Wed. May 25th, 2022

Earphones have been the listening choice for many for ages, and sales of wireless earphones picked up speed as Apple removed the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and released the AirPods. Since then, apparently all brands under the sun, and even some resurrected from the deep, have released genuine wireless earphones. Some are small and cheap. Some are large and expensive. Some have one-size-fits-most hard plastic designs. Some have user-replaceable rubber tips that can hold ears of different sizes. But one thing that unites all earphones is that they eventually become disgustingly ugly, with an accumulation of earwax and dirt that can hinder the sound quality and reduce the overall volume. As a result, you should take the time to clean them once in a while.

Here we review some of the different ways you can clean your earphones – including hard plastic earplugs and soft rubber tips – using basic tools and methods that everyone can feel comfortable using. Our goal is to get your earphones neat and clean with minimal risk of injury.

Different types of earphones may require slightly different approaches and tools.

A little word of warning

It is important to keep in mind that most manufacturers recommend cleaning earphones with only a clean microfiber cloth or dry cotton swab. Instructions from major manufacturers such as Samsung and Apple advise that you refrain from using alcohol or other liquids. A simple alcohol wipe can be fine for some surfaces if kept away from speaker grills, microphone holes or charging ports – but it poses some dangers. If you try to use wet processes or detergents, do so at your own risk. And it may sound obvious, but it needs to be emphasized: never Immerse earphones or charger cases in any type of liquid to clean them.

Starting with the basics

Simple tools get the job done. In the picture: a light bulb, brush, toothpicks, putty, microfiber cloth, cotton swab and spudger.

A “less is more” approach is always the way to go when cleaning electronics. So let’s start by reviewing the simplest and least risky ways to clean the build from most earphones. Start with the most basic cleaning tools and work your way up until the earphones are clean enough. There’s no need to become invasive with a toothpick if a breath of air takes care of it, right? Always start small before jumping to extremes and use only what the job requires.

Many of the tools mentioned here are ordinary household items. You can buy earphone cleaning kits that have many similar tools, but you may already have what you need.

Forced air

Although blowing air from your mouth into your earphones can knock some dust or flaky earwax away, it will most likely be insufficient, and you may inadvertently set aside tiny pieces of saliva on something going into your ears – not exactly sanitized. Try the following tools:

For hard plastic earphones, point the dirty speaker grille away from you and toward the floor. Try pointing the fan up and into the earphone speaker grills away from your face. You want to prevent debris from potentially flying towards your eyes (it does not hurt to wear glasses or basic goggles – no one will judge you), and you also want gravity on your side.

For earphones with removable soft rubber tips, gently push them off and hold the tip against the floor. Blow air into and through the opening in the earpiece tip, pointing down and away from you. Then turn them around and blow air through the other side before moving to the earphone itself and blowing out any dirt that has reached the speaker grills. Once the rubber tips are removed, they become the only part of the earphones that you can safely clean with liquids. If you choose to clean the removed tips with water, let them dry overnight to ensure that there is no residual moisture before putting them back on the earphones.

If this basic process is enough to blow the dirt away and make your earphones look clean enough, take a clean and dry microfiber cloth on all surfaces and polish away any remaining dirt. If the buildup is hardened and not protruding, keep your canned air or fan nearby while we become more invasive to try to break up the gunk.

Do not forget the charging case: Forced air and a microfiber cloth will often be enough to clean out any dirt that is transferred from wireless earphones to the charging case.

Toothpicks, cotton swabs and more scraping and brushing tools

A puff of air is rarely enough to get stuck, especially if you have overly waxy ears (I’m here for you, and sir, I must be sorry). The next step is to use a small tool to break up earwax or accumulation of dirt without risking injury. You are about to make a choice or probe for a piece of electronics, so exercise a little care and caution. Consider the following tools:

  • Vatpind
  • Basic wood or plastic toothpicks
  • Plastic spudger tool (related to those that iFixit includes with many do-it-yourself repair kits)
  • Wooden skewers (typically used for food / cooking)
  • Dry brush (toothbrushes are good, but never take any chances of using them for dental care after this)
  • Pipe cleaner (handicraft)

Note that here we choose tools that are soft (cotton, brushes) or firm, but not too hard (wood, plastic), as metal can cause scratches or damage to the speaker grille or plastic shell on an earphone. As usual, we will start with the least invasive and work our way up if necessary.

For hard plastic earplugs, start with the cotton swab and try to break up and wipe dirt or wax away in the speaker grills. Angle them downward to let gravity help your cause. If the swab is not strong enough, go up to a toothpick, spudger or wooden spear and gently break the structure up into the corners and edges of the speaker cavity.

For soft rubber tips, the toothpick can be one of the best tools – it can fit through the hole in a removed earplug tip and scrape the inside wall. Also, be sure to clean the exposed speaker with the cotton swab, brush, or toothpick if wax has been deposited on it. If your earplugs have a rubberized fin or comb to make sure they fit in your ear, these can best be cleaned with the toothbrush. A pipe cleaner can also be very useful for these soft rubber bits, but due to its metal rod cores, it should not be used for much else.

When you break the stubborn build-up, blow more air from a can or blower and see if it finally removes the dirt. Take a cleaning cloth for all the surfaces and hopefully you now have some sufficiently clean earphones.

Bonus tip: Keep a damp paper towel or sponge handy and you can nicely wipe all the rough stuff away as it accumulates on your toothpick while minimizing clutter. Be prepared to clean your work area when you are done, as you may be surprised at how much dirt comes out when you do a deep cleaning on long neglected earphones.

The last tools for some hard-to-reach cleaning

If you have broken some of the dirt up, but it proves difficult to get it out with forced air or a brush, there are a few more tools to try. The following can be used with all the previously mentioned tools:

  • Covering tape or masking tape
  • Mounting trowel or cleaning jelly
  • Vacuum with a small mouthpiece

Using tape or putty to help remove dirt from deeper cracks can hopefully be all you need to clean all the nooks and crannies of your earphones. The adhesive from paint or masking tape is adhesive enough to collect dirt, but light enough not to leave residue on the surface that stronger tape can.

If the dirt is really deep in the tip of the earphone and hard to reach, the tape may not get to it. This is filler (the kind used in arts and crafts to safely mount things on the wall) or a cleaning gel. Heat the putty by kneading a small amount of it in your hands and roll it over the affected area.

At this point, the combination of all these tools should clean most of the earwax away. Some particularly dirty knobs may require repeated and alternating use from a combination of air, scraper and putty. The key is to work on it, little by little, until the earphones are clean.

The more often you clean your earphones, the less dirt and accumulation there is, and the fewer tools and elbow grease you need. If you prevent earplugs from getting too dirty, make sure they last longer and hopefully are less prone to reduced sound quality or breakage.

As is often the case, a little preventative care can help save you from costly repairs or replacements along the way. So be sure to keep your cordless earphones in their charging case when not in use, and shield them from further accumulation like pickpockets, and do not forget to give them an occasional check and cleaning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.