How to clean your ears without Q-tips

Many people have used Q-tips to clean their ears at home for as long as they can remember. It’s one of those daily routines many of us do without even thinking about it in the name of cleanliness and self-care. Unfortunately, cleaning your ears with Q-tips isn’t recommended by medical experts and can actually do more harm to your inner ear than you’d imagine, including perforating your eardrum and permanently damaging the lining of your ear.

According to the Mayo Clinic, earwax can actually become stuck and block your eardrums as a result of people cleaning their ears using Q-tips. “This often just pushes wax deeper into the ear, which can cause serious damage to the lining of your ear canal or eardrum.” Luckily, they do offer alternatives for how to clean ears without Q-tips, so you can still feel squeaky clean without the worry of damaging your ears.

man with trouble hearing
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The dirt on wax

It may seem counterproductive to feeling clean, but ear wax is meant to stay in your ears. It can clean, lubricate, and protect the ear because it traps dirt and slows down bacteria growth, which means removing it can actually make your inner ear prone to infection. The lubricant part is important because it can prevent the skin inside your ear from getting too dry, which can cause itching and irritation.

The experts at Harvard Health agree. “The ear is self-cleaning,” they explained. “No routine maintenance is required.” Of course, there are some people who produce more earwax than others, which can cause difficulty with hearing and become annoying enough that they need to either self-clean their ears or seek professional care.

cotton swabs
Photo by Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

Alternatives to Q-tips

If you want to safely clean your ears at home, you’ll first want to soften the earwax. This can be accomplished by using baby oil, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, or mineral oil in the ear canal, according to the Mayo Clinic. You don’t need much — just a few drops — which should be left in your ears for a few hours or overnight. Then, using a syringe, gently squirt water into your ear to dislodge the wax. It may help to turn your head to the side so gravity is on your side when removing the wax with a wet cloth.

There are earwax removal kits online, like this one from Amazon, that can help with this process and allow you a better vantage point when softening and removing the wax.

doctor cleaning man's ear

When to see a professional

There are certain symptoms that you just don’t want to ignore. They may signal that it’s time to see your primary care physician or ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor. Those symptoms include an earache that won’t be away, fullness in the ear, ringing in the ear, loss of hearing, dizziness, or balance impairment.

Professionals have safe and effective ways to remove earwax in their office without any risk of damaging your inner ear. According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor can “remove excess wax using a small, curved instrument called a curet or by using suction while inspecting the ear.” They can also perform ear irrigation.

Your ears aren’t anything to mess around with. Sure, earwax can feel annoying. However, your ears are self-cleaning and should only be cleaned using a method recommended by medical experts. It’s not worth the risk of damaging your inner ear, and Q-tips, by their shape, can do just that.

Some people naturally produce more earwax and regularly visit their doctor to have it removed. It may feel easier or less of a hassle to try and take care of the earwax on your own, but like with other medical procedures, this one is best left to the experts. Your doctor will be able to get more of the wax out, which can lessen the time between visits and leave you feeling clean and clear for much longer periods of time. This is your hearing we’re talking about — it is not something to mess with. Save the Q-tips for doing your makeup or art projects instead!

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