How to Clean Earbuds

earbuds on an entryway table

The Spruce / Amanda James 

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Suddenly you aren't catching every lyric, beat, or podcast word. It could be a wax problem in your ears or wax in your earbuds.

The wax in our ears is normal and there for a reason, but your earwax is not good for an earbud. When you use earbuds, heat is trapped in your ear canal and melts the earwax, causing it to settle on or in the earbuds. This causes distortion, looks gross, and attracts dirt, grime, and bacteria to the sticky surface.

It's time to clean your earbuds.

How Often to Clean Earbuds?

If you use your earbuds daily, at the very least, you should use an alcohol wipe to clean them once a week when you clean your laptop or other devices. This will help remove accumulating wax, dust, and grime.

A thorough cleaning should be done monthly or more often if you use them during hot weather or a gym workout that makes ears exceptionally sweaty.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Toothbrush
  • Microfiber cloth or alcohol wipes


  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Water
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Cotton swabs


materials for cleaning earbuds
The Spruce / Amanda James

Before You Begin

Whether you have earbuds with cords or wireless ones, the cleaning steps are very similar. Do not submerge the buds in water or hold them under a faucet, even for just a second. You'll damage the wiring. And never clean the earbuds while they are connected to your phone, laptop, or another device.

You can also use the same method to clean headphones. Just wipe down the larger surfaces as well as the inner mesh screen.

  1. Clean the Earbud Tips

    If you have silicone tips, foam tips, or covers on the earbuds, pop them off. Mix a solution of one part dishwashing liquid and five parts lukewarm water in a small bowl. Add the tips and allow them to soak for at least 30 minutes. After soaking, use a cotton swab dipped in the soap mixture to give them a better cleaning. Rinse the tips well and allow them to air-dry for several hours or overnight. Do not put them back on the earbuds until they are completely dry.

    person cleaning the earbud tips in soapy mixture
    The Spruce / Amanda James
  2. Clean the Earbud's Mesh Cover

    Use a new or old clean, dry toothbrush to gently brush away any visible wax out of the earbud's mesh screen. Hold the earbud with the mesh facing downward so any particles fall out instead of deeper into the earbud.

    person cleaning earbuds with a toothbrush
    The Spruce / Amanda James 
  3. Disinfect the Mesh Cover

    Dip a cotton swab in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and wipe the bud mesh to disinfect and remove any residue that remains. Don't saturate the cotton swab with too much alcohol. You don't want any moisture to drip down into the inner mechanisms of the earbud. The alcohol should dry quickly.

    person using a cotton swap to clean the earbuds
    The Spruce / Amanda James
  4. Disinfect the Outside of the Earbud and Cords

    Finally, dip the microfiber cloth in isopropyl alcohol and wipe the outer surfaces of the earbud. This will both clean and disinfect the surface. Microfiber is lint-free and will not leave fibers in the mesh. You can also use a prepackaged alcohol wipe.

    If you have corded earbuds, use the alcohol-dipped microfiber cloth or alcohol wipe to clean the cords.

    person cleaning earbuds with a microfiber cloth
    The Spruce / Amanda James 
  5. Allow the Earbuds to Dry

    Allow the earbuds to air dry away from direct heat for at least 15 minutes before using them or storing them in a case. Don't use a fan or hairdryer because they can blow lint back into the mesh screen.

    leave earbuds to dry before placing back into their case
    The Spruce / Amanda James 

Tips to Keep Your Earbuds Clean Longer

  • Put earbuds in a case when you're not using them. Every time you put earbuds into your pocket, backpack, or purse, they pick up lint and debris.
  • Clean your case, too, because dust and debris can disrupt charging. When you clean the earbuds, clean the case by wiping down the inside with a microfiber cloth dipped in a bit of rubbing alcohol. This is particularly important for wireless charging cases.
  • Even if your earbuds are water-resistant, they shouldn't be kept wet for long periods because moisture can slip into the inner workings. If they do become quite wet, allow them to air-dry away from direct heat.
  • Don't keep your earbuds in your gym shorts or tucked in your sports bra where they are exposed to sweat. Instead, put them in a sealable plastic bag or waterproof case.