How to Clean Your Headphones 101

Headphone cleaning tips

How to Clean your Headphones? Everyone is asking about it, in this article we will tell cleaning a headphones is very easy. Since the beginning of their time (think back to the Walkman), headphones have become one of the biggest parts of our lives. Whether you’re frequently in the gym hitting all of your fitness goals or sitting at your desk at work relaxing to the sounds of Spotify, headphones are almost always with us. And regardless of what you’re using them for, (yes we see you shopping at stores with your earbuds shoved in so you don’t have to talk to other people; good idea), you want them to remain in peak condition and always on standby for your music needs.

A lot of us shell out a lot of money for quality earbuds and headphones. Companies like Audio Technica, Bose, and of course Beats know this so they have no problem slapping an expensive price tag on their gear. Because we’ve dropped so much money on amping up our music quality experience, it can be irritating when the quality significantly drops after a year or two. Even those who aren’t necessarily audiophiles, we can detect a significant difference in the quality. And if you’re one of those who’s always cranking the volume up, you’ll definitely notice that it isn’t as crisp as it used to be.

Now the choice becomes, do you throw these away and purchase a new pair? Probably not; some of the good pairs of headphones can cost upwards of $200. Plus do you really want to drop that kind of cash every year or two? Some of us might be tempted to go to YouTube to troubleshoot the issue. Could it be a loose wire or something not making a good connection? What if we told you that the most common reason your headphones don’t sound as good as they used to is because they’re full of dirt?

More than just music is building up in the speakers

Dirt Build up on headphone

So many of us are guilty of tossing our earbuds back into our purses, a carrying case, or our pockets after we’ve used them. Larger headphone models typically go back to resting around our necks before we put them up once we get home. However, this kind of trend needs to stop. Not only is it gross, but it’s also ruining your sound quality.

Chances are if you look at your earbuds or headphones and really examine them, you’ll see a lot of nasty gunk. While the outsides of these certainly get dirty, we’re focusing on the wire mesh on the inside. This is where dirt, grease, dust, and unsurprisingly earwax builds up. In addition to just being straight up nasty, this buildup can easily block and hinder sound quality.

However, bad sound quality isn’t the only side effect to dirty earphones. Consistently using dirty earphones can increase your chances of earwax blockage, dirt buildup in the ear canal, and even ear infections. Just because the plug isn’t going inside your ear doesn’t mean you’re safe; buildup and debris can easily flake off of the wire mesh and make its way inside your ear.

After the gym or a long day out, we’re always quick to hop in the shower and clean ourselves and change into fresh new clothes. So why aren’t we doing the same with our headphones after we’ve put them through an intense workout…. Or for that matter, ever? It’s easy to forget about them until you’re ready to listen to another song then you fish them back out of your pocket or wherever they’ve been stuck collecting more grime. But it’s definitely time to break that trend and add cleaning our earphones to our daily routines.

And even if your headphones/earbuds don’t look as bad as the ones pictured above, they’re still dirty and need to be cleaned.

Grossed out yet? Good! Let’s clean them.

The right tools for the cleaning headphones

disinfect and cleaner for headphone

Everything that you need to disinfect and clean your earbuds/headphones can probably be found in your bathroom under the sink. And if not, then a quick trip to your local drugstore will have you in and out with your cleaning tools in no time flat.

  • Q-tips
  • Cotton balls
  • Rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer
  • Hand soap (we recommend Dial)
  • Water
  • Cloth
  • Blu-tack (you can find this at Amazon and places like Best Buy where you can find headphones
  • Old toothbrush
  • Paperclip

While you don’t need anything over the top or significantly special (aside from the Blu-tack adhesive), you will want to take your time when cleaning your earphones and be gentle. The wire mesh is fragile so don’t press down hard when using the tips.

Cleaning your earphones

headphone cleaning toothbrush

We suggest beginning with the driver unit (the piece that’s inserted into your ear).

  • Hold your earbuds in such a way that the mesh faces down. Use a soft, dry toothbrush (obviously an old one that you don’t intend to put back into your mouth) and carefully brush the mesh. This will help loosen up dirt and earwax. After brushing, gently tap the earbuds on the plastic side to shake some of the dirt loose. Repeat as needed.
  • Now you’ll want to take a paperclip and bend it. Dip the paperclip into the Blu-tack and run it over the wire mesh. This will help pick up substances and dirt that the toothbrush missed.
  • Take a damp cloth (do NOT soak; this will ruin your device) with hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol and bring it across the mesh and the wires of your earphones.

Now that the driver is clean, you can focus on the silicone bits of the earphones. Assuming yours have them of course. If not, run the damp cloth across the rest of the earbuds and gently pat dry.

  • Soak the silicone ear tips in warm water that is lightly soapy for around 5 minutes. We recommend 1-2 drops of soap.
  • Thoroughly rinse the silicone with fresh water then wipe them down with a clean cloth to remove excess water. Allow them to dry on paper towels before putting them back on your earphones.

Cleaning your headphones

headphone cleaning tricks

As we mentioned earlier, you might not realize that your over the ear headphones need some cleaning too. Just because the wire mesh doesn’t slip inside your ear doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get dirty and pick up unwanted debris. And yes, this dirt can easily dislodge from the wire mesh and end up in your ear canal.

We should also mention that these are a bit trickier and more fragile than your earbuds. You can easily scuff the leather/foam pads so take your time and be gentle. You don’t have to use a heavy hand to get your headphones squeaky clean.

  • Start by removing the ear pads. Use a small cloth that’s been dampened in soap and warm water to wipe down the outer parts of the headphones. Remember, the water should only be a little soapy; 1-2 drops of soap is plenty. And the cloth should be damp, not soaked. Wipe them dry with paper towels and allow them to air dry completely.
  • Take another clean, small cloth and dampen it with either hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol and wipe down the exterior of the pads.
  • Use a tip or cotton ball that’s been dampened in alcohol or hand sanitizer to clean the crevices and hard to reach areas of the ear pads.
  • Using a cotton ball, apply some alcohol or sanitizer to the surface of the foam mesh and then rub the left and right sides together. This will kill bacteria that’s been living on the ear pads. It will also help dislodge grime and dirt from the pads.
  • Allow them to fully dry on paper towels before reattaching them to your headphones.

Go big or go home

Clean Headphone

Your headphones/earbuds are now clean and safe to wear. You should definitely see an improvement in your sound quality and your doctor will be elated that he/she doesn’t have to treat you for an ear infection.

However, if you’re still not satisfied and want your headphones to feel as if you’ve just gotten them fresh out of the package, you can always opt for we call “a full body headphone wash.”

After you’ve gone through the steps above, you’ll need a hearing aid vacuum. Since it’s gentle enough to use hearing aids, you don’t have to worry about damaging parts. Plus since it’s got good suction, you’ll get a really deep clean. Use the vacuum on your headphones, focusing on the wire mesh. This will remove the rest of the grime and gunk from your headphones for a squeaky clean feel.

Bonus area: headphone jack

headphone jack

While you’ve got all your cleaning products out, why not go a little further and give your entire system a cleanliness upgrade?

Clean the headphone jack! While you’ll definitely see an improvement in music quality from clean headphones, the earphone jack can also become clogged, ruining your music experience.

Cleaning this area is extremely simple; get a can of compressed air and go to town blowing the dirt and debris out of the jack. Of course, you can always opt for a more hands-on approach and manipulate objects like tips and pipe cleaners inside, but a few blasts of compressed air work perfectly fine in our opinion.

Headphone stench? No problem!

stink headphone

This is something that nobody wants to talk about or acknowledge, but it happens to the best of us; especially if you’re a very active person. The cause of the smell is the buildup of moisture and dirt stains on the ear pads over time. Of course, the smell is only made worse by frequenting humid, damp areas. After awhile, the moisture encourages mold to grow and you’ll start experiencing that disgusting smell.

If cleaning your smelly headphones didn’t take away the smell, then you have a couple of options on how to get rid of it:

  • Silica gel packets- You know those tiny bead pouches that come in food packaging and electronics? Snag a few of those and put them in the ear cups before you store your headphones. The gel beads absorb moisture so you shouldn’t have to worry about all that sweat and humidity hanging around.
  • Replace the ear pads- If you’re still experiencing the funky smell after cleaning and using gel packets, you might need to opt for a replacement. We recommend going through Amazon instead of your headphones original manufacturer; they’re often much cheaper through a third party.

Preventive measures

Clean headphone is good for ears

Clean headphones can also start with clean ears. Keeping your ears free of buildup and regularly cleaning them will also give you a much better listening experience and reduce the amount of debris that ends up on your headphones/earbuds.

And if you’re tempted to reach for the tips and dig away, please don’t! Q-tips can push wax and dirt deeper into your ear canal, leading to blockage, infections, and hearing issues. We highly suggest going to the doctor to get your ears cleaned out, but there are a few things you can do at home to prevent buildup:

  • Thoroughly dry your ears after a shower. Water inside your ear canal isn’t a good thing unless it’s being performed by your doctor who can properly flush it out. Water in the ear canal also leads to the perfect environment for bacteria, so make sure to thoroughly dry them after a shower.
  • Google searches and YouTube will also lead you to DIY irrigation solutions, but we don’t recommend them. Too much water pressure can damage your ear drum and should be left to a trained professional.
  • You can use products like mineral oil and hydrogen peroxide to flush out the earwax build up. Keep your head tilted down and add a few drops to your ear. You don’t want to completely fill your ear. Allow the oil or peroxide to sit for about 30 seconds, then tilt your head and drain the fluid out.

Clean and ready to go!

clean your headphones

Now that you’ve gone through the list above, your headphones or earphones are ready to take on the day! You can now enjoy your music at its best sound quality without worrying about ear infections or dirt buildup in your ears. We also want to know if cleaning your headphones is a part of your daily routine or not. Before this article, did you regularly clean your headphones/earbuds or is this something that had never occurred to you? No judgments, we’re guilty of letting our stuff sit. Either way, let us know in the comment section below!

Vimal Lalani is senior correspondent for Ishli, Medical and Wellness unit, reporting breaking news and health consumer reporting on

Written by Vimal Lalani

Vimal Lalani is senior correspondent for Ishli, Medical and Wellness unit, reporting breaking news and health consumer reporting on


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