How to Clean Headphones – A Complete Beginner’s Guide

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How To Clean Headphones GuideThere’s no feeling as great as when you finally buy that awesome pair of headphones/earphones you’ve been longing for and discover that they actually live up to expectations or even better, they absolutely blow your mind away.

Equally, nothing feels worse than popping your favorite babies on and discovering they’re bust.

So in an effort to keep your headphones/earphones from dying on you or at the very least delaying the process, we’ve made a guide to help you clean and generally take care of your listening equipment to keep it working longer.

What You’ll Need

Headphones come with various materials in them, however, most of them sport various assortments of the following; plastic, metal, leather, foam, Velcro, Pleather and even wood. Most of these materials can be cleaned and maintained using regular products you may already have in your home. That said, here’s a list of what you’ll need:

  • A toothbrush
  • Soap or Detergent
  • Warm water
  • A small towel
  • A microfiber cloth

With just these items you’ll have no problem maintaining your headphones from earpads to connection plug.

If your headphones have leather earpads then you might need a special leather conditioner but we’ll get to that later.

Materials needed to clean headphones
No fancy cleaning materials needed! Chances are you already have this in your household.

Cleaning Velour and Pleather Earpads

These are really simple; all you need is your cloth and warm water. Dampen the cloth a little and you’re good to go. From there it’s just a simple matter of wiping them down to remove dirt and dust.

Some people have claimed that vacuuming them works as well, however, if that’s the direction you choose to go, I’d advise you to use one of those small battery powered vacuums for cleaning keyboards. If you can’t get hold of one of those, then your toothbrush will do.

If the earpads are removable, it’s always best to do all these things with them removed. If not, it’s best not to use a lot of water. Especially with pleather pads, damp is more than enough.

Whatever you do, don’t use leather conditioners on these materials, in case you didn’t know Pleather and Velour are synthetic fibers and leather conditioners must not be used with synthetics. They will spoil them sooner rather than later.

How to Thoroughly Wash Your Velour or Cotton Pads?

If your removable velour or cotton pads are really dirty and gathered stains and oils (which happens over time), you could give them a thorough cleaning with normal clothes detergent. I did this with my aging HD 650 pads.

Just follow these simple instructions:

  1. Take a small bowl and fill it with warm (not hot!) water.
  2. Mix it a little bit of clothes detergent. Read the instructions on the box as not to use too much detergent!
  3. Soak the pads and give them a gentle rub for a minute. A toothbrush can be used.
  4. Rinse them off with cold water to remove detergent traces.
  5. Squish the excess water out and let them dry.

You can let the pads dry naturally, but that will take days unless you put them in the sun or on the heating. Some faster alternatives for drying your pads are:

  • Machine drying
  • Using a hairdryer

That’s it! You now have a pair of clean fresh smelling pads.

Here are some pictures:

Sennheiser HD 650 oily and smeary earpads
Several years old, these pads can use some cleaning as skin oils and smears are visible
Sennheiser HD 650 earpads hand washed
After a thorough handwash, the HD 650 pads look and smell great!
Blowing Dry With Hairdryer HD 650 Earpads
To speed up the drying process, I used a hairdryer for several minutes.

Preserving and Cleaning Leather Pads

I know most people make a huge fuss about leather and treating it with various oils and conditioners. Truth is, plain water will preserve you leather just as well and quite frankly better than some of the poor quality products on the market. This is because plain water is easiest on leather. It doesn’t clog it up or otherwise react with it. So wiping down your leather earpads with water is actually good for them.

That said, you do need to be careful what you use to clean your leather earpads. Instead of water, you can use leather cleaner, but you do have to be careful which one you decide on. When you do decide, it’s best to test it someplace harmless.

When it comes to leather conditioner, most brands are pretty reliable; however, you do have to be a bit wary. Cream conditioners are best as Mink Oil and Dubbin will soften and rot the leather if applied constantly.

As a general rule conditioner doesn’t need to be applied frequently, two or three times a year will do.

Embedded Wood in Headphones

For these, it’s more of a storage issue than general care. In short, because of the wood, you’ll need to keep your headphones away from damp places, hot places. So cool and dry is the way to go.

For cleaning, microfiber or a soft cloth is best, wood polish can be used but isn’t necessary at all.

How to Clean Earbuds or In Ear Monitors and Foam Tips

If you’ve used foam tips at all, you will know that eventually they will disintegrate and fall apart. The more you use them the more sound quality will decrease. There’s just no getting around that.

To clean them, all you need to do is splash them around in warm and soapy water then leave them out to dry naturally. DO NOT SQUEEZE, that’ll just make sure they decay faster. To be honest, to ensure peak performance from your foam tips, replace them at least once a year.

The best way to take care of foam tips or in-ears in general though is to prevent them getting dirty in the first place. That is to say, you should clean your ears regularly and make sure they’re free of wax build up.

For other in-ears that don’t use foam materials, all you need to do is remove debris and ear wax. Also, make sure to limit the amount of oil residue that gets inside them over time.

For silicone tips, remove them and you’ll have an easier job of cleaning them.

Cable Care

Finally, we get to the bane of our existence (for music lovers anyway).

Anyone who uses wired earphones/headphones will tell you they live in mortal fear of one thing, cable failure. You already know it’s gonna happen at some point, you’ll hear a tiny crackle, then they’ll start cutting off once in a while then it becomes constant until the inevitable silence.

We all know that moment is coming but we’d prefer to have that moment later, much, much later rather than sooner though.

To make sure your cable lasts longer, you’ll need to develop good habits.

By that, I mean no more wrapping the cable around your music player. In fact, no more leaving them plugged in as that will strain the plug, which is usually one of the weakest points on the cable or at least most vulnerable.

The best way to carry your headphones around is to use a carry case. If you don’t have one then your next best option is to loosely coil the cable in a figure eight knot. This ensures the twists in the earphones cancel each other out and of course, no need to deal with tangled messes every time you want to use your earphones.

figure 8 knot tying
All tidy and no stress on the cable with this figure 8 knot.

You could also use a short velcro strap. Just make sure you don’t strap the cable too tight.

Headphones Cables tidy with Velcro Straps
Velcro straps are great for cable management!

With a carrying case, all you need to do is wrap your headphones around your hand in a loose circle, with the heaviest end as the starting point. Make sure you don’t form any tight angles as you do this otherwise that may damage the cable.

Store your Headphones

To prevent scratches, bumps or even the risk of falling, don’t just leave your headphone laying randomly around on your desk or shelf, but put them on a headphone stand. It’s clean and clutter-free.

Headphone Stands by Samdi
I personally use inexpensive but stylish wooden stands from Samdi. You can read all about them in our review.

A General Conclusion

After all is said and done, cleaning and maintaining your headphones will only go so far.

The best thing you can do to ensure they ‘live a long and healthy life’ is simply be careful with them.

Limit careless handling and your headphones will be fine, make sure the cable is never scrunched up. Keep them away from temperature extremes, direct sunlight, dust, kids, and pets.

To keep them shiny and looking new, regular buffing of the surfaces with a microfiber cloth should do the trick. Check the adapter regularly for metallic flash.

A quick tip for Velour earpads to remove lint and hairs is to simply use a lint roller every once in a while, it actually works.

Other than that don’t forget to tell those babies how much you love them and appreciate all the hard work they put in, after all, everyone knows happy headphones sound best!

So do you take care of your headphones? If so, let us know if this guide was helpful to you. Maybe you have some other tricks that you want to share? Don’t hesitate to put them in the comments below!

9 thoughts on “How to Clean Headphones – A Complete Beginner’s Guide”

  1. Is there a certain type of soap that you should stay away from to avoid damaging the headphones? I imagine some of the ear pads are vulnerable to certain chemicals and I wouldn’t want to mess them up. I would love to have a pair of headphones that were sweat-resistant and didn’t require a whole lot of cleaning.

  2. I love how original your site is! I’ve never really known how to properly care for headphones so that article was extremely helpful. I use headphones a lot for audio engineering/mixing, I currently own Shure SRH840s.

    Do you personally have any recommendations or opinions on headphones for audio engineering? And also, what are your personal favourite general listening headphones?

    1. I’m not really into audio engineering, but I’ve heard that those SRH840s of yours are not to shabby 😉 Speaking of audio engineering, you might find this article I’ve wrote on Sonarworks very interesting…

      Oh and my favorite headphones is this one 😉


  3. Hi Jurgen,

    Many thanks for this advice.

    I never really bothered with cleaning my headphones in the past. I was always careful with them and they lasted quite a while.

    But recently, my teenage son has been coming over and using my headphones. I’ve noticed that they’re getting damaged and dirty at quite a fast rate. Teenagers, huh?

    Anyway, I will follow your instructions and hopefully this will extend the life-cycle of my headphones. I think I’ll stick with the old-school toothbrush – not a fan of those little vacuum cleaners.

    Best, al

  4. I never even thought about cleaning my headphones, I’d better get on this quick-stat! The worst thing about headphones for me is the twisted/knotted cable – I love the simple cable knot image you have shown above, I’m going to try this and see if I can’t avoid my morning outburst on the train when they go flying out of my hand trying to unravel them…

  5. Thanks for the really informative post. Although I’ve mostly used only an iPhone headphones, I have wireless Philips bought about ten years ago but still fully functional. I will forward your post to my son as I know he has at least a couple of expensive headphones and not sure he knows how to take care of them. My question is regarding my Philips. Is it okay to keep it in the original cradle or better look for those stylish wooden stands? Thanks.

    1. Your original Philips cradle will do the job, so no need to buy another headphone stand. Unless you fancy that stylish wooden stand of course 😉

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