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How to clean and sanitize your AirPods (and why you should)

It might come as a bit of a surprise but those things that you stick in your ears regularly could do with the occasional cleaning.
Dirty AirPods Pro
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Surprise! Those AirPods that you stick in your ears on a regular basis -- sometimes for hours on end, often when you're sweating in the gym -- need an occasional cleaning.

Some people just give them a wipe and get on with their day, while others want to go all the way and fully clean and sanitize their AirPods.

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Well, my AirPods Pro have seen a lot of use, and they could do with a clean, so I thought that I'd bring you along for the ride.

How to clean and sanitize your AirPods

Note that while I'm cleaning AirPods Pro here, the process is similar for the AirPods, too. Apple offers its official guidance on how to clean AirPods.

What you'll need: I see people overcomplicating the cleaning process. I like to keep it simple. 

  • A couple of Q-tips.
  • A couple of lens wipes.
  • Optional: A disposable surface for the cleaning process like a paper towel (so your table doesn't get covered in earwax).
Cleaning materials and AirPods Pro

The cleaning bench.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

I've come across people who use isopropyl alcohol for cleaning but I'm reluctant to drench AirPods in a solvent. I don't think that dissolving earwax and pushing it deeper into the earbuds is all that good for them in the long run. Then there's the possibility of damaging plastics. 

Also: The best earbuds you can buy

These Lens Wipes are inexpensive and only contain 40-50% alcohol, so they're less abrasive and fit for cleaning glasses, camera lenses, screens, and, in this case, AirPods.

1. Assess the damage

First, I assessed just how bad things are. My second-generation AirPods Pro are about a year old. Despite a lot of use, they look quite new. The charging case lives inside another protective case -- one from ESR -- and apart from being dirty, looks like new.

I highly recommend keeping the AirPods charging case inside another protective case, especially if you plan on selling or passing them on at some point. A protective case really does prevent scratches and chips.

Buildup in AirPods Pro case

Lots of "buildup."

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

I noticed that there's also a fair bit of muck trapped in the Lightning port.

Dirt in the charge port

A little bit of dirt in the charge port

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

2. Clean the case

I started with the case. There are a lot of nooks and crannies in this design, and they trap a lot of debris. Around the hinge area, where the AirPods sit, and the connectors at the bottom that supply power to charge up the earbuds all seem to be muck magnets.

Also: My search for the ultimate AirPods Pro case is over

However, it's nothing that a lens wipe and a Q-tip can't solve. I will wrap a lens wipe around the Q-tip to remove stuck-on dirt. I was actually surprised how easily it lifted off. 

The Q-tip was particularly handy for cleaning around the charge connectors, however, be careful, because you don't want to break the delicate connectors, because if you do that, you'll be buying a new charge case.

A lens wipe wrapped around a Q-tip
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

3. Clean the AirPods

Start by gently pulling on the silicone earbud tip to remove it. Then, use a Q-tip and wipe to clean inside and out.

Silicone earbud tips with debris

The silicone earbud tips held quite a bit of debris.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Finally, give the earbud itself a good wipe, and you're done.

Cleaning the silicone earbud tip

Cleaning the silicone earbud tip.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

4. Clean the charge port

To clean the charge port, I urge caution. If it's not filthy, leave it alone, because the risk to breaking it outweighs the benefits.

If you must clean it, what I do is roll up a lens wipe into a point and gently -- with a lot of caution -- use it to remove the worst of the debris. 

Also: The best noise-canceling earbuds

Be careful, and don't go full gorilla on it, because the last thing you want to do is break something. 

Gently cleaning the charge port

Gently cleaning the charge port

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

My AirPods Pro definitely don't look like new, but they do look a lot cleaner and are a lot more hygienic. 

Closeup of AirPods Pro

Mostly clean, but a lot more hygienic.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET


Why do you use lens wipes?

I use lens wipes because they are lint-free, use a tiny amount of cleaning fluid (so as not to soak things), and are designed not to harm plastics and the delicate coating on items.

How often should you clean your AirPods?

It really depends. Probably every few months would help to keep the AirPods looking fresh. However, It's probably been over a year since I cleaned my AirPods Pro case, so to each their own.

Why do my Airpods sound muffled?

Buildup of debris or earwax can affect the sound output quality of your AirPods, so giving them a thorough cleaning to see if dirt is interfering with sound may save you a trip to the Apple store.

Can I use hydrogen peroxide to clean AirPods?

Never use hydrogen peroxide, solvents, or any abrasive cleaners to clean your AirPods as this can damage them. 

Same goes for household cleaners and isopropyl alcohol. 

Also, you should never submerge your case or AirPods in any cleaning solutions or water. A Q-tip, lens wipe, and some meticulous cleaning is all it takes to get them in top shape.

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