How To Clean A Headphone Or Aux Jack Properly And Safely


Even the best audio equipment can perform deficiently if the audio connections are made improperly. A dirty headphone or aux jack can lead to popping and crackling, intermittent signal flow, and even complete disconnection between the audio devices and the connected headphones. Keeping these jacks clean, then, is paramount to proper performance.

How do I clean a headphone or aux jack properly and safely? There are three primary methods of cleaning a headphone or auxiliary jack properly and safely: wiping inside with a swab and alcohol, spraying the inside of the jack with compressed air, or (if you do not have alcohol or compressed air) carefully brushing with a very fine brush.

In this article, we’ll discuss these three primary methods of cleaning headphone/auxiliary jacks, the troubleshooting of such issues and what not to do when the jacks get dirty.

Related articles:
Are AUX (Auxiliary) Connectors & Headphone Jacks The Same?
How Do Headphone Jacks And Plugs Work? (+ Wiring Diagrams)
Differences Between 2.5mm, 3.5mm & 6.35mm Headphone Jacks
Are Headphone Jacks The Same As Microphone Jacks?


Table Of Contents


Maintaining Your Devices

Audio equipment, like any electronic device, will require some general upkeep. Unless the headphone and auxiliary jacks of your audio devices are consistently plugged into (or the device is kept in proper storage), the accumulation of dust and debris is practically inevitable.

Unlike old Nintendo cartridges, it’s unadvisable to blow into the audio jack to dislodge the built-up dirt. Audio equipment is rather expensive and the connections can be fragile. That’s not to say that blowing into a headphone or auxiliary jack will break your audio devices, just that it’s not an ideal method of cleaning them.

Instead, we’ll cover three easy, fool-proof ways to clean your headphone jack from home. We’ll also discuss other improper methods that are, unfortunately, common. If you’ve been experiencing connection problems with your audio equipment, there’s a good chance debris is built up in the jack. Fortunately, it’s easy to get rid of without damaging the connection.


Why Is My Aux Not Working?

Click. You plug your device into the jack, and it’s not working. Perhaps your phone isn’t recognizing your pair of headphones, or the sound is distorted and scratchy.

Accumulated dust, dirt, and debris will prevent your device from connecting, even if it clicks in place.

This layer of dirt will effectively block the plug’s conductors form connecting to the proper jack conductors.

Analog audio signals, which drive headphones and speakers and are passed through headphone/aux connections, are AC electrical signals. For audio signals to flow from the audio device to the headphones (or another audio device), there must be an electrical connection.

To illustrate this, let’s consider a simple TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) headphone connector:

The plug is to the left. It has three distinct conductors (tip, ring, and sleeve). These conductors match up with the jack’s coinciding connects, shown to the right. Once connected, the audio signals flow from the audio device jack to the connected plug, making their way to whatever device comes next (often headphones).

If any of these connections are compromised, lacklustre results will surely follow. As mentioned, this may lead to popping and crackling, intermittent signal flow, and even complete disconnection between the audio devices.

Additionally, if the device isn’t connecting properly, it’s critical that we do not repeatedly push the plug in and out of the jack. If there is debris inside, you could be causing damage to the contacts within.


Do I Have To Clean The Aux?

If you’re not having any problems with your jack as it is, it’s best not to go tampering with it.

However, it is good to check the jacks every so often with a flashlight to make sure they don’t have dust accumulating inside. If you deal with audio equipment and other technology often, it’s a good idea to have a magnifier on hand. As an alternative, you can use your smartphone to take a video with flash and use that to zoom in and see potential issues up close.

If you’re experiencing issues and you can identify the build-up of dirt within the jack, it’s likely time to give it a proper cleaning.


Troubleshooting Faulty Audio Jacks

Before you clean your hardware, take a second to do some basic troubleshooting. Turn your device off and on, reconnect USBs, and make sure any wires are still intact.

If it’s your headphones that aren’t working when you plug them in, it could be the wiring that’s at fault. If that’s the case, you’ll need to reconnect loose wiring and, in some cases, solder the wires back together.

It’s not uncommon for headphone wires to break after heavy use, even if you can’t tell from the outside without stripping the insulation. If all of these things are fine as far as you can tell, then go on cleaning the jacks.

Related article: Why Earphones/Earbuds Stop Working (And 5 Tips To Avoid It).


The 3 Headphone/Auxiliary Jack Cleaning Methods

Before you begin cleaning the headphone/auxiliary jack, prepare a clean, flat surface to rest the audio device. Typically, the jack (female connector) will need cleaning compared to the plug (male connector), but it’s a good idea to go ahead and clean both just in case.

With that, let’s get to the three methods of cleaning headphone/auxiliary jacks:

Clean Headphone/Auxiliary Jacks With Alcohol

For this method, you’ll need 91% rubbing alcohol or higher. That’s rubbing alcohol, mind you. Your 90 proof whiskey won’t work here (in fact, it can do significant damage if the alcohol contains any sugars).

The reason why you need a concentration of 91% or higher is that it quickly evaporates and is safe for electronics. The highest concentration is 99% and is usually easy to find at your local pharmacy.

Pour some alcohol into a ramekin or small dish, and dip a Q-tip in it. Make sure the Q-tip is fully saturated, as you should never stick a dry Q-tip into your jack.

Swab the Q-tip around a few times and gently pull it out. Even if you don’t see any residue on the swab, it should be clean.

Allow a few minutes for the alcohol to evaporate before testing the newly cleaned connectors.

Clean Headphone/Auxiliary Jacks With Compressed Air

The compressed air method is probably the safest out of the three. No liquid or abrasive force comes into contact with the connections inside.

To use compressed air, aim the nozzle above the jack and give a few sprays. You can also hold your device upside down to allow gravity to help do the work.

The force from the air should be enough to clear out any unwanted particles. Note that, unlike blowing into the jack yourself, spraying compressed air will not get any additional moisture or saliva in the jack.

As a side note, always be careful and double-check your canister; you don’t want to make the mistake of accidentally spraying WD-40 in the jack!

Clean Headphone/Auxiliary Jacks With A Fine Brush

If you don’t have the materials required for the first two methods, you can use a fine-tipped brush to dust the inside of the jack gently.

This can be in the form of a long bristled paintbrush or a toothbrush.

Many users have had success with the latter, which are commonly found in bathroom cabinets. These flexible, fine bristled brushes are able to latch onto particles and sweep them out of the audio jack (similarly to how they work with teeth).

The key to this method is to be gentle, not assertive too much force against the interior of the jack while also moving the bristle fast enough to dislodge any debris from the jack.


Things To Avoid

Now that we’ve discussed what to do to clean headphone jacks, let’s run through what not to do. The following cleaning methods are subpar to those mentioned above and can even do more harm than good in some cases.

Things to avoid doing when cleaning headphone and auxiliary ports include:

Don’t Clean Headphone/Auxiliary Jacks By Blowing Into It

Our first instinct to clean out any electronic port is all too often to blow into it. However, blowing into the ports of your electrical devices can do more harm than good.

The saliva and water droplets in your breath will cling inside the jack. There’s also a chance that the sugars or bacterias from our mouths could corrode the connection.

It’s, therefore, best to avoid blowing into the jack altogether. If that was your first resort and now you’re unsure what to do, swab the jack with alcohol. The alcohol will evaporate and get rid of any saliva.

Don’t Clean Headphone/Auxiliary Jacks Using Water

The one thing you won’t need is water. Water naturally has electrolytes (sometimes referred to as minerals or even “impurities”), which carry electricity. Having these electrolytes inside the jack/audio device can lead to short-circuiting, which can damage the equipment.

Even distilled water, which has had the “impurities” distilled from it, is subpar relative to the aforementioned rubbing alcohol.

It’s best to avoid using water altogether when cleaning electronics.

Don’t Clean Headphone/Auxiliary Jacks Using A Dry Q-Tip

It may be tempting to put a Q-tip into the jack, but it’s not a good idea (unless it’s saturated with alcohol).

A dry Q-tip will snag on the contacts inside the jack and leave behind tufts of cotton. If that does happen to you, a dental brush might be able to salvage the jack. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck, and alcohol will likely turn the cotton into a gooey mess.

Steer clear of using dry Q-tips at all costs, unless the problem with your jack is that you have something wet in it and need to get it out!

Don’t Clean Headphone/Auxiliary Jacks Using Tape

Some online articles suggest using tape to clean out the jack. These articles suggest wrapping a paperclip or other narrow object with the sticky side of the tape. Though this can certainly work, it’s not ideal.

Some tapes leave behind residue that will damage your contacts. Duct tape is one of them. Try using a more gentle tape if you do decide to use this method. Scotch tape or clear household tape should work better. If you have quite a bit of dust in your jack, this method will work like a lint roller. However, it’s likely easier and more effective to do other methods.


Check All Your Equipment

All that being said, don’t forget to clean the male jack in addition to the female jack. The problem with the connection may be with either or both connectors, even if the plug appears clean on the surface.

Check the jacks with a flashlight to see if you can identify any specific debris or damage before cleaning them out. You might very well have a grain of rice or even a stray screw! If the debris is substantial, try holding the device upside down first, and then use a dental brush. If it’s still stuck, alcohol might help to dissolve the object.

Whatever you do, don’t stick the male jack in and drive the object even further.


Working Good As New

Our electronic devices are exposed to a lot of wear and tear. It’s no wonder that they’ll accumulate dirt over time.

Give it a quick swab if you notice any issues with your audio, like crackling or popping. If you keep noticing a weak connection, try using compressed air.

If the audio connection is only made when you bend the wire to a specific angle, the issue is likely with the wiring rather than the connectors. Practice common sense, and avoid causing any further damage.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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