How to Clean Your Ears Properly

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

You may have good intentions when cleaning your ears, but did you know that most people do it completely wrong? Many do-it-yourself ear-cleaning methods do more harm than good. Plus, although ear wax may make you feel dirty or unkempt, it actually has nothing to do with personal hygiene.

Ear wax is important to the health of the outer ear canal. It provides:

  • Protection
  • Lubrication
  • Antibacterial properties

If we clean our ears too often, the absence of ear wax actually may result in dry and itchy ears. The ways that many of us have been conditioned to keep our ears “clean,” may actually do more harm than good.

Here are a few helpful tips to properly clean your ears without damaging this delicate sense organ.

How to Safely Clean Your Ears

Normally, ear canals are self-cleaning and should not need to be cleared with any foreign devices. Trying to clean the ear with cotton swabs or other objects can actually cause problems by pushing the ear wax deeper into the ear canal. However, sometimes wax can accumulate excessively, resulting in a blocked ear canal. In that case, clean your outer ear with a cloth and try one of the following to remove the blockage:

  • Place a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, water, or commercial ear drops into the inner ear to soften the wax, which will allow it to come out more easily.
  • A stream of water or saline (salt water) can be used to rinse the ear. Use a syringe from the drug store to get the solution into the ear canal, but do not insert it too far. These solutions should be warmed to body temperature to prevent dizziness.
  • You don’t have to do it yourself: Doctors specializing in ear, nose, and throat care have special, safe instruments to vacuum ear wax or otherwise remove it.

Also, it is important to remember that not only is the ear self-cleaning, but it also clears itself due to the body’s normal movements. Old ear wax is constantly being transported from the inner ear canal to the ear opening by chewing, talking, or simply moving the jaw.

How Not to Clean Your Ears

Ear wax is not formed in the deep part of the ear canal. Therefore, when a doctor sees someone with a build-up of wax against the eardrum, it is often because the person used foreign objects to try to clean out the inner ear. This wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. To avoid this problem, refrain from the following:

  • Do not clean your ears with bobby pins, twisted napkin corners, or other long pointed objects.
  • Do not use cotton swabs. They will merely push the wax deeper into the ear canal, causing a blockage.
  • Do not use ear candles. The FDA issued a public warning in 2010 that the use of ear candles can lead to serious injuries.

If you are constantly experiencing excessive amounts of ear wax or a stuffy feeling in your ears, please consult your doctor.

Visit the UPMC Ear, Nose and Throat website to learn more or call 412-647-2100 to schedule an appointment.

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  • p.manojkumar

    hello everyone yesterday i went to swimming thats why in my ear water is there yesterday on words i tried to remove but the water is not coming and i am facing problem my ear is not working i mean i can’t listen properly please give me any suggestion to get relief from pain

    • upmchealthbeat

      Hi P, thanks for your comment. You may just have water stuck in your ear. It’s a common ailment and is often easily resolved. Try this method:

      • Tilt your head sideways and hold the affected ear parallel to the ground
      • Place the palm of your hand flat against your ear and press hard for a few seconds. Quickly remove your hand. A temporary vacuum will form that will help dislodge the fluid
      • Use a cotton ear bud to carefully remove the fluid draining from the ear

      If that method doesn’t work, you may be suffering from swimmer’s ear. You can read about treatment options here: http://share.upmc.com/2014/07/dont-let-swimmers-ear-ruin-summer/

      If you’re still having complications, please consult your primary care doctor. He or she will be able to provide the appropriate treatment.

  • marlee

    Can removing excessive wax from my ear gain my hearing back? Lost hearing just sudden PA said looks like I have a build of of earwax but never tried to suggest how to remove it

    • upmchealthbeat

      Hi Marlee,

      If you have no other hearing conditions other than excessive ear wax, you’re hearing may improve after removing it. You can try an over the counter ear wax removal kit, which most often contains an ear wax softening medication and an irrigation syringe. Follow the instructions carefully and you can most likely remove the wax yourself. If you still have problems with your hearing afterwards, contact your primary care physician.

  • Kilo

    just to let you know if you have recently had a perforated ear drum you wont be able to get it syringed. They almost refused to do mine yesterday because I burst my ear drum like 8-10 years ago

    • upmchealthbeat

      Thanks Kilo,

      You are correct. Because it takes a perforated ear drum a few months to heal, it’s not recommended to have your ears flushed during that time. However, after the ear drum had fully healed, there is no harm in flushing your ears with a syringe.