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How to Clean and Maintain RIC, BTE, ITE, and OTC Hearing Aids

Hearing aids don't take a lot of maintenance, but with just a few routine cleaning and care steps, you can get a lot more bang for your buck from them—reducing breakdowns and malfunctions while extending their service life.
Cleaning Ric Aid

Cleaning hearing aids requires good vision and dexterity.

Your hearing aids play an essential role in enabling you to get the most out of social situations. Most people wear them all day, and since ears are a place where wax and moisture gather, it is essential to maintain and clean your hearing aids regularly to keep them working well.

“Hearing aids can be expensive, so taking care of them will help ensure that you do not need to replace the hearing aids with new technology frequently or pay for frequent repairs after the end of the warranty period,” explains Sarah McAlexander, AuD, Audiologist at Texas Hearing Institute in Houston.

With good care, you should be able to get 5-7+ years of service from your hearing aids. Luckily hearing aids don't require a lot of maintenance, and following a simple care routine will help extend their service life, reduce the repairs needed, and make sure your hearing aids are always performing at their best.

Audeo B Explosion Fb

Many modern hearing aids now have an IP68 rating which is considered the "gold standard" for protection against moisture and debris; however, that does not make them impervious to the elements.

Everyday good habits

Though small, hearing aids contain powerful technology, and some parts are particularly delicate, such as the microphones and receivers.

According to McAlexander, “Maintaining the hearing aids includes keeping wax out of tubing and receivers, as well as the hearing aid microphones, storing the hearing aids in a safe place when not in use, and seeing your audiologist regularly for maintenance.”

Here are some additional good habits to get into when taking care of your hearing aids:

Handle with care

Handle your hearing aids carefully to avoid dropping or damaging them. Place your hearing aids on a soft piece of material when cleaning them or changing the batteries.

Beware of moisture

Always keep your hearing aids dry. Though most hearing aids are water resistant, they are generally not waterproof, meaning they should not be submerged in water. Trapped moisture can cause damage to the internal parts of your hearing aids and can even cause them to stop working. Furthermore, moisture can cause the batteries to corrode, damaging the hearing aid’s interior.

Some helpful tips to avoid moisture build-up include:

  • Do not wear your hearing aids in the shower, hot tub, when swimming, or in the sauna.
  • Take your hearing aids out when washing your face or when applying cosmetics such as hairspray, gel, or perfume.
  • Don’t keep your hearing aids in the bathroom.
  • Always make sure your ears are dry before inserting them.
  • If you do get your hearing aids wet, you can dry them carefully with a towel.
  • Do not use a heating device, such as a hairdryer to dry hearing aids; high heat can distort the plastic components.
  • After cleaning your hearing aids, make sure all the parts are completely dry before putting them back together.
  • If your hearing aids take disposable batteries, open the battery doors to release any moisture when you’re not using them.

“For those who perspire more than typical or those in a humid environment, it can be beneficial to use a dehumidifier on a daily basis,” advises Rosette Ruth Buahnik (formerly Reisman), AuD, MBA, a Clinical Account Manager at hearing implant maker MED-EL, adjunct professor, and owner of Urban Hearing in Brooklyn, NY.

Redux Dryer

The Redux hearing aid drying system is an example of professional drying system you can find in some clinics. It employs a vacuum chamber to lower the temperature required to evaporate moisture and monitors the air inside the chamber in real time. Although this model is not for consumers (it has a price tag of $2850!), its popularity among hearing care clinics demonstrates just how important moisture control is for better hearing aid performance.

A dehumidifier is a sealable container where you can store your hearing aids. These include relatively simple devices and inexpensive cases that use desiccant crystals to remove any accumulated moisture from your hearing aids.

Check out:

Another option is to use a hearing aid dryer that uses forced air, gentle heat, or a dehumidifier to dry the hearing aids. These sometimes also feature ultraviolet light for sterilization. Although typically more expensive, the devices can be worth it in the long run, particularly if you live in humid areas, are active, or spend a lot of time outdoors.

Check out:

You can take advantage of the professional Redux system (shown above) via their practice locator map featuring clinics that have the device. Note that hearing care offices generally charge a fee for this service.

Hearing Aid Dryers Cleaners

Some examples of hearing aid dehumidifiers and electronic dryers include (clockwise from top left): Dry & Store DryCaddy, Stay Dri Hearing Aid Dryer, Hal-Hen Super Dri-Aid, Lexie Electronic Hearing Aid Dryer, PerfectClean Hearing Aid Cleaning System, and Dry & Store DryBoost UV system.

Avoid extreme heat or cold

Temperature extremes can be damaging to hearing aids and their internal components. Do not store your hearing aids in a place with extreme heat, such as in direct sunlight or near a radiator. In cold weather, wear a hat to protect your hearing aids.

Prevent household mishaps!

To avoid damage or an emergency situation, be sure to store hearing aids out of the reach of children or pets. Also check to make sure your hearing aids aren’t in your pockets before washing clothes!

Pay attention to these four hearing aid “trouble spots”

Since you wear your hearing aids every day, you may sometimes need to replace certain parts due to general wear and tear, or if you lose a component. Depending on the type of hearing aid you have, here are four hearing aid components you may want to keep an eye on:

1) BTE hearing aid tubes and earmolds

Hearing aid tubes—also known as connector tubes—are an integral part of behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids. They are small plastic tubes that connect the main body of the hearing aid to the earpiece or earmold and allow sound to be transmitted to the ear.

Over time, hearing aid tubes may become discolored, hardened, blocked, or cracked, and will typically need to be replaced about every 6 months. If your hearing aid tube is damaged or becomes kinked, it can severely impact the function of your hearing aid.

A video from TruHearing that provides instruction on how to clean a BTE hearing aid, including its earmold and tubing. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.

“If you start to notice that the tubing is hard or discolored, it may be time to consider changing the tubing,” explains McAlexander. “This is done by removing the old tubing from the hearing aid and earmold, placing the new tubing through the earmold, and cutting the tubing down to size.”

If you have the dexterity and confidence, you can replace the tubing yourself, though it’s a good idea to discuss this with your hearing care professional first so that they are able to provide you with instructions on how to do so appropriately. They will also likely be able to provide you with additional tubing to use for replacements.

“If you do not feel comfortable changing the tubing on your own, discuss other options with your audiologist," McAlexander advises. “Many offices have walk-in clinics or audiology assistants available to help with tubing changes and other cleaning needs.”

2) Hearing aid domes

A hearing aid dome is a small bell-shaped component usually made of silicone that's a common feature of Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) hearing aids. They attach to the end of the hearing aid tube/wire and fit snugly inside your ear, helping to direct sound from your hearing aids into your ear canals. Click domes are also sometimes used in "instant-fit" In-the-Ear (ITE) style hearing aids, including over-the-counter (OTC) devices. The dome is important because it "seats" the hearing aid in your ear canal and protects the tiny "receiver" (another word for speaker) that delivers sound deep into the ear.

Receiver damage is a common problem, which is why most quality hearing aids come with wax guards (discussed below). “If wax enters the receiver, it can damage the electrical components and alter the sound quality of the hearing aids,” explains McAlexander.

How to replace a dome on a RIC hearing aid from Hansaton USA (no audio instruction on this video).

But the first line of defense for the receiver is the dome. Check your hearing aid domes regularly for damage and discoloration, and ensure they are securely attached to the tubing. Hearing aid domes are inexpensive and easy to replace at home. McAlexander recommends that domes be changed about once a month to ensure they are free of wax, dirt, and other debris; most manufacturers' User Guides say the domes are good for about 3 months.

“To change a dome on a RIC, turn the earpiece inside out and pull the entire dome off the receiver," explains Buahnik. Once removed, the old dome can be discarded. If you turn the new dome upside down, you will see a small opening to insert the receiver into. Push the new receiver into the dome until it is secure. If you require assistance, discuss changing the domes with your audiologist.

“For people who have dexterity issues, consider bringing a family member or caregiver to appointments to learn how to help you change important pieces such as domes,” adds McAlexander.

A word about custom earmolds

Custom earmolds are usually recommended over domes for people with greater levels of hearing loss, as they provide optimal sound quality. They can also be a great option for people who have comfort and other issues with a dome. As the name implies, these earmolds come from a custom impression and are made of plastic or silicone that fits the shape of your ear.

“Custom earmolds need to be manufactured and replaced by a savvy user or the hearing care professional,” advises Buahnik.

3) Wax Guards and receivers

A wax guard is a tiny filter that fits into the sound outlet of your hearing aid and protects the receiver. Wax guards can be found underneath the dome of a RIC, inside the input port of the earmold of an in-ear type hearing aid, or close to the receiver in other hearing aids (if you can't find it, review your owner's manual or contact your clinician). The wax guard captures ear wax, moisture, and other debris, preventing it from entering the sound outlet and damaging the receiver.

Widex Wax Guard

Typically, each wax guard comes with a dual-function tool: a removal end for pulling out the old guard, and an insertion end that allows you to install the new filter.

“If the trap is clogged there's a tool that will assist in removing the old guard and replacing it with a new one,” explains Buahnik. “The wax guards come preloaded onto wax guard tools or sticks. One end is used to remove the old wax guard and the other end allows for a replacement of a new wax guard.”

Replace the wax guard twice a year or when it looks worn, or misshapen, or if there is a build-up or blockage that can’t be removed.

Your hearing care professional will be able to provide further instructions on changing the wax guards for your hearing aids.

Wax guards can come in many different forms, but they all function essentially in the same way. In this video, Audiologist Matthew Allsop demonstrates how to use Phonak's CeruShield tool. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.

4) Batteries

For hearing aids that use batteries, leave open the battery compartment overnight to preserve battery life. When doing your routine hearing aid cleaning, use the soft brush tool supplied with the aid to lightly clean the battery compartment.

If your hearing aid has standard batteries, make sure you replace them when necessary; don't let batteries sit for long periods inside the aid. How long a battery will last depends on the type of hearing aid you have, how long you wear it, and the type of battery it is. Most batteries will need changing every 1-2 weeks, but it can be shorter if you have more severe hearing loss or are a frequent user of Bluetooth streaming. If you are going on a trip, be sure to pack some spares!

Rechargeable hearing aids come with their own charging case. Because they are sealed (i.e., don't have a battery compartment), they are generally more resistant to moisture and debris. Once charged, they usually last for up to 24 hours.

The Lithium-ion rechargeable battery in your hearing aid has the same chemistry as your smartphone. And, like your smartphone, that means it will gradually lose its charging ability by about 10-15% per year. You can have the battery replaced via your provider—preferably sometime before the warranty expires—which should help extend the life and improve performance of the aids.

Hearing Aid Cleaning

When you purchase your hearing aids, you should be given information about how to clean and maintain them at home. If you are unsure about anything around the general maintenance or cleaning of your hearing aids, speak to your hearing aid provider.

Hearing Aid Toolkit Examples

An example of two hearing aid cleaning tool kits. Virtually all hearing aids come with cleaning tools, but cleaning kits are also available online for about $10 to $20.

What’s in your toolkit?

Your hearing aids should come with a cleaning toolkit for regular at-home upkeep. Most toolkits include some variation of the following:

  • Cleaning brush: A soft brush to clean the body, faceplate, or sound port of your hearing aids.
  • Wax pick or wire loop: A tool designed to help remove wax and other debris safely from hearing aid nooks.
  • Multitool: An all-in-one tool, which contains both a brush and a wax loop for thorough cleaning.
  • A soft dry cloth like those used for glasses or electronic screens.
  • Vent cleaner: a thin bristle ideal for safely removing earwax and other blockages in the vent of hearing aid earmolds or in the ear hearing aids.

All these items are easy to purchase from your hearing aid provider or online. A few additional items you may want to buy include:

  • A soft-bristle child’s toothbrush: This can be used as a wax removal brush.
  • Disinfectant wipes: These can be used instead of a soft cloth. Always check first they are made for use with hearing aids.
  • Alcohol-free cleaner: This can be used for cleaning the earmolds of in-the-ear hearing aids. Be sure you use one formulated especially for hearing aids.
  • Cleaning wire or threader that can be fished through an earmold tube or a thin tube/vent to remove wax that may get lodged inside. A good commercial product for this purpose is NanoClean.

Routine (daily/weekly) cleaning

The most common reason for a hearing aid to sound muffled or weak is that it is clogged with wax or debris. To maintain your hearing aids, it's best to clean them every few days or at least once a week to ensure they are working at their best. Luckily, it’s quick and easy to clean your hearing aids.

Buahnik advises, “Daily cleaning of the hearing aid would ideally include a brushing and quick wipe down of the hearing aid with a soft cloth or a tissue. Inspecting the domes or earmold as well as the wax guard for any cerumen or earwax that could potentially impede the sound from being emitted from the hearing aid.”

Here are some general tips which apply to all types of hearing aids, before you begin cleaning yours:

  • Wash your hands before cleaning your hearing aids.
  • Handle your hearing aids with care, holding them over a soft surface or cloth to avoid any damage should you accidentally drop them.
  • Turn your hearing aids upside down when cleaning so that any debris will fall out of any openings you are cleaning, instead of staying lodged inside.
  • Do not use alcohol or chemicals for cleaning unless they are specifically formulated for hearing aids.
  • Never use pointed objects, such as scissors or needles, for cleaning.
  • Once you have cleaned your hearing aids, leave them safely in their case or charger for the night.

Specific cleaning and maintenance tips for the three major hearing aid styles

Hearing aids come in different styles, and there are slight nuances to keeping each type in tip-top form.

BTE hearing aids

Behind-the-ear (BTE) style hearing aids have the main processing unit tucked behind the ear, and this is connected by a tube to the earmold in the ear. BTEs look almost identical to receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids. The main difference is all the electronic parts of a BTE are held inside the case behind the ear, and sound travels from the hearing aid through the tube and earmold, then into the ear canal. In RICs, a wire connects the processing unit to a receiver/speaker that transmits sound into the ear canal via a soft eartip (dome) or custom earpiece.

Resound One Bte

ReSound BTE hearing aids.

Here are some BTE cleaning tips:

  1. Clean the microphone ports using a cleaning brush to remove any dust or debris.
  2. Check hearing aids for debris and use a soft dry cloth, cleaning brush, or cleansing wipe made specifically for hearing aids to wipe external parts.
  3. Remove the earmold from the hook to clean it. Use the supplied brush to clean the earmolds and use a wax pick or wire loop to remove stubborn wax or debris.
  4. If there is wax deeper in the vent, use the vent cleaner to push it out.

If you find debris in the earmold or in the tubing that cannot be removed with a cleaning brush, you can separate the earmold and tubing from the ear hook by twisting gently (your hearing care professional can instruct you on this, or see the hearing aid owner's manual). You can then clean the earmold part in warm soapy water and leave it to dry overnight before reattaching it to the hearing aid. To promote quicker drying, you can use a bulb blower (or earmold air blower) to force the water out of the tubing.

Another way to clean connecting tubes of BTE hearing aids with earmolds is to use a special type of cleaning floss. “Often times hearing aids will come with a thin fishing wire that can be threaded through an earmold tube or a thin tube to remove wax that may get lodged in the tube,” explains Buahnik.

McAlexander adds, “This type of cleaning does not need to be done on a daily or even weekly basis. I typically recommend that patients clean the tubing as needed—usually, you will be able to see the wax clogging the tubing, or you may hear a difference in how you hear. Some of my patients simply have their tubing cleaned (or changed) at their audiology appointments and do not worry about cleaning it at home.”

RIC hearing aids

Chances are pretty good you have a receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aid; they now constitute over 80% of all the hearing aids dispensed each year in the United States. As noted above, RICs have two electronic component parts: the main processing unit that sits behind the ear, and the receiver that is usually situated in either a flexible dome or custom-made earmold. It's this latter part you'll need to focus most on.

In this video sponsored by Oticon, Dr. Cliff Olson, AuD, shows how to properly clean your RIC hearing aids. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.

Here's three basic steps for cleaning RICs:

  1. Use a soft brush or cleaning brush to remove any debris from the microphone ports, and around the push button and wax guards. Change the wax guard if needed.
  2. If you notice wax on the dome, you can remove it and wipe it with a soft cloth or a cleaning wipe specifically for hearing aids; if you have a custom earmold instead of a dome, make sure the earmold vent and receiver are both free of wax and debris.
  3. Wipe your entire hearing aid with a soft cloth or a cleaning wipe specifically for hearing aids.

ITE hearing aids

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids are situated outside of the ear canal, and the terms "ITE" or "Custom hearing aids" are often used for styles that include full-shell and half-shell ITEs, in-the-canal (ITC), completely-in-canal (CIC), and invisible-in-canal (IIC) hearing aids. These styles are referred to as "custom" hearing aids because their shells are usually custom-made by a professional to conform to the unique contours of your ear canal. However, there are also non-custom ITEs that are designed for an "instant-fit" in the ear.

Dr. Cliff Olson, AuD, provides instruction on how to clean an ITE hearing aid. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.

Here are some cleaning tips for ITEs:

  1. Use a soft brush to clear away any built-up wax or debris. Focus your cleaning on the openings on the device, including the microphone port, receiver, and vent openings.
  2. Change out the wax trap if needed (see instructions above).
  3. Next, use a wax pick or hook to clear anything out of the holes that didn’t come out with the brush.
  4. For larger vents, run a vent cleaner carefully through the opening in each direction to push out any wax.
  5. Wipe the whole device aid using a soft dry cloth or a cleaning wipe specifically for hearing aids.

Special maintenance advice for OTC hearing aids

OTC hearing aids are gaining in popularity, but how do you maintain their longevity?

“OTC hearing aids are still very new to both patients and audiologists, so we are all still learning how to best work with these new devices. My best advice is to read the instruction manual provided to make sure that you are replacing and cleaning the necessary parts of the devices,” suggests McAlexander.

Otc Mashup

Over-the-counter hearing aids can be serviced by hearing care professionals for cleaning and moisture removal. However, hearing care clinics may be unable to help you with other services like receiver replacement, and you should expect the clinic to charge you for their services.

“Regular maintenance of the hearing aids and taking caution not to be too aggressive with the delicate receivers will aid in the longevity and functionality of all hearing aids, including over-the-counter devices,” says Buahnik. “If the device stops working, it is likely due to wax; therefore, using the wax guard tools will be helpful in removing the wax-filled trap and replacing it with a new one.”

Some audiology clinics are offering to help patients adjust to and maintain their OTC devices for a fee. If you need additional help, reach out to local clinics to see if these services are available.

Take advantage of professional services

One major benefit of purchasing hearing aids from an audiologist or hearing aid specialist is it usually includes adjustments, repairs, and cleaning for the devices. Most dispensing offices offer a free annual hearing check and also provide routine hearing aid maintenance at the same time. It's likely you paid for this in the price of your hearing aids, so take advantage of these services!

Likewise, if your hearing aids are not working as they should, even after cleaning them, see your provider for help. They can clean your hearing aids professionally, using special vacuums with specialized attachments that gently remove wax from hard-to-reach areas. They can also thoroughly clean the vents, microphone screens, and receivers and may also give the aids a good drying. Your provider can also check your hearing aids for damage, repair them if needed, and adjust your hearing aid settings to ensure they are working at their best for your hearing needs.

“Ideally, after the initial adaptation period, a patient should follow up every six months to a year to have their hearing aids evaluated,” says Buahnik. “Particularly while still under warranty to ensure that if a covered repair is needed that it is performed in a timely manner.”

“Some patients may require more frequent appointments for cleaning or regular maintenance—especially if they have dexterity or cognition concerns,” adds McAlexander. “Your audiologist should work with you to create the best plan for ensuring that your hearing aids work the best they can for as long as possible!”


Hearing Health Writer

Carly Sygrove is a hearing loss coach and a hearing health writer who has single-sided deafness. She writes about living with hearing loss at My Hearing Loss Story and manages an online support group for people with hearing loss. She is also the founder of the Sudden Hearing Loss Support website, a source of information and support for people affected by sudden hearing loss.