How to clean your ears

Follow our expert advice to keep your ears healthy and avoid damaging them with unsafe cleaning practices.

Before you start

Don’t use Q-tips, cotton buds, or cotton swabs

Putting anything in your ear canal can push wax and other debris inwards. This can prevent sound from reaching your eardrum effectively. Wax is produced in the outer ear canal and naturally works its way outwards. But if you push it further in, it goes in deeper than it is supposed to.

Although cotton buds may look soft, they are actually abrasive on the sensitive skin deep in your ear canal. By putting anything long and thin in your ear canal, you risk rupturing your fragile eardrum.

How to clean your ears

  • Wipe earwax out of your outer ears with a wash cloth when the wax is ready to come out
  • Don’t put anything in your ears
  • Consult your doctor if you suspect you have an earwax blockage
  • Consult a pharmacist, your hearing care professional, or your doctor (primary healthcare provider) if you think you need specialist cleaning

How earwax comes out

One of the main purposes of earwax is to capture anything foreign and invasive, and then come out of your ear canal with it. It is a vital part of your ear’s self-cleaning process, which works like a conveyor belt.

  • The skin in the ear canal grows in a direction: outwards. This means it brings out the wax, skin debris, and everything that has become trapped in the wax.
  • Chewing and yawning naturally help to move earwax outwards along the ear canal
  • Any wax that is in the outer ear will be removed by normal bathing

Increases in earwax production

Sometimes our ears produce more wax:

  • Hearing aid wearers can experience more earwax build-up because the devices block their ears, which can hinder the natural progression of wax
  • Some people produce more earwax than average — it can run in a family's genes*

The purpose of earwax

In general, our ears make the amount of wax they need. Earwax creates a sticky barrier that prevents foreign objects from entering.

  • Earwax traps dead hair, skin, and dust, which it then carries out of your ear
  • It helps prevent infections in the ear canal, because it is acidic*
  • It lubricates the ear canal, which helps prevent your ears from itching
*Hanger, 1992