So it’s been a few months, and your AirPods Pro look… grody. You want to share your music with friends, but one look at the caked-in earwax and discoloration of the ear tips and even your closest companions are recoiling in horror. If you want to avoid this happening, we suggest regular cleaning of your in-ears. Not only is it the hygienic thing to do, but you’ll also keep your AirPods looking fresh for much longer with routine maintenance.
It’s time to roll up your sleeves.
Editor’s note: this how-to article was updated on July 28, 2020, to answer questions in the FAQ section regarding where to buy and how to clean memory foam ear tips, and how often you should clean your Apple AirPods Pro.
Cleaning your AirPods Pro: Gather your tools
For this endeavor, you’re going to need a few supplies. While every single item here is good to keep around for other reasons, you might have to go to the store to pick them up. You’ll need:
- 70 or 90% pure isopropyl alcohol
- Cotton swabs
- Paper towels or a dry cloth
- A soft toothbrush used only for cleaning
- Adhesive putty like Blu-tack
- Liquid dish soap and warm water
Get some counter space and put down a paper towel, and fill a small bowl with warm water and dish soap. Once you’ve laid out your stuff, you’re ready to grab your AirPods Pro. Once you’ve grabbed them, remove the sleeves and drop those little bits of silicone rubber in the soapy water. We’ll get back to them in a bit. Pick up the AirPods.
Get to brushing
With your non-dominant hand, hold the toothbrush bristles-up, then take an AirPod with your dominant hand and use the bristles to clean away any earwax or gunk on the nozzle and screen. This won’t get everything, so be sure not to apply pressure: we’re only looking to scrape away the stuff on the outside here. Flick the housing of the AirPods with your pointer finger to knock any loose pieces off.
Once this is done, it’s time to get the stuff still in the mesh. Take the adhesive putty and dab it onto the nozzle very lightly. I cannot stress enough that we’re only looking to dab here, not mash it into the mesh—if some putty gets lodged in the earphones, it could mean you have trouble getting the sleeves to stay on.
You may also be tempted to use a paperclip to scrape off tough-to-remove gunk, but don’t do that. You could damage the mesh, or worse: slip and damage your earphones. If something is particularly difficult to get off, patience and some targeted brushing is the way forward.
Dab on your Apple AirPods Pro
Once you’ve brushed away the big pieces of earwax, lightly wet a cotton swab with alcohol and dab up the mesh and nozzle. Use a light touch, as we’re not trying to rip any cotton off the swab or deep clean, just sanitize the mesh and nozzle.
Repeat this process with the other earphone.
Next, we need to clean the tips that have been chilling in the warm soapy water this whole time. Pull them out and give them a rinse in warm water. Flip out the sleeve and rinse that too. With a dry paper towel or cloth, get the sleeves as dry as possible, then set them atop a paper towel to finish air-drying. In about 30 minutes, you should be good to go!
How to clean your Apple AirPods Pro: a couple notes
You should be aware that this will not remove discoloration if you have it. While it’s enough to sanitize and get fresh stuff off of the ear tips, it won’t be enough to reverse permanent discoloration. Because of this, we recommend you clean your AirPods or other in-ears every 72 hours of listening time. Like any other orifice, ears are gross and filled with gunk that’s actually supposed to be there—so this is something that really can’t be avoided.
Fight the urge to Q-tip your ears as well, because your earwax actually serves a purpose! It prevents dirt and bacteria from getting to your eardrum, and removing the earwax removes your protection from that! Getting too aggressive with ear cleaning can also push the earwax deeper into your ear canal, which can:
- Negatively impact your hearing
- Make you more susceptible to ear infections
- Make your AirPods accidentally correct for a differently-shaped ear canal
- Create impacted earwax blobs that are extremely difficult to remove
In general, if you must clean your ears: talk to an Otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat doctor) for the best way to handle it. They’ll likely set you up with an earwax softener and maybe lavage your ear canals for you with a solution of saline and another solvent. However, this is only a last resort. In general, you should be leaving your ears the heck alone.
Frequently Asked Questions
Comply memory foam ear tips work with the Apple AirPods Pro charging case, and are a great AirPods Pro accessory. These tips improve passive isolation, and you're afforded three pairs in Comply's bundle. When it comes time to clean the ear tips, it's a bit different: Comply recommends the use of a damp cloth to gently wipe each ear tip. Unlike when cleaning silicone ear tips, you're to avoid alcohol-based cleaning solutions as this could damage the memory foam. The company recommends users store the ear tips in a clean case, which you should swab with an alcohol-based cleaner, between uses. Memory foam ear tips should be replaced when they begin to flake and lose their retentive properties.
We recommend cleaning them every 72 hours of wear. If you wear your earbuds regularly, this could mean cleaning them once per week. While this may sound like a lot, it's an easy activity to do passively when watching TV or listening to a podcast.
You can still use this guide, just skip the part about using hot, soapy water to clean the silicone ear tips... which regular AirPods don't have. Use the toothbrush, alcohol, and cotton swabs to clean every surface you can—just be sure not to use too much alcohol or else you might get excess inside the AirPods themselves.