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Why is there stuff on my earrings?

Earrings can sometimes get dirty and develop buildup on the posts and backs over time. This is completely normal but can also be annoying and unsightly. In this article, we’ll explore the common reasons why earrings get dirty and develop buildup and provide tips on how to clean earrings and prevent future buildup.

Common Causes of Earring Buildup

There are a few main culprits when it comes to earring buildup:

  • Dead skin cells – Our skin is constantly shedding dead cells. These cells can accumulate on earring posts and backs, especially if you wear the same pair every day.
  • Oil and dirt – Skin oils and environmental dirt that your ears and earrings come into contact with can also lead to gunky buildup.
  • Lotion, hair products, makeup – Any products you apply around your ears and neck can transfer to your earrings and mix with dead skin cells and oils to form buildup.
  • Bath and shower water – Hot water and soap residue from bathing and showering can deposit minerals and soap scum on your earrings.
  • Perfume and hairspray – These products contain oils and alcohol that can stick to your earrings and attract dirt.

The backs and posts of earrings provide the perfect place for all these substances to accumulate over time. Pierced earrings are especially prone to buildup since the constant friction going in and out of piercings speeds up the accumulation.

How to Clean Earring Buildup

Cleaning your earrings regularly is the best way to prevent and remove stubborn buildup. Here are some effective cleaning methods:

Use mild soap and water

Gently wash earring posts and backs with mild soap and warm water, using a soft cloth or cotton swab. This helps dissolve oils, dead skin cells, product residue, etc. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry.

Soak in rubbing alcohol

Soak the earrings in rubbing alcohol for 5-10 minutes, then scrub with a soft-bristled brush or cotton swab. The alcohol will break down oils and dissolve buildup. This works great for stubborn gunk.

Try ultrasonic cleaner

An ultrasonic jewelry cleaner uses ultrasonic waves and cleaning solution to thoroughly clean earrings and jewelry. Simply place earrings in the machine with water and cleaner and let it run for a few minutes until sparkling clean.

Use jewelry cleaning solution

There are special pre-mixed jewelry cleaning solutions you can buy or make at home. Soak earrings for 5-10 minutes then scrub and rinse clean. These solutions contain detergents that are safe for jewelry.

Baking soda paste

Make a paste with baking soda and water and gently scrub earring posts and backs. Baking soda is mildly abrasive to help lift buildup and is also alkaline to dissolve oils and acids.

Tips for Preventing Earring Buildup

Besides regular cleaning, there are some things you can do to prevent excessive buildup on your earrings:

  • Take earrings out at night – This gives your piercings time to breathe and prevents buildup that occurs during sleep.
  • Rotate your earrings – Switching up your earrings allows each pair time to “rest” and prevents excessive buildup.
  • Clean piercings daily – Gently wipe earlobe piercings with a cotton pad soaked in antibacterial solution to prevent infections and oil buildup around the holes.
  • Get piercings professionally cleaned – Visiting a piercer every few months for a deep clean can keep piercing holes and earrings fresh.
  • Shower with earrings out – Take earrings out before showering or bathing to prevent mineral deposits and soap buildup.
  • Dry earrings after washing – Gently pat earrings dry with a lint-free cloth after cleaning to prevent residue buildup.
  • Store earrings properly – Keep earrings in a dry, clean environment like a jewelry box to avoid dust and debris accumulation.

When to Seek Professional Help

While regular cleaning and care will keep most earring buildup at bay, sometimes professional help is needed. See a jeweler if:

  • Buildup is excessive and can’t be removed with normal cleaning
  • Posts or backs are bent, damaged or loose
  • Ear piercing holes are red, swollen or irritated
  • You suspect you have a metal allergy or sensitivity to your earrings

A professional can thoroughly clean the earrings, repair any damage, and check for skin irritation or reactions. For severe piercing infections or metal allergies, they may recommend switching to hypoallergenic earrings.

The Takeaway

It’s normal for earrings to develop some gunky buildup from skin oils, dead cells, products and environmental contaminants. Regularly cleaning your earrings with mild soap and water, alcohol, ultrasonic cleaners or jewelry cleaner prevents excessive buildup. Taking precautions like removing earrings before showering, rotating earrings, and drying after cleaning can also help. Seek professional help for excessive buildup, damage or signs of infection or allergy. With proper care and cleaning, your favorite pair of earrings can stay sparkly and stylish for a long time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do my earrings smell bad?

Earrings can start to smell bad due to buildup of dirt, dead skin cells, oil, and moisture that creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow. The smell is usually more noticeable with earrings you wear frequently or while sleeping. Regular cleaning and taking them out at night prevents smelly earrings.

How do you clean earring holes?

Gently wipe pierced earlobes daily with a cotton pad soaked in antibacterial solution to clean the holes and prevent buildup. Once or twice a week, remove earrings and let holes “breathe” for an hour or two. See a piercer periodically for a deep professional clean of the piercing holes.

Why do my ears smell when I take out my earrings?

This is likely due to dead skin cells and oil that accumulate in and around the piercing holes. The earrings block air exposure allowing the smell to build up. Letting your ears “breathe” without earrings regularly prevents this smelly buildup.

Can you use rubbing alcohol to clean earrings?

Yes, rubbing alcohol is safe and effective for cleaning earring posts and backs. Soak earrings in alcohol for 5-10 minutes then scrub away buildup with a brush. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry. The alcohol breaks down oils, product residue and other gunk.

What happens if you don’t clean your earrings?

If not cleaned regularly, earrings can accumulate thick buildup that is difficult to remove. This looks unsightly and can also lead to irritation, infection and smelly odors if bacteria grow in the buildup. Severe buildup can also damage earrings by eroding metal components over time.

The Dangers of Earring Buildup

While a little gunk on your earrings may just be unsightly, excessive buildup can pose some health risks:

  • Infection – Bacteria and fungi thrive in buildup and can enter the piercing hole and cause infection. Infections cause redness, swelling, pus, pain and can spread if left untreated.
  • Allergic reaction – Buildup traps nickel and other metals next to the skin allowing them to be absorbed. This can trigger allergic reactions in those with metal sensitivities.
  • Cysts – Oil and dead skin get trapped inside the piercing canal and form an epithelial cyst called a sebaceous cyst. Cysts become red, painful and can damage ear tissue.
  • Tearing – Forcing an earring with dried buildup through the piercing can tear the hole and cause injury, bleeding and trauma to the area.

In rare cases, an infection that spreads or cysts that don’t resolve can require surgical treatment. Keeping earrings clean protects your ear health.

How to Make Homemade Jewelry Cleaner

You can easily make inexpensive but effective jewelry cleaner right at home with just a few ingredients:


  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon mild dish soap
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • Small container or bowl


  1. Mix the warm water, dish soap, baking soda and vinegar together in a small container or bowl.
  2. Stir to combine – it will bubble up a bit as the baking soda reacts with the vinegar.
  3. Once bubbling subsides, soak jewelry for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Scrub with a small brush and rinse jewelry pieces well.
  5. Pat dry with a soft, lint-free cloth.

The dish soap lifts grease and oils, while the baking soda and vinegar work together as a gentle abrasive scrub. This homemade cleaner works great on earrings, rings, necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry.

Earring Hygiene Dos and Don’ts

Here are some good earring hygiene habits to follow as well as things you should avoid:


  • Take earrings out at night
  • Clean posts and backs regularly
  • Use new earrings for newly pierced ears
  • Disinfect posts before inserting
  • Be gentle when putting earrings in and taking them out


  • Wear dirty earrings
  • Touch posts with dirty hands
  • Use harsh cleaning products
  • Overclean sensitive ears
  • Wear cheap nickel earrings if you have a nickel allergy

Following good hygiene practices helps prevent infections, allergic reactions, and excessive buildup on your beloved earrings!

How to Store Earrings Properly

Storing your earrings properly in between wears helps keep them clean and damage-free. Here are some tips for optimal earring storage:

  • Use a jewelry box or earring holder to keep pairs together and untangled.
  • Opt for a box with individual slots, posts, or hooks to separate earrings.
  • Make sure the storage area is dry and away from heat and humidity.
  • Store jewelry box away from areas with a lot of dust, dirt or debris.
  • Place earrings in plastic baggies or clear mini containers if storing for long periods.
  • Keep your jewelry storage tidy and organized for easy access.
  • Store delicate, fine jewelry pieces separately from bulkier styles.
  • Lay especially long, dangly earrings flat rather than hanging to prevent tangling.

Proper earring storage extends the life of your jewelry by preventing scratches, tangling, and buildup. Invest in quality jewelry storage items and be consistent with organizing and putting earrings away.

Common Earring Problems and Solutions

Earrings can develop a few common problems. Here are some potential issues and how to fix them:

Problem Solution
Tangled Use tweezers and patience to delicately untangle chains or wires. For severe tangles, see a jeweler.
Cloudy stones Soak in warm sudsy water or jewelry cleaner. Use a soft brush or cotton swab to gently clean undersides of stones.
Green copper buildup Remove buildup on copper jewelry by soaking in lemon juice or vinegar for 5-10 minutes.
Scratches Use a jeweler’s polishing cloth to minimize and blend light surface scratches. Severe scratches require professional buffing.
Warped or bent posts See a jeweler to have posts professionally reshaped with pliers. Don’t try to bend them back yourself.

Addressing common earring problems promptly minimizes damage and keeps your earrings looking their best. Be gentle and take your time with at-home solutions. Seek professional help for issues you can’t remedy yourself.

Earring Wear and Care Guide

Follow these earring wear and care tips to keep your ears happy and earrings looking great:

Choosing Earrings

  • Select earrings with posts appropriate for your piercing type and metal that suits your skin.
  • Avoid heavy styles that put too much weight on piercings.
  • For new piercings, stick to small, lightweight earrings.
  • Ensure clasps and posts are secure so earrings don’t fall out.

Inserting and Removing

  • Wash hands before handling earrings and piercings.
  • Carefully clasp earrings and gently guide posts through piercings.
  • Unclasp closures and slowly pull fronts of earrings through holes to remove.
  • Take out earrings gently without yanking to avoid tearing holes.

Caring for Piercings

  • Clean new piercings daily with saline spray or solution.
  • Avoid touching new piercings except when inserting cleaned earrings.
  • Don’t move or twist new earrings until piercings are fully healed.
  • See a professional immediately for signs of infection like swelling or pus.

Cleaning and Storage

  • Frequently clean posts, backs and piercings to avoid buildup.
  • Use an earring holder or box to properly store pairs together.
  • Take earrings out and let piercings breathe overnight.
  • Have piercings and earrings periodically cleaned by a professional.

Caring for your piercings and earrings helps prevent issues like infections, allergic reactions and damage to your ears and jewelry.


Earring buildup happens gradually from skin, oils and products accumulating on posts and backs. Regular cleaning with soap and water, alcohol, ultrasonic machines or jewelry cleaner removes gunk and shine. Preventative steps like taking out earrings at night, rotating pairs, drying after cleaning and proper storage also help. See a jeweler promptly for any irritation, excessive buildup or damage. With consistent care and cleaning, your earrings can continue looking great for many years to come!