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Complete guide to cleaning headphones and earphones

Most of us use our headphones every day and keeping both them and your ears clean means fewer bacteria and better sound quality. We’ve compiled a guide about caring for them and making them last longer.


Headphones against blue backdrop

Fast hints:

  1. Alcohol wipes are handy for quick cleaning and disinfecting on the go.

  2. Only reattach ear tips that are 100% dry.

  3. Mouldable adhesive putty can be pressed carefully into earphone mesh to remove debris.  

Ears are self-cleaning, but the wax they produce means that headphones and earphones – also called earbuds or in-ear headphones - need regular attention.  

When earphones are inserted into the ear canal, they can become warm and soften earwax. Wax can then settle on or in the earphone and attract dirt or fungi.

Ear pieces of headphones and earphones should point down while cleaning, so any debris or loosened dirt will fall out during the process.


All parts must be cleaned, including the ear tips (covers made from foam, rubber or silicon) and the mesh layer of the earphone speakers, as wax in the mesh can muffle sound. Make sure the earphones are disconnected from any device before you start.

Ear tips: Remove from the earphones and wash in soapy water. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a clean, soft cloth. Do not attach them back on the earphones if they are still damp.

The Poll

What’s most important to you when it comes to cleaning?

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Mesh: Brush gently with a dry cloth to loosen debris.

Mesh screen deep clean

For thorough cleaning, follow these steps:

  1. Take off the ear tips.

  2. Use a clean, soft cloth, to apply a tiny amount of hydrogen peroxide (maximum strength 3%) to the surface of the mesh, holding the earphone so that it points downwards and no liquid can enter.

  3. Wait for a few minutes while the wax softens.

  4. Still holding the earphone so it points downwards, dip a soft-bristled nylon toothbrush in the peroxide, removing any excess, and gently brush the mesh surface to loosen wax, without allowing liquid to enter the earphone.

  5. Shake the cleaned earphone with care to dislodge any wax or peroxide and dry with a clean cloth.

  6. Clean the ear tips (see above).

  7. Once dry, re-attach the ear tips.

With expensive earphones, it may be worthwhile to invest in an anti-static brush with fibres that won’t break off. Rubbing alcohol can also be used instead of peroxide.


For leather or foam earpads that can be costly to replace, make sure to take extra care. For step-by-step cleaning:

  1. Remove your earpads and wipe the exterior of the headphones with a soft cloth dampened with soapy water. Set aside to dry.

  2. Dip a cloth in a small amount of soapy water and carefully wipe the earpads, giving crevices special attention.

  3. Clean the mesh surface using a soft cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol.

  4. Allow everything to dry completely before reassembling.

For deeper cleaning, a hearing aid vacuum is recommended. Designed for hearing aids, these devices can extract wax from headphones and earphones.


Headphones can get hot and sweaty and therefore benefit from post-workout cleaning. Moisture and dirt can stain earpads on headphones, and even lead to mould. So be sure to:

  • Turn off and disconnect your headphones before cleaning them.

  • Dry your headphones after working out.

  • If rechargeable, always wait until they are completely dry before recharging them.

  • Wipe them with a soft cloth dampened by water with a little soap once a week.

  • For earphones: Wipe after a gym session and put them in a ventilated area where they can dry.    


Water is no friend to headphones or earphones, so if you are caught in a shower, try and remove your devices from the downpour as soon as possible. If the earpieces are wet, dry them carefully. Avoid letting water enter the mesh.

Dealing with water damage

Headphones should not go in the wash, so be careful to always empty clothing pockets to prevent them from going through a wash cycle. But if there is a mishap:

  • Dry them with a soft cloth or towel.

  • Remove earpads or ear tips so they can dry.

  • Shake ear pieces gently with mesh pointing down to remove water.

  • Give them 48 hours to air dry. Placing them in a bowl of uncooked rice may gently speed up the process.

  • When fully dry, test to see if they work.  

When not wearing headphones and earphones, it’s a good idea to store them in a protective, waterproof container or bag. This will not only prevent grime from sticking to them but will keep them dry.

Originally published