How to Clean Your AirPods Without Ruining Them

Luckily, de-gunking them is so much easier than you think.

May 15, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

Whether you’re trying to find one of them, worrying that your pet ate them, or actually wearing them, you probably aren’t thinking about cleaning your AirPods. For some of us, it’s only when we take them out and find a particularly gory glob of earwax stuck to them that it even occurs to us that, much like our sheets or shower curtains, our beloved wireless earbuds should probably have their own cleaning schedule. In addition to avoiding the jarring visual described above, it’s also in the interest of our health to do so.

“The ear canal is a dark, warm, moist, closed space and is prone to infection,” explains Erich P. Voight, MD, associate professor of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery—at NYU Langone Health. “Blocking it off with anything can cause the environment to get infected. If the object placed inside is ‘dirty’ then an infection is likely.” He adds that ear infections are usually indicated by pain, swelling, itchiness, and even hearing loss or fever. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, regardless of your AirPods’ cleanliness, get in touch with your healthcare provider.

Luckily, cleaning your AirPods is relatively easy—and keeping them clean will save you the (possibly literal) headache of dealing with crusty ‘pods later on.

Take hacks with a grain of salt

A cursory internet search will drum up a whole world of purported AirPods cleaning “hacks.” Where TikTok-er @cleanthatup uses tacky wall adhesive to de-gunk his Airpods, others swear by pressurized air and Magic Erasers to get the job done. While we admire the creativity, for our purposes here we’re sticking with the manufacturer-recommended methods of cleaning. If you have an ingenious pod-cleaning method that keeps your devices sparkling and working reliably, let us know!

Start dry

According to Apple’s website, it doesn’t matter if you have AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or corded Earpods: Do not run them under water (unless you’re cleaning the ear tips that come with AirPods Pro—those are fine to rinse with fresh water if you’re cleaning them separately). Your first move should be to wipe them down using a soft, lint-free cloth. You can use a cotton swab on the AirPods’ microphones and speaker meshes for more targeted cleaning. Just be careful not to use anything too abrasive or something that will leave a residue behind, as that will affect your AirPods’ performance.

You should avoid moisture for your sake, as well as your device’s, Rachel Fryatt, AuD, MA, a clinical audiologist at Michigan Medicine, explains. She says that using damp AirPods could encourage bacteria growth in the ear canal and increase your risk of an ear infection. So, it’s best to try, say, a microfiber cloth before anything else.

Use water (sparingly)

For tough messes, or instances where you’re worried about staining your AirPods, Apple recommends wiping out the AirPods with a “slightly dampened” cloth, then wiping them dry. Make sure they’re completely dry (read: let them air out even after wiping them) before you wear them again. This approach is especially useful if something soapy (like a detergent or cleanse) or oily (like bug spray, conditioner, or lotion) has wound up on your ‘pods.

Disinfect (selectively)

If you feel compelled to break out the alcohol or Clorox wipes for your AirPods, you’re safe to do so as long as you use as little as possible, and stick to their exterior surfaces. Avoid their openings and speaker meshes. And, per Apple, do not use bleach.

Don’t forget the case

You can disinfect your AirPods case with alcohol or wipe it out using the same soft, dry cloth you used on the ‘pods themselves. If the Lightning charging port seems dirty, try using a soft-bristled brush to remove any debris. The most important thing, Apple states, is to avoid getting any liquid in the charging ports, as that could damage their metal contacts and make it harder to recharge your AirPods. So, if you use a damp cloth or disinfectant wipe to clean the case, steer clear of the ports and let it hang open to air dry.

Make it part of your routine

Dr. Voight says a daily wipe-down should be enough to keep your AirPods clean. If you forget to follow that schedule, though, just pay attention to the sound quality. “If the devices sound weak or distorted, it could be that there is earwax or debris clogging the device,” Dr. Fryatt says. That should be your cue to give them a (probably much-needed) wipe-down.

When was the last time you cleaned your 'pods? (This is a no-judgment zone.)

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Sara Coughlin is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Although she writes about food, health, wellness, lifestyle trends, skin-care, and astrology, she’d much rather talk to you about professional wrestling, rock climbing, and her personal favorite true crime theories. You can find her in her studio apartment doing yoga while a pan of veggies gently burns in the oven.

1 Comment

LumieredelaVie May 25, 2021
This wasn’t helpful at all. The biggest problem with AirPods is cleaning the part that can collect ear wax—over the speaker. You can’t just ‘wipe down’ that tiny spot. What should we use? (Dry of course, we got that) a brush? A toothpick? Please elaborate.