How to Clean Headphones and Earbuds - A Step by Step Guide


Headphones or earbuds have become an incredibly useful and indispensable part of our daily lives. Long rides or long waits have become much more bearable with them. However, it' s paramount that you have clean headphones.

If not for hygienic reasons, clean headphones last much longer and are less prone to breaking down and experiencing malfunctions. To avoid this unpleasant occurrence, you need to know how to clean headphones and earbuds.

If you've never tried to accomplish this, now is the right moment. Although it requires precision and patience, cleaning your earbuds and headphones is beneficial for both the lifespan and the sound quality of your ear gear.

In this simple guide, we've decided to highlight the things you need to buy, to do and to execute. Cleaning your own headphones is definitely a skill you should possess. Let' s dig in.

Why do we clean our headphones?

We always tend to change our clothes after a workout or after a long day – to clean them. But we never do this with headphones.

After months or even years of use, headphones and earbuds can have dust, grease, earwax and dead skin cells trapped in the little cracks and crevices. This does sound disgusting, but it can get even more repulsive when you get an ear infection. This is why clean earbuds are important to have. Dirty ones are a safe haven for bacteria waiting to crawl into your ears.

However, there' s more. Producers and others musicians alike need to have almost perfect sound clarity in their headphones. Having dirty earbuds or studio headphones is detrimental to their work.

Even casual listeners see their headgear start malfunctioning after as much as a year! Earwax, dust and other substances cause the earbuds and headphones to stop working. This is why we clean them.

What do I need to clean them?

Believe it or not, you don' t need any high-end cleaning supplies or magic substances. Things that you will use to clean your headphones and earbuds are found in about every home. Here are the things you will have to have by your side:

  1. Detergent or dish soap– any kind or aroma will do, it doesn' t really matter
  2. Warm water– make sure it's warm, not overly hot as it can damage the electronics, rubber, and plastic
  3. Soft cloth– it' s used for soaking in any excess drops of water from the cleaning process
  4. An old toothbrush and cotton earbuds– toothbrushes are ideal for bigger components, whereas earbud should be used for buds and smaller electrical components
  5. Small towel– for placing the cleaned components to dry out
  6. Paper towels– for rubbing all the necessary parts
  7. Rubbing alcohol – to kill any dirt that won't go away easily

Cleaning your headphones – the how to

What most of you may notice is that headphones are indeed bigger than earbuds. That means they are less delicate, but you still have to be cautious. Every model is meant to be taken apart. In some cases, you may receive a cleaning instruction manual with the product. If you did, follow it. If not, follow this guide, and your headphones will be clean again.

1) Cleaning the ear tips and pads

  • Step 1- The first thing you have to do is damper a small cloth with soap and warm water. After taking out the ear pads, gently rub them until you see the cloth is covered in dust or minimal amounts of dirt.
  • Step 2– Next up, you just need to wipe firmly with a dry cloth. This is to ensure that you' ve removed any excess earwax.
  • Step 3– Use rubbing alcohol to rub the insides of the pads and rub them together. By doing this, any remaining debris, bacteria or dirt will fall off due to the kinetic energy combined with a strong disinfectant in alcohol.

2)Cleaning the headband

  • Step 1– Cleaning the headband of your headphones is not a complicated process. The first thing you have to do is gently remove the left and right sides for the band. Make sure it' s completely free from any connection to other components.
  • Step 2– Take a cloth and put only a little bit of rubbing alcohol. That way, you will be able to rub off any dirt or debris. Knowing how to clean headphones is easy, but takes a little bit of patience. Thus, you should patiently rub all parts, especially the ones that spend the most time in your hair.
  • Step 3– Leave out on a towel to dry. If you' re extra cautious, you can repeat the process with a small amount of water or rubbing alcohol again.

3) Cleaning the mesh screens

  • Step 1– Now, mesh screens can be considered the most complex part of every headphone set. They are the last “line of defense” between the ear pads and the actual electronics inside. To clean them, you have to gently remove the headband and the ear pads.
  • Step 2– Upon removing all other parts, take a Q-tip and put it a small amount of rubbing alcohol. Then, proceed to rub the tip all over the bars of the mesh screens. Make sure your movements are cautious and easy.
  • Step 3– Cover the corners and other not-so-easily reachable parts of the screens. They are the ones that collect the most dirt.
  • Step 4– Upon taking care of the mesh screens, rub them with a gentle dry cloth. Leave them to soak in the sunlight. If the atmosphere is too damp, don' t take them out, as they' ll soak in the moisture.

 WARNING - What to avoid when cleaning your headphones

The theme when learning how to clean your headphones is never overdoing it. A beginner' s mistake is putting either too much water or alcohol on a Q-tip or cloth. Such an action can severely damage the electronics and exacerbate the sound quality. Be especially careful with mesh screens and always leave them to dry out completely.

Cleaning your earbuds – the how to

Although earbuds are smaller than headphones, that doesn' t mean they' re all that difficult to clean. You only have to pay attention to two parts – the driver unit and the ear tips. Thankfully, the mesh screens are much smaller and easier to clean.

1) Cleaning the driver unit

  • Step 1– Remove the ear tips. They will only create confusion and make it harder to reach some of the less accessible areas of your earbuds. There is no more deconstruction to be done.
  • Step 2– Hold the earphones with the mesh side facing in a downwards direction. Take your old toothbrush and gently scrub the wire mesh to dislodge any wax or dirt. Since the wires are flexible, the hairs on your toothbrush will have no problem cleaning the sound pathways
  • Step 3– Tap the driver unit several times to make sure everything unwanted has fallen off.
  • Step 4– Now that the wire mesh is clean, you only have to focus on the concaves and crevices of the rest of the driver body. Make a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water and dip a Q-tip in it. Take care of every single crevice.
  • Step 5– Rub the alcohol-affected areas with a soft cloth dipped in warm water.
  • Step 6– Leave the driver unit on a towel and leave it out to try for at least 3 hours. Check on a 30-minute basis.

2) Cleaning the ear tips

Every pair of earbuds and earphones comes with detachable silicone/rubber ear tips. They are made for removal but host the most dirt, earwax, and other unwanted debris. You need to focus on them especially.

  • Step 1– Remove the tips by slowly pulling on them with one hand, while the other holds the driver unit.
  • Step 2– Use a Q-tip dipped in an alcohol-water solution to remove any solid debris. Repeat this action several times before everything is completely gone.
  • Step 3– Dip the silicone ear tips into soapy warm water and leave them there for around 4-5 minutes.
  • Step 4– Upon removing the tips from the soapy water, wipe them thoroughly and leave them to dry out on paper towels.

⚠ WARNING – What to avoid when cleaning your earphones

Technically, ear tips are meant to be removed and replaced with new ones every once in a while. Therefore, it would be only right if you had 2-3 spare ones. You can get them with a newly-bought pair of earbuds. Don' t overdo with soap and be careful not to break the wire mesh when using a toothbrush to clean it.


Cleaning your headgear is an investment for the future. Knowing how to clean headphones and earbuds is paramount if you want them to sound better and last longer. It's a simple process once you analyze it for some time.

The only things you need to watch out for is to be thorough, as well as prevent too much liquid from covering the driver unit, as well as the mesh screens. Appliance stores charge a fortune to clean them and you don't have to oblige to their rates. Having clean earbuds and headphones is something you can accomplish on your own.

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