It’s almost too easy to drop your earbuds, whether you’re on a train, in a restaurant, at the office, or at home. Small wonder that a study found that earbuds can play host to as many as 119,186 CFU or colony-forming units of micro-organisms like bacteria and fungi (via Senior Living). This means they can contain as much as six times more bacteria than a kitchen faucet, 330 times more than a countertop, and 2,708 times more than a cutting board.
If this doesn’t bother you, consider that your earbuds are also designed to go where germs love to thrive. As New York-based ear specialist Sujana Chandrasekhar said: “It’s sort of a dark, moist, warm place — your ear canal. So that’s a terrific breeding ground, so if you introduce bacteria or fungus into the outside of your ear, you can propagate the growth of that just by the nature of what our ear canal is like” (via Business Insider). Unfortunately, this is why earbuds have literally become a transport hub for potentially harmful micro-organisms.
While scientists, who have swabbed and tested various earbuds, say they haven’t found anything other than the bacteria that’s already found living on our skin, there is still a health risk. While these germs, which include staphylococcus and p seudomonas aren’t normally harmful, they also have it in them to trigger infections under the right circumstances, like when they manage to make their way into our bodies through a cut or an abrasion (via ABC).
The best way to clean your earbuds
As with many things that can cause illness, keeping potential ear infections at bay starts with the simple act of sanitizing your earbuds regularly. CNET recommends you wipe down your earbuds each time you use them with an alcohol wipe, paying close attention to the holes in each bud. If you see any earwax — because yes, they can collect there — just use a small sharp object like a toothpick or a pin to ease the grime out. Then cover the toothpick or pin with an alcohol swab and clean each hole.
While you’re waiting for the earbuds to dry, you may want to tackle the case (if you’re using wireless earbuds). Don’t forget to clean the inside of the charging case with a cotton swab dampened with a bit of alcohol while you’re at it. Make sure the buds and the case are dry before you reunite them, and you’re good to go. Your ears will thank you.
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