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How clean are your earbuds?

Here’s why you should care about the state of your little in-ear speakers – and how to keep them clean

Riding on public transit, working out at the gym or running errands wouldn’t be the same without your trusted earbuds. Trouble is, the more you use them, the more exposed they are to bacteria, ear wax and dirt. How dirty can they get? Glad you asked.

Your ears need a balanced environment

Healthy ear canals contain a combination of earwax, bacteria and dead skin cells, but that balance shifts when conditions change within the ear or when new bacteria are introduced. They can come from the inside of your pocket and whatever lurks at the bottom of your bag, and the problem is amplified among those who share their earbuds.

Earbud bacteria boosters

Things get even grimier the longer you wear them. Earbuds trap heat and moisture within the ear, creating a sauna-like environment that encourages bacterial growth. Add in a workout to “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat and that hothouse gets even sweatier.

Dirt affects sound quality, too

If your playlists and podcasts seem a bit muffled lately, ear wax and grime could be distorting the sound by changing or blocking how it travels through the speaker. The Bose website claims that “even a small amount of debris can cause the sound to fade or cut out altogether.”

Related: Here’s how to keep your earbuds cord nice and tidy, too.

After all your earbuds have done for you, it’s time you treat them right.

How to clean your earbuds

1. Remove any soft silicone tips or covers. These can be washed with mild soap and water – feel free to dunk. Leave them on a towel to dry out completely.

2. Use a dry toothbrush to gently brush dirt away from hard earbud surfaces.

3. Wipe hard earbud surfaces and cables with a cloth dipped in mild soapy water – be careful not to get liquid into the speaker. Let dry.

4. Repeat weekly.

Promote clean listening

Life is messy enough, whether you’re a fan of Timbaland, Taylor Swift or TED Talks. Amp up your earbud cleanliness with a carrying case to help prevent them from picking up grime when you’re not using them.