How To Clean Your AirPods

By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 12/22/19 •  11 min read

Apple’s AirPods look so clean out of the box, but how should you clean your AirPods and maintain clean AirPods over time? Are there certain procedures that can be taken in order to ensure the same sound quality as they had the day they were purchased?

The best way to clean your AirPods is to gently use a combination of cotton swabs, wooden toothpicks, a soft-bristle toothbrush on all black speakers, and cotton balls dipped in rubbing alcohol for all the shiny white surfaces. You can maintain clean AirPods by simply cleaning your ears on a daily basis.

AirPods are extremely popular and are warn by tens of millions of people worldwide. They produce great sound and are extremely convenient to wear. Given that the cleanliness of the AirPods determines their sound quality, what exactly can be done to clean them?

Let’s break this down. AirPods can be broken up into two categories.

  1. The AirPods Case
  2. Each Individual AirPod

Before cleaning your AirPods, you first need to know what tools and cleaning solvents you should and should not use when cleaning your AirPods. Please note that if you choose to clean your AirPods using methods that are not described in this article, you risk doing great damage to your AirPods. Let’s get started.

Tools & Solvents

Though there are several “tools” that can be used to clean your AirPods, there really is only one solvent that you should use, and that is Isopropyl alcohol, commonly known as “rubbing alcohol”.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol does a great job at sterilizing and disinfecting surfaces.

Believe it or not, rubbing alcohol does a better job at cleaning surfaces than vinegar does, primarily because vinegar does not serve as a disinfectant. While vinegar will physically remove germs, rubbing alcohol goes one step further by killing germs, preventing them from reproducing.

Rubbing alcohol also has the advantage in that it evaporates quickly and does not smell. You definitely do not want your AirPods smelling like vinegar.

Wooden Toothpicks

Wooden toothpicks have an advantage over plastic toothpicks in that you can blunt the tip of the toothpick by tapping it on a hardened surface. There are instances where you will want to use a very sharp toothpick, and at other times, you will want to use a blunted toothpick. It all depends on what you are cleaning and how you are cleaning.

For example, one might want to use a toothpick in combination with fine strands from a cotton ball to clean the inner lip of the lid on the AirPod case.

Cotton Balls and Queue-Tips

Cotton balls are usually used to help women remove make-up. We are going to use them as an abrasive to remove grime and dirt from our AirPods.

Cotton Swabs, (commonly known as “Queue-Tips”), will be used to remove grime and dirt from the hard-to-get to places.

Soft Bristle Toothbrush

Using a soft bristle toothbrush to clean your AirPods is a great tool to clean your AirPods, if used correctly. Again, let me emphasize, if used correctly. We will talk about how to clean your AirPods with a soft bristle toothbrush in a minute, but before we get there, let’s address your AirPod case first.

How to Clean the AirPods Case

When cleaning your AirPods case, you will want to use cotton swabs, queue-tips, and rubbing alcohol. Cotton swabs are comprised of very fine hair-like strands, and when used correctly, they will pick up the smallest flakes.

How to Clean the Outside of the AirPods Case

Step 1

Take a cotton ball and place it over the top of the bottle of rubbing alcohol and briefly tip it upside down so as to down the cotton ball with rubbing alcohol.

Step 2

Now, with your fingers, press the excess rubbing alcohol out so that you are left with a dampened cotton ball.

Step 3

Gently wipe the exterior of your AirPods case. To remove any accumulated grime, rub in a circular motion until clean. Just be sure not to press too hard, otherwise, you may end up scratching the case.

How to Clean the Inside of the AirPod Case

Step 1

Open the case and use the same dampened alcohol saturated cotton ball to wipe out any grime found within the top of the case itself. Do not use the cotton ball to clean inside the tubes of the case, (we will use a queue-tip for that in a minute).

Be sure to get any accumulated grime found in the top lip of the case itself. You will find that the cotton ball does a great job here, and if necessary, use your fingernail or a toothpick to press the cotton ball into the lip to remove any caked on grime.

Step 2

With a freshly alcohol-dampened cotton ball, wipe away any dirt and grime found in within the lid of the case, paying special attention to the inner lip, especially at the hinge. You will most likely need to use a queue-tip here, just be sure that you do not over saturate the queue-tip with rubbing alcohol.

If it is really dirty, you may need to use a combination of a toothpick with the cotton ball to get in there, and perhaps a soft-bristle toothbrush. The sharp toothpick, and especially the toothbrush, will allow you to rub out any areas that the queue-tip can not get to.

Do not be tempted to use a knife or paper-clip or any other sharp edged tool to scrape off any dirt or grime, because if you do, you will certainly damage the case itself. Take your time, and rub all the grime out until you have a completely white finish.

Step 3

The last remaining part to clean within the case itself, are the two tubes that house the AirPod stem. Place the tip of a fresh Queue-Tip in a few drops of rubbing alcohol and then squeeze all of the rubbing alcohol out with your fingers before inserting the queue-tip into the tube. When you do so, use a circular motion when retrieving the queue-tip to ensure that you pull out anything within the tube. Again, do not over saturate the queue-tip with rubbing alcohol. It should only be damp.

How to Clean Your AirPods

It is imperative that you understand that you must NOT to get any of the three speaker holes wet with rubbing alcohol.

As discussed above, dampen a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol, and squeeze out any excess alcohol with your fingers before rubbing out any dirt and grime from any white shiny surface. Don’t forget to get the spot just below the head of the AirPod where the stem meets the head. In my experience, this is where grime can accumulate.

When cleaning each individual AirPod, be very careful not to get any of the three speaker holes wet. Pay special attention when cleaning each AirPod, making sure that you do not to allow any rubbing alcohol enter the tip of the step where the microphone resides. Should you find that you have inadvertently allowed rubbing alcohol to gather on any one of these areas, blow them dry with a quick puff from your mouth, (do not use a hair-dryer), and then use a dry queue-tip to remove any excess liquid. Any remaining liquid will evaporate in time.

I can not over emphasize just how important it is that you carefully follow these steps with gentleness. Never press hard. Don’t force anything. If you are not gentle, you may penetrate the speaker and ruin your AirPod. As a side note, if you do happen to damage one of your AirPods, they can be replaced by Apple (only as a pair), for $70.

The following steps will show you how to thoroughly clean each AirPod.

Step 1

The first thing you want to do is to take a dry Q-tip and gently roll it over the surface of the speaker hole toward the side of the speaker wall. In other words, you want any and all earwax flakes to be brushed toward the wall of the speaker where the speaker meets the white shiny wall. This will force any earwax flakes out from the center of the speaker to the sides (and hopefully out).

Step 2

Now take a wooden toothpick and at a 45 degree angle, gently gather any earwax flakes by pressing on the white wall, (not the speaker), and draw a line around the circumference of the speaker hole itself. It is important that you use the wooden toothpick at a 45 degree angle so that you do not puncture the speaker. Any pressure applied will be applied to the white shiny wall of the speaker housing. Be patient, and take your time. This will undoubtedly remove the bulk of earwax, and you will probably be surprised at how much you will find.

Step 3

Take a dry queue-tip and repeat STEP 1 by gently rolling it over the surface of the speaker hole toward the side of the speaker wall. This will remove any flakes that you were not able to pick up with the wooden toothpick.

Step 4

Take a DRY soft-bristle toothbrush (the kind used for extra sensitive gums), and at a 45 degree angle, place the outer two rows of the toothbrush on the speaker and ever so gently brush toward the white wall of the speaker.

DO NOT PRESS HARD, or you will damage the speaker itself.

Again, only use the outer two rows of the toothbrush. The purpose of this exercise is to remove what you may not have been able to remove with the queue-tip and toothpick. Take your time, and do not try to “over-clean” it. If you do, you may do damage to the speaker.

Step 5

Take a dry queue-tip and repeat STEP 1 by gently rolling it over the surface of the speaker hole toward the side of the speaker wall. This ensure that anything left will be removed.

Clean Your Ears Every Day

The best preventive measure you can take is to clean your ears every day. If I may, let me offer some guidance.

Thoroughly dry your ears after showering

The current condition of your AirPods are a direct reflection on how clean your ears are.

After showering, be sure to use your towel (or dry washcloth), to clean your ears by simply placing it over your index finger and then drying your ear out with that index finger covered by the towel (or dry washcloth). Believe it or not, this will remove any earwax at the base of your ear canal, where the majority of earwax finds its way onto your AirPods.

We are not only concerned with the inner ear canal, but the part where the AirPod itself rests in your ear.

Use Queue Tips Every Day

Before using a queue-tip, pinch the end of the of the cotton ball to flatten it out. When inserting it into your ear, be sure to rotate it back and fourth as you insert it into your ear and again while retrieving it from your ear. This will pull any earwax flakes from your ear.

Use Your Fingernail to Clean Out Wax

When using your AirPods, before placing them in your ear, take your middle finger (or your ring finger), and try to scrape the bottom of the ear, (where the AirPod rests), to see if you are able to retrieve any earwax. If you have followed the instructions above, it is doubtful that you will retrieve any, but it’s a good preventive measure.

Closing Thoughts

As disgusting as this subject may be, it is important to know how to clean your AirPods, and how to prevent them from getting dirty in the first place. It is important to note that regardless of how clean your ears are, your AirPods will always need to be cleaned and sanitized. The reason for this is because we sweat and secrete earwax each day.

If you maintain proper hygiene and make it a point to clean your AirPods before or after each use, you will ensure the excellent sound quality from your AirPods well into the future.

Tim Chesonis

Tim has been helping people with computers needs for several years, and he loves to help people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective and enjoys freelance writing. In fact, when he's not writing an article, you might find him binge-watching Suits or formatting his computer . . . again, just for fun. To learn more about Tim, click here.