Your AirPods are probably gross. Earwax, sweat, dirt, and grime all get caked on the buds and in the charging case. It’s helpful to clean them regularly, but you have to be careful not to damage them. Here are a few ways you can do it!
The Apple Method
Apple recommends you use a “soft, dry, lint-free cloth” to clean your AirPods, and a “dry cotton swab” (or Q-tip) to clean any gunk out of the speaker mesh. The instructions remind you that AirPods and AirPods Pro aren’t waterproof, (AirPods Pro are merely water-resistant to a certain degree).
The reality is a bit different. Gunk gets trapped inside your AirPods and will continue to accumulate against the speaker mesh. If you usually toss your AirPods in your pocket or a bag, the hinge area will be filthy in a matter of weeks. Both of these areas are hard to clean with just swabs and a cloth.
You might even need to clean deep inside the charging bays of the case because it’s easy for dirt and other gunk to get trapped right down the end.
Like your iPhone or iPad, the lightning port at the bottom of the unit can also become blocked with lint and other debris.
While Apple’s cleaning instructions make it unlikely you’ll damage your AirPods in the process, you won’t be doing a whole lot of cleaning either. Luckily, there are some other methods.
Cleaning Your AirPods
The earbuds are the most sensitive part of your AirPods, so they require the most care. Avoid applying too much pressure on the speaker mesh. Doing so can just push dirt deeper into the earbud and might even dislodge the speaker mesh entirely.
You can follow Apple’s advice and clean the outside of the earbuds with a soft cloth. If you have any discoloration or stubborn grime, you can dampen the cloth a bit and try again. Don’t forget to clean the sensors, too.
As Apple recommends, try to clean the grill area first with a Q-tip. If this doesn’t do the trick, though, you’ll probably have the most success with a sharp, pointed object, like a toothpick. Use the tip to gradually scrape the wax and dirt out of the speaker mesh. Again, be careful not to press too hard, but you should be able to get out any crud pretty easily.
You can also use the Blu-tack method to clean your AirPods. To do so, take a piece of Blu-Tack, or a similar reusable adhesive, and warm it up in your hands. Press the Blu-tack into the earbud speaker mesh, and then pull it out quickly. Repeat this process until you pull all the grime out of your AirPods. Be careful not to push the Blu-tack too far into the earbud, though.
You can also lightly spray a Q-tip with isopropyl alcohol and use it to loosen anything that might be stuck in the speaker mesh. Any surplus alcohol will evaporate in a few minutes.
Another technique is to wipe down your AirPods with a dry sponge, and then use a medium- or firm-bristled toothbrush to remove any embedded gunk.
Cleaning Your AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro have silicon tips that create a tighter seal in your ear. You can remove these tips for easier cleaning. Apple recommends you remove them and run them under some water until they look brand spanking new. Let them dry completely before you reattach them.
Never run the AirPods Pro themselves under the water! They’re only water-resistant, not waterproof. After you remove the silicon tips, it should be easy to wipe down the AirPods Pro with a dry or damp cloth.
If there’s any gunk inside the speaker canal, try some of the techniques we covered above to remove it. Again, just avoid exerting too much pressure while you clean.
Cleaning the Charging Case
Your AirPods’ charging case might be just as gross as the earbuds. The area around the hinge is notoriously difficult to clean, while the case itself is terrible at keeping dirt and other grime out.
We recommend you clean the charging case with a medium- or firm-bristle toothbrush as that’s the only way to get deep into the hinge area. You might want to moisten the brush to remove the really stubborn stuff.
Due to the constant compression caused when you open and close the case, you might find it almost impossible to remove some dirt. If a damp cloth or toothbrush doesn’t work, break out a trusty Q-tip and spray it with some isopropyl alcohol (never spray alcohol or water directly on the case). Work the Q-tip over the area to remove the grime. Be patient—this might take some time.
Take a look at the charging bays where the AirPods normally sit. There are charging contacts at the very bottom, which you want to avoid damaging. A dry Q-tip should help you clean out this area. If you encounter some especially stubborn gunk, you can dampen the end of the Q-tip with a bit of water or isopropyl alcohol.
Finally, don’t neglect the Lightning port on the bottom of the charging case. A wooden toothpick works well for cleaning this area.
You can also use something with a thin metal point, like a SIM key or an unfurled paperclip (that’s what we’ve seen the employees do at the Apple Store), to clean charging ports.
There are also charging contacts inside the Lightning port you could damage, so don’t use too much pressure.
Things You Shouldn’t Use to Clean Your AirPods
So, just to recap, you can safely use a cloth, cotton balls, Q-tips, toothpicks, toothbrushes, Blu-tack, moisture, and even isopropyl alcohol to clean your AirPods as long as you’re careful.
However, one thing you should never use to clean your AirPods is compressed air—particularly around the speaker mesh and charging port. High-velocity air can damage components, and Apple warns customers not to use it to clean any of their products.
Similarly, harsh cleaning agents, like bleach, might make your AirPods snow-white again, but they can also damage the plastic. These chemicals also tend to leave residue behind on surfaces, and it’s probably not a good idea to put bleach in your ear.
Finally, avoid submerging your AirPods in water, even if you have the water-resistant AirPods Pro. Even an accidental dunk will likely spell disaster for your AirPods since they’re always on when you take them out of the case.
Keeping Things Clean
You’ll make less work for yourself if you clean your AirPods regularly because it prevents buildup.
It’s a lot harder to clean a year’s worth of dirt out of your earbuds and charging case than it is to give them a quick blitz once a month. If you’re an especially heavy user, or if you use your AirPods while you exercise, you might want to clean them even more often.