How to Safely Clean Your Home Stereo Speakers

Clean the grills, cabinets, and more without damaging them

A pair of stereo speakers with exposed speaker cones

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Even though stereo speakers tend to sit untouched, they accumulate dirt and grime over time. Methods of cleaning and maintaining speakers are different from those performed on other types of technology. If you want your speakers to last and look their best, don’t grab any all-purpose household solution with a roll of paper towels. The wrong kind of cleaner or polish can damage surfaces or dull finishes. 

Know Your Materials and Liquids

Before you start cleaning, find out what the cabinets are made of, no matter the speaker’s type or size. Speaker cabinets are made from different varieties of pine, maple, oak, birch, cherry, walnut, and more. The cabinet might be painted or stained wood, allowing it to exhibit its natural look. Or, it could be treated with varnish, lacquer, polyurethane, or wax, which tends to show off a glossy or satiny sheen.

If you don't know what the speaker cabinet is made of, consult the product manual or the manufacturer’s website for information. The manufacturer may suggest solutions or sprays that won’t negatively affect materials.

Knowing the exterior will help you narrow down the best type of cleaning and finishing solutions to use. The type of wood matters if a cleaner or oil is for a particular material. Plywood and MDF react to liquids differently (more absorbent) than real wood.

Don't choose something too harsh that might strip off any existing wax or finish. While the speaker may not be damaged, the result could be that it doesn’t look as good as it did before. Also, don't use a cleaner meant for wood if the speaker has a vinyl-wrapped (vinyl can look like real wood) or lacquer-coated exterior. Don’t use glass, kitchen, bath, or all-purpose cleaners. Choose ones that are ideal for the cabinet and won't harm it.

Some generally safe suggestions for wood are Howard Orange Oil Wood Polish, Murphy’s Oil Soap, or anything meant for wood furniture. Otherwise, the best bet for basic surface cleaning is to use warm water mixed with a mild detergent (like Dawn dish soap). If you need a little more power to scrub out stubborn dirt or sticky stains, add some baking soda to the mixture.

When it comes to finishing the exterior after cleaning, the material type determines if you should use oil to condition or varnish to protect. Oils are typically better to use with real wood (and sometimes wood veneer), and some oils are created with particular wood varieties in mind. A varnish can be ideal for plywood, MDF, vinyl, or laminate since it acts as a coating on top (also great for building up multiple coats). There are also oil and varnish blends that offer the best of both worlds.

Clean the Speaker's Exterior Cabinets

Use clean, lint-free, and soft cloths on the speakers, like a cotton or microfiber towel. An old cotton t-shirt also works well (cut it into usable pieces). Avoid paper towels, since these leave small unwanted fibers or particles on surfaces. Also, use two cleaning cloths to clean the speakers (one for wet and the other for dry). When wiping away dust, the dry cloth alone should suffice. But for anything grimier, use both.

Here's an efficient and effective way to clean your speaker cabinets:

  1. Moisten the wet cloth so that it’s slightly damp with the cleaning liquid of choice, then apply it to an inconspicuous area (such as the rear of the speaker cabinet, towards the bottom) to test it. If there's no adverse reaction to the speaker's surface after a few minutes, then it’s safe to continue.

    Put the cleaner on the cloth first and then use the fabric to wipe the surface. This way, you maintain control of how much cleaner is used (sparingly is recommended) and where it is applied. Add cleaner to the cloth as needed.

  2. Start with one side of the speaker and gently clean the surface with the wet cloth. Wipe with the direction of the grain, whether the cabinet’s exterior is real wood or wood veneer. This will preserve the appearance over time. If the speaker has no grain showing (for example, the surface is laminated or wrapped in vinyl), use long smooth strokes.

  3. When you finish the one side, wipe off any remaining residue. If you use your own soap mixture, wipe surfaces again with plain water. Then, completely dry the side with the dry cloth.

    Don't allow any excess liquids to soak into the wood, veneer, plywood, or MDF. This can warp and damage the cabinet.

  4. Continue working on each side of the speaker cabinet, including the top and bottom. Be mindful of seams or cracks, as these places can collect liquid and residues.

    Q-tip cotton swabs are generally safe and useful for small spaces or hard to reach areas on equipment.

  5. When you're done cleaning, apply a protective coating of oil or varnish. If so, use a separate clean cloth and follow the product’s instructions.

Clean the Speaker Grills

Speaker grills cover the drivers (the cone-shaped parts that move to produce sound) and protect against objects and the accumulation of dust. Grill material is often a delicate fabric, similar to stockings and pantyhose. Some speakers have metal grills that may be perforated in a waffle, checkerboard, or dot design. Fabric grills can be attached to frames, which typically pop off with a gentle tug.

Be careful when handling and cleaning grills, especially if you’re not sure how they’re attached or if they’re not removable. Consult the product manual to find the best way to clean the grills.

Here's how to clean the speaker grills:

  1. Start at the top corners and loosen the prongs with your fingertips. Once the top has released, follow down and do the same with the bottom corners. If the frame is secured by screws, remove the screws and then pry the frame off of the speaker.

    Don't damage any silicone or rubber gaskets (if these exist), and don't pull too hard or twist the frame once it’s free. It's easy to bend or warp plastic grills.

  2. Lie the grill or frame on a flat surface and use a vacuum hose with a dust brush attachment to remove the dust. This will make sure that the vacuum (especially a powerful vacuum) doesn't pull and stretch the fabric.

    If you don’t have a dust brush attachment, hold one finger over the open end of the hose and vacuum in even strokes.

  3. If the material has tough dirt or grime, wet a cotton or microfiber cloth with a mixture of warm water and mild detergent. Then, scrub the dirt using circular motions and work gently as you go. Rinse the area with a cloth and plain water, then let it dry.

  4. If the speaker has a removable metal or plastic grill, clean it (front and back) with a soapy sponge in the sink or tub. Then, rinse it off with water and dry it completely with a soft cotton towel.

  5. Once the grill has been thoroughly cleaned and dried, place it back on the speaker. Don’t forget to replace any screws.

Sometimes grills aren’t designed to be safely and efficiently removed. If your speaker’s fabric grills don't come off, clean the material with a lint roller or a can of compressed air. If you’re careful, you can use a vacuum with a hose attachment. For non-removable metal or plastic grills, the vacuum and compressed air should take care of loose dust and dirt. If you need to wipe grill surfaces with a wet cloth, use liquid sparingly, and dry thoroughly.​

Clean the Speaker Cones

Speaker cones (the tweeters, mid-range, and woofers) are delicate and easy to damage. It doesn’t take much force to punch a hole through a paper cone. Cones made of metal, wood, kevlar, or polymer are stronger, but a bump can harm the sensitive drivers that rest behind the cones.

Instead of a vacuum or cloth, use a can of compressed air (or an air bulb duster like the ones used to clean camera lenses) and a small brush that has long soft bristles. Good brushes include makeup brushes, fingerprint brushes, paintbrushes, and ​camera lens cleaning brushes.

A dusting wand (for example, Swiffer) can work, but results vary, and you run the risk of poking the cone with the tip as you sweep.

Use the brush to carefully dislodge any dust or dirt that is clinging to any part of the speaker cone and attached gasket. Maintain a firm hold on the brush but use gentle strokes with the least amount of pressure necessary as you move.

Use the compressed air or bulb duster to blow the cone clean and free of particles as you work your way around. Hold the can of air upright and several inches away from the side as you spray. Blow dust away from the cone, not into it.

Be twice as tender when brushing the tweeters, as these are exceptionally delicate (versus the mid-range or woofers). Sometimes it's safer to skip brushing the tweeters and instead spray the tweeters with canned air.

Don’t use liquids when cleaning speaker cones, this can lead to unintentional absorption or damage. In situations with deeply stained or soiled cones, contact the manufacturer for cleaning instructions.

Clean the Speaker Terminals

The terminals on the back of speakers are reasonably robust, but the terminals accumulate dust and dirt over time.

Here's how to keep the terminals clean:

  1. Unplug every connected cable (such as the RCA, speaker wire, and Optical/TOSLINK) and turn off the power to the speakers.

  2. Use a vacuum with a narrow hose attachment to clean the connections and seams.

    Don’t use compressed air, as it could force dust into the speaker hardware.

  3. Use a clean, dry Q-tip to get rid of finer particles that collect in and around spring clips, binding posts, small spaces, crevices, and divots.

  4. If you need a cleaning liquid for the speaker terminals and connections, use isopropyl alcohol (99%). Although rubbing alcohol can work, it’s known to leave some residue as it evaporates.

    Never use water or any water-based cleaning solutions with speaker terminals.

  5. Completely dry the terminals, then reconnect the cables.

Do’s and Don’ts of Cleaning Your Speaker

Follow these tips to avoid damage while you keep your speakers clean:

  • Do check the speaker manual for helpful cleaning tips. It can save you a lot of time.
  • Don’t use harsh soaps or chemicals to clean the speakers, as these can cause damage to the cabinet or electronics.
  • Do test any new cleaning solution or oil on an inconspicuous part of a speaker cabinet first. If the finish on the test area looks good, then it’s safe to continue with the rest of the speaker.
  • Don’t use too much liquid at a time when cleaning; a little goes a long way. Don’t soak the exterior or leave any lingering residue to be absorbed by the material.
  • Do carefully read the labels of any products before you buy them. Make sure what you plan to use will be safe for the speaker’s materials.
  • Don’t use anything that contains solvent on wood veneer. Over time, the solution can dissolve the glue that holds the veneer to the base.
  • Do take your time when cleaning speakers. Rushing or moving too quickly can lead to accidents.
  • Don’t cut corners. Taking proper care of your audio equipment will help ensure good-looking and long-lasting performance.