How Should You *Really* Be Cleaning Your AirPods? We Asked A Cleaning Expert

mbg Editorial Assistant By Jamie Schneider
mbg Editorial Assistant
Jamie Schneider is the Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen with a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She's previously written for Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
From above anonymous female taking wireless earphones from box while sitting at table with laptop in office

Image by Guille Faingold / Stocksy

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Picture this: You're showing off your shiny new AirPods to a couple of friends, but as soon as you flip open the case, you notice a buildup of wax and dirt caked between the fine crevices of the pearl-white buds. 

A grotesque image, but you get the idea—earwax isn't cute, and you probably don't want to see the gunk on your headphones. That said, an AirPods scrub-down is probably past due. But the process of cleaning out the headphones becomes a little tricky: Should you use a safety pin or pencil to pick out the wax? Wipe the buds with rubbing alcohol or water? Or should you—shudder—suck out the debris with your mouth? (Not a joke, this Reddit hack unfortunately exists.)

Before you start poking and prodding at your earphones, we consulted Melissa Maker, green cleaning expert and founder of Clean My Space, on how we should really be cleaning our AirPods. Here are the do's and don'ts for cleaning those buds:

Do: Wait until the earwax is "cold." 

Maker's first tip is to make sure the AirPods haven’t been used or charged for a while so that the earwax hardens. 

"When the earbud is warm, the wax is still very pliable, and it'll be gooey," she says. Your ears can warm up the AirPods, so you should refrain from using or charging them for a couple of hours, at least, before diving into the cleaning routine. 

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Don't: Use water.

"Using water is not a good idea," Maker states. "Water can damage the components, and it doesn't dry quickly." 

What does dry quickly, on the other hand, is rubbing alcohol. However, you never want to spray a liquid directly on a tech item—you'd want to spray the alcohol on microfiber cloth or dip a cotton swab before cleaning the electronic (more on that later). 

The only caveat, is if you're an owner of the AirPod Pro's. If your buds have those removable, flexible silicone tips, you can go ahead and remove them, rinsing them thoroughly with soap and water. Just be sure to let them dry completely (24 hours is best, to be safe) before you secure them back on your AirPods. You don't want any water getting inside that speaker! 

Do: Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, brushing the buds and case upside down.

Time to dig through your drawers for an old toothbrush, preferably one with soft, thoroughly used bristles. 

According to Maker, it's best to hold the earbuds facing downward before you start to brush. That way, you can let the debris fall without worrying about it getting stuck inside the speaker (ew). If the earbud is cold, as mentioned above, the wax should crumble right off. 

"You're not going to get a snowstorm effect," Maker reassures. "You might get one or two little things falling off."

As for the case, you're going to do the same exact thing. Hold it upside down, brush the debris off the case, and let the wax fall down. 

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Don't: Vigorously brush.

It's important to keep your brushing light, Maker adds. You just want to loosen the debris, rather than scrub the buds and case harshly. When it comes to these electronics, a little pressure goes a long way—so keep that hand steady and light. 

Do: Use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.

Once you brush out the wax with a toothbrush, Maker wants you to use a cotton swab to finish the job. "Dip the cotton swab in rubbing alcohol," she explains. "Then tap it off on the back of your hand, and use that to gently clean the speaker grill itself and the area surrounding the bud." 

Once most of the discoloration is on the swab (and not the bud!), you can touch the surface—if it has a squeaky-clean feel to it, you've done the job right. 

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Don't: Put it off for later.

"You want to stay on top of it so that you keep buildup to a minimum," Maker adds. 

Here's the ugly truth: Earwax easily builds up, and the longer you leave it, the more gunk will accumulate. That said, it's high time to give your AirPods a cleaning. With these tips, it should be a fairly painless process. 

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