How to Clean AirPods: 2 Tricks for Removing Your Icky Earwax Buildup
So long, gross earwax. And good riddance.
Matt ElliottSenior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
It's been a while since I've seen the bright, white luster my Apple AirPods originally had. When I'm not using them during the workday, I wear them when working in the yard and walking the dog.
With all of this use, especially while working up a sweat mowing the lawn, mulching, raking leaves, chopping wood or shoveling snow from the driveway -- I have achieved full Dad status -- my AirPods have gotten gunked up with dirt, debris, grime and, yes, earwax. (I regret wearing them during my week of mulching this spring.)
With a sullied pair of AirPods, I went hunting for the best way to clean them. Here's what I found.
Apple's AirPod cleaning instructions
Apple instructs you to use a slightly dampened cloth and a soft, dry, lint-free cloth and cautions you against employing soaps, shampoos and solvents or running your AirPods under water. For digging out the nasty bits in the microphone and speaker meshes, Apple recommends using a dry cotton swab and a soft-bristled brush.
For tje AirPods Pro, you can remove the ear tips and rinse them with water, according to Apple, but without soap or other cleaning agents. Apple then wants you to follow its general rules of using a soft, dry, lint-free cloth to wipe the ear tips clean and letting them dry completely prior to reassembly.
To kill any germs that might have hitched a ride on your AirPods, Apple says it's OK to gently wipe the exterior surfaces (but not the speaker mesh) with a 70-percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or a Clorox disinfecting wipe. And it would be good to avoid using a wipe that is overly saturated because you don't want to get moisture in any of your AirPods' openings. Lastly, no matter how grimy and disgusting your AirPods may be, do not submerge them in any cleaning products.
I put Apple's methods to the test. I tried using a Q-tip but ended up just smooshing the wax and dirt in further. I then used an old toothbrush to attempt to remove the grossness but didn't have any better results.
Watch this: Clean Your AirPods and EarPods Without Damaging Them
Fun-Tak and a wooden toothpick
I was fine with wiping the exterior of my AirPods (and their case) with a dry cloth to rub off the grime, but I needed a better way to get the wax and dirt out of the mesh and hollow of the speakers.
This Cult of Mac article pointed me to the solution -- or rather, readers' comments on the article did. And it involved two items I already had in my house: Fun-Tak (because I have kids, and my kids have posters hanging in their rooms) and wooden toothpicks (because my wife bakes and tests the doneness of cakes and brownies with a toothpick).
To remove the wax and dirt that's stuck inside the hollow of your AirPod speakers, just grab a small piece of Fun-Tak and stretch and knead it a bit to warm it up. Then press it against the speaker a few times and it'll pick up the wax and dirt.
The wooden toothpick can then be used to gently remove the stubborn bits that are struck to the sides of the speaker hollow. A wooden toothpick is pointy enough to pick out individual specs of gross, waxy dirt, and it's much safer than a sharp metal object like an unfolded staple that can scratch the plastic or tear the wire speaker mesh.
Watch this: Apple AirPods compared: AirPods Max or AirPods Pro