AirPods in the Shower: Accident or Innovation?

Her Apple earbuds survived the blunder. Other AirPod owners haven’t been so lucky.

For some, AirPod showers are an accident, an everyday lapse, like forgetting sunglasses are on your head. For others, they are a deliberate choice, a modern take on the shower radio.

Introduced by Apple Inc. in 2016, AirPods went from being mocked for their looks to becoming the world’s most popular wireless headphones. Of the 130 million wireless headphones sold world-wide in 2019, nearly half were AirPods, according to a Counterpoint Research report. In 2021, Apple is projected to sell about 100 million pairs.

Wearable technology has made it commonplace for people to stay connected to their phones nearly every waking hour. And the Covid-19 pandemic has further blurred the boundaries between work and home.

When the home becomes the gym, office and classroom, a kind of cognitive dissonance can occur, resulting in forgotten-in-the-ears AirPods, said Martin Wiener, an assistant professor of cognitive and behavioral neuroscience at George Mason University. “The transitions between those places,” he said, and the cues associated with them, such as taking off headphones when leaving the gym or office, “are effectively gone.”

Beata Stopka, 24, made the mistake one evening in March. She had been attending graduate school from home in Oak Lawn, Ill., and regularly listening to lectures and true-crime podcasts on her AirPods.

“When I started washing my hair, I felt it in my ear and was, like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” she recalls. She quickly pulled the forgotten AirPod out of her ear and flung it over the shower curtain, narrowly missing the toilet.

Now, when she listens to lectures, the audio in the left earbud occasionally cuts out.

Apple has two truly wireless earbud offerings. The entry-level model isn’t water resistant. The AirPods Pro are water and sweat resistant, meaning they should survive heavy perspiration or a splash, though Apple tells users not to place them “under running water, such as a shower or faucet.”

Jasmine Ali didn’t want that to stop her shower jam sessions. The 23-year-old student at Florida State University has two roommates whom she didn’t want to disturb by using a waterproof Bluetooth speaker.

“I didn’t want to play music loud,” she said. “Plus when I go home, my mom hates when I play music.”

Her solution: Cover her AirPods with a $1 shower cap from Walmart.

On days when she washed her hair, she had to live without listening to Swedish singer Snoh Aalegra or her favorite self-improvement podcasts under the warm water.

After Ms. Ali moved into her own place, she hung up her AirPod shower cap for good. She now uses a Bluetooth speaker or an iPad playing outside the shower.

AirPods in the Shower: Accident or Innovation?

Layla Ally, 22, who recently graduated from Stony Brook University, wasn’t keen on using a speaker, either. When she showers at the end of the day to unwind, she said, “It’s nicer to hear my music in my ear.” So she uses a green shower cap to keep her AirPods dry.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on using shower caps to waterproof AirPods.

Water and electricity, of course, can be a dangerous combination. Likely not, though, in the case of AirPods.

“There’s low to no risk of electrical shock,” said Karen Reddington, principal engineer at UL, part of research company Underwriters Laboratories.

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If an electrical shock were to occur, she said, it would be less powerful than the kind of static shock one can get from walking on a carpeted floor. More likely to be damaged, she said, are the earbuds themselves.

Fully waterproof wireless earbuds do exist for those willing to adventure beyond the Apple Store.

Nathan Miner, 42, uses Jabra 75t earbuds to get good sound in the shower while indulging his love for ‘90s and early 2000s music.

“I would knock out a podcast or listen to 15 to 20 minutes of music” in the shower, said the senior sales manager from The Woodlands, Texas. “The sound quality was amazing.” He never had any water-related complaints, even after immersing the earbuds in soap and shampoo.

The company says the earbuds can be used in freshwater no deeper than 1 meter, or around 3 feet, for up to 30 minutes.

“We have not tested against the various shampoo brands on the market,” a spokesman said. If the soap is rinsed off fairly quickly, he said, damage could be limited.

Bo Nam, 38, a co-founder of a sports data analytics company in San Francisco, showers twice a day with his water-resistant AirPods Pro while mostly listening to broadcast news on YouTube TV.

“I guess this is a little embarrassing, but I’ll prop up my phone, so I can kind of still see it from the shower,” he said.

He tries not to let water blast directly onto his earbuds.

“I actually have dropped one on the ground in the shower a few times,” he said. “They still work just fine.”

Corrections & AmplificationsApple is projected to sell 100 million pairs of AirPods in 2021. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that projection was for 2020. (Corrected on Dec. 9)