I wasn’t actually planning on finding out, to be honest with you. Or maybe my subconscious was, because I rather unexpectedly found out what can happen when you accidentally leave a set of Apple’s pricey AirPods Pro in your washing machine.
AirPods vs Washing Machine
I’m an idiot.
Ask around, and you’ll find more than a few folks willing to go on record to say that, some of whom are even friends of mine.
In this case I’m a very specific idiot.
Recently I was hanging out some washing on the line, when I grabbed one of my favourite – and rather faded – red hoodies.
There was a lump in the pocket, which I initially figured might have been a stray balled up sock, or possibly if I was unlucky, a tissue that I’d forgotten about, now fused into fraying lump.
It turned out I was even less lucky than that, because what emerged from the pocket was my pair of AirPods Pro headphones that I’d left in my pocket, and as a result, my laundry basket. Consequently, my AirPods Pro had taken an unscheduled trip through my washing machine. Not that there’s such a thing as a scheduled trip for AirPods through a washing machine, but you know what I mean.
Mindful that my next door neighbour’s six year old was out playing in their garden, I left my most powerful expletives unsaid until I got back inside, at which point I did rather let rip at my own stupidity.
Being the kind of idiot that I am, I also took to the Internet to try to drum up some sympathy:
Things you don’t want to find in a jacket pocket you’ve just put through the wash: these. Now to find out if the Pro bit of AirPods Pro stands for “professionally sealed against water and detergent”. pic.twitter.com/ElnpkqeCl5
— Alex Kidman (@alexkidman) September 17, 2020
The Internet, being the classically kind and empathetic gathering of fine individuals that it is, did not disappoint:
Alex listening to his Airpods while doing handy work. pic.twitter.com/9Uh2Kg27An
— …SINCE SPACIES (@sincespacies) September 18, 2020
Well, at least they got my hairstyle right. What was particularly galling here is that I have form in putting things through my washing machine through carelessness, having accidentally washed my own wallet a few years back. At least there, I got to write about how awesome Australian banknotes are. Still, on the scale of stupidity, it’s way worse than, say, taking your Nintendo Switch into the bath with you. Because, again, I am an idiot.
Having gotten the swearing out of my system, I then cautiously approached my AirPods Pro and flicked the case open.
To my great surprise, the light on the front of the case actually came on. The AirPods Pro use silicon tips on each true wireless bud, and they were slightly damp, but that was an easy enough matter to dry off with a tissue.
I tentatively put them into my ears, lined up a little Prince – it’s best to test any headphones with music you’re very familiar with, because you’ll spot any issues – and prepared to hear what Purple Rain might sound like underwater.
Again, I was surprised, because there wasn’t any distortion that I could pick. At my age my own audio frequency response is going to be a little dulled for sure, but I’ve listened to that track a lot, so I’m very used to it.
Had I dodged an extremely expensive and moistened bullet?
There were still some challenges to overcome, not the least of which was the fact that one AirPod Pro was reporting about 40% battery, and the other had only 5%. That’s weird, because I almost never use them as solo earpieces. To make matters worse, while the light had come on to indicate pairing readiness, reading the battery widget on iOS 14 suggested that the AirPods Pro Battery case had a battery rating of… 0%.
Based on what the Internet was telling me, this wasn’t a good sign:
They still worked, however the charging unit was cooked and hardly charged them
— The Wear A Mask Chocobo (@noreasonspec) September 17, 2020
Wet Wet Wet
The charging case also felt heavier than I’d expect, which suggested to me that it was most likely waterlogged. Not exactly a shock there, what with the whole journey through my washing machine aspect. I was at least thankful that I tend to do cold washes, because I can totally imagine that a hot wash would be even worse for them.
However, I also couldn’t remember the last time I’d fully charged the case, so there was always the possibility that they’d simply run flat keeping the buds charged, rather than now being a sodden and fused mess of plastic, silicon and lithium ion. At least, that’s what I was pinning my hopes on.
What I needed to do was determine whether the case could be charged, hold a charge and safely transfer that charge to either one or preferably both of my AirPods Pro buds.
However, while I’m not a qualified electrician, I do recall that whole business of water and electricity being rather too friendly at a safety level than I’d like, so I set out the case and buds on my kitchen window sill to soak up some sunlight and hopefully dry out a touch.
Rice Rice Baby
If you’re wondering why they weren’t resting in a bag of rice as common internet wisdom would tell you is the solution every time any tech gets wet, well, the internet is most likely wrong in this respect.
Displacement of the water if you can do it is ideal (just ask iFixit), but the last thing I wanted were tiny particles of rice ending up inside my case, my headphones or eventually my ears.
Once the sun had set, I experimentally picked up the case and noticed that it felt lighter. Had I not been so cranky I might have done some before and after weight comparisons, but you’ll have to go with my gut feel on that one. Feeling a little bold, I hooked up a surge protected power board connected to a separate board, charger and cable and plugged the case in.
Except that this didn’t happen. The AirPods case lit up briefly to indicate it was taking a charge, and I watched it like a hawk for around 30 minutes for any signs of sparking, swelling or similar.
So far, so good; the case was maybe a little warm, but then I can’t say that I’d ever paid too much attention to its relative temperature beforehand. I opened them up, and the case reported around a 20% charge, with the buds – which had gone flat entirely, having been sat outside the case all day – were at 50%.
Astonishingly, they were still working OK. Feeling a little bolder, I fully charged both case and buds and used them over the weekend to see whether they’d hold a charge.
Again, so far… so good. It’s a tiny bit of anecdotal testing and it’s entirely possible that I have lessened the overall battery life of this particular pair of AirPods Pro, however. Time will tell.
TLDR version: Airpods Pro aren’t the kind of pods you should put in your washing machine, but if you’re lucky you might come through the journey unscathed.
Would Apple cover this kind of thing under warranty?
In a word, no.
In two words, HELL NO.
This is totally self-inflicted, and while Apple does sell gadgets with IP-rated water resistance, the AirPods Pro are only IPX4 rated, meaning you can sweat clean lab water into them and not much more. If you do sweat clean lab water, please get in touch, because you’re a true and glorious freak of nature.
That aside, even for those products where Apple includes heftier water resistance, like the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, its warranty specifically excludes damage due to water ingress, typically indicated by a water sensor within most of its devices. Putting AirPods through a washing machine is most definitely not a warrantable situation.
In my case, I’d admitted to it on social media, which would be all Apple would need to knock back any warranty claim.
I guess technically you could try to claim this kind of damage under your household goods insurance, but you’d want a zero-excess policy in play for it to be really worthwhile.
What if you weren’t so annoyingly lucky and your AirPods were dead?
I did ponder this, and while my own situation is a tad unusual, because part of what I do is review headphones so I do have a few spares, the hard truth for most folks is that you’d need to look into a replacement pair if they sent their AirPods through the washing machine.
Apple naturally will sell you a set of AirPods Pro for $399 outright if you want to go down that route, and I did have a few helpful folks online suggest other places I might score them for less, including one online retailer I choose not to use at all.
For what it’s worth, at the time of writing you could score a pair on Amazon for around $340.
The issue with discount AirPods is that they’re almost always sourced from overseas where they’re sold a touch cheaper than they are here. That’s the margin the direct importers rely on, but in 2020 the complicating factor there is that while you might save a few bucks, the shipping times could be incredibly lengthy.
So I pondered this; if I had to buy a cheaper replacement set of AirPods Pro from a direct importer, how cheap could I go on a set of basic true wireless buds to tide me over if I had to?
There’s no way on earth they’re going to sound anywhere near as good, but as a stopgap measure, how low-cost could I go? Yes, I wonder strange things from time to time, but I did most of my thinking while I was waiting to see if my AirPods Pro were in fact heading rapidly to e-waste recycling anyway.
The answer to how cheap you can go surprised me. The cheapest pair I could find through Amazon costs just $4.32 plus shipping.
That’s literally a pair of true wireless buds for less than the cost of a Big Mac.
Although, to keep that comparison going, I suspect Purple Rain might sound like it’s been played through a Big Mac when listening to them.
There’s a lot of cheap sets to be had if you weren’t at all fussy about audio quality; here’s a set that looks like it was designed by GlaDOS for just $5.69 plus delivery and here’s a $9.99 pair for exercise use.
Great audio headsets? That’s pretty unlikely to put it mildly, but if you wanted something to keep you going while you waited for a quality replacement, they might just do the trick.
Editor’s note: Descriptions and features are as taken from manufacturer/seller claims and user reviews on Amazon.