How to Remove Earwax

By Katharine Paljug @kpaljug
January 15, 2017

Experts say using a Q-tip NOT the right way to clean your ear.

Wax buildup can lead to hearing loss, but it should be properly removed to prevent damage to your eardrum and ear canal. Here's how to remove ear wax.

Earwax is produced to lubricate your ear canal, trap dirt, and prevent debris from damaging your eardrum. Most of the time, ears are self-cleaning. The wax is gradually moved out of your ear by the motion of your jaw. Once it reaches the outer ear, it dries and falls out.

Sometimes, however, wax does not move out on its own. This can be more than just unsightly and annoying. Earwax buildup can cause problems and may require professional help to remove.

Earwax buildup

If your body produces too much earwax, it can accumulate in your outer ear faster than the natural cleaning process moves it out.

When this happens, many people will try to clean out their ears, which often pushes the wax deeper into their ear. This can cause symptoms such as fullness in the ear, a feeling that your ear is blocked or plugged, reduced hearing, ringing in the ear, itching, or earache.

If a buildup is left untreated, it can lead to an ear infection. Symptoms of infection include discharge or odor from the ear, ear pain, fever, dizziness, or hearing loss on one side. If you have an ear infection, you will need to see a doctor.

How to remove earwax in child and adults

If you simply want to keep your outer ear clean and help your body naturally remove wax, it is best to use a warm, wet washcloth. While in the shower or bath, use the cloth to gently wipe your outer ear. Do not scrub too hard or dig into your ear canal, as this can cause irritation and push wax further in.

If you have symptoms of buildup, you can try gentle home treatments to soften the wax and help it move to the outer ear. The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) — an association of ear, nose, and throat doctors — recommends several at home treatments.

Place a few drops of olive or mineral oil in your ear to soften the wax plug. You can also use glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, or a commercial earwax treatment from a drugstore. Tilt your head towards the opposite side while you treat the affected ear, and leave it tilted for several minutes so the treatment can reach the buildup.

As the wax softens, it will gradually move toward the outer ear, where you can use a washcloth to wipe it away. Do not insert anything into your canal to remove wax, as this can damage the eardrum.

If you have a more substantial buildup, you can get earwax out using a method known as syringing or ear irrigation. You can buy an at-home syringing kit at a pharmacy or visit a doctor to have the procedure done (which may cost you a lot more). Irrigation is often more effective when the wax is first softened using oil or hydrogen peroxide.

If you have a narrow ear canal, previous damage to your eardrum, a weakened immune system, diabetes, or a skin condition affecting your ear, you will need to visit a doctor to have wax removed.


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How to remove earwax in babies

Babies and small children can also develop wax buildup. You may be able to see a wax plug in your baby’s

ear simply by looking. Other signs include brownish discharge from the ear, a baby pulling or tugging on the ear, or a change in your child’s ability to hear you.

Because a baby’s ears are small and delicate, a doctor should be the one to remove any wax buildup. Your child’s pediatrician can examine your baby’s ears and let you know whether any steps need to be taken to get the earwax out.

Dangerous methods of getting earwax out

People often use cotton swabs to clean out their ears, but according to the AAO-HNS, they can do more harm than good. Cotton swabs push wax further into your ear, causing rather than preventing wax buildup. And any time you stick something in your ear, you risk puncturing your eardrum. You should use cotton swabs only to clean the outer edges of your ear and should never insert them into your ear canal.

You should also avoid ear candles. These cone-shaped candles are intended to be inserted into the ear, then burned from the opposite end to draw wax out of the ear. However, the Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning against their use, citing the danger of burns and lack of scientific evidence that the candles provide any benefit.

When in doubt about the safest method for cleaning your ears and getting earwax out, it is always best to consult your doctor.


March 20, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN