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What are the Safest Methods of Ear Wax Cleaning?

Alex Tree
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The safest methods of ear wax cleaning typically do not involve placing solid objects, like cotton swabs or fingers, into the ear because this often impacts the wax. Using a couple drops of warmed oils, like olive oil or baby oil, can soften the wax enough for a gentle stream of water to flush out. Some products are specifically designed for ear wax cleaning and work similarly to oils, though they may come with a special tool to use water to flush out the wax. Health professionals sometimes use similar methods, but they occasionally scoop the wax out with metal tools before flushing. Lastly, some methods of ear wax cleaning, such as using cotton swabs or candles, are best avoided to prevent impacting the wax or damaging the ear.

Mineral oil, almond oil, and other organic oils can be used for ear wax cleaning. The oil is first warmed, and then a few drops are placed into one ear. After five minutes or so, the ear should be flushed with water with the ear tilted toward the floor so that the wax drops out. The water, whether from the shower or a syringe, should not have too much pressure to it, or it can cause pain. This process may need to be repeated up to three times per day over the course of three to five days; patience is key when dealing with a large amount of ear wax.

Some people will have more success with ear wax cleaning when using a commercial product. These products may have organic oils, hydrogen peroxide, or sodium bicarbonate in them and come with a tool to flush water into the ear. Like homemade ear wax cleaning solutions, this method is normally used multiple times to achieve maximum results. If the ear wax buildup does not come out during the first few tries, it might simply take more oil and time to soften the wax for extraction.

Health professionals can use tools that are not recommended for use by the layperson. Manually scooping earwax from the ear can be quite painful. In some cases, however, seeing a doctor is the safest way to remove earwax. Doctors are usually more qualified to handle deeply impacted wax or wax that is severely affecting a person’s hearing.

Certain methods are often touted as safe but are best avoided. For example, ear candling and using cotton swabs are generally ineffective and can harm more than help. Swabs can go too far into the ear and puncture the eardrum. Ear candling is an alternative medicine that is scientifically proved not to work, on top of it being dangerous to light a candle in someone’s ear.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and The Health Board contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
Discussion Comments
By Buster29 — On May 07, 2014

I have to admit that I still use cotton swabs for ear wax cleaning. I don't think the problem is with cleaning the outer part of the ear, and I haven't found anything better to use for that purpose. I've been known to use paper clips or car keys if cotton swabs aren't available.

I really should look into a much safer ear wax removal system. I've accidentally gone too far into my ear canal a few times, and those were painful experiences. My doctor recommended some ear drops that melted ear wax on contact, and came with a rubber syringe that squirted water into the ear canal and suctioned it out again. I think my ears stay clearer when I use that ear wax cleaner, too.

By Inaventu — On May 06, 2014

I had a friend who swore by ear wax candles for ear wax removal. The candles were made out of beeswax, and they were shaped like hollow cones. The patient would lie on his or her side and place the point of the cone into the ear canal. Someone else would light the other end of the candle and allow it to burn down.

Supposedly the flame would create enough warm air to soften the ear wax, and also create a vacuum that would draw the ear wax and other contaminants out of the ear canal. The results would be trapped on special filter paper inside the cone. I don't know if I want to try it or not. Some critics say the material is not actually from the person's ear canal, since a burning hollow candle couldn't create enough suction to draw it out.

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and The Health Board contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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