The world is filled with dirty things. Even apparently shiny tech items like keyboards and screens can become breeding grounds for things you don’t want to look at under a microscope.

Of all tech biohazards, few can compare to the earbud headphones, so it’s important that every music-lover knows how to clean earbuds.

Sacrifices Must Be Made

The main reason that earbud headphones need cleaning more often than other types of headphones is because they spend time inside your actual ears. No matter how much of a neat freak you are, your ears still produce all sorts of natural substances that end up on your earbuds.

The skin of your ears produces natural oils that get in everywhere. Dead skin flakes off and gets into every nook and cranny. Don’t forget about that wonderful substance, earwax, either. After a relatively short amount of use, you’ll find these gifts from nature all over your earbuds.

Making a Change

So why bother cleaning this stuff off in the first place? If your body is constantly doing it’s best to dirty your stuff, why not just let it?

Well, for one thing, any object that collections biological material is a feeding ground for bacteria. This means that it’s possible your earbuds can cause irritation or disease if you leave them too long without cleaning them.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t share earbuds with other people either, unless you’re willing to sterilize them before and after every single time.

Even if the idea of tiny invading creatures traveling into your earholes does nothing for you, the actual performance of your earbuds stands to suffer as well.

The Sound of Music

You’re probably aware that inside each earbud there’s a tiny little speaker making the unearthly noises kids these days refer to as “music”. When your earbuds are in mint condition there’s nothing between that speaker and your eardrum but air.

After a while, that channel or the tiny grille that may cover it becomes clogged and the sound loses its punch and clarity, Since this is a gradual fade most people don’t notice. A good cleaning may surprise you with how much sound comes back.

A Part of the Problem

Earbuds are very sophisticated items that are made of many tiny parts. They’re also pretty fragile, so cleaning them is not something that you can approach like a caveman.

Obviously, unless they’re some sort of underwater model, you can dunk them in liquid to clean them. Even if you don’t dunk them, you have to be careful not to get moisture into places it shouldn’t go. That’s a good recipe for heartache and a trip to the earbud store.

When you clean earbuds it’s a good idea to remove any parts that are meant to be taken off by you, the user. For example, there may be interchangeable silicone earpieces or plastic clips. If you can take these off do it.

If they have no electronics in them you can safely wash them in mild soapy water. If they’re in really bad shape it may even be possible to replace them with spares. Just be sure to dry them completely before putting them back, since we don’t want moisture getting into the electrical bits of the device.

Operation: Clean

Operation Clean Earbuds
With the non-electronic and removable parts out of the picture, you can get down to the nitty-gritty of cleaning the actual main units themselves. We’ll just take it step-by-step and you’ll be done before you know it.

Step 1: Wipe Away Your Problems

The first step in the quest to clean earbuds doesn’t involve anything other wiping with a cloth. You shouldn’t just use any cloth however. It’s best to get some of those alcohol-soaked wipes they sell at electronics retailers or your local pharmacy.

The alcohol will kill bacteria on the surface of your earbuds in the same way it kills brain cells after a long night of partying.

Once you given them a good rubdown, use a gentle cloth to dry them completely. Luckily the alcohol evaporates almost immediately.

Don’t forget to wipe down the cables too!

Step 2: Pick a Fight

If your earbuds are of the type where the speaker grille is clearly visible, you need to pick any earwax or other debris out to stop it from obstructing the sound.

This tiny mesh grille is usually made of metal and is quite fragile, so if you use a metal object to pick at it, chances are that you’ll rip holes in it or even worse poke through and destroy the speaker itself.

That leaves us with the humble wooden toothpick as a tried-and-tested way to clean earbuds. Since it’s not metal-on-metal you’re not likely to go through the screen into the speaker, but you still need to be pretty gentle about it.

Using the tip of the toothpick, try to pick any pieces of gunk from the grille. Don’t rush this part or you may end up having to buy new earbuds.

Step 3: A Brush with Danger

Once all the largest pieces of dirt are gone, you can optionally use a soft toothbrush or something similar to further clean the grille or to get the nasty stuff out from any folds or crevasses. The specifics of how to clean earbuds of different models will be different on this count. Some of them have some really weird nooks for things to get stuck in.

Step 4: Greased Lightning

Finally, we want to get rid of that last layer of grease now that the bacteria are gone and the grille is clear. Dip the corner of a cloth or soft paper towel in a mild soapy water mix and wipe the whole thing down again.

Be careful not to get moisture through the grille and onto the speaker itself. Use the same type of cloth, but dry, to finish the job.

Now you can put it all together again, but don’t just shove them into your ears. You should let them dry out overnight. Slight moisture may make bacteria come back faster and residual cleaning chemicals can irritate your ears. So let it all air out.

Clean as a Whistle

Now you should have a fresh set of earbud headphones and nothing to fear from dirt or other grossness. You may want to invest in a carrying pouch or case to keep your earbuds cleaner for longer.
That’s all there is when it come to how to clean earbuds. If the idea of earbud hygiene has been keeping you from buying your own pair, maybe now is a good time to check out some of the best earbuds on the market.