How to clean AirPods: 2 tricks for removing your icky earwax buildup


With some Fun-Tak and a toothpick, you can safely clean your Apple AirPods.

Matt Elliott/CNET

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the bright, white luster of my Apple AirPods. When I’m not using them during large swaths of the workday in my suddenly crowded house with a work-from-home wife and two remote-schooled kids, I wear them when working in the yard and walking the dog. 

With all of this use, especially when working up a sweat mowing the lawn, mulching, raking leaves, chopping wood or shoveling snow from the driveway — I have achieved full Dad status — my AirPods have gotten gunked up with dirt, debris, grime and, yes, ear wax. (I regret wearing them during my week of mulching last spring.)

With a sullied pair of AirPods ($178 at Walmart), I went hunting for the best way to clean them. Here’s what I found.

Apple’s AirPod-cleaning instructions

Apple instructs you to use slightly dampened cloth and a soft, dry, lint-free cloth and cautions you against employing soaps, shampoos and solvents or running your AirPods under water. For digging out the nasty bits in the microphone and speaker meshes, Apple recommends using a dry cotton swab and a soft-bristled brush. 

For AirPods Pro, you can remove the ear tips and rinse them with water, according to Apple, but without soap or other cleaning agents. Apple then wants you to follow its general rules of using a soft, dry, lint-free cloth to wipe the ear tips clean and letting them dry completely prior to reassembly.

To kill any germs that might have hitched a ride to your AirPods, Apple says it’s OK to gently wipe the exterior surfaces (but not the speaker mesh) with a 70-percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or a Clorox disinfecting wipe. And it would be good to avoid using a wipe that is overly saturated because you don’t want to get moisture in any of your AirPods’ openings. Lastly, no matter how grimy and disgusting your AirPods may be, do not submerge them in any cleaning products.

I put Apple’s methods to the test. I tried using a Q-tip but ended up just smooshing the wax and dirt in further. I then used an old toothbrush to attempt to remove the grossness but didn’t have any better results.

Fun-Tak and a wooden toothpick

I was fine with wiping the exterior of my AirPods (and their case) with a dry cloth to rub off the grime, but I needed a better way to get the wax and dirt out of the mesh and hollow of the speakers. 

I looked to the internet for help (like you are doing now). This Cult of Mac article pointed me to the solution. More accurately stated, the article’s reader comments provided the fix. And it involved two items I already had in my house: Fun-Tak (because I have kids, and my kids have posters hanging in their rooms) and wooden toothpicks (because my wife bakes and tests the doneness of cakes and brownies with a toothpick).

To remove the wax and dirt that’s stuck inside the hollow of your AirPod speakers, just grab a small piece of Fun-Tak and stretch and knead it a bit to warm it up. Then press it against the speaker a few times and it’ll pick up the wax and dirt.

The wooden toothpick can then be used to gently remove the stubborn bits that are struck to the sides of the speaker hollow. A wooden toothpick is pointy enough to pick out individual specs of gross, waxy dirt, and it’s much safer than a sharp metal object like an unfolded staple that can scratch the plastic or tear the wire speaker mesh.

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A third way: Podswap gives you clean AirPods in exchange for yours

If you’d rather replace your AirPods than go through the cleaning routine (especially if your AirPods are on their last legs anyway), Podswap is a startup that says it will send you refurbished AirPods in exchange for your old, dying pair. 

If you’re into sustainability and recycling — in addition to potential savings — Podswap could be one way to go. That’s as long as you can get past the fact that you’re buying a set of used AirPods. However, the cleaned, refurbished pair PodSwap sends your way will be cheaper than buying a new set from Apple, and the company says it replaces the battery, too. Learn more about PodSwap and Apple’s Battery Service program in this video (also above).

Looking for more AirPod tips and tricks? Check out the best AirPods tips, 11 awesome AirPods Pro tricks and learn how to pair AirPods with your Windows 10 PC in 1 minute.