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How to clean your Apple Watch in 5 steps

Cleaning an Apple Watch should be done carefully and in stages. We're going to walk you through the different steps so you know what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Apple Watch with cleaning materials
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Remember that grime you'd get stuck under your Casio calculator watch back in the day from never taking it off?

You'd think we'd be safe from that with an Apple Watch, since we constantly have to remove it to charge it, but you'd be mistaken. 

All that dirt, dust, dead skin, and sweat still hides in the crevices of your watch, and it can even interfere with your Apple Watch's performance

An Apple Watch can collect too much debris around the Digital Crown, for example, causing it to get stuck. Much like the ones on your iPhone, the speaker ports on your Apple Watch are another usual victim to grime, and clearing those out can help if your speaker volume suddenly is too low

Also: I put the Apple Watch Ultra through a Tough Mudder

How to clean your Apple Watch in 5 steps


1. Remove the watchband

Start by removing the band on your Apple Watch; we'll clean those separately.

To remove the band, place the watch face down on a flat, clean surface. Press down the band release buttons. These are the two buttons in the middle of where the band meets the watch. 

While pressing down the release buttons, slide the band out of place and remove it completely. 

Below are the buttons you need to press down while sliding out the watchband.

Hands removing band on the Apple Watch
Maria Diaz/ZDNET
Buttons highlighted on the back of an Apple Watch

While pressing these buttons, slide the band out.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Also: The best Apple Watch Series 8 bands 

2. Remove grime

Do a close inspection of your Apple Watch and look for any grime that may have built up in all the hard-to-reach areas. Look closely in the speaker ports, around the button and Digital Crown, and in the band slot. 

Try to loosen the stuck-on dirt from your watch's crevices with the cotton swab. If the grime isn't budging, try holding your watch under gently running water to loosen it up (see Apple's support page for information on how water-resistant your particular Apple Watch model is, and never use soapy water). Then give the cotton swab another shot. 

If you feel you can be extra gentle, you can try this method around the Digital Crown and on the speaker port (shown in photo below). Using an interdental brush to clean small spaces on your electronic devices is a great idea, provided you're extremely careful with it. Only use the sides of the brush, not the tip. And no matter how tempted you are, don't use compressed air to clean your Apple Watch.

Using a Q-tip to clean an Apple Watch
Maria Diaz/ZDNET
Cleaning speaker port with brush

Only use the sides of the interdental brush, never use the sharp tip.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Also: Apple Watch Ultra teardown: A much bigger battery, but repairs are difficult

3. Wipe the Apple Watch front and back

Dampen one of the two cleaning cloths with clean water and wipe down your Apple Watch, front and back. Make sure your cloth is damp but not dripping wet by squeezing out any excess water out before using it on your watch. Look out for any dirt you may have loosened with the brush and wipe it away.

Again, it's important to not use any soaps or cleaning products when you're cleaning your Apple Watch, and don't submerge your watch in water to clean it, especially not older models.

Cleaning Apple Watch with a damp microfiber cloth
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

4. Wipe or wash the Apple Watch band

As long as you don't have a leather band, you can wipe your Apple Watch band with the same damp cloth or even wash the band with mild hand soap. Apple does not recommend cleaning its watchbands with abrasive soaps or cleaning agents.

Whether you clean your band or not, it will fade or vary in color over time and with repeated use. Using cleaning products other than mild hand soap will exacerbate fading and discoloration, so again, steer clear of those.

Wiping Apple Watch bands with a damp cloth

I opted to simply wipe my band, since it wasn't too dirty.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

5. Dry with cloth and reassemble

Use the dry, lint-free cloth to dry off the clean parts of your watch. Before you put your band back on your Apple Watch, make sure that every single area on your watch and band is completely dry. 

To reassemble your Apple Watch, place it facedown on a clean surface again, then hold the band with the letters and numbers facing you, and slide each one into the slot until you hear a faint click.

Dry Apple Watch and band pieces on microfiber cloth

My watch after drying the individual pieces with a microfiber cloth.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET


Can I disinfect my Apple Watch?

If you've owned an Apple Watch during the last few years, you've probably wondered if it's safe to disinfect your Apple Watch without damaging it. Apple has approved the use of some disinfectants to safely clean your watch:

  • 70% Isopropyl alcohol wipe
  • 75% Isopropyl alcohol wipe
  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes

This obviously doesn't mean that you can give your Apple Watch a scrubbing with a Clorox wipe, but you can gently wipe the exterior of the Apple Watch and band with one of these wipes, with the exception of leather and fabric bands.

How do I clean my stinky Apple Watch band?

The sport band on the Apple Watch is unfortunately often plagued by a foul smell, particularly when worn during exercise. A good way to get smells like this out is to remove it from the watch and wash it well with hand soap, then dry it with a microfiber towel, and make sure it is completely dry before wearing it again.

If the smell persists, wipe it with an isopropyl alcohol wipe, especially the underside, and let it air-dry completely.

Also: New Apple Watch Ultra bands work with other Apple models, too

Can I wash my Apple Watch in the sink?

Apple doesn't recommend washing its smartwatches with soap, as soap residue can get stuck in small areas of the watch and cause problems down the line. Depending on the model, this doesn't mean you can't shower with your watch or do dishes with it, however. Again, check the degree of water resistance of the model that you own.

You can wash the band in the sink with some mild hand soap, however, provided it's not leather.

I don't wash my Apple Watch in the sink, but every night before bed, I take it off and wipe it with a Clorox wipe, then let it thoroughly air-dry before charging it or wearing it again. 

Can I clean an Apple Watch leather band?

Leather bands are not waterproof and can become discolored if cleaned wrong. If you have a leather band for your Apple Watch and need to clean it, you can use a slightly damp cloth to clean it, taking great care not to soak the leather. Let it air-dry completely before wearing it again, but don't put it out in the sun to do it, as it will become damaged. Air-drying your leather band inside is enough.

What to avoid when cleaning the Apple Watch?

  • Avoid any harsh cleaners of any kind, as well as products containing bleach or hydrogen peroxide. 
  • Don't submerge your Apple Watch in cleaning solutions or soapy water. Don't submerge older models in water at all.
  • Don't use compressed air or ultrasonic cleaning.
  • Don't blow-dry your Apple Watch or leave it out in the sun to dry.
  • Never polish or buff your Apple Watch.
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