How to clean and sanitize your headphones

Bose QC35 II headphones
Bose QC35 II headphones (Image credit: Joe Maring / Windows Central)

Bose QC35 II headphones

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

After a bit of use, any headphones can start looking grimy and dirty. Whether you wear your headphones to the gym, rely on them to get you through long-haul flights, or keep them at home to listen to music while you do chores, it's natural for germs and gunk to build up. Thankfully, with the proper tools and know-how, keeping your headphones clean is a fairly easy thing to do.

Products used in this guide

How to clean your headphones

When it comes to cleaning headphones, you'll want to make sure you clean both the headphones themselves and, perhaps more importantly, the speaker pads covering them. Starting first with the outside of your headphones, here's what you'll want to do:

  1. Remove the earpads on both ends.
  2. Wipe down the exterior of the headphones with a cloth that's been dampened with soap and warm water.
  3. Dry everything off with paper towels or another cloth.

This part of the cleaning process should be fairly simple, especially since most headphone exteriors are typically made out of plastic. If your headphones happen to have a fabric covering, you'll want to double-check that it's OK to clean it with water and soap.

With that done, we can now move on to the pads for your headphones. For this:

  1. Dampen a cloth with a small amount of rubbing alcohol.
  2. Gently wipe the exterior of both pads to clean them.
  3. If you want to go a step further, use a Q-tip soaked in alcohol to get at any small crevices there might be.
  4. Put a small dab of rubbing alcohol on the mesh part of the pads.
  5. Gently rub the mesh together.
  6. Leave everything out to air dry.

The speaker pads are likely the dirtiest part of your headphones, seeing as how they're what's pressed against your skin/hair and tend to pick up the most sweat, dirt, etc. You might want to repeat this process a couple of times just to make sure everything is properly sanitized, especially if it's been a while since you last cleaned them.

Some things to keep in mind

One thing you'll want to note when cleaning your headphones is the material your padding is made out of. Some use a PU leather (aka plastic), whereas other, more expensive options use genuine leather. If you have headphone pads made out of the real deal, make sure you're using cleaning products that are safe for use on leather.

While you're cleaning, you'll want to make sure you get those pads as pristine as can be. Since these are what comes into contact with you the majority of the time, they're the biggest carriers of bacteria, germs, and other nasty bits.

Our top equipment picks

Additional Equipment

Along with a good pair of headphones, you'll also need stuff to clean them with. If you need to stock up, here's some stuff we recommend getting:

Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Hand Soap

Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Hand Soap ($11 at Amazon)

This soap is made with essential oils, aloe vera, and olive oil — resulting in a thorough clean that's easy on your skin (and headphones).

Presto! Paper Towels

Presto! Paper Towels ($10 at Amazon)

Amazon's in-house brand of paper towels is actually pretty great, offering 75% more absorbtion and six "huge" rolls to stock you up.

Swan Isopropyl Alcohol

Swan Isopropyl Alcohol ($13 at Amazon)

You can't go wrong with tried-and-true 99% isopropyl alcohol. It's an effective disinfectant for first aid treatment or the dirtiest of headphones.

AmazonBasics Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

AmazonBasics Microfiber Cleaning Cloth (From $13 at Amazon)

Whether you get the sensible 24-pack or the overkill 144-pack, these microfiber cleaning cloths are non-abrasive and easy on all types of surfaces.

Joe Maring