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Earwax and Dirt Clogging Your Earbuds? Clean Them the Right Way

Dirty earbuds can lead to an ear infection. We'll walk you through the steps to keep them clean.

airpods and q tips
Clean your earbuds regularly.
Katie Teague/CNET

Do you regularly clean your AirPods or other earbuds you use daily? If not, now's the best time to start. Not only can earwax and dirt stick in the crevices and muffle the crisp, clear sound you should be hearing, but they can also lead to ear infections. So take a good look at your earbuds to see how dirty they actually are and then give them a good cleaning.

Be aware that removing the gunk the wrong way can damage your earbuds, even if they're waterproof. For instance, you'll want to be extra careful when cleaning the mesh speaker and microphone on AirPods when scraping out any residue. Don't worry, we'll show you how.

Now playing: Watch this: Clean Your AirPods and EarPods Without Damaging Them
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Before you start getting your earbuds squeaky clean again, make sure they're off and disconnected from any paired devices. And if you're looking into getting a new pair, here's what you need to know about trading in or selling your earbuds.

Read more: AirPods 3 Review: Big Sound Upgrade

Not cleaning your earbuds can lead to ear infections

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Your ears naturally produce earwax, medically known as cerumen, to protect your ears. When you use earbuds often, that wax can stick to them and harbor bacteria.

Repeatedly putting the earphones in your ears without disinfecting them can transfer the bacteria into your ear canal, which can lead to an infection, according to Baton Rouge General.

How to clean earbuds with removable silicone tips

If you own a set of earbuds with removable silicone tips, like the AirPods Pro or the JBL Reflect Flow Pro, you're in luck because they're a bit easier to keep clean. The silicone tip helps protect the speaker from earwax and other debris, and they easily pop off. 

To clean the tips, remove them from the earphones and soak them in warm, soapy water for 30 minutes. If they're really dirty, you can agitate the container to loosen up the gunk. Next, use a clean cloth or cotton swab to remove any remaining earwax or dirt and let the silicone tips completely dry.

If you have a pair of earbuds that don't come with silicone tips, you can buy some on Amazon, depending on the style of earbuds. For instance, regular AirPods don't come with tips, but we like these $10 ear tips you can add yourself.

Apple Airpods Pro and case

Clean the silicone tips often.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The best ways to clean your AirPods and other earbuds

Apple has a few suggestions for cleaning your AirPods. One recommended method is using a disinfecting or alcohol wipe to clean the exterior surfaces -- but do not use it on the speaker mesh. If you use any liquids to clean your earbuds, dry them completely before use.

For the microphone and speaker meshes, use a dry cotton swab and a soft-bristled brush to gently wipe away dirt. Don't press too hard, since you don't want to push the wax through the mesh. It would be nearly impossible to get it out from there. 

CNET contributor Matt Elliott suggests using Fun-Tak to remove stubborn leftover earwax. To do so, rub the Fun-Tak together to warm it up and then press it against the speaker. You can then use a wooden toothpick to scrape off anything stuck to the sides of the speaker hollow.

If you want to stick with only Apple products, the giant tech company released its own Polishing Cloth, which costs $19 and has a compatibility list. While AirPods don't appear to be on the list of products compatible with… a cloth, it could still be useful for hard-core Apple fans wanting to give their earbuds a shine. Otherwise, you might seek out a basic microfiber cloth for external dusting.

You should clean your charging case, too. Here's how 

If you've got wireless earbuds, they typically live in a charging case. (We hope you're not just tossing them into your jacket pocket or backpack to collect lint.) Since that's their home, you'll want to keep it clean, too. 

First, use a soft, dry, lint-free cloth to wipe away dirt. If needed, you can slightly dampen the cloth with water or alcohol, but avoid getting any liquid at all inside the charging ports.

Read more: The 21 Best Wireless Earbuds for 2022

wireless earbuds and charging cases

Keep your charging case clean, too.

Rick Broida/CNET

Don't clean your earbuds like this

While we understand some earbuds are waterproof or water-resistant, we don't recommend submerging them in water to clean them -- only the removable silicone tips. Too many things could go wrong: Some waterproof earbuds are only designed to be submerged in water for roughly 30 minutes. But what happens if you forget? Instead, stay on the safe side and dampen a microfiber cloth or a cotton swab and gently wipe away the dirt. 

We also don't recommend using a sharp object, such as a safety pin, to clean your speaker or microphone meshes, as it could puncture the speaker. Instead, use a soft-bristled brush or wooden toothpick to gently remove any gunk.

For more tech hacks, use this household item to easily remove stickers and labels in seconds. Also, you've been using your can opener wrong this entire time.