Are your AirPods getting quieter? It’s time to clean them. Here’s how

So delicate.
So delicate.
Image: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
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For weeks, my Apple AirPods have been getting subtly quieter. The bass isn’t so bass-y anymore, and the maximum volume is barely enough to cover the cacophony of a rumbling subway train. Since my hearing is fine in non-Pod settings—I am, in fact, an excellent eavesdropper—I settled on the next logical conclusion: My AirPods must need to be cleaned.

This makes sense. Ears clean themselves, so “wearing earbuds can trap the ear wax that is supposed to be carried out,” Whittier Hospital Medical Center notes on its website. I wear my Air Pods when I commute, at the gym, while falling asleep, and often in the office. (I’m also one of those people who doesn’t use Q-tips. That Girls episode was traumatic!)

For help with my problem, I first turned to the person who convinced me to get AirPods: Quartz tech reporter and Apple aficionado Mike Murphy.

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Unhelpful. Next, I turned to my second-favorite Apple expert: the internet.

In a 2014 post in Apple’s Communities forum, someone complained that their left earbud on a pair of standard wired Apple headphones was quieter than the right. (For the record, this is a hilarious thing to try to diagnose with AirPods, because each time you take one out, they both pause.)

Frankie1413 (🙏  Frankie) offered this resourceful solution:

To fix your sound issue, take a softly bristled clean toothbrush. You can then carefully brush the larger opening of the Earpod. then, (bear with me) suck on the larger opening until you can feel that you are causing air to come through. Then, brush again. This should solve your issue. The main reason why this has happened is ears with an exesesive [sic] amount of wax that melts into the earbud.

Thank god I buy new toothbrushes in bulk. I tried the old brush-and-blow on my AirPods and voila! Perfect sound restored. The bass is bass-y anew. (Did I essentially make out with my AirPods? Sure. But I will not apologize for it.)

Of course, once you go down this online rabbit hole, it can be hard to stop. There are many other posts and videos out there about cleaning earbuds and AirPods—you can try everything from toothpicks to rubbing alcohol. Just know that in craving clean audio accessories, you’re not alone. No matter what Mike says.