How to Clean Your AirPods & AirPods Case without Damaging Them

Anything that goes in your ears is bound to get dirty. We'll walk you through the very important dos and don'ts of cleaning your AirPods and their case.

AirPods and their charging cases are tiny, and their many built-in nooks and crannies make cleaning them properly very tough and occasionally risky. We'll show you how to clean your AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and their accompanying cases without damaging them.

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What to Avoid When Cleaning AirPods & Their Case

Normally this section would be at the end, but so many people damage their AirPods and AirPods cases each year while attempting to clean them that I felt it was crucial to go over the major no-nos of AirPods cleaning before you start working away at making your accessories shine like new again.

What to avoid when cleaning your AirPods and their case:

  • Don't use anything metal. Doing this could scratch the plastic and other components, and could actually damage the screens within the earpieces themselves. This goes for cleaning your other Apple devices, including your iPhone and iPhone case, as well.
  • Don't use anything wet to clean with. As your probably already know, moisture and tech don't mix, and AirPods are not waterproof. That said, there will be rare occasions when a little bit of moisture will be needed. We'll go over exactly when and how it's safe to use moisture to help you clean your AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and AirPods case.
  • Don't use any detergents or soaps. These can damage protective coatings and leave your accessories in worse condition.
  • Don't apply too much pressure. Work smarter, not harder. The correct tools and the right methods will make using a lot of elbow grease unnecessary.
  • Don't take things apart. Unless the component is meant to be removed (such as silicone covers or other removable bits), it should not be removed. 
  • Don't use abrasive wipes or cloths. Paper towels, washcloths, and other larger-texture absorbent materials can damage the surfaces on your AirPods and their case.

What to Use to Clean Your AirPods & AirPods Case

Is Siri having trouble understanding you when you're using your AirPods? Are those you're on the phone with having a hard time hearing you? It's time to clean out your AirPods to rid them of dry earwax, dust, lint, and other contaminants. Here's what you'll need to clean your AirPods the safe way:

  • Cotton swabs (like Q-tips, sometimes called cotton buds)
  • Cotton balls or cotton pads
  • A microfiber or otherwise screen-safe cleaning cloth

Optional supplies if your AirPods are really, really dirty:

  • Wooden toothpicks (some people recommend flosser picks, but we find these to be more abrasive than toothpicks)
  • Screen cleaner liquid (it must be safe for things like touch screens and TV screens). If you don't have any of this, you can use distilled or filtered water very sparingly. We'll teach you how.
  • Small, shallow dish for dipping tools into cleaner or water. Only pour a few drops of the liquid into this dish at a time, and plan to blot off excess onto a cloth.
  • If you're cleaning AirPods Max, you may need a teaspoon of gentle laundry detergent (non-bleach!).

How to Clean AirPods & AirPods Pro

AirPods
Image courtesy of Apple

We're going to show you the best way to clean AirPods without damaging them. 

  1. Start by using cotton or a soft cloth to gently clear the exterior surfaces of any excess oil, grime, or dirt. This will help you grip the AirPods while cleaning the more delicate areas, and will help you avoid getting more dirt into the spots you're trying to clean.
  2. Using a dry cotton swab, clear debris out of the seams on the earbuds where each of the plastic and metal components connects to other components. 
  3. Next, use another cotton swab to gently clear any earwax, dirt, or other bits out of the earpiece where the sound comes out, and do the same for any small openings on the outside of each earbud. 
  4. Be extra careful around the speaker mesh, buttons, and other fragile components.
  5. If you need to, you can very carefully use a toothpick to scrape dry earwax out of the earbud, but make sure to avoid any contact with the mesh screen, as this is fragile. Don't use too much pressure, just rub very gently without using the point of the toothpick.

If you encounter anything that's especially hard to clean off, you can use a very small amount of distilled water or screen-safe cleaner, but only very little and only on the external pieces of your AirPods. A good way to gauge how much cleaner to use is to test it on your finger; if you dip a cotton swab or cloth into cleaner and then blot it onto your finger and your finger looks wet, it's probably too much cleaner.

AirPods Pro
Image courtesy of Apple

How to Clean AirPods Pro: A Few Extra Steps

After you've completed the basic steps for AirPods cleaning, continue on to clean the other parts of your AirPods Pro:

  1. Carefully remove the soft ear tips on the earbuds and run them under warm (but not hot) water.
  2. While these ear tips are wet is a great time to gently clean all parts of them with a cotton swab.
  3. It's safe to soak them in room-temperature water for a few minutes to loosen any dry earwax or other grime.
  4. Use a dry cotton swab to absorb excess water and then allow the ear tips to completely dry before putting them back on.

How to Clean AirPods Max

AirPods Max Headset
Image courtesy of Apple

These newest AirPods in Apple's accessory line demand special care, and are made of some different materials compared to the AirPods and AirPods Pro. Here's how to clean your AirPods Max:

  1. Carefully remove the cushions from the earpieces of your AirPods Max and set them to the side.
  2. Start by using a cotton ball or cotton pad to gently clear the exterior surfaces of any excess oil, grime, or dirt. 
  3. Using a dry cotton swab, clear debris out of the spots on the headphones where each of the components connects to other components. 
  4. Next, focus on the buttons and the crown on the headphones, taking care to gently clear collected grime out of the grooves and seams.
  5. Wipe the exterior surfaces again to remove any dislodged particles.

AirPods Max headset components
Image courtesy of Apple

Now we'll move on to how to clean your AirPods Max ear cushions and headband without causing damage to them:

  1. Apple says that a solution of 1 tsp (5 ml) of gentle laundry detergent mixed with 1 cup (250 ml) of water is safe. We recommend warm but not hot water. 
  2. Dip a microfiber or otherwise lint-free cloth into this mixture and squeeze out all excess liquid, leaving the cloth damp but not wet. Use the touch test: if you dab the cloth on your hand and it looks wet, the cloth is probably too wet. If it looks slightly moistened and not truly wet, you've probably got the right amount of moisture.
  3. Thoroughly wipe the cushions down, inside and out.
  4. Clean the headband with this same technique, paying special attention to the grooves and textured spots where grime collects.
  5. If you encounter any especially stuck-on grime, try a damp cotton swab.
  6. Allow these components to dry completely before reinstalling them.

In general, AirPods Max are larger but easier to clean. Just don't use any bristle brushes or wipes that may crumble, as your AirPods Max include mesh and other soft materials that could be damaged or made dirtier by these tools.

How to Clean an AirPods Case

AirPods cases, including cases for AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, can be cleaned using the same methods as those used for AirPods and AirPods Pro. Make sure you avoid running them under water or sticking anything sharp in the holes on these cases!

  1. Start by using cotton or a soft cloth to gently clear the exterior surfaces of any excess oil, grime, or dirt.
  2. Using a dry cotton swab, clear debris out of the inner and outer nooks and crannies on the case.
  3. Use a cotton swab to carefully remove debris from the Lightning port and other holes.
  4. If something is stuck in your case's Lightning port, you can gently use a toothpick to remove it, but be careful not to poke or scrape any of the components inside.

While it's not complicated to clean AirPods, it's certainly an endeavor of love. If you treat your accessories with respect, they should last longer and give you enjoyment for years to come! Now that your AirPods are clean, why not keep all your devices just as clean and learn how to clean your iPhone charging port?

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Author Details

Erin MacPherson's picture

Author Details

Erin MacPherson

Erin is a Web Editor for iPhone Life and has been a writer, editor, and researcher for many years. She has a degree in communication with an emphasis on psychology and communication, and has spent many of her professional years as a coach in various business and specialty fields. Erin officially joined the ranks of iPhone and Apple users everywhere around nine years ago, and has since enjoyed the unique and customized feel of Apple technology and its many gadgets. When she’s not working, Erin and her son enjoy outdoor adventures, camping, and spending time with their eclectic collection of pets.