How to clean your gross, waxy AirPods


Cleaning your AirPods is easy, and you probably have the tools to do it already.
Cleaning your AirPods is easy, and you probably have the tools to do it already.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Today we’re going to see how to clean AirPods, AirPods Pro or any other earbuds, using tools you probably already have. It’s essential to keep your AirPods clean to keep them working properly. Plus, it’s easy for them to get gross.

For instance, the other day on the metro, I pulled out my AirPods and dropped one on the floor. The earbud bounced over dried and dirty beer stains, and who knows what other filth and bacteria that had been traipsed in on a million passengers’ shoes (and the odd hippies’ bare feet). I gave up on listening to anything on the trip home, and slipped the rescued AirPod back into its case.

It’s not only hippie toe jam that we have to worry about, either. Because we’re always pushing AirPods deep into moist holes in our heads, they crust up with earwax and whatever bacteria we have living in our earholes. Happily, cleaning and disinfecting AirPods is not only easy. It’s just about as satisfying as digging a deep-seated booger out of your nose, or picking an almost-healed scab.

How to clean AirPods or AirPods Pro

An AirPod crusted with earwax. Gross!
Believe it or not, these didn’t look so bad from a distance — check the main photo to see what I mean.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

First, remove the filth

All earbuds will get gunked up in regular use. You might not mind the disgusting crust of wax and dirt on them, but eventually, it will build up and block the audio and/or built-in sensors. This obviously depends on the design of the earbuds, so today we’ll look at AirPods, which seem particularly susceptible to beat-blocking buildups.

Maybe it’s because they sit protected in a case when not in use, but my AirPods get waxier than regular EarPods, which jostle in a bag or pocket and get cleaned a little in the process.

How to clean your AirPods

To clean your AirPods, you’ll need four or five tools:

  1. Rubbing alcohol, or any kind of almost-pure cleaning alcohol.
  2. A rag, a piece of kitchen paper or even a few squares of toilet paper.
  3. Cotton buds, aka Q-tips.
  4. A scraper.
  5. And maybe a brush.

One of the best tools for scraping is one of the SIM-removal tools that come with iPhones (at least before Apple started the switch to eSIM). The little device is stiff. It has a sharp edge for digging into corners. And you probably already have one. Good alternatives include a tiny flat-head screwdriver, one side of a pair of tweezers, or a lock-picking tool.

Then get to work cleaning AirPods

A hole in an AirPod that's slightly dirty.
Pay attention to all the holes.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

First, grab an AirPod and the scraper, and use it to work the dry, crusted wax out of the earbud’s holes. There are three places where the wax builds up. The end (where the sound comes out) and two smaller, lozenge-shaped holes.

All of these are covered with a fine mesh grille, and you have to be careful not to a) damage the mesh or b) push the wax into the AirPods through this mesh, like putting boiled potatoes through a ricer. You should carefully scrape across the mesh, pausing often to brush away the loosened wax using a brush or the cover of a dry rag.

This may take a little while because you have to take it slow and easy. There’s no point getting the wax off the outside if it’s just getting pushed into the AirPod, where it will be stuck forever.

Disinfect AirPods for ultimate clean

Next, you want to swab both the AirPods and the case with an appropriate cleaning solution.

Apple’s support document says you can use the following products:

Using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe, 75 percent ethyl alcohol wipe, or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the exterior surfaces of your AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or EarPods. Don’t use on the speaker mesh of your AirPods, AirPods Pro, and EarPods. Don’t use on the knit mesh canopy and ear cushions of your AirPods Max. Don’t use products containing bleach or hydrogen peroxide.

Lightly moisten your cleaning cloth — you don’t want to get liquid inside the earbuds — and rub all over the AirPods. This is quick and easy. Then, take a Q-tip and do the same for the inside of the AirPods case. Try not to get the long hole — where the stalks of the buds sit — wet. This is where the charging contacts live, so liquid is most definitely not welcome.

Important: After this stage, leave the AirPods out of their case, and leave the case open for a little while to dry out. Alcohol will evaporate much more quickly than water, but it can’t go anywhere if it’s sealed in a plastic case.

And there you have it. Your AirPods are now clean and germ-free, ready to be plugged back into your ear canals. Maybe they will sound better, too, after you scraped out all that sound-sapping gunk.

Note: We originally published this post on how to clean your AirPods on June 15, 2018. We updated it with new information.


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