The best ways to safely clean your ears
Ear cleaning might seem pretty straightforward, but there are a few golden rules to follow. So put down that cotton tip and read on for expert advice.
You know how Grandma said you should never put anything smaller than an elbow into your ear?
Turns out she was right – even inserting a cotton tip into your ears to relieve an itch or clear out wax may lead to ear pain, inflammation or injury of the inner ear structures.
Hearing Australia principal audiologist Karen Hirschausen says ear wax is designed to prevent dust and foreign particles from reaching the delicate eardrum.
“Putting anything in your ear canal will only push the wax further in and you risk injuring the eardrum,” Karen explains.
So, how do you clean your ears?
To clean your ears safely, Karen recommends running warm water into the ear canal to soften the wax before dabbing it away with a soft towel.
“Over-the-counter wax removal drops can also help soften ear wax,” she says.
How often you clean your ears is a matter of personal choice.
“Your ears will generally keep themselves clean, so there’s no need for a strict regime,” Karen says.
And while it may be safe to use hydrogen peroxide or a small amount of olive oil to clean your ears, Karen warns you should always consult your GP or audiologist first.
How do you clean blocked ears?
Removing a significant amount of wax is a delicate process best handled by your doctor or a hearing professional.
“A build-up of wax in the ear canal can affect hearing and be uncomfortable,” Karen says.
“If your ear canal is completely blocked, see a doctor or an ear, nose and throat specialist.”
What ear cleaning tools can you use?
There’s a wide range of ear cleaning tools on the market, including kits that contain an ear-wax softener or cleaning spray and syringe.
But Karen says implements that go into the ear canal such as picks, spiral devices and ear-cleaning cameras are not safe.
What about ear candling?
Ear candling is a procedure where a hollow wax tube is placed in the ear and the other end set alight, supposedly creating a vacuum that draws out the wax.
While some swear by the practice, DWM Audiology audiologist Kate Moore says consumers should be wary of the claims.
“There’s a lot of research from health regulatory bodies around the world to show that the procedure has no proven medical benefits, and can actually be very dangerous,” Kate says.
Does microsuction ear cleaning work?
Microsuction is a safe and effective ear cleaning method that uses a tiny vacuum to suck away the wax without pushing it further into the ear canal.
“For some, a dry technique is necessary or preferred, including those with a perforated eardrum or grommets, people who have a depressed immune system or are taking blood thinners,” Karen says.
How do you safely clean a baby’s ears?
Babies might not come with a manual, but they do come with very delicate ears.
“Ear wax is healthy for your baby because it’s protecting, lubricating and has antibacterial properties,” Karen says.
Stick to a warm washcloth and gently wipe around the outer ear, and never put anything into their ear canal, she says.
Read more on ear health:
- What to know about ear infections
- How to protect yourself against hearing loss
- What you need to know about headphones and your hearing
- 5 things to know before getting your ears pierced
Written by Dimity Barber.