3 Reasons To Stop Cleaning Your Ears With A Cotton Swab + Ways To Clean Them Safely

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3 Reasons To Stop Cleaning Your Ears With A Cotton Swab + Ways To Clean Them Safely

Have you ever noticed that on the back of any package of cotton swabs like Q-Tips there is a written statement that warns something like this: “Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. Penetrating the ear canal could lead to injury.”

If you don’t believe it, check out the cotton swabs you have at home right now, or take a look the next time you’re at the drugstore. It may seem pretty crazy, but it’s not only hearing professionals, audiologists, and doctors who warn against using them to clean the ears, but even the makers of the product think it’s a bad idea.

Certainly baffling, but there are reasons even beyond that proving you should never clean your ears with cotton swabs again.

1. Earwax Is Important

Your ears need earwax – it isn’t actually “wax,” but a mixture of water-soluble secretions, mostly made up of dead skin cells and other substances like fatty acids, cholesterol, alcohols, squalene and lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme. While you probably haven’t given it much thought, it’s one of the body’s most ingenious protective mechanisms and is far from being a hygienic nuisance.

The ears are constantly producing earwax so to ensure that you’ll maintain the right amount in your ear canals, so unless there is a blockage, it’s best to leave it alone. If you don’t have enough in your ear canal, your ears may start to itch and feel dry, as that earwax provides lubrication and protects your ears as well through a number of processes. It prevents dust, bacteria and other germs from entering and damaging your ears, as well as helping to trap dirt and slow the growth of bacteria. It also protects the skin of the ear canal from becoming irritated by water. It evens serves as an insect repellant to keep bugs out – after all, who wants insects crawling into their ears?

2. Removing It With Cotton Swabs Can Cause Serious Damage

Many people are mistakenly under the impression that ear wax should be removed for personal hygiene, but using those swabs, as well as any type of probing device like a bobby pin, can result in serious damage to your ear. That includes trauma, impaction of earwax or even temporary deafness. These objects only serve to push the wax in deeper and could block your ear canal entirely.

When you force any foreign object into your ear canal,  what you’re actually doing is pushing much of that earwax up against your eardrum which can rupture it, or lead to an impaction that will result in hearing loss.

If you’re thinking, “Well, I’ve been using cotton swabs all these years and have had no problems up until now, so how bad can it really be?”

Lots of people still refuse to give up the cotton swab habit, even after becoming aware of the risks. They may enjoy the feeling of using them to clean out the earwax, even though it’s totally unnecessary and they know that. If you’re one of them and keep using them, damage may not be guaranteed, but there is really no way to know whether or not your particular ears will be damaged – and why take the risk?

Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Steven D. Rauch explains, “Lots of people stick Q-tips in their ears. Some of them do harm by doing that. They either push the wax down deep where it can’t clean itself out and they have to get professional care, or they traumatize the canal so that it bleeds or hurts, or they make little scratches and bacteria get in and cause infection.”

3. Earwax Removes Itself Anyway

As mentioned, as part of the body’s normal processes, earwax removes itself – it was designed that way. In fact, the simple normal motions of the jaw, like eating, yawning and talking, all help to move the earwax to the external ear. All you really need to do is some normal cleaning of the external ear with a washcloth. So why would you take the risk if removing it could cause harm?

Signs That You Do Need To Remove Earwax:

When earwax does get it impacted, it can cause a number of problems, resulting in the need to remove it. Accumulated earwax can cause the ear canal to become blocked, leading to a number of symptoms. If you experience these signs, that may be a clue it needs to be removed.

  • Partial hearing loss, which can get worse over time
  • An earache
  • The sensation of fullness in the ear
  • Ringing noises in the ear/tinnitus
  • Itching
  • Odor
  • Discharge

Ear candling: One of the worst ways to remove ear wax…

While you may have heard or wondered about something called ear candling, this method is not recommended as it can be dangerous. It involves placing a hollow cone-shaped device or “candle,” which is generally made of cotton or linen that’s been soaked in wax or paraffin, into the ear canal and then lighting it on fire. Doesn’t sound like such a good idea, right? Well, surprisingly, many people do it.

The person who undergoes the procedure lies on their side, and a collection device such as a paper plate is placed above the ear. The candle is inserted through a hole in the plate into the ear canal. The candle is then lit on fire and trimmed as it burns down. Once the candle has burned down, it’s removed from the ear and a cotton swab is used to clean any visible wax, while oil is sometimes applied as a final touch. It’s said to be effective as the wax moves down the candle and into the ear, and then out again. During the process, proponents say a vacuum is created to pull the wax and other debris out of the ear and into the hollow candle. But a basic scientific evaluation that was published in the journal Laryngoscope, which measured the amount of vacuum force created by ear candles when placed in a simulated human ear canal, found that despite numerous trials, this presumed phenomena simply did not occur at any point during the trials.

Dr. Beck, audiologist, and Editor-In-Chief of www.healthyhearing.com and www.audiologyonline.com stated, “The claimed benefits of ear candling are based on dangerous, illogical and incorrect assumptions. Ear candling is, in fact, a dangerous, ill-conceived and potentially disfiguring protocol, with no foundation in science.” He further added “Candling demonstrates ignorance regarding the basic laws of physics and blatant disregard for anatomy and physiology.

There have been numerous injury reports as well, including cases of ear canal blockage from candle wax, eardrum perforation, and external ear burns.

How To Remove Earwax Buildup Naturally & Safely:

Earwax blockages can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Using cotton swabs or other items to clean out your ears
  • Pushing something into your ears that pushes the ear wax inside of the ear canal, like cotton swabs, as well as things like ear plugs
  • Frequently using headsets, such as when listening to music for long periods of time – this can prevent the ear wax from naturally coming out of the ear as the headset blocks it

If you are experiencing a severe buildup or blockage, there are a number of ways you can safely remove it.  But remember, if you still have symptoms after trying them, or your symptoms are especially severe, be sure to visit your healthcare provider.

A saline solution

A saline solution, AKA salt water, can be very effective for getting rid of that ear wax as it helps to soften it so that it will be easier to remove from your ear.

To use this method, mix a teaspoon of salt (Himalayan salt is best) into a cup of warm water, ensuring that it’s completely dissolved before use. When there are no visible chunks of salt, use a dropper to suck up the solution, and then tilt your ear to one side so that you put it into your ear. Add five drops to the problem ear and then hold that position for several minutes to be sure that it gets into the ear canal. Now, tilt your head to the opposite direction to allow the salt water solution to naturally drain, along with the ear wax. Use a towel placed under your ear to avoid a mess. You may need to repeat this process several times to ensure the blockage is removed.

Olive oil

Olive oil is famous for its healthy fats that can help improve cholesterol levels, and it can also be used to eliminate ear wax as its oily/fatty consistency helps to soften the earwax so that it can more easily be removed from the ear.

You’ll need about a teaspoon and a half of extra-virgin olive oil and a dropper. Squeeze up the olive oil into your dropper and then tilt your head to one side and add a few drops of the oil into your affected ear. Afterward, hold your head in that position to ensure the oil soaks in for at least a few minutes. Then, turn your head the other way to allow the olive oil to drain. With this method, be sure that your head is on some type of cloth or paper towel to avoid staining fabric. As before, it’s best to repeat this a few times to allow all of the excess ear wax to be eliminated.

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide has been considered an effective ingredient in earwax removal solutions for many years. That’s because hydrogen peroxide helps the wax bubble up and results in the wax becoming softer. It can also help break down any particles that may be stuck.

To use this technique, you’ll need about two teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide, a teaspoon of warm water and a dropper. Mix the water and hydrogen peroxide together and use the dropper to place the solution into your problem ear. Tilt your head sideways to ensure that the solution is able to reach the ear wax and/or other particles that need to be broken down. After a few minutes, tilt your head the other way and allow the liquid to drain out. Repeat this process a few times to ensure the blockage is eradicated.

Vinegar and Rubbing Alcohol

Wilmington, North Carolina pediatrician Dr. David Hill told the U.K.’s MailOnline that the most effective natural remedy for getting rid of ear wax is to flush the ear with a mixture of vinegar and rubbing alcohol. The solution will help dissolve the ear wax, while the rubbing alcohol helps to dry any liquid that may be left on the ears. Additionally, the vinegar contains compounds that help to get rid of the bacteria which may be contributing to an ear wax blockage.

Hill recommends shaking up a mixture of one part white vinegar to one part rubbing alcohol, though he also cautions not to flush the fluid forcefully into the ear canal as some people have holes in their ear drums. Hill explained that if there is a hole in the ear drum and infected fluid is introduced into the middle ear, it can cause a “really serious infection.”  

For this method, mix up one part vinegar and one part rubbing alcohol into a lidded container so that it can be shaken. Make sure you’re using equal parts of each and shake the container well. Now, use a cotton ball and soak it in the solution, or use a dropper to pull up the solution. With either, you’ll need to squeeze several drops of the mixture into your ear, after tilting your head to one side as the previous methods have instructed. After a few minutes, tilt your head to the other side in order to allow the solution to drain out with the ear wax. You can use a cotton swab to remove any ear wax that may be on your outer ear.

About the Author

Susan is a Certified Health Coach, Master Gardener, and sustainability expert who has authored over twenty top-selling books on healthy living, clean eating, gardening, and natural wellness. She has taught thousands of people how to shop, cook, eat and live well.

Her personal commitment to wellness combined with a thorough knowledge of using food as medicine has fueled the sale of over 100,000 copies of her recipe and wellness books. As a sustainability expert, she has also written thousands of articles and books on homesteading, growing organic food and how to use herbs and essential oils for health.

Her passion for helping people doesn’t stop with sharing information, Susan is active in her community where she speaks often about health and wellness and has a thriving personal health coaching business where she is committed to providing the tools that people need to live a full and pain-free life.

When she is not helping others, Susan enjoys hiking, biking, kayaking, gardening, and photography.