South Agency / Getty Images
MANEND NEWS, With our efforts to practice proper personal hygiene in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are still everyday items many of us are neglecting to keep clean.
Experts say AirPods and earbuds are often overlooked when it comes to routine cleaning, and this can increase health risks to the users.
Excess earwax, ear pain, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and fungal and yeast infections are potential consequences of not cleaning your earbuds.
However, experts note that protecting your ear health is quick and easy once you know the basics of earbud care.
Dr. Sterling N. Ransone Jr., FAAFP, a family physician and president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said there are two parts to the cleaning process, and both are important for preventing ear problems.
Ransone said it’s essential to clean and disinfect the earbud piece and any silicone attachments to remove accumulated earwax and kill potentially harmful bacteria.
He said while earwax is a natural thing that helps protect our ears, it can easily get stuck in earbuds. This creates a hospitable environment for germs to grow, not to mention it muffles your earbud’s sound quality.
Next, Ransone said, it’s crucial to ventilate the external auditory canal (the part between the outer ear and the eardrum) and let it dry out between uses of earbuds.
“When we’re occluding or sealing off that area, moisture builds up, and then when you get more moisture, there’s a potential for more infection, including fungal infections or yeast infections inside your ear,” he told Healthline.
So, how long should you wait between uses?
“I’d say for at least a few hours for a couple reasons,” Ransone said. “One, when we are listening to music or on a Zoom call that is taking forever, a hearing or auditory specialist will recommend up to 18 hours (free of earbuds) to let your hearing calm down.”
“Second, a lot of people will exercise with earbuds as well, and the perspiration increases the moisture in that area. So after your run, take out your earbuds to let the area dry,” he added.
Two factors play into the cleanliness of your earbuds: frequency and method.
The gold standard, according to experts, is thoroughly cleaning your earbuds after each use.
Ransone added that it’s reasonable to aim for a minimum frequency of once weekly. That’s what he does.
“If you notice earwax buildup in the types of earbuds that have grooves in them, that’s obviously a sign it’s time for cleaning,” Ransone said.
“But it also depends on the type of earbud,” he said. “A lot of the newer earbuds that are more sound isolating have the little silicone pieces that you can pop off and put back on the earbud.”
The problem is that without regular cleaning, it’s hard to notice such pieces have gone missing.
“I’ve actually had a patient come into the office with complaints of ear pain, and when I looked in the ear I found one of those little silicone things stuck in the ear canal,” Ransone said.
“If we’re in the habit of cleaning up, we’ll also see whether or not those little silicone things are still attached,” he added.
Ransone said he favors alcohol wipes for cleaning the earbuds he regularly uses while running.
But you can also safely clean your earbuds with any soft wipe, cloth, or cotton swab and a natural disinfectant, such as rubbing alcohol or pure cleaning vinegar.
With the dampened cloth, gently wipe away any earwax, sweat, or dead skin that may get stuck in the small spaces of the earbuds. You may need to use a cotton swab tip to get harder to reach grooves.
“You can clean those silicone things with soap and water and leave them out to dry, but an alcohol wipe is usually how I clean mine after usage,” he said.
Before placing into your ears again, always inspect your earbuds to ensure they’re clear of earwax and moisture.
When not in use, store them in a dry, clean area.