Seriously, do this right now.
Raise your hand if you’re reading this article while wearing earbuds? Headphones—and more specifically earbuds, like Apple AirPods and EarPods, that fit snugly in the ear canal—have pretty much become a part of our daily lives. Odds are, you’ve popped in those little white pods at least a few times in the last week while walking to work, running errands, working out, or sitting at your desk all day. And that’s OK—so long as you clean them regularly. Because if you never clean your headphones, it’s not only pretty gross, but a habit that could potentially make you sick, too.
Why You Need to Clean Your Earbuds ASAP
Ready to be grossed out? Your headphones are home to 2,708 times more bacteria than the average cutting board, six times more bacteria than a kitchen sink, and 330 times more bacteria than a kitchen counter. According to Whittier Hospital Center, dirty headphones can cause a host of issues including allergic reactions, rashes, or even infections.
“Since earbuds are so compact, it’s easy to leave them lying around. Unless you sanitize them [regularly], your earbuds have probably accumulated a great deal of dirt and bacteria,” Whittier Hospital Center explains in a blog post. “So the moment you put them in, your earbuds can introduce dirt and bacteria into your ears.”
“Aside from carrying dirt and bacteria, earbuds can also increase ear wax build-up,” the medical experts say. “Since our ears are designed to clean themselves, wearing earbuds can trap the ear wax that is supposed to be carried out. Excessive wax build-up leads to impacted ear wax that can affect your hearing.”
Long story short, clean your earbuds quickly about once a week—and don’t share them!
The Best Way to Clean Earbuds Regularly
Luckily for everyone who enjoys listening to music or podcasts at a healthy decibel level, Apple does have some tips on cleaning your headphones that will keep them looking brand new and help stave off infections.
According to Apple, all you need is a “soft, dry, lint-free cloth,” a cotton swab, and just a touch of fresh, filtered water. That’s really all you need for regular, run-of-the-mill earbud maintenance.
Using the cloth, wipe away any debris on the surface of the earbud. Then, gently get into the nooks to clear out what you can. Clean the microphone and speaker mesh with a dry cotton swab instead of the wet cloth. Allow them to dry completely before use or returning them to their case.
To Deep Clean and Disinfect Your Earbuds:
According to Apple, if your headphones have touched “soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, perfumes, solvents, detergents, acids or acidic foods, insect repellent, sunscreen, oil, or hair dye,” you’re going to want to wipe them down with a slightly dampened cloth—and only use fresh water. Make sure not to get any liquid in the openings. (Many earbuds are water-resistant, but not waterproof. If you’re cleaning an AirPods case, be extra careful: The charging ports are neither water-resistant or waterproof.)
To ensure your headphones are extra cleaned and disinfected, you may want to get some alcohol wipes from your local pharmacy or online ($5; amazon.com). These wipes are just moist enough to cleanse the headphones without running the risk of drowning them—but always use them carefully to avoid damaging your earbuds.
Some people swear by using a bit of water, soap, and an old (clean!) toothbrush—but again, do so carefully and take this method with a grain of salt. Simply stir a few drops of soap into about a half cup of fresh water, dip in the toothbrush, blot excess moisture on a napkin, and then very gently use the bristles to swipe gunk from your earbuds. Note: It’s key to hold the earbud over the toothbrush so that, rather than pushing debris it further inside, gravity helps take it out.