Let’s start with the bad news first: Your earbuds are probably way dirtier than you realize. This is true, in part, because we’re always handling them, and our hands are pretty germy. Even if you’re a diligent hand-washer, innocuous things like turning a doorknob or holding onto a subway pole can transfer germs that you probably don’t want to transfer into your ears.
There’s also the matter of storage. Most people toss their earbuds directly into a purse or tote bag, where they knock around with all the receipts and lint and stray sticks of gum you’ve got hanging around in your handbags.
And then there’s the obvious — ear wax. I know! It’s kind of gross to think about but everyone has ear wax, including the Queen of England, so it’s okay to talk about it. If you work out regularly while wearing earbuds, ear wax and oil accumulation will be a particular problem for you, as the heat you produce while exercising will lead to more build-up on the bud.
Now for the good news: It’s incredibly easy to clean earbuds. It takes virtually no time, and you don’t need any fancy products. Here are a few things you can use to keep your earbuds looking like brand new.
Wash Them With Mild Soap And Warm Water
A mild soap like Dr. Bronner’s Liquid-Castile soap, or even hand or dish soap, will do a great job of getting your earbuds clean. The trick with the use of soap and water is to apply them to a rag or soft cloth, which you’ll use to wipe the earbuds off. Don’t submerge the earbuds in water, and don’t apply the soap directly to them to avoid saturating their inner parts with too much liquid. Rinse the rag and use it to wipe the earbuds clean of soap, and then dry thoroughly.
Rubbing alcohol, which will cost you less than $2.00 for a 12 ounce bottle at your local pharmacy or big box store, is another very good option for cleaning earbuds. Use a cotton ball, tissue or paper towel to wipe earbuds with the alcohol and you’re done! You can also find individually packaged pre-moistened rubbing alcohol wipes at most drug stores, which are super handy for tossing into a gym bag or pocketbook for easy cleaning on the go. Bonus: You can use those same wipes to clean your cell phone or mp3 player screen after a sweaty workout.
READ MORE: Are My Headphones Damaging My Hearing?
Microfiber cloths, which can be found at stores like Target or anyplace that sells computer and cell phone accessories, are the perfect thing for not only cleaning delicate phone and tablet screens, but can also be used to wipe earbuds free of dust and dirt.
A toothbrush or one of those teeny, tiny brushes that come with beard trimmers can be used to remove deeper dust build-up, if you notice that’s a problem.
But How Often Should I Clean Earbuds?
Good question! It really depends on the frequency with which you wear them, and also individual factors like ear wax and oil production. Once a month is a good rule of thumb though, but it should be noted that if you feel like cleaning them more regularly than that — say, once a week — that’s just fine too.