Ear wax is a problem everyone has to deal with. The human body produces ear wax as a protective measure(keeping out bacteria, bugs, and dirt), but sometimes TOO MUCH ear wax is produced. When that happens, you have two choices:
- Suffer from deafness (yes, the ear wax can clog your ears and reduce hearing)
- Clean your ears
Given the options, it seems a pretty simple choice right?
Read on to find out how to properly clean your ears! We’ve got advice on the proper way to clean your ears (Should you use hydrogen peroxide? Candling? Cotton swabs? The tip of your car keys?), the various tools you can use to get rid of excess ear wax, and more.
By the time you reach the end of the page, you’ll be an expert on ear cleaning!
Should You Clean Your Ears?
Before we can answer the question of how to clean your ears, you need to know if it’s even wise TO clean your ears…
First, you need to remember why your body produces ear wax in the first place:
- To prevent dust, germs, and bacteria from entering your inner ears
- To reduce the risk of irritation, infection, or damage to the sensitive skin of your inner ear
- To slow the growth and spread of bacteria (which lives in your ear canal)
- To protect your ear from being irritated by exposure to water (such as when you go swimming)
So, ear wax is actually a GOOD thing! It’s there to protect your inner ears, so why would you get rid of it?
Well, you only get rid of it if there is too much ear wax. An excess of ear wax can increase the presence of bacteria in your ears, making it more likely that you will suffer ear infections. It can also affect your hearing negatively. If there is too much ear wax, you SHOULD clean your ears!
Of course, this leads to a whole new question: What’s the best way to clean your ears? How can you do it safely so that you don’t damage your inner ear? This is a much harder question to answer…
Should You Clean Your Ears With Cotton Swabs?
Cotton swabs are one of the most popular ear cleaning options. They’re incredibly cheap, available in literally every supermarket, pharmacy, and convenience store, and are fairly easy to use. Insert in the ear, scrape at the ear wax, and discard. Quick and easy, right?
Did you know using cotton swabs is actually BAD for your ears? It’s all about the way your ears are designed to be self-cleaning…
Ear wax is produced in the outer third of your ear canal, and it’s the ear’s self-cleaning mechanism. The fine hairs in your ear canal move the wax outward, pushing the wax and dead skin cells OUT of your ear. Healthy ear canals will be able to clean themselves.
If you want to know how to safely remove ear wax, you need to understand how cotton swabs really work:
- Insert the cotton swab into your ear
- Scrape around for the ear wax
- Hope it adheres to the cotton swab
- Remove and discard
On the surface, this seems like a simple and effective cleaning method, but if you were to look inside your ear with a magnifying glass, you’d see that you’re not really removing the ear wax – you’re pushing it deeper inside.
In the beginning, it is just a small quantity of earwax around the ear canal. But the more you push the ear wax deeper into your ear, the more wax builds up. Eventually, you’ve pushed so much wax into your ear that you have a big glob deep in the ear canal, and you can block the canal completely – leading to reduced hearing.
Every time you push the wax deeper, you risk damaging your external ear canal. There is also a chance (albeit a small one) that you will rupture your eardrum, a VERY fragile membrane. If you’re using cotton swabs, ONLY clean the outer third of your ear (where the ear wax is produced)
Of course, it should go without saying that you should avoid anything similar, including:
- The tip of a pen
- The head of bobby pins
- Car keys
These things will introduce dirt and grime into your ear, increasing the risk of infection. They’ll also push the ear wax deeper into your ear!
Recommended Ear Cleaning Methods
So, what is the RIGHT way to clean your ears? Short of going to the doctor for a proper ear cleaning, how can you get rid of the wax in your ears?
Here are a few of the best methods for cleaning out your ears:
Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most common methods for cleaning out your ears. It helps to soften and loosen the ear wax, making it easier for you to remove (with a cotton ball) or allowing the soft, now-liquid wax to simply drain out of your ear.
Using hydrogen peroxide can make it easier for your ear to clean itself (something that naturally happens with the movements of your jaw), so it may be worth using. Mixing it with warm mineral oil can do the trick nicely!
Note: However, one thing you need to remember about hydrogen peroxide is that it can irritate your ear. If you use it more than once every day or two, the strong solution can cause itchy, red skin, which is prone to a greater build-up of wax (which is made to protect your skin from just such a problem).
If you’re going to use hydrogen peroxide, make sure to use it no more than once a day, and only for two or three days at a time. Any more, and you could cause irritation, dryness, and an increased risk of infection.
At-Home Ear Irrigation
Remember that your ear is designed to be self-cleaning, meaning the shape and structure of your ear helps to drain away the wax. You can speed the cleaning process up by using a simple at-home ear flush.
Here is a simple at-home ear irrigation to try:
- Mix up a solution of equal parts white vinegar, warm tap water, and rubbing alcohol.
- Pour a few drops (drops, mind you, no more than that!) into each ear.
- Let the mixture sit in your ears for a few minutes to soften and loosen the wax.
- Turn your head to allow the liquid to drain away, with a cotton ball to absorb the mess.
It’s quick and easy, but it gets the job done.
Again, keep in mind that the vinegar and rubbing alcohol could irritate your ear, making the problem far worse. This is another solution to try infrequently, and only when your ears need serious cleaning.
Professional Ear Syringing
For those who want an “old school” solution, ear syringing is an effective option to consider.
Note: DO NOT try this at home! Visit your local primary care physician, nurse, or otolaryngologist for this treatment.
Simply put, the treatment involves water being squirted from a syringe into your ear. The person applying the treatment will point the tip of the syringe at the edges of the ear wax, with the goal of loosening up large chunks or globs of wax.
Once the wax is loosened, it can be removed with medical tweezers. It is a highly efficient ear-cleaning method, and it can get rid of earwax blockages.
However, there are risks with this ear cleaning method. In a very few cases (roughly 1 in every 1,000), there is minor damage to the ear canal or eardrum. The sudden pressure of water and its temperature can affect your inner ear, leading to dizziness and nausea.
The wax in your ear contains a lot of oil, so using mineral oil to clean out your ears will help to get rid of wax without affecting your ears negatively.
The way it works is that you use warm oil – usually room temperature works best. The heat and warmth of the oil will soften and loosen the ear wax, making it easier for your ear to drain itself.
Note: However, the fact that you’re using oil means that you won’t need to worry about dryness or irritation, as the oil will coat the sensitive skin of your ear and protect it.
Pour a few drops of mineral oil (not baby oil, as it usually contains irritating perfumes or scents) into your ear, and cover it with a cotton ball. Lay on your side, with your covered ear facing up. This allows the oil to soften up the wax. When you turn over to treat the other ear, the softened wax will drain from your ear.
You only need to lie on your side for 10 to 20 minutes, and doing this once a week will be enough to clean your ears. (It won’t work for stubborn blocks, but it’s great for regular cleanings.)
Do Ear Candles Work?
Ear candling is a method of ear cleaning that many people interested in alternative medicine and therapy will often consider.
Simply put, it involves inserting one end of a hollow candle into the ear canal and lighting the other end. The heat travels down the candle, softening the ear wax.
However, the U.S. FDA has officially stated that ear candles are
“dangerous to health when used in the dosage or manner, or with the frequency or duration, prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the labeling thereof”.
Some people have even caught their hair on fire!
DEFINITELY not an ear cleaning method to consider!
How Often Should You Clean Your Ears?
This is a tough question to answer! Remember that everyone’s body produces ear wax at a different rate, so it’s impossible for doctors to give a definitive answer.
If you produce a lot of ear wax (a common problem, one that is often genetic), consider cleaning your ears once a month, using hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, or ear irrigation to get rid of excessive ear wax.
If you produce normal amounts of ear wax, or if you produce less ear wax than normal, you don’t need to clean your ears. Your ears will clean themselves.
How can you know which category you fall in? Most people with excessive ear wax will know it, as will those who produce insufficient wax. If you don’t produce too much or too little, you fall squarely in the “normal” category!
How to Clean Your Ears at Home
If you want to clean your ears at home, the safest methods for you are:
- Ear irrigation – Use the mixture of vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and warm water mentioned above.
- Mineral oil – Warm mineral oil will do the trick safely!
For those who have a normal lot of ear wax and have been cleaning their ears daily or haven’t gotten in the habit of waiting for the wax to come out on its own, we know it’s hard to quit cleaning your ears cold turkey. To start getting into this habit, it may be a good idea to consider the Oto-Tip as an at-home cleaning method of choice.
This automated spinning swab will safely and easily remove the wax from your ear while keeping you cleaning only in the outer part of the ear canal.
Note: The safety cap will prevent you from pushing the tip too far into your ear, and you’ll get into the habit of an easier, safer clean. It empowers you to leave the wax beyond the outer part of your ear canal alone until it’s time for it to come out naturally on its own.
Now that you know the truth about cleaning your ears, it’s vital that you take precautions to do so wisely and safely. Use the right at-home cleaning methods, or visit your doctor for a professional ear wash!