in headphones with detachable soft rubber tips, holding the tip to the bottom. Blow air into and through the opening in the tip of the eartip, pointing down and away from you. Then turn them over and blow the air out the other side before moving to the earcup and blowing out any debris that got to the speaker grilles. Once the rubber tips are removed, they become the only part of the headphones that you can safely clean with liquids. If you clean the detached tips with water, let them dry overnight to ensure no traces of moisture remain before reattaching them to the earbuds.

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If this simple process is enough to remove dirt and leave the headphones clean enough, wipe all surfaces with a clean, dry microfiber cloth and remove any remaining dirt. If the debris has hardened and won't move, keep your compressed air or blower nearby as we get more and more invasive to try and break up the dirt.

Don't forget the charging case:Hot air and a microfiber cloth are often enough to remove dirt transferred from the wireless earbuds to the charging case.

Toothpicks, cotton swabs and more scraping and brushing tools

A whiff of air is rarely enough for clogged buildup, especially if you have overly waxy ears (I'm here for you; and oh my god, I feel sorry for you). The next step is to use a small tool to break up the earwax or debris without hurting yourself. You are about to penetrate an electronic part with a pick or probe, so proceed carefully and cautiously. Consider the following tools:

  • cotton swab
  • Simple wooden or plastic toothpick
  • Plastic spudger tool (similar toiFixit includes many DIY repair kits)
  • Wooden skewer (usually used for eating/cooking)
  • Dry brush (toothbrushes are good, but never risk using them for dental care afterwards)
  • Pipe Cleaners (Crafting Type)

Keep in mind that here we choose tools that are either soft (cotton, brushes) or firm but not too hard (wood, plastic) as metal could scratch or damage speaker grills or the plastic case of a headset. As usual, we want to start with the least invasive and work our way up if necessary.

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For hard plastic ear cups, start with the cotton swab and try to loosen and remove dirt or wax from the speaker grills. Tilt them down to let gravity help your cause. If the cotton swab isn't strong enough, take a toothpick, spudger, or wooden skewer and gently loosen any embedded debris in the corners and edges of the speaker cavity.

For soft rubber tips, the toothpick can be one of the best tools: it can go through the hole in the tip of a detaching earphone and scrape the inside wall. Also clean the exposed speaker with a cotton swab, brush, or toothpick if wax gets on it. If your headphones have a rubber tab or comb to secure the fit in your ear, it's best to clean them with a toothbrush. A pipe cleaner can also be very useful for those soft rubber tips, but due to its metal rod core, it shouldn't be used for much else.

Once you've broken up the stubborn buildup, blow more air out of a can or blower and see if that gets rid of the residue for good. Take a polishing cloth to all surfaces and hopefully you now have a pair of properly cleaned headphones.

Bonus-Tipp:Have a water-dampened paper towel or sponge handy and you can gently wipe away any gross stuff that builds up on your toothpick and minimize the mess. Be prepared to clean your workspace once you're done, as you'll be surprised at the amount of dirt that can come from a deep cleaning of headphones that have been neglected for a long time.

The ultimate tools for some hard-to-reach cleaning jobs

If you've dissolved some of the dirt but are having a hard time blowing or brushing it off, there are a few more tools to try. The following can be used in conjunction with all of the above tools:

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  • masking tape or painter's tape
  • assembly putty or cleaning gel
  • Vacuum with a small nozzle attachment

Hopefully it's all you need to fully clean every nook and cranny of your headphones, using tape or caulk to pull dirt out of the deeper crevices. Masking tape or painter's tape's adhesive is tacky enough to pick up dirt, but light enough not to leave a residue on the surface like heavier tape would.

If the dirt is very deep in the tip of a headphone and is difficult to reach, the tape may not reach it. This is where putty (the kind used in crafts to hold things securely to the wall) or a cleaning gel can come into play. Warm the putty by kneading a small amount in your hands and rub it over the affected area.

At this point, the combination of all these tools should remove most of the dirt from the headphones. Some particularly dirty buds may require repeated and alternating use of a combination of air, scraper and putty. The key is to gradually work on it until the headphones are clean.

The Verge Guide to Cleaning Headphones (23)The Verge Guide to Cleaning Headphones (24)


The more often you clean your headphones, the less dirt and debris there is, and the fewer tools and effort you'll need. By keeping your headphones from getting too dirty, you ensure they last longer and hopefully are less prone to degraded sound quality or are fracture.

As is often the case, a little preventative care can help you avoid costly repairs or replacements down the road. So keep your wireless earbuds in their charging case when not in use to protect them from further debris like lint in your pockets and don't forget to check and clean them occasionally.

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