If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Rolling Stone may receive an affiliate commission.
AirPods sound great, and are made to be worn for long stretches throughout the day. But even the best AirPods get gross – all that moisture from sweat, and the buildup of ear gunk can accumulate to the point of discoloration and visible (and invisible) nastiness on your Pods.
Besides being sanitary, a quick cleaning of your AirPods can even improve the sound if the speakers are covered with layers of crud. Plus it’s extremely satisfying to compare the before and after.
How to Clean Your AirPods
If you want to clean your AirPods, you’ll need a few essential items: a lint-free and/or microfiber cloth, cotton swabs, a soft toothbrush, and 70% isopropyl alcohol.
Prior to getting started, remember that while AirPods are water resistant, they’re not fully waterproof (most AirPods cases aren’t built to handle any liquid exposure at all, although the 2nd Gen AirPods Pro features an IPX4 water resistant case). The rubber ear tips, when disconnected from the Pods, are okay to rinse though, and giving the Pod a gentle tap on a hard surface can help shake out any water that may have crept inside if you accidentally got it wet. If the case does get exposed to liquid, dry it as best you can, then turn it upside-down with the lid open and let it air-dry before putting the pods back in.
The best way to clean your AirPods is to first give everything a good wipe-down with a dry microfiber cloth. (Don’t add any water, cleaning solution or isopropyl alcohol just yet – we’ll get there). This knocks out all the grime that’s loose enough to dislodge on its own. Get into the creases of the case and crevices of the bud, doing the best you can with just the cloth and some muscle behind it.
Next grab a cotton swab, and start digging into the smaller, tighter spaces, like the tiny speaker part of the bud. Twist it, spin it, gently sweep it up down into the case’s curvatures until you’ve covered everything.
Gently dip the swab’s cotton tip in some alcohol, and make sure it’s not soaked or dripping – getting any moisture or liquids inside the buds, and especially the case, is a huge no. An alcohol prep pad can also work, but it’s still best to transfer the alcohol onto the swab’s tip rather than use the wet pad to directly clean the Pods. Same goes for a Clorox or disinfecting wipe. It’s simply got too much liquid on it, and is too risky to use around the mesh speakers and interior of the case.
Finally, time for the toothbrush. Any unused one should be fine as long as the bristles aren’t too rigid that they’d cause scrapes or damage. The friction of the brush sweeps away remaining grossness that’s still hanging on at this point.
Other Tips for Cleaning Your AirPods
An air blower, whether in a can or a squeezable one, is a risk-free method that can be used to remove surface dust on any part of your AirPods. It doesn’t go deep or dislodge the really sticky goo, but after each step, it’s a reliable way to extricate the excess dirt.
Though it’s not recommended by Apple, a small and precise object like a rounded pick can also really get in there and provide an extra level of cleanliness. They’re often included in third-party cleaning kits, but If you’re not careful, this can cause damage to your pods. If you decide to go ahead with it, gently – without pushing – run the pick’s end around the edges of the Pod’s speaker and microphone, scooping up the gunk that still remains.
For stubborn scuffs, a Magic Eraser can buff away marks on the outside of the case, but it’s generally too bulky for the buds and ends up crumbling apart.
‘SNL’ Weekend Update Shows No Mercy for Hitler-Liking Kanye
Barack Obama's Werewolf Jokes Appear to Have Hurt Herschel Walker's Feelings
The Future of Classic Rock Tours: One or Two Surviving Members...or None?
Republican Who Took Oath to Defend Constitution Totally OK With Trump Saying He’d Terminate It
For the AirPods Max, Apple’s new over-the-ear, head-banded headphones, the same cautionary cleaning rules apply. The only difference is with the non-electronic ear cushions and the band, which can be cleaned using a bit of detergent in water and wiping with a dry cloth. (The official Apple cleaning guidelines can be found here).
AirPods are a device that gets used constantly for long stretches, even remaining in your ears when they’re off. Even if you’re not cleaning your AirPods regularly, it’s best to give them a wipe-down and let them fully dry after they’ve been exposed to sweat, rain, sunscreen, or any moisture. Never run them under water, or use bleach to clean or whiten them. But a little maintenance work now can save you from a deep (and disgusting) clean in the future.
1. PhoneSoap 3 UV Sanitizer
Think beyond just earbuds for a second – all our devices get pretty grimy from being touched all day and then stored in warm places that are perfect conditions for a bacteria house party. Instead of having to wipe them down repeatedly, PhoneSoap has a liquid-free solution.
Two UV-C bulbs zap the germs from your phone, buds, watch, or whatever can fit inside. The interior is reflective, meaning that there’s no need to flip your phone or earbuds to get both sides sanitary. This covers all sides, 360º, for a full clean all-around.
It goes beyond electronics too, and can even work for other everyday objects like keys, glasses, cash and credit cards. There are also USB ports in the back to charge up devices while they’re being cleaned.
2. 34-Piece Cleaning Kit for AirPods
This 34-piece kit is loaded with the tools you need to keep your AirPods (and other tech accessories) looking brand new.
Three different types of bristled brushes provide the gentle scrubbing necessary to scrape up dirt and then whisk it away. The company’s strong, alcohol-free cleaning liquid helps get rid of dust, scuffs, sweat and smudges from fingerprints and everyday use, and a soft cloth (as well as wipes and 20 swabs) is included too.
This goes way beyond AirPods, and can clean plenty of your other devices, including phones, keyboards, and even DSLR cameras.
3. Hagibis Cleaning Pen
This multifunctional cleaner features a convenient 3-in-1 design to keep your AirPods from getting dirty. You’ve got a sponge head, a metal pen tip and a high-density brush included.
The sponge can easily brush off exterior dirt on the AirPods charging case or the head of the earbuds itself. Make sure to use the sponge on the inside of your case too, it’s thin enough to clean the dirt from the bottom of your case. The brush on the other hand, can swiftly remove any grime from the sound outlets on your buds or any hard-to-reach areas on your case. Finally, the metal tip can be used to get any pesky earwax out that’s stuck to the listening hole on your buds.
Since it’s compact and built for travel, you can easily take this cleaning pen on the go and use it on more than just your AirPods — it’s great for cleaning your iPhones too.
4. Binhai Air Blower, Lens Cloth and Brush Set
Brushes and microfiber cloths are common in cleaning kits, but an air blower is less so. That’s why we like this handy kit, which is a big help for cleaning out small spaces. Simply squeezing some air into your AirPod’s ports and openings can work wonders, blasting out dust and debris. Best of all: it’s perfectly safe.
The goat hair brush is a nice addition and nicely soft, while the other brush is strong enough to whisk any remaining dirt out of its hiding places.
AirPods are just the beginning though, as this mighty little blower is extremely versatile and can work on all your devices, including cameras, binoculars, telescopes and musical instruments.