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How to care for wireless headphones
So you’ve finally taken the plunge and spent a few hundred dollars on some snazzy new headphones. Now what? Wireless headphones come with inherent durability tradeoffs, but there are ways you can manage them. As consumer electronics, these aren’t the same rough and tumble headphones from when you were a kid: they need some protection.
Luckily for you we’ve come up with a guide to help keep your headphones in tip-top shape. Here’s how to squeeze every last drop of metaphorical life out of your newest purchase, so you don’t have to replace your newest toy for another few years at least.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on March 1, 2023 to update formatting, information, links, and explanations of certain phenomena.
Learn battery hygiene
The biggest trick to maintaining your wireless headphones is maintaining everything it needs to run. Specifically, getting power to the headphones. For most people, that largely means learning better battery charging habits. Our sister site Android Authority has an excellent guide on how to make sure that your devices maintain their charging ability over the long haul, and keep them out of the landfill.
However, you should know that the battery in your headphones is much, much smaller than the battery in your phone. You will notice degradation of your headphones’ battery a lot quicker than with your mobile device. This is also why true wireless earphones have especially short lives: they simply aren’t built to live for much longer than a year in the first place.
- Partial charging is better than a full charge. Try to keep the level at 80% or under if you can. Don’t charge overnight.
- Avoid getting the battery too hot
- Try not to use your headphones as they charge
- Turn your headphones off when you’re not using them
Do these things, and your headphones’ batteries should stay operational for a long time to come. Nowadays, newer models of TWS earphones have a few features like Apple’s AirPods baked in that try to learn your listening habits so the product can know when it should be charging fully. However, this isn’t true for all earphones, and is one of the reasons why we often recommend AirPods over competing options of a similar price. Still, they don’t last long.
A friendly word of warning:
If you see your headphones bulging anywhere they shouldn’t be, do not use these headphones ever again. A swelling battery means that battery has failed, and is nearing the point where it will perforate and catch fire. Contact your local environmental waste facility right now, or contact the email address listed on the Call2Recycle locator for guidance on where you can take your imminently hazardous waste.
Your batteries don’t have to bulge to be near the end of their lives, either. If you notice that your earphones or headphones seemingly can’t last through the day anymore: it’s time to seriously consider getting a new power cell or recycling that product. It’s absolutely a pain, but it’s a reality of having another point of failure.
Use a case religiously
I know it seems obvious, but it’s really true: use the case your wireless headphones came with. Not only does it offer some protection from your bag, the outside world, and you—it also offers a convenient caddy for accessories like adapters, should you ever need them. It’s also an excellent vehicle to keep electronics-destroying moisture out, especially if you chuck one or two cheap silica gel packets in there.
Most people find themselves leaving the case at home once it proves to be an annoyance with how much volume it takes up in a bag, but I contend it’s a necessary part of any wireless product. Plastic is durable, but it doesn’t withstand the test of time unless you’re talking about the original Game Boy or your garden variety early-2000s Nokia phone. A case, even if it’s nothing but fabric, helps prevent scratches, cracks, and bends by making it more difficult to exert a lot of force directly on the headphones themselves. Every time you put your headphones in your bag unprotected, you roll the dice on minor damage that adds up over time, so just go the extra mile and keep ’em in a case.
If you don’t like the case your headphones came with for whatever reason (for example, if you bought Apple AirPods Max), there are plenty of options on Amazon or the sites of other big-box retailers. While each case is different and there’s a ton to choose from, any case you get is better than none—provided you don’t mistreat it.
Protect your charge port
The weakest point in your new wireless headphones is the charging port. Whether that’s a USB-C, microUSB, or Lightning port, the tiny solder connections on that assembly will be the first things to break even if you don’t mistreat your headphones. Through regular wear and tear, your charging port will eventually break and prevent you from charging your headphones. That’s because what keeps your port attached to the internal guts (and working at all) is a series of very tiny solder points, holding a series of very tiny metal prongs to a very tiny circuit board. Any pressure exerted on those tiny points runs the risk of damaging them.
To prevent this from happening, you need to figure out a way to reduce the force applied to the port assembly when you use it. If you never use the port to update your headphones (and instead rely on Bluetooth to transfer the updates), you can easily do this with a cheap accessory—no, really!
Apple may not be well-loved around these parts, but it did popularize the magnetic charging port. While it’s left their computer lineup, a number of vendors online have re-created this utility with no-brainer cheap products that can extend the life of your headphones. Many different magnetic charging cables out there allow you to insert a pad into the charging port of your headphones, and then just let the magnets in the cable snap to the magnet on your headphones. That level of force is much lower than physically pushing a piece of metal into a much smaller (and more fragile) piece of metal, so it should increase the life of your headphones significantly.
Use a cable guard
If your headphones are wired, check the rubber things around the jack or connector. If it seems thin or likely to break, a cable guard could take some of the pressure off of the tiny solder points on the inside of your cable’s connector when something knocks into the wire, or bends it to an extreme.
...a cable guard could take some of the pressure off of the tiny solder points on the inside of your cable's connector
Luckily these are cheap and plentiful online, and you don’t have to really second-guess yourself here. But by all means shop around for something more your style to put on your cables.
Clean once a month
Sure, cleaning electronics is a pain and it often seems like the kind of thing you can put off forever. However, leave it for too long and not only will your headphones look gross—they’ll perform worse if they’re in-ears. We’ll spare you the details on this one and just link our guide to cleaning your audio products instead, but this is one of those things that you really shouldn’t put off.
To make things easier whether you have a set of over-ears or in-ears, we recommend always keeping a small stash of cotton swabs around. Don’t go jamming them in your ears, but definitely use them with warm soapy water or alcohol to clean tough to reach crevices in your audio products.
What if this isn’t enough?
The truth is even with all of these steps, your headphones will eventually fail. Additionally, You may even find that your headphones break due to a freak accident or happenstance. It happens—risk is a fickle thing! It’s why we often call attention to common points of failure and downsides to each product’s design. If you address the most common points of failure directly, the odds of your headphones lasting a long time go way up—even if it’s no guarantee.
Wireless headphones that need a battery to operate will always be some of the least easy to maintain products you own, and they’ll wear much quicker than your other electronics with similar use. Even if wired headphones might have an “inconvenient” cable attached, it’s simple enough to fix with a pocket knife and electrical tape until you can get a more serious replacement. Wireless headphones don’t have that ability, unless they start selling replaceable batteries sometime soon—and there really isn’t a whole lot of money in that kind of business decision.