PSA: Disinfect your headphones

When’s the last time you disinfected your headphones? A week ago? A month? A year? Chances are, you rarely, if ever, disinfect your headphones. In turn, your headphones have all kinds of gross microbes! Your headphones might contain such pathogens as H1NI, Staphylococcus, MRSA, and even COVID-19. When you put your headphones on, you’re putting these microbes on your face and in your ears.

The CDC, in its efforts to contain the Coronavirus, has recommended we wash our hands regularly and not touch our face. These are the same precautions preached to stop outbreaks of the flu, common cold, and norovirus. Our facial orifices, including our ears, provide a nice and easy path into the body for viruses, bacterias, and other microbes.

Disinfect your headphones, they're a breeding ground for micribes.
These headphones are a breeding ground for microbial life!

How microbes transfer to headphones

Headphones provide a link in the line of infection. Headphones touch your ears. In-ear headphones will even touch your inner ear. Over the ear headphones (especially a large pair) touch a significant portion of your face. Meanwhile, when we use headphones, we touch our headphones with our hands. Maybe you just washed your hands, but perhaps you’re on a crowded bus – people everywhere, touching handles and doors and everything else. You just touched those same surfaces, and then you touched your headphones. Congratulations, you just transferred any microbes living on those surfaces onto your face!

This scenario can happen in any public situation, by the way. In fact, in some cases, the headphones transfer microbes directly from a surface. If you use your headphones at a library, cafe, or any shared workspace, you probably have put your headphones directly on a surface. Do you know when they last disinfected that surface? Sure, you just washed your hands, but did the last person sitting in that spot? And where, on the table, did they put their unwashed hands?

Do you really want this in your ears?

Microbes are only half the problem.

If you sweat at all while wearing your headphones, they could start to smell. Strike that; your headphones WILL smell. Go ahead, take a whiff of your headphones right now. Did they stink like old sweat? The smell might be faint, but chances are the scent is there. When you disinfect your headphones, you get rid of this smell.

Disinfecting your headphones also advances the general health of your ears. Earwax, otherwise known as cerumen, protects your ears from dust, microbes, and even water. Still, our ears require a certain balance, as too much earwax can cause issues. Earbuds can cause earwax buildup. Earbuds can also compound earwax, aka impacted earwax. Both impacted earwax and earwax build-up can cause headaches, hearing loss, dizziness, and the ringing of the ears. Cleaning your ears properly and disinfecting your headphones regularly helps protect your ears from earwax related issues.

Ear Health starts with disinfecting your headphones.
Your ears are complex! Take care of them.

How do you disinfect your headphones?

Rule number one to disinfect your headphones: consult your user manual. User Manuals for headphones, especially for higher-end headphones, should include cleaning instructions for your safely cleaning and disinfecting your headphones. If you do not have your user manual, you might be able to find one online.

With that said, there are several tutorials online to disinfect your headphones properly. These tutorials differ, depending on if you’re cleaning earbuds or cleaning over the ear headphones. The general concept in most of these tutorials pretty much follows the same thesis. Use rubbing alcohol / disinfecting spray, a clean cloth, and cotton swabs. Don’t forget to get in the crevices, and remove the earpads and silicone tips. Make sure to disinfect the headband (if applicable) as well. Again, some nuances exist, depending on what style of headphones you use, so make sure to follow a set of instructions for your specific style of headphones.

Image credit: Used by CC 2.0 Generic license.

Don’t be afraid to replace!

Every set of headphones has its lifespan. If your headphones are near the end of that lifespan, don’t be afraid to replace them. This is especially true with a cheaper pair of headphones. If you use your headphones every day while touching them with your unsanitized hands on the bus, at work, or wherever, consider how long you’ve had these headphones vs. the cost of a new pair.

Mind you, this is more of a last resort option, especially if you’ve got an expensive pair of headphones. You might consider only the replacement of a specific component. Specifically, you might consider the replacement of the earpads and silicone tips. You can find replacement instructions, earpads, and silicone tips on your headphone company’s website.

Silicone tips for earbuds are easy and cheap to replace.

Don’t stop your disinfecting routine after the current crisis ends!

I’ve given several reasons, unrelated to Coronavirus, to clean your headphones. Yes, the reality is we’re currently in a pandemic, and it’s all the more important to clean your headphones. Still, we can look at the increased emphasis on cleaning as a way to form new cleaning regiments. I now clean my headphones several times a week instead of once or twice a year. This will slow not only the spread of coronavirus but also various other microbes.

By the way, after you clean your headphones, put your headphones on, and listen to some music! Music will calm your soul. Might I suggest a playlist specifically made for headphone use? Keep clean ears, people. Disinfect your headphones regularly.

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