Headphones or earphones or whatever listening apparatus you have access to are crucial to having music and staying sane, so it's important that you treat them with the care and respect that they deserve. Keeping them in top condition is good for both your hygiene and the audio fidelity, so we've put together a variety of tips for doing just that.
Take care of your headphones while you're using them, as it can make more of a difference than you think. Even basic precautions, like avoiding very high or very low temperatures, and pulling on the end plug rather than yanking on the cable to remove them, can have an impact on the lifespan of your listening equipment. Remember that this gear is not necessarily as robust and as durable as you think it is.
At the more expensive end of the scale, Dr Dre reminds us that liquids and high humidity should be avoided, lest the sensitive electronics inside the headphones become affected. It's also worth considering the size of your eartips, if applicable, and making sure you're using ones that fit your ears comfortably and with a minimum amount of pushing and squeezing.
The advice from Bose is to check for dirt and damage on a regular basis and give your headphones a quick wipe down after every extended period of use. Depending on the make and model of your headphones you may be able to replace certain parts (like the ear cushions or the ear tips) rather than using the damaged or worn originals. Treat your headphones with as much care as you do your smartphone and you shouldn't go far wrong.
It goes without saying that water and cleaning products don't usually mix well with electronics. A soft cloth, warm water and perhaps a little soap are usually the best way of keeping your headphones or earphones sparkling. Err on the side of caution when it comes to the amount of water and soap to use. It's worth checking the instructions that came with your kit, if you didn't throw them away with the packaging.
Keep a small towel to hand and you might also find a dry toothbrush helpful to dislodge bits of dirt and grime and get inside meshed areas of the headphones or earphones that a cloth can't immediately reach. In the same vein, cotton swabs or even a toothpick (used carefully) can make a difference on particularly stubborn areas. Dab down your kit with the towel afterwards and give it plenty of time to dry naturally; this isn't really a job you want to be doing just as you're on your way out to catch a bus.
If you don't want to use a cloth then restaurant or baby wipes can do a decent job as well. If your earbuds have silicone tops to them, then remove them to clean them separately; the cables could probably do with an occasional wipe down as well, though you're obviously going to be focusing most of your attention on the parts of your headphones that come in contact with your ears (it might be a good idea to clean those out, too).
You should store your headphones in a clean, dry place and make use of the supplied case (or invest in a third-party one) where available. Again, temperature extremes are best avoided -- you might want to think about that before leaving your equipment sweltering or freezing inside a car. If your headphones or earphones need folding up, follow the official instructions to reduce wear and tear while you're not using them.
Tangled cabling is a perennial problem and one that can cut down your listening time by a good two or three minutes when you set out from the house. One way to avoid this, aside from using a case that keeps the cable organised, is to wrap them carefully in a figure-eight shape around two of your fingers -- see the video below for details of how to do it.
This "hook-em-horns" method is one of the ones featured in a comprehensive list put together by our friends at Lifehacker -- follow the link to read through a number of different options, covering everything from binder clips to braiding. Hopefully there's something there that will suit your needs, and you can always resort to wrapping your headphones around your smartphone to keep them tangle-free (though again, treat them with due respect).
Taking better care of your headphones isn't particularly difficult or time-consuming but the long-term effects are going to be noticeable. If you've got any cleaning or untangling tips of your own that you've discovered, then share them through the discussion below.