A Dermatologist Is *Begging* You To Start Cleaning Your Earrings At Least This Often

Confession time: I have 11 piercings in my ears, and cannot, for the life of me, remember the last time I changed a single one of them. Somehow, the funky smell that they've produced and the fact that it sorta kinda hurts to sleep on my left side has not been enough to clue me in to the fact that maybe it's time to swap 'em out. But it appears that I've already let things go way too far, because according to the experts, learning how often to clean earrings—and changing your earrings at least once a week—is super important. Whoops!

If you, too, need a lesson in jewelry hygiene, get all the dermatologist advice you’ll need below—from the ins and outs of earring cleanliness (and preventing earring infections!) to jewelry cleaning tips (like how to disinfect earrings like a pro).

Experts In This Article

Why to clean your earrings regularly

Before you get too freaked out, though, you should know: While it's not typical to have a medical problem when you leave your earrings in all the time, it is important to clean them. Skin naturally sloughs dead skin cells—so if your earrings are constantly in, it’s not uncommon to notice skin build-up around them.

Aside from that dead tissue beginning to look goopy (gross!), any build-up you experience from not practicing proper earring cleanliness could result in worse issues. “It’s important to remove and clean your earrings regularly to prevent overgrowth of sweat, oil, dirt, and microorganisms,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “This can lead to irritation, inflammation, and—in some cases—even skin infections.” (Pro tip: To further prevent any skin irritation, you can opt for earrings for sensitive ears.)

So whether you’re avoiding build-up or working on preventing earring infections, prioritizing your earlobe health and maintaining an earring cleaning routine is crucial.

Signs you need to clean your earrings

Another reason why you should be swapping (or at least cleaning) your earrings on the reg? Leaving them in for too long can create something called "ear cheese," which can literally make your skin have a similar odor to Limburger. (If you've ever asked yourself “Why do earrings smell?” this might be one reason why.)

According to derms, your ears provide a lovely, warm environment for bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells to thrive, and that stinky smell comes as a result of an accumulation of all of the above. “Any visible buildup of debris around the earring should be removed and cleaned,” says Dr. Zeichner. If you don't remove and clean earrings regularly, that stench will only get worse. (I haven't technically smelled my own ears lately, but I think I owe a few apologies to anyone who's gotten close to them in the past few months.)

How to clean earrings the right way

You’re not going to want to hear this, but according to board-certified dermatologist Shari Sperling, DO, you should be cleaning your earrings at least once a week. Proper earring care is crucial in "avoiding dirt and bacteria buildup and preventing infection, bad odor, and debris that [accumulates] on earrings," she says.

Thankfully, the process of how to disinfect earrings is fairly easy to integrate into your routine. You just need some easy-to-follow jewelry cleaning tips to get you started. Here’s the dermatologist advice: Wash them with soap and warm water, an alcohol swab, or jewelry cleaner. Ensure that you’re removing any build-up on the post. Also, always avoid using any harsh cleaning agents (like bleach or ammonia), which could damage your jewelry and harm your skin.

After your jewelry maintenance is complete, Dr. Zeichner says to give the earrings some time to dry before popping them back in. “So long as the earrings have completely dried from the cleaning process, they can be placed back in the ears without worry that it will cause irritation to the skin,” he says.

If your ears are still giving off signs of the aforementioned grossness even after you've introduced these jewelry cleaning tips and have been giving your earrings regular washes (you can always use these tips on how to clean ears, too!), it may be a good idea to give your skin a chance to breathe. Just be sure to keep an eye on things, because if you leave the holes open for too long, you run the risk of your holes closing up.

How to keep your earrings clean for longer

Now that you know exactly how to clean earrings, you probably want to know how to keep them that way for longer. That’s where these jewelry maintenance tips come in handy.

Aside from sticking to your earring cleaning routine once a week, you can also keep your earrings clean for longer by taking them out while exercising to prevent build-up from sweaty ears. In addition, don’t put your earrings in until you've finished getting ready for the day. That way, you’ll prevent makeup or hair products (like hairspray) from getting stuck on your earrings and causing build-up and irritation.

Lastly, anytime you don't have your earrings in, don't just toss them on the counter. By practicing proper earring care and storing them in a jewelry box or travel jewelry case, they won't collect dust, dirt, or bacteria—things that don't just impact earring cleanliness, but also your earlobe health.

Frequently asked questions

How regularly should you clean your earrings?

If you’re looking for dermatologist advice on how often to clean your earrings, the pros recommend doing so at least once a week. Not only are clean earrings key for jewelry maintenance, but also in keeping your earlobes irritation-free and preventing earring infections.

Why do my earrings smell?

Have smelly earrings? You’re not alone. Without good jewelry hygiene (aka learning how to disinfect earrings and doing so on a weekly basis), you may experience a build-up of bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells—three things that can cause a not-so-pleasant odor that has been referred to as “ear cheese.” With proper earring care and earring cleaning, it’s very easy to prevent this problem altogether.

Is it OK to leave earrings in all the time?

It’s tempting to leave your earrings in 24/7, but to maintain earlobe health and prevent skin irritation, experts recommend taking them out and giving your skin a chance to "breathe." A perfect time to do this is when practicing jewelry hygiene. Learn how to clean earrings properly using the instructions above, then do so at least once a week.

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