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You should really clean your AirPods. That earwax gunk is gross

Here's how to clean your earbuds the right way. Spoiler alert: Poking them with sharp objects or holding them underwater is a big no-no.


Clean your earbuds regularly.

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If you can't remember the last time you cleaned your AirPods or earbuds, you should probably take some time to do it now. Or even better, you could make it your new year's resolution to clean them regularly. Over time, earwax, grease and dirt can get stuck inside of your earbuds. Not only can that gross gunk impact the crisp, clear sound that you're probably used to hearing, but it can lead to infections. 

Naomi Antonino/CNET

Getting the gunk out 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 removing sticky gunk -- don't worry, we'll tell you how. 

Read more: AirPods 3 review: Big sound upgrade

Before you start getting your earbuds squeaky clean again, make sure they're off and disconnected from all of the paired devices.  And if you're looking into getting a new pair, here's what to know about trading in or selling your earbuds to buy the latest, third-gen AirPods.This story was recently updated. 

Not cleaning your earbuds can lead to infections

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.

Now playing: Watch this: Get to know Apple's new AirPods

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 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 purchase some on Amazon, depending on the style of earbuds. For instance, regular AirPods don't come with the tips, but we like these $10 ear tips you can add yourself.

Read more: See our picks of the best AirPods Pro accessories

Apple Airpods Pro

Clean the silicone tips often.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The best ways to clean your AirPods and other earbuds

Apple has a few suggestions for the right way to clean your AirPods. One 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 2021


Keep your charging case clean, too.

Rick Broida/CNET

But 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 -- just the removable silicone tips. Too many things could go wrong. For instance, 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 information, here's what you need to know about Apple's newest AirPods, as well as the differences between the new AirPods 3 and the AirPods Pro.