In 2020, Apple sold over 100 million AirPods. Over 200 million of them might be trash by 2023, because the life of a battery is finite and the Apple AirPods is notoriously hard to repair.
So what can you do if you already own a pair of AirPods? Make it last for as long as you can! Here’s how long your AirPods should last, and how you can stretch its lifespan to the max.
What’s the battery life of AirPods?
Your AirPods Pro should last for this long on a single charge:
- up to 5 hours of listening time (active noise cancelling (ANC) off)
- up to 4.5 hours of listening time (ANC on)
- up to 3.5 hours of talk time (ANC on)
When the battery runs low, a five-minute charge will give you an extra 60 minutes of listening or talk time. Though we recommend charging them for at least 15 to 20 minutes, which should give you nearly a full charge.
Your AirPods (2nd generation) should run for this long on a single charge:
- up to 5 hours of listening time
- up to 3.5 hours of talk time
On a low battery, a 15 minutes charge will give you 180 minutes of listening time or 120 minutes of talk time. Again, it’s best to charge them for longer if you can.
The AirPods and AirPods Pro charging cases hold multiple charges, increasing the total battery life of your AirPods:
- up to 24 hours of listening time
- up to 18 hours of talk time
Only new AirPods will achieve battery life like this because the batteries degrade over time.
What’s the lifespan of your AirPods?
In true wireless earbuds, like the AirPods, the battery tends to be the first thing that goes bad. This makes the battery lifespan the limiting factor in how long your AirPods will last.
Outside of extreme temperatures, what really damages a battery is charging. Every time you charge your AirPods, the batteries lose a small amount of capacity. Unfortunately, this decline is irreversible and over time, the batteries break down completely. Every battery has a limited number of charge cycles until it can’t hold a charge anymore.
The type of battery inside your AirPods Pro likely is a Varta CoinPower lithium-ion coin cell. Under optimal conditions, this battery can retain over 80% of its initial capacity after 500 or more charge cycles, but it’s all downhill from there. With every charge cycle, the battery’s capacity not only fades a little more but also faster.
According to a white paper by Tektronix, “the typical estimated life of a lithium-ion battery is about two to three years or 300 to 500 charge cycles, whichever occurs first.” Tektronix recommends replacing batteries when the capacity drops below 80%. That’s sobering, considering the Varta coin cells reach that point after 500 charge cycles, which gives you just over 16 months of a single daily charge.
Based on user reports, we know that first and second-generation AirPods lasted for about two years of daily use until the batteries had degraded to less than an hour of listening time. Of course, this all depends on how exactly you use your AirPods. It might not be possible to make your AirPods last for a lot more than two years, but you can do a few things to get more juice out of every charge and slow the batteries’ decline.
How can you make your AirPods last longer?
You can extend the life of your AirPods in a few different ways: you can try to make each charge last longer, treat your AirPods better to increase the overall battery and product lifespan, and once the batteries inevitably break down, you can try to repair your AirPods. Let’s look at each of those in detail.
Learn more: How to fix problems with AirPods
How to make your AirPods last longer per charge
To maximize each charge, you’ll have to conserve battery life:
- Reduce the volume; it’s better for your ears, too.
- Turn off ANC when you don’t need it.
- Disable smart features you don’t need, such as automatic ear detection, Spatial Audio, or automatic device switching.
- For calls, use only one earbud at a time (turn the other bud off) and alternate between the two.
- Power your AirPods off when not in use.
When you turn them off, with more than 40% of battery life left, try storing them outside the charging case to avoid a premature charge cycle. Of course, in doing so, you run the risk of losing one or both earbuds unless you keep them in a secure, non-charging case. We recommend something as simple as a mints tin.
How to extend the lifespan of your AirPods
An easy way to extend the life of your AirPods is by avoiding deep discharges. While it’s a good idea to max out each charge before you recharge your AirPods, you don’t ever want to fully discharge the batteries. An over-discharge of a lithium-ion battery can cause irreversible changes in the anode and cathode, and trigger an internal short circuit when you recharge the battery. At the very least, a deep discharge will decrease the battery’s overall capacity.
The sweet spot between maximizing charge cycles and battery lifespan is somewhere between 20-40% remaining battery life. Your iPhone or iPad will notify you when the charge of your AirPods has dropped to 20%; that’s when you should recharge them. When you hear the warning tone at 10%, you’re really pushing your luck.
Similarly, you don’t want to completely top up your AirPods all the time. The only thing worse than a deep discharge, is a full recharge. Holding a full charge equals mechanical stress, which shortens overall battery life. That’s why Apple equipped the AirPods Pro with optimized battery charging, a feature designed to limit the time your AirPods spend fully charged. The charging case won’t charge your AirPods Pro beyond 80% until just before you’re going to listen to music. Staying below 80% charged status reduces the wear on batteries and increases their lifespan.
Optimized battery charging only works when you follow a predictable use pattern. And it requires an iPhone running iOS 14.2 or later. If you do have AirPods Pro, but these conditions don’t apply, we recommend turning the feature off. Adopt your own battery conservation habits instead.
It’s okay to store your AirPods half charged. When you know you won’t be using your AirPods for a while, charge the earbuds to around 50%, then remove them from the charging case and store them in a dry and cool place.
What about the AirPods case?
The charging case battery has a finite lifespan, too. It’s so convenient to pop your AirPods case onto a wireless charger, but did you know that inductive charging is extremely inefficient? Wireless charging takes longer, requires more energy, and thus puts more heat stress on the battery, meaning it’ll degrade faster. To save energy and preserve its capacity, invest a few seconds and plug your AirPods case in when it needs charging.
How to repair your AirPods or have them fixed
Do you even have the right to repair your own AirPods? While the US hasn’t officially passed legislation to give consumers the right to repair their own electronics, Apple has prepared to comply with it. The company offers a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) parts service, meaning it will ship you replacement parts for your Apple product. The catch is that Apple decides whether or not a product is repairable, and it hasn’t made it any easier to repair any of its products.
Apple designed the AirPods without clips or screws. Instead, glue holds the components together which makes it incredibly hard to repair. Consequently, iFixit has rated every AirPods generation so far as unfixable. With the right tools, a steady hand, and a lot of patience, you might be able to repair your AirPods yourself, but we don’t recommend it.
Since repairing AirPods yourself isn’t realistic, let’s look at ways you can have them serviced. You do have a few options:
- Apple Support: When you’re within the warranty period or purchased AppleCare+ (two-year warranty), Apple will cover repairs or replacements. You can make a Genius Bar appointment, take the product to an Apple Store, or mail it in. You’ll need your serial number, proof of purchase, or the original AirPods box.
- If you’re past the warranty, you could pay Apple for a battery service, which is $49 per earbud.
- Podswap: Trade your old AirPods in for an overhauled pair with new batteries (earbuds only). Presently, this service is only available for AirPods generation 1 and 2 and customers in the US.
Why should you care about the lifespan of your AirPods?
Not only are AirPods quite expensive, but the earbuds’ production also has irreversible social and environmental impacts. This is true for all wireless devices, but especially true wireless earbuds because the batteries rarely last beyond two years and they’re incredibly hard to service.
It’s tough to number the exact impact AirPods have compared to wired alternatives, such as the EarPods. It would require a detailed product Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), from raw material extraction and production of each component, to shipping, energy use by consumers, and finally disposal. We reached out to Apple and a few other true wireless earbud manufacturers who claim to do LCAs to get approximate numbers, but haven’t heard back from anyone. This might be a reflection of how vulnerable this data is.
The biggest difference between wired and wireless devices is the battery—or three batteries to be exact; one in each earbud and one in the charging case. While rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are a huge improvement over single-use type batteries, they’re far from being a clean technology.
The mass production and disposal of true wireless earbuds has irreversible social and environmental impacts.
Like most mining operations, the extraction of lithium carbonate, cobalt, nickel, and other elements found in lithium-ion batteries creates toxic waste, which has environmental and social implications for the immediate extraction site, workers, and communities downstream of the mine. But the environmental hazard doesn’t end with mining. At the end of their life cycle, most lithium-ion batteries end up in a landfill, where the chemicals can leak back into the ground, causing more environmental damage.
The good news is that lithium-ion battery recycling is starting to take off, not least because mining struggles to meet demand and electronic vehicles will further deplete natural resources. Meanwhile, the best thing you can do to reduce the impact of your AirPods is to make them last as long as you can. And when it’s time to let go of them, make sure they enter the recycling stream.
How can you choose a more sustainable AirPods alternative?
Next time you need new earbuds or headphones, consider getting a product that will last you a little longer. Below are some more eco-friendly ideas and the best AirPods alternatives available right now.
Ditch batteries and go wired
Headphones that don’t depend on a battery typically last a lot longer. The parts that do break, such as the audio cable, are much easier to repair than a dead battery in an earbud. Unlike their wireless counterparts, wired headphones also support lossless audio.
So what’s a good wired alternative to AirPods? If you’re looking for a high-end pair of earbuds, we recommend the Etymotic ER4SR or the FiiO FH5 because each comes with MMXC connectors (a replaceable audio cable with a standard 3.5mm jack). A budget-conscious alternative is the 1MORE Quad Driver In-Ear. The downside is that you might need a Lightning or USB-C adapter for your smartphone if it doesn’t have a headphone jack.
If you want the best sound and will use your cans in a quiet environment, get headphones instead of earbuds. The Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX is a great choice because it comes with a replaceable audio cable, packs great performance, and it’s super comfortable. This is basically just the Sennheiser HD 650 for half the cost.
Choose Bluetooth headphones with an audio jack
We get it, wires aren’t sexy. If you must go wireless, choose headphones with an audio jack. Since they have a life after the battery has died, they’re a better long-term solution.
Most high-end Bluetooth headphones come with an audio jack, including the Sony WH-1000XM4, while budget models often skip the extra port. If you’re looking for something more affordable, the Monoprice BT-600ANC offers great isolation, ANC, and premium features for under $100.
Find repairable earbuds
Repairability should be high on your list whenever you shop for electronics. When you absolutely have to get true wireless earbuds, check the product’s iFixit repairability score or the manufacturer’s track record for offering repairs and replacement parts. With an iFixit repairability score of 3 out of 10 (10 being the easiest to repair), the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is the best repairable AirPods alternative currently available.
How to responsibly dispose of your AirPods
When your AirPods reach their end of life, don’t let them rot in a drawer or enter the landfill. Apple recycles AirPods batteries and drivers. While the company doesn’t offer a financial incentive when you trade in your AirPods, it will take the product back. You can either drop your AirPods off at an Apple Store or get a prepaid shipping label and send them in for recycling. You’ll find similar programs elsewhere. For example, you can donate old AirPods to Podswap and they’ll even pay for the shipping.