Everything You Need to Know About Healthy Earbud Use

Kelli Barrett

| 3 min read

Young man drinking coffee listening to music on his smartphone through earbuds.
When waiting for a flight, riding a crowded bus or gearing up for a workout, is there anything better than putting in earbuds and cranking up the volume? They literally tune out the world and its stresses.
You’re likely not thinking too much about those earbuds once you’ve put them in your ears, but you probably should. To help make you a more responsible earbud wearer, we’ve attempted to provide trustworthy answers to a few bud-related questions.

To what extent do earbuds damage our hearing?

Around 1.1 billion young people worldwide are at risk of hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization. One reason, among many, is loud sound from personal audio devices.
Earbuds get a bad rap because they sit in the ear canal. However, research from the Hearing Health Foundation found listening to music with earbuds isn’t a major cause of hearing loss.
Moreover, the consensus from the medical community puts the blame on volume more than anything. People are listening too loud for too long. Medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic suggest keeping the volume bar solidly in the middle.
Here are a few tips.
  • The 60/60 rule recommends keeping the volume level below 60 percent and limiting your listening to under 60 minutes per day.
  • Tighter fit earbuds block out background noise better, which helps resist the temptation to blast the volume.
  • Custom earbuds are made with a mold of your ears. Not only are they great at blocking out background noises, they provide some of the best sound quality.

How important is earbud fit?

The right fit is critical to protecting your hearing. Earbuds should fit snugly into your ears and isolate sound. While smartphones often come with earbuds, it’s a good idea to invest in a pair that includes different materials and tip sizes. This lets you choose the best size for your ears.
The right size earbuds won’t fall out as much either. They stay put, so you can enjoy unfettered listening rather than constant fussing and adjusting.

Is it illegal to wear earbuds while driving in Michigan?

Perhaps you’ve heard conflicting information about driving with earbuds in or while wearing a headset. That’s probably because the issue is somewhat complicated.
For one, different states have different rules. A 2016 law prohibits earbuds while driving and biking in California, for instance. The Michigan Vehicle Code doesn’t stipulate that you can’t wear earbuds while driving. However, Michigan does have a careless driving statute, which essentially means a police officer could interpret driving with earbuds in as careless.
An Alpena-based community service trooper explains in more detail here.

How often should I clean my earbuds?

If you haven’t noticed, earbuds get dirty. They regularly travel from purse or pocket to waxy ears.
Earbuds should be cleaned regularly, according to some cleaning gurus, which is at least once a week. Cleaning expert and New York Times columnist Jolie Kerr suggests a rag or damp wash cloth – not soaked – with rubbing alcohol. Advice site Wirecutter recommends soap and warm water on a damp cloth and wiping them down after every gym workout.
Are earbuds an essential for you at work, the gym or while driving? What surprised you about how to safely use and care for them? Share with us in the comments.
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Photo credit: Marjan_Apostolovic

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