How to clean your headphones and keep them sounding great for longer

Cleaning headphones
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We’ve reviewed and recommended dozens of pairs of headphones over the years here at Louder - everything from brilliant budget wireless headphones to top-end audiophile options. But when it comes to keeping them in great condition, we thought we'd approach World Wide Stereo's senior product specialist Ira Segall to get his tips and tricks about how you can increase the longevity of your headphones and keep them in tip-top condition. Over to you, Ira.

Why it's important to clean your headphones

Among the most common factors that impact our music listening experience are connectivity problems, ear fatigue, ear wax buildup, limited mobility and, where this guide comes in, failure to effectively maintain our headphones on a regular basis. 

To get the most from your listening experience, maintaining your headphones is as important as choosing the right pair. Dirty headphones can increase disease transmission and the likelihood of contracting an ear infection increases if you share your headphones as there's a possibility that someone may be infected.

Frequent use of headphones also increases humidity in the ears which creates an environment conducive to bacteria growth, so using a soft cloth and a mild cleaning solution to wipe them down after use goes a long way toward keeping germs at bay. Regular cleaning and proper storage will also increase the longevity of your headphones, as failing to do so can see dirt and debris accumulate in the nooks and crannies of your ear pads.

Teenager reading while wearing headphones

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Tools for cleaning your headphones

  • A soft brush or toothbrush
  • Soap and water
  • A microfiber cloth
  • Tweezers
  • Isopropyl alcohol/ hydrogen peroxide/ diluted bleach
  • Soft picks
  • Paper towels
  • Gloves

While you may not need all the above, referring to the headphone manufacturer's cleaning instructions is crucial. However, the tools I've mentioned can go a long way toward cleaning your headphones effectively and eliminating bacteria. To prevent injury, carefully handle components such as diluted bleach and hydrogen peroxide, as drops in the eyes can cause severe damage.

Step-by-step cleaning guide

Step 1: Disconnect your headphones
Disconnecting your headphones from any device will prevent accidental damage and ensures safety when cleaning your headphones.

Step 2: Remove the pads or ear tips
The key to effectively cleaning your headphones is to remove the ear pads (or ear tips if you're cleaning earbuds) first. This step lets you stretch out the headband so you can get into all those previously hidden areas more easily.

Step 3: Dusting/cleaning
Once the ear pads and the headband are separated, take a toothbrush or a soft cloth. Eliminate the most noticeable dirt and smudges as much as you can. To remove tiny hairs and stuck debris, use a tweezer. Some models come with headphones attached to the ear pads, and as mentioned earlier, following the manufacturer's instructions is vital. However, you can use water and mild soap to clean them - just don't use too much water.

Step 4: Disinfect the headphones
While hydrogen peroxide disinfects headphones, isopropyl alcohol or diluted bleach is highly recommended. Ensure not to use excessive cleaning liquids which could damaging the leather, plastic and materials attached to the headphones. Clean the ear pads first followed by the headband. Starting with the ear pads gives you a better idea of the pressure you have to apply when removing dirt from other parts of the headphones, such as the ear cups and drivers.

Step 5: Clean the headphones at an angle of 90 degrees
Too much liquid can damage your headphones so to avoid any liquid from entering the speakers, hold the headphones at a 90-degree angle to make the speakers face downward. Use a soft cloth to clean the outer parts and make sure liquid doesn't spill inside the internal components.

Step 6: Dry thoroughly
Moisture can affect the sound quality of your headphones, so you need to make sure that every component is dry before reassembly. Use a dry towel and set aside to make sure they're as dry as possible.


(Image credit: Getty Images - DRAKULA IMAGES)

Tips for regular maintenance

  • Clean your headphones regularly
  • Store your headphones properly
  • Replace the pads if there's too much wear and tear
  • Handle your headphones gently
  • Avoid sharing headphones
  • Keep headphones out of reach of children
  • Make sure the volume is at a reasonable level
  • Don't leave them in direct sun or at close to radiators
  • Always check your headphones for signs of damage

How often should I clean my headphones?

This comes down to how and where you're using your headphones. For example, if you use them at the gym or when out for a run, I recommend cleaning them at least once a week as bacteria and sweat accumulate fast. If you mostly use your headphones indoors, a monthly clean should do the trick. Sweat and environmental conditions can increase moisture which will lead to salt build up.

Wrapping up

Investing in a serious pair of headphones can be expensive, so to increase their lifespan, keep your eyes on their condition and get into the habit of regularly cleaning them by following the tips highlighted above. You'll benefit from clean headphones in terms of perfect sound and maintaining your hearing health, ensuring that your audio experiences remain enjoyable and safe.

Ira Segall
Senior Product Specialist at World Wide Stereo

Ira Segall is a Senior Product Specialist at World Wide Stereo having joined the company in 2009. With extensive experience in the audio industry spanning more than four decades, Ira has worked in various sales and management roles at prominent audio stores in Philadelphia. Ira's expertise lies in optimising sound systems to suit individual acoustic environments, delivering an immersive and emotionally captivating listening experience for enthusiasts.