AirPods Dying? It May be the Charging Case

I snagged a pair of Apple’s $159 AirPods when they first went on sale back in December 2016, and from that day on I wore them for every audio activity: listening to podcasts while commuting, talking on the phone with my mom and while working out. When they kicked the bucket after almost two years, I thought I knew the culprit.

I wore my AirPods to run outdoors 4-5 days a week. On two occasions, I was caught in torrential downpours with nowhere to take cover. It was risky — Apple doesn’t claim that AirPods can withstand exposure to water or sweat. But my earbuds kept on truckin’. (One of my colleagues even forgot his in a snowbank overnight, with no ill effect).

Then about a year in, the Bluetooth connection started to get a little wonky. The left earbud would occasionally drop out. But disconnecting the pods from my phone and then pairing them again was a quick and easy fix, and it didn’t happen often enough to send me scurrying to the Genius Bar.

One day, the left bud stopped working altogether. In fact, it wasn’t even charging in the AirPods case. When I put both buds on my ear, only the battery status of the right pod showed up in my iPhone’s Today screen.

I took a closer look at each pod and the case and realized that traces of blue-green gunk, the tell-tale sign of battery corrosion, were on both stems near the stainless steel ring around the bottom, and also inside the case itself. My sweat had finally killed my AirPods. Or so I thought.

Diagnosis: Unexpected

Though I was pretty sure my AirPods were toast, I took them to a nearby Apple Store to hear it from a professional.

“My left AirPod just stopped working,” I told the technician. I didn’t mention the sweat or water exposure, anticipating a lecture on protecting AirPods from the elements.

He puzzled over each pod and the case for a minute, confirming that the left earbud was dead. But then he popped my pods into a different charging case and paired the new case to my iPhone. The left AirPod came back to life, quickly charging up to 50 percent in five minutes.

MORE: Best Headphones and Earbuds for Enjoying Music

I was stunned. What did this mean?

“You need a new case,” the tech told me.

“So...the AirPods are perfectly fine? It’s just the case?” I asked.

“It’s a first-gen product,” he replied. “Sometimes this happens.”

My AirPods case, which had never encountered water or sweat, was the culprit. The tech couldn’t explain how it had happened, though perhaps I fried it by putting a damp pod in the case. I can’t prove it, but I’m still convinced it’s my fault.

The Options: Replace or Wait

Apple covers AirPods with a one-year warranty, which includes battery issues, but not water damage or normal wear-and-tear. If a Genius Bar technician assesses your AirPods and determines that water (including rain or sweat) was the cause of the battery corrosion, it’ll cost you $69 per pod to replace. The case also costs $69 to replace.

Since I was outside of the warranty period — well outside — I was going to have to pay up.

I decided against buying a new case, because I was pretty sure the corrosion marks I saw on the pods would lead to some sort of disaster down the line. But I didn’t want to buy a new pair, either, because the AirPods 2 is rumored to be coming soon with more fitness-focused features, including sweat resistance and a heart rate sensor. And despite the fact that AirPods are now two years old, Apple has never lowered the price. So I turned to the Lightning earpods that came with my iPhone for my commute.

MORE: Best True Wireless Earbuds: AirPods vs. AirPods Alternatives

But then my husband took pity on me and gifted me a new pair of AirPods. I have pledged to treat them more delicately — or at least to protect them from the elements, including storms and my sweaty ears, and keep them sparkling clean. I’m crossing my fingers that the charging case doesn’t die two years in. (Maybe the replacement fee will be lower by then.)

I’m relieved that I didn’t short out my AirPods by exercising with them, but I’m not taking any chances. Now when I run, I turn to my favorite fitness earbuds: Jaybird’s Tarah Pro for a corded Bluetooth option and Jabra’s Elite Active 65t for a completely wireless one. When I take the train or need to make a phone call, I pop my new AirPods in. As soon as Apple releases a fitness-focused (and sweat-resistant) AirPods 2, I’ll be first in line. For commutes and phone calls, I rely on my trusty new AirPods.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.