Fungus and yeast infection-causing germs can build upon the earbuds as you jam them inside your ear canals, not to mention wax that visibly sticks to their surfaces. After sending an earbud swab out for analysis, Inside Edition even found pneumonia-causing bacteria such as staph aureus on regularly used earbuds, and one set showed evidence of almost one million different bacteria cultures. Part of that is fear mongering, of course—some bacteria is fine, not to mention unavoidable. Still, our earbuds tend to be pretty gross.
So what’s the proper way to clean them, and how often should we do it? Let’s take a look.
How often should you clean earbuds?
Plan your earbud cleaning based on usage—which sounds simple, but pretty easy to forget. If you’re anything like most people, you go for a run, come back, and slide them right back into their protective carrying case to fester and grow more germs. But healthcare professionals recommend regular cleaning—as in, before and after each use.
Ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Darius Kohan told Inside Edition that if they’re not cleaned regularly, “You’re shoving them in. You’re packing the ear with wax. The germs on them—you’re going to start infections.”
Kohan advises not only cleaning them more often, but also that switching between earbuds and over the ear headphones will help lessen the exposure to germs.
Audiologist Dr. Arica Black echoed the same, telling one local news network that cleaning earbuds before each use is preferred. She also recommended cleaning them more often in the summer months when you sweat more and conditions like “swimmers ear” are more prevalent.
How to clean your earbuds
You can wipe down your earbuds with regular sanitizing wipes—just be sure to let them dry before putting them away. You might be concerned whether common sanitizing liquids and wipes can damage their inner workings, but for what it’s worth, Apple confirms it’s perfectly fine to use 70 percent isopropyl alcohol or disinfecting wipes on your AirPods. They also warn against getting any liquid into the crevices and recommends drying AirPods with a lint-free microfiber cloth afterwards. You can find detailed instructions for cleaning similar products like the AirPod Max headbands, pads, and carrying cases on their site.
Of course, not every earbud is from Apple, so if you’re worried about any special considerations for your specific brand you can look to your manufacturer for instructions—but it’s probably safe to assume that the same method is fine. You could also use a small amount of regular hand sanitizer on a napkin or square of toilet paper, rather than using a whole wipe. Either way, just know it’s important to disinfect your earbuds regularly and let them dry before putting them away.