How To Safely Remove Ear Wax

Generally, you don't need to remove ear wax. Still, in some cases, ear wax can harden and build up, causing discomfort.

  • Ear wax is beneficial and usually comes out on its own: Removing it is unnecessary.
  • If your ear wax hardens and builds up, you can try safe at-home remedies like mineral oil, ear drops, and water.
  • Reach out to a healthcare provider if you can't safely remove your ear wax or if you have any unpleasant symptoms.

If you've ever felt like your ears are clogged, you might have wondered how to remove excess ear wax. However, for the most part, you don't need to get rid of ear wax, medically known as cerumen. Often, washing your hair is enough to remove ear wax build-up.

In fact, ear wax protects your ear canal by keeping it moist and preventing infections. Ear wax also keeps debris from going into your ear and affecting your hearing. 

However, ear wax can build up and cause some discomfort. In that case, you may want to remove ear wax. You can use everyday products that you might already have in your kitchen or bathroom. Just be sure to tread carefully since the wrong methods have the potential to cause damage to your ear. Additionally, if you have a history of a hole in your eardrum or any previous ear surgery, you should not attempt to remove ear wax at home.

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Should You Remove Ear Wax?

Once it builds up, earwax usually makes its way out of the ear. Unlike your nails or hair, which continue to grow, you don't need to remove ear wax. Even small everyday movements, like chewing and talking, can help usher ear wax from your ear canal.

However, sometimes, people experience ear wax buildup. For example, ear wax can accumulate if you're using a Q-tip to try to clean your ears or if your body produces an unusually heavy amount of ear wax. If your body makes sticky or hard ear wax, it may not be able to dislodge it on its own.

Too much ear wax can get occluded, or stuck, in the ear canal. In that case, you may feel like your ears are full or clogged, or you might have some discomfort. Still, there's no real danger in that situation.

If your ear wax hardens and builds up, you can try the following at-home remedies to safely remove it.

Soften the Ear Wax

Using mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin can help soften and break up ear wax buildup. Those gentle ingredients will help the ear wax get out of the ear. (Be aware, however, that as the was softens, it expands, which can make the clogged sensation feel worse.)

To soften ear wax, take the following steps:

  1. Warm mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin to body temperature.
  2. Tilt your head, then place a few drops of the warm oil into the affected ear.
  3. Repeat that process twice daily for five days or until the ear wax softens.
  4. While showering, guide warm water into the affected ear. Then, tip your head, letting the water flush out the ear wax.
  5. Clean your outer ear using a cloth or paper towel.

Use Ear Drops

Like mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin, ear drops soften the ear wax and allow it to flow out of the ear easily.

Instructions for using ear drops, available over the counter, may vary by brand. Generally, you can use the following steps to effectively use ear drops:

  1. Tilt your head. Then, without touching the applicator to your ear canal, place the instructed number of drops into the affected ear.
  2. Keep your head tilted for the instructed time, usually several minutes.
  3. Repeat that process two times per day for four days. Or consult a healthcare provider about how often to use ear drops.
  4. In the shower, flush out the ear wax with warm water. Or use a bulb syringe to gently guide water into your ear.
  5. Clean your outer ear using a cloth or paper towel.

Syringe Your Ears

Take note of the following steps to syringe your ears with water:

  1. If the ear wax is sticky or hard, you may need warm oil or ear drops to soften it.
  2. After softening the ear wax, warm water to body temperature. Cold water may make you feel dizzy or cause vertigo.
  3. Keeping your head upright, gently pull the outside of the affected ear forward. That will straighten your ear canal.
  4. Gently guide the warm water into your ear using a bulb syringe.
  5. Tilt your head, letting the water drain from your ear.
  6. Clean your outer ear using a cloth or paper towel.

Avoid syringing your ears at home if you have diabetes, prior ear surgery, perforated eardrums, an ear tube, eczema in your ear canal, or a weak immune system. Instead, consult a healthcare provider about removing excess ear wax.

How Not To Remove Ear Wax

When it comes to removing ear wax from within the inner parts of your ear, avoid using a Q-tip. While those cotton buds (or tiny metal spoons, hairpins, or other implements) seem perfectly shaped for cleaning your ear, they can injure the skin of the ear canal.

Even small scrapes can become infections. In fact, if you place a Q-tip too deep into your ear, you run the risk of rupturing your eardrum. A ruptured eardrum may cause complications, such as:

  • Hearing loss
  • Mastoiditis, which is an infection that spreads to the bone behind your ear
  • Vertigo
  • Dizziness
  • Chronic ear infection or drainage

Also, Q-tips do not effectively remove ear wax. Using Q-tips risks forcing ear wax further into your ear, which may cause earwax impaction. With an impaction, ear wax ends up at the end of your ear canal and directly next to the eardrum. Research has found that ear wax impaction is common in people with narrow ear canals or who wear hearing aids.

Another method to avoid is using ear wax removal kits involving cameras, which you can purchase online and use to search for wax.

Further, steer clear of ear candling, in which you place a specially-shaped candle in your ear. According to an alert from the Food and Drug Administration, there is no evidence that ear candling is effective. Ear candling may also increase the risk of burns to the skin and damage to the ear.

See a Healthcare Provider To Remove Ear Wax

If your at-home solutions aren't successful, contact a healthcare provider. They have special tools that can remove excess ear wax. For example, a healthcare provider can irrigate your ear using a water solution.

If you have any of the following symptoms after removing ear wax at home, contact a healthcare provider:

  • Ear drainage
  • Pain in your ear
  • Fever
  • Hearing loss

Also, consult an ENT if you have a history of ear infections, ear tubes, surgery, or previously ruptured eardrums. An ENT will use dry tools to remove earwax, which is preferable for people with a history of ear-related issues.

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9 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  8. Food and Drug Administration. Import alert 77-01.

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