How to Clean your Ears

It's crucial to know how to clean your ears correctly to avoid injury to your ear canal. We'll teach you 4 ways to do it right.
How to Clean your Ears
Diego Pereira

Reviewed and approved by el médico Diego Pereira.

Last update: 17 November, 2023

The practice of self-cleaning the ears is quite widespread among the population. It’s estimated that up to 98% of people do it regularly and 75% associate it with positive results. The reason for doing it is predominantly aesthetic, in principle, to remove excess earwax. As this practice can lead to injuries, so we’ll teach you how to clean your ears correctly.

Many people use cotton swabs to clean their ears. The consensus among the scientific community is to avoid using them, as misuse is related to episodes of injury to the ear canal. Before teaching you some tips for going about it, we’ll clear up some common misunderstandings around the practice.

How do experts recommend you clean your ears?

Most people believe that to achieve ear hygiene, they need to remove excess earwax. Actually, cerumen is a substance that’s secreted into the outer ear to naturally clean the canal. It’s composed of lysosomes, lipids, trace elements, glycoproteins, and immunoglobulins. Its pH is very high, which reduces the risk of infection by preventing the overpopulation of pathogens.

Earwax moves naturally to the outside of the ear canal, in part driven by jaw movement. In this way, the probability of completely sealing the ear canal from excess buildup is very low. In short, cerumen is the substance secreted to keep the canal healthy; so cleaning the ears in principle isn’t necessary.

Despite this, people associate earwax with poor hygiene. Improper cleaning can cause ear pain, bleeding, perforations in the eardrum, and an increase in bacterial and fungal infections. Cleaning the ears only occasionally and taking into account some basic principles shouldn’t cause major problems.

Find out more: What Produces Wax Plugs?

4 tips to clean your ears

The buildup and blockage of cerumen is known as cerumen implantation. Experts warn that it’s more common in the first 20 years of life, and it’s one of the main reasons for consulting an ear, nose, and throat doctor. If you’re prone to developing this complication, and you want to clean your ears safely, we’ll leave you with 4 useful tips that you should keep in mind.

1. Use a damp cloth

Cleaning your ears with a damp cloth is the fastest, most affordable, and easiest strategy you can use. In principle, it’ll be useful for cleaning the outside of the ear, as well as just the entrance to the ear canal. Moisten a washcloth with warm water and be careful with the movements you make when cleaning. Try to have a specific one for this task and wash it after each cleaning.

2. Buy ear cleaning drops at the drugstore

The use of ear drops has been associated with favorable results for canal cleaning, and the associated risks are very low. Most of them are made based on hydrogen peroxide, although they can also be found with other active ingredients. Always buy them from a trusted pharmacy, and avoid drops that include unknown compounds that aren’t approved for use.

Of course, you should follow the instructions for use on the package insert, although they’re almost all used in the same way. That is, lie on your side, dispense a certain number of drops, let it rest for a few seconds, and then remove the excess liquid and earwax with a tissue. Avoid using these drops every day, as humidity can favor the growth of pathogens.

3. Irrigate the outer canal with a saline solution

As a substitute for special ear cleaning drops, you can use saline solution. The effect is similar, and you make sure you’re using a liquid that won’t negatively alter the pathogens that grow in the ear. Use a syringe to graduate a small dose, just a couple of drops, and follow the instructions outlined in the previous section.

4. Use olive oil

Experts have found that oil preparations can be effective in cleaning the ear canal. The best are olive oil and almond oil. These help to more easily remove excess earwax, as long as they’re used in small amounts. For greater safety, use a syringe so that you avoid adding more than the recommended amount.

Despite their high acceptance in society, the evidence doesn’t support the use of ear candling. Also known as cone therapy, the associated risks range from moderate to severe. Furthermore, cotton swabs should never be used in the ear canal, so they should only be restricted to the outside of the ear.

At the same time, there are several other practices that you should avoid to maintain canal hygiene and ear diseases. The most important are the following:

  • Avoid putting objects inside your ear (this includes your own fingers).
  • Clean your ears with a towel after swimming.
  • Limit direct exposure to very loud noises.
  • Avoid daily use of headphones, especially in the company of high volume.
  • Wear ear protectors if you’re going to a concert.
  • Seek medical assistance in the presence of an alteration (ringing, bleeding, and others).

We established at the beginning that the ears have their own hygiene and cleaning system. Therefore, you don’t need to apply all these practices on a daily basis, or even on a weekly basis. Do it once or twice a month, as this will be enough to get rid of the discomfort associated with earwax buildup. If you have any problems, we urge you to contact a professional.

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