Gross Earbuds ? Clean Them Up With This Simple Technique

I constantly have music playing on my earphones. If not the latest groovy tunes, it’s a podcast, or a simple YouTube video I saved for offline viewing. As innocent as putting in earphones might seem to be, it is not exactly harmless.

Human ears are lively places. We have quite a few bacteria living on every inch of our skin, and the inside of the ears is no different. These are generally benign bacteria. Put in earphones, and the trapped heat and moisture will spur them into a happy mood and they’ll multiply. But along with these benign bacteria, you can also have dangerous ones which can get you an infection. A prime reason keeping your earphones plugged in your ears is this risk of discomfort.

Ear wax, skin oils and dirt and grime from the environment only facilitate such growth, apart from being unsightly themselves. If you have white or light colored earphones like me, you’re probably frustrated with muddy coatings on the plastic like I am. All of that, thankfully, can be dealt with.

What’s even better is that there are quite a few ways to clean your earbuds, and a lot of them can be used to clean headphones, phone cases, wallets and other accessories as well. Trust me, there’s a lot of our stuff we keep in dark, damp places, some even close to our bodies. Neglecting to clean them isn’t the wisest idea.

Without further ado, here are 5 ways to clean your earbuds, and maybe even other things you might have lying around.

Soapy Water

Soapy Water

The most problematic areas of your earphones are the rubber or plastic earbuds. They come directly in contact with your skin, and that makes it easy for them to pick up as well as dump bacteria around. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much more than some soapy water to take care of them.

Detach your earbuds from the earphones. A gentle pull should work. Take some lukewarm soapy water in a bowl, and soak the earbuds in them. Let them sit for a while and give them a few gentle stirs in between.

You can then pull out the earbuds and rinse them in tap water. Wipe away excess moisture and let them dry completely before putting them back on the earphones.

You can also use the soapy water to dampen a small cloth or a cotton ball and gently wipe at the plastic wire. It’ll get that dirt right off. Be careful to avoid all metallic and wire circuitry. IF you’re clumsy, it’s better to use the next two options instead.

Hand Sanitizer

Hand Sanitizer

Hand Sanitizer is mostly ethyl alcohol, and the high concentration makes it deadly for bacteria and fungi and a deterrent to many viruses. It can also contain some water and almost all sanitisers have scents and fragrances mixed into them, so use this method if you’re comfortable with any slight smells that might linger for a few minutes after the application. You’re going to be using a tiny amount anyways, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Care is to be taken while using Hand sanitizer close to wires and circuitry. It might be a tiny bit of water, but it can still distress your earphones to be exposed to it. Anyway, here’s how to use it.

Grab yourself a cotton ball, or just pull out a swab. Wet it with some sanitiser and rub away at all the nooks and corners you can cover.

Earphones that are especially dirty will gather a layer of muck on the cotton, and it is recommended that you switch the side of the swab, dampen it some more and go at it again. Thin swabs are best discarded and replaced with fresh ones.

If there are harder to reach crevices, you can opt for using a Qtip as well. It affords you a more contained and pointed application, and it’s much easier to wield as well.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol and hand sanitiser are taken to be the same thing, but they’re not. Rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol, and you can often find undiluted bottles full of it at your local chemist’s. Both hand sanitiser and rubbing alcohol kill germs or check their growth, but the latter is a little better at it, though also believed to be a tad harsher.

Even if your rubbing alcohol is not diluted with water, it is better to be careful while cleaning wires or metallic portions of your earphones. There is relatively little trace that remains after the liquid dries up, so you won’t be dealing with as many streaks or residues with rubbing alcohol.

Like with hand sanitiser, rubbing alcohol can be used by soaking a bit of cotton and then wiping the surface thoroughly. You can use Q-tips or a small cloth too, or just collect a small amount of the liquid in a small bowl (the tiniest shot glass size will do) and then soaking your earbuds for a minute or two before taking them out, soaking out the excess with some cotton and allowing them to dry thoroughly.

Use organic liquids like hand sanitiser or rubbing alcohol with caution, though. Using too much of it can dissolve any glue or colors that might be susceptible to them. The ideal amount in my experience is just enough to wet the swab, but not enough to actually form a drop when the cotton is squeezed.


We already talked about using Q-tips with some rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer in the sections above. But if you don’t have either of those or prefer not to buy a bottle just to clean your earphones, a dry q-tip will work just as well.


A dry Q-tip can be useful in cleaning the insides of your earbud. They can help you dust out the earphone jack (make sure your q-tip is dry and the cotton doesn’t easily break loose into strands) as well as other nooks and crannies of your handset or other accessories. For example, I clean my phone’s speaker membrane by lightly rubbing a pointed Q-tip over it.



The sun isn’t just capable of making you feel warm and happy, sunlight deters and can even kill bacteria and fungi, as well as toast mites and other creepy crawlies. If you have headphones which soak up a lot of sweat, sunlight can help get rid of some of that horrible damp smell.

You can place your earphones in the sun, or just the dirty parts. A few hours of sun should make sure they are sanitised to quite some extent. However, some earphones might not be built to be sporting of direct sunlight. Check with your earphones’ package box or manual before sunning your devices.

Keeping your earphones exposed to the sun can also expose them to other elements. Be prepared to dust off any dirt that may settle on them, and make sure there is no rain forecasted or a source of moisture close by.

Sunlight doesn’t rid your earphones of dirt, however. It is best to use a Q-tip later to clean the surface of the earphones.

Use multiple methods instead of just one, and your earphones will be cleaner than ever. There are earphones which come with replaceable covers or earbuds, which can be a good option to turn to when your earphones are pretty gross but you don’t have enough time to clean them out right then. Let us know if you know any other easy way to clean earphones.

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