- Written by Paul Bryant Paul Bryant
When you take the time to clean your hearing aids on a regular basis, they work better, last longer, and certainly look more presentable. But hearing aids are expensive and delicate, so it’s important to clean them properly so you don’t accidentally damage them.
It’s possible to quickly remove wax and debris from your hearing aids without any risk of hurting them. To start, let’s figure out what kind of hearing aids you have — because this will affect the way you clean them — and then I’ll take you through an easy, step-by-step cleaning process.
What Kind of Hearing Aids Do You Have?
Behind-the-Ear – Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids rest behind the ear. A thin, clear piece of tubing goes over the ear, ending with an earpiece that goes into the ear canal. The tubing and earpiece of a BTE provide an air channel that sound travels through. The BTE does not have any wires or electric parts in the tubing and earpiece.
Receiver-in-the-Canal – Receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) hearing aids — pronounced like “Rick” – look like BTE hearing aids because they rest behind your ear. However, instead of a thin, flexible tube, the RIC has a wire that leads to a small speaker (or “receiver”) that goes into your ear canal.
When cleaning RIC hearing aids, you will not remove the receiver wire. The wire attaches with a tiny pin, and you shouldn’t remove it during the cleaning process.
In-the-Ear – In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids sit completely in the bowl of the ear. Some fill the ear completely. Some are smaller but large enough to see. Others are so tiny that they disappear completely in the ear canal.
Time to Clean Your Hearing Aids!
These steps don’t apply to all hearing aid types, so pay attention to the titles to determine whether the step applies to your kind of device.
1. Get Your Cleaning Tools Ready: All Hearing Aid Types – Let’s take a look at the cleaning tools you’ll need when removing wax, dirt, and debris from your hearing aids.
• BTE cleaning wire tool – A tiny brush with a long wire that looks like a tail. The long wire is for cleaning the thin, clear plastic tube and tip.
• RIC and ITE hearing aid loop tool – A tiny brush with a short wire loop (called a “wax loop”) on the end. The wax loop is for cleaning difficult-to-brush places.
• Cloth or tissue – A microfiber cloth or tissue for general cleaning.
2. Turn Off the Device and Remove the Battery: All Hearing Aid Types – Turning off the device and removing batteries ensures you won’t hear loud whistling or feedback noises while cleaning.
For rechargeable hearing aids without removable batteries, simply turn off the device.
3. Detach the Tubing: BTE Only – Depending on the style of BTE, your tubing either snaps off or screws off, so check your owner’s manual to see what kind you have.
For the threaded, screw-off style, hold the base of the tubing and gently turn it counterclockwise. The tubing will unscrew like a bottle cap.
For the snap-on style, hold the base of the tubing and gently turn the tubing counterclockwise. After a 90-degree turn, it should come right off.
4. Clean the Clear Tubing: BTE Only – Insert the wire end of the BTE cleaning tool into the base of the tubing. That’s the end that connects to the hearing aid. Never insert the wire through the earpiece end because that will only push the wax deeper into the tube.
Push the wire through until it comes out of the earpiece. This will push any wax blockage out of the tip. Use a tissue to clean the tip of the wire. Repeat the process several times until the tubing is clean.
5. Clean the Earpiece: All Hearing Aids – Every BTE and RIC hearing aid has an earpiece that inserts into your ear. Whether the earpiece is a contoured tip, ear dome, or custom-fitted earmold, use the brush to gently remove wax or buildup from the outside of the earpiece.
If you have an ITE hearing aid, simply brush off the part that inserts into your ear. Next, use a cloth or tissue to wipe away residual debris.
6. Clean the Inside of the Earpiece: RIC and ITE Hearing Aids – With RIC and ITE hearing aids, you’ll use the “wax loop” to remove any buildup from the inside of the earpiece.
Find the tiny hole where the sound comes out. Use the wire loop to gently remove any wax or dirt buildup you find.
7. Clean the Microphone Ports: All Hearing Aids – If your microphone ports get clogged with buildup, your hearing aid won’t function properly. Therefore, cleaning these tiny holes on a regular basis is important.
First, use your tissue or cloth to clean any oils, sweat, or debris from the outside of the hearing aid.
Next, find the microphone ports. Depending on the design of your hearing aid, it may have one, two, or more microphone ports that look like tiny, dark holes or a small, dark grill.
With RICs and BTEs, the microphones are usually on the top or spine of the device. With ITEs, they look like tiny, dark holes, and they are easy to find.
Next, gently brush the microphone holes with the brush end of the cleaning tool. This will keep the microphone port open so sound can freely enter.
The keyword is gentle. Never force or poke the brush deep into a microphone port. Also, never use the wax loop end of your cleaning tool to clean the microphone ports. These actions could damage the microphone.
Contact a local hearing aid professional if gentle brushing isn’t enough to get the microphone ports clean.
Finally, wipe everything down with your tissue or cloth.
8. Reattach the Tubing: BTE Only – If you have the threaded style of tubing, gently screw the tubing base onto the hearing aid with a clockwise motion. When it’s fully on, the tubing base will be flush with the hearing aid body, and the tubing will face forward so you can easily hook the hearing aid over your ear.
If you have the snap-on style of tubing, position the tubing so the hearing aid can hang back over your ear. Then push the tubing into the hearing aid base until you feel it snap in place. When the tubing is fully on, the base will be flush with the hearing aid body.
9. Replace the Battery: All Hearing Aids – You’re all done! Replace the battery, turn on your hearing aids, and enjoy the clear sounds of a freshly cleaned device.
Now that you’ve successfully cleaned your hearing aids, you’re probably wondering how often you should do it. I recommend cleaning your hearing aids every day or every other day.
This kind of regular cleaning and maintenance can easily add years to the lifespan of your device — and that could save you a lot of money!
Paul Bryant is the vice president of product sourcing for MDHearingAid (mdhearingaid.com). Bryant previously owned and operated a chain of hearing-aid clinics and ran multiple hearing aid companies. An electrical engineer by training, Bryant brings decades of deep hearing-aid expertise in everything from chip and antenna design to high-scale electronics manufacturing.