CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Stop Putting Dirty AirPods in Your Ears. Here's How to Clean Them the Right Way

Dirty earbuds are doing nothing good for your ears. Learn how to clean them now.

Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
Expertise Personal Finance: Social Security and taxes
Katie Teague
3 min read
A woman with earbuds in her ears

Dirt and earwax can quickly build up on earbuds that are used regularly.

Westend61/Getty Images

If you use your AirPods daily without cleaning them, it's almost like reusing a cotton swab -- gross, right? 


Not only can dirt and earwax stick in the crevices of your earbuds, muffling the sound, but they can harbor bacteria. Repeatedly putting your earbuds in your ears without disinfecting them can transfer the bacteria into your ear canal, which can lead to an infection.

But trying to clean your earbuds the wrong way can damage them, even if they're waterproof. Don't worry, though -- we'll show you how to do it the right way. 

The best ways to clean 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.

cotton swabs and earbuds
Katie Teague/CNET

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 has 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 hardcore Apple fans wanting to give their earbuds a shine. Otherwise, you might seek out a basic microfiber cloth for external dusting.

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, they're a bit easier to keep clean: The silicone tip helps protect the speaker from earwax and other debris, and they pop off easily. 

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 earbuds that don't come with silicone tips, you can often buy them separately on Amazon. These $13 ear tips can slip over regular AirPods, for example.

Clean your charging case too

It's important to clean the case your wireless earbuds call home too.

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

Read more: The Best Wireless Earbuds for 2024

wireless earbuds and charging cases

Keep your charging case clean, too.

Rick Broida/CNET

How not to clean your earbuds

While some earbuds are advertised as waterproof (or water-resistant), we don't recommend submerging them in water to get them clean-- only the removable silicone tips. 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 the speaker or microphone mesh, as it could puncture the speaker. Instead, use a soft-bristled toothbrush or wooden toothpick to gently remove any gunk.

Watch this: Clean Your AirPods and EarPods Without Damaging Them