- When you share earbuds, do you ever think about the bacteria that could be on them?
- We tested 22 pairs of earbuds to see what might be lurking on them.
- After they incubated in the lab for a few days, we went back to check out the results.
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For those of you who like to share your headphones, it might be grosser than you think.
Even though you don't use earbuds to clean your ears, you're still shoving them pretty far in there. And earwax can get stuck in the crevices of the earbud so when you share them, you might be trading wax with someone.
To see how gross earbuds really are, we swabbed 22 pairs to get tested for bacteria. We also swabbed two over-ear headphones to see if they were any different. And then we took the swabs to Doctor Susan Whittier at the University of Columbia's microbiology lab.
Whittier took the swabs and inoculated them onto agar plates - used to grow bacteria and yeast and sometimes mould. We then let the earbud samples incubate for about three days and then went back to the lab to check out the results.
Whittier found 2 samples were positive for yeast - not something you'd want to share.
The grossest thing she found was a culture that was positive for Bacillus, something we find in soil.
“I was really shocked we didn't find anything super gross or super dirty. We all have certain bacteria on our skin and most of what we recovered was that. That's a species of Staphylococcus called coagulase-negative staphylococcus. And that's the predominant organism that we have on our skin.”
Two of the samples did grow yeast and one grew a type of bacteria associated with dirt. So even though most of the bacteria found was normal skin bacteria, the yeast was a little off-putting.
Even though these results show that Whittier didn't find anything too strange or too pathogenic, she said she would still not be keen to share her earphones anytime soon. In a previous test, Whittier found strains of MRSA and, yep, faecal matter on people's smartphones.
So, you might want to consider rubbing them with an alcohol swab before going from a friend's ear to yours.
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