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How to Clean Your Ears (Safely)

The first thing to know about how to how to clean your ears is what not to do: please don’t stick a Q-Tip back there. Take it from someone who punctured an eardrum chasing down errant wax: Don’t do it. Cotton swabs need to stay out of your ear canal no matter how tempting it can be to shove inside. Unless you want to wear earplugs while you shower for the next 6 months, only to battle infection, tinnitus, and leakage while it heals… do not do it.

The second thing to know is that, for most people, the ear is entirely self-sufficient if left alone. Artificial cleaning methods like swabs, irrigators and “ear candling” (look it up, it’s super weird) only push earwax further into the canal, potentially blocking it and hindering your hearing. So if you’d just let things be, that’d really be best.

But there are safer ways to keep things clean—though a quick visit to an ENT might be necessary for certain kinds of issues.  And, of course, it’s important to regularly wash the outside—and behind—your ears, like you learned when you were 5. 

The Importance of Ear Wax

Like the sebum on your face and the mucus in your throat, ear wax is created by the body to hydrate and nourish the skin. Its stickiness prevents dust and debris from tumbling into your head. It also protects you from bacteria—earwax has antibacterial properties.

And because of that last one, you don’t actually need to clean deep inside the ears for germ mitigation. The wax itself takes care of that. Since ear wax is only formed inside the canal (and not near the drum, in the inner ear), you needn’t shove anything in there to promote better hearing—because nothing would actually be blocking your ear drum itself unless you pushed it there yourself with a Q-tip.

When to Clean Your Ears

If your matter isn’t too concerning—that is, if it’s just that you feel some loose ear wax inside the canal, or your ears feel properly dirty—then you can attempt to carefully clean them. Some people experience more intense buildup than others and may need to do routine cleaning; remember, though, that ear wax isn’t an enemy. So, if you chose to do routine cleanings, make sure to give yourself enough time between those flushing-outs to let some wax build back up. Otherwise, proceed only when you experience har loss or can feel the blockage.

How to Clean Your Ears (Safely and Properly)

However, there’s not much a little face wash over top the ears won’t freshen up instantly, or a little lukewarm water inside the canal as you shower.

At most, in terms of a general cleaning, you can manage this with a face wipe or a gentle wash cloth with hydrogen peroxide, followed by a pat down with warm water. That’s all you need, honestly. And yes, you can use Q-tips to clean the outsides of your ear. That is technically one of their intended uses, but self-control is fickle. Again: Do not stick it inside the canal.

There are a few other methods that can help break up clogged ear wax or even trapped debris if it makes its way in there. But, only proceed with these if it feels like the problem can be remedied easily, near the outer opening of the canal. Anything deep or causing pain/pressure/serious side effects should be tended to by an ENT.

One such solution is a simple mineral water spray, which can loosen and flush out the problem without chemicals.

Similasan sea water ear cleaning solution

The second is a foaming ear-drop remedy (to loosen debris and buildup) with a bulb for flushing water and extracting the perpetrator. Go gentle, folks.

Debrox earwax removal kit

When to Visit the ENT

When it comes to ear cleaning, you should visit the doctor as soon as the problem becomes painful, stifles your hearing, or causes pressure, leakage, ringing, coughing, or odor (or anything else concerning). These specialists can use their tools to see deep inside the canal, target the problem, and clean efficiently and effectively. They can remove excess wax as well as diagnose any bigger problems.


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