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 article was updated on October 14th, 2020 to answer a FAQ about Prime Day availability. 

Cleaning your AirPods Pro: Gather your tools

A photo of AirPods Pro, alcohol, and q-tips on a wooden desk.

Pictured: your main tools for AirPods cleaning.

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:

  1. 70 or 90% pure isopropyl alcohol
  2. Cotton swabs
  3. Paper towels or a dry cloth
  4. A soft toothbrush used only for cleaning
  5. Adhesive putty like Blu-tack
  6. Liquid dish soap and warm water
A photo of the AirPods Pro with Q-tips, alcohol, and the bottle cap placed onto paper towels.

A rather unappetizing mise en place, this spread is essential in order to properly clean your earbuds.

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

A photo of the AirPods Pro, about to be cleaned with a Q-tip (foreground) and alcohol.

The cap to the bottle of alcohol should hold a sufficient amount of alcohol for your needs.

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.

A photo of a man cleaning the AirPods Pro with Q-tips, alcohol, and paper towels.

Be sure to swab all surfaces that could touch your ears, as they can be vectors for gunk.

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.

A photo of a cotton swab to clean the carrying/battery case of the AirPods Pro

Don’t forget to swab down your carrying case with alcohol! Any gunk on your earbuds will be deposited there too.

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.

Next: Best AirPods alternatives

Frequently Asked Questions

Are these on sale for Prime Day?

The AirPods Pro are on sale, but not technically for Prime Day. They just dropped in price by $20 USD.

Where can I get memory foam ear tips for my AirPods Pro, and do I have to clean those?

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.

How often should I clean my earbuds?

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.

How do you clean regular AirPods?

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.