How To Clean AirPods (and How Often You Should Clean Them)

You might not typically clean your ear buds, but after hearing these stories from two MDs...you'll probably want to start! Here's a safe, simple, step-by-step guide.

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Wireless headphones on a white background, Close-up. The concept of modern technology.
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Your earbuds go a lot of places—including in your ears; occasionally on the floor—and it makes sense to clean them regularly. “It’s very important to clean your AirPods,” says Carmen Castilla, MD, a New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist.

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Safe to say Dr. Castilla is referring not just to AirPods, but any brand of in-ear headphones. She makes a point worth listening up about: We learned a lot about cleaning during the pandemic, yet you still see individuals pop out their ear buds and place them on an airport restaurant table, or touch the bars on the subway and then touch their AirPods. At the gym? We shudder. There’s no denying that ear buds pick up a lot of germs.

“This bacteria can lead to infections,” Dr. Castilla says. “Usually in the area on the outside of the ear where the AirPod rests—I’ve had patients with infections caused by dirty AirPods that need to be drained in the office.”

Dr. Castilla doesn’t recommend having earbuds in your ears for an extended time period because that leads to oil buildup and, eventually, blackheads. In addition, wax can also build up on your buds, which can affect their function.

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Renita Ahluwalia, MD, FRCPC, DABD, a dermatologist in Toronto, backs up Dr. Castilla’s observations: “It is possible to develop a painful outer ear infection, known as Ottis Externa or swimmer’s ear, that has to be treated with antibiotics.” She adds: “One could also develop folliculitis, which can be irritating and recurrent.”

Dr. Ahluwalia says it’s common for dermatologists to see contact dermatitis in the ear from the AirPods themselves from the nickel and acrylate contained in the product. In addition, some people get contact dermatitis as a reaction to products used for cleaning the AirPods.

“Generally speaking, if AirPods are cared for appropriately, the risk from the dermatological point of view is very low,” Dr. Ahluwalia says.

Like our iPhones, a good pair of ear buds is an investment. You protect your iPhone from extreme hot and cold and protect your phone from water damage, and you should take the same care with your ear buds. Keeping your ear buds away from overheating and safe from water damage is only part of it—here’s how to clear your AirPods so that your ears stay healthy and the sound stays crisp.

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How to clean airpods

cleaning air pods with tool
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What not to do

AirPods are sweat and water-resistant—but not sweat and waterproof—so be aware of this when cleaning them and read up on the sweat and water-resistance guidelines, carefully noting what not to do. According to Apple, you should not:

  • Run your AirPods Max under water.
  • Get any liquid in the openings.
  • Use sharp objects or abrasive materials to clean your AirPods.
  • Attempt to use them until they’re completely dry.

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Gather your supplies

Joseph Marini, cleaning expert with At Home with Joseph, says we only need four items to properly clean and disinfect your AirPods:

For those who like an all-in-one tool to get the job done, Hagibis has an AirPod Cleaning Pen to help you keep your AirPods clean.

Air Pod Cleaner tool
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Step-by-step instructions

Marini says AirPods should be cleaned weekly and gives us step-by-step instructions on how to do it.

  1. Using a toothpick, gently run the tip around the perimeter of the earpiece where the mesh screen is, giving special attention to the bottom portion. (You’ll be amazed how much wax builds up there!)
  2. Gently pry out the wax and use a dry Q-tip to collect the wax.
  3. Dampen both swabs on two clean Q-tips with rubbing alcohol and squeeze out any excess with your fingers—you don’t want to get liquid into the speakers.
  4. Gently roll the dampened Q-tip over the black screen one time. Repeat this process with the remaining clean, dampened Q-tips until you no longer see any visible wax.
  5. Run a dry, clean Q-tip over the same area to dry it.
  6. Wipe down the outside of the AirPods with a soft, dry, lint-free cloth that has been slightly dampened with rubbing alcohol.
  7. Cleaning the inside of your AirPod case is also just as important! Again, roll a dampened Q-tip around inside each of the cavities where your AirPods dock.
  8. Follow up with a clean, dry Q-tip to dry it completely. Leave the case open for a few minutes to fully dry.
  9. Wipe the exterior of the case with the damp, lint-free cloth.
  10. Don’t forget about the charging port. You can forcefully blow into the receptacle to expel any dust or pocket lint that may have collected inside.

For cleaning your AirPods (and other devices!) on-the-go, keep a few alcohol prep pads in your purse, backpack or briefcase for quick wipe-downs when you’re out and about.

For Apple products, more of the brand’s recommendations include:

  • Using a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe, 75% ethyl alcohol wipe, or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes gently wipe the exterior surfaces of your AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or EarPods.
  • Don’t use on the speaker mesh or knit mesh canopy. Avoid getting moisture in any openings.
  • Don’t use products containing bleach or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Don’t submerge your AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or EarPods in any cleaning agents.
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Sources
Carmen Castilla, MD, a New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist Renita Ahluwalia, MD, FRCPC, DABD, a dermatologist in Toronto Joseph Marini, cleaning expert with At Home with Joseph

Jaime Stathis
Jaime Alexis Stathis is a nonfiction writer whose favorite topics are humans, technology, animals, wildlife, and the places where they intersect. She writes about health, wellness, technology, nutrition, and everything related to being a human being on a constantly evolving planet. Her work has been published in Self, Wired, Parade, Bon Appétit, The Independent, Rachael Ray In Season, and others. She is also a Licenced Massage Therapist. Jaime is working on a novel about a heroine who saves herself and a memoir about caring for her grandmother through the dark stages of dementia.