Many people view ear wax as a mere annoyance, but it actually plays an important role in protecting your hearing. Produced by your ceruminous glands, ear wax serves to keep bacteria and foreign particles from entering your ears. In certain instances, you can use baking soda and water to remove ear wax buildup, but make sure you practice basic ear-cleaning protocol to minimize possible damage to your ears.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAOHNS), ear wax forms in the outer one-third of your ear canal. Normally, this wax gradually works its way to the outer section of your ear for easy removal with a clean tissue or cloth. However, ear wax may build up in your ear canals for a variety of reasons, including unusually shaped ear canals, attempting to clean your ears with sharp objects (such as pen caps or Q-tips) and physical barriers (such as hearing aids) placed in the ears. As it builds up, the wax hardens and may become difficult to dislodge without the use of a softening agent.
Commonly called sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is a naturally produced chemical compound in the form of a white powder. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), a water-based solution that contains 10 percent sodium bicarbonate provides an effective solution for softening compacted cerumen, especially in children. Commonly used for baking and household cleaning, baking soda is an inexpensive household item generally found in the baking aisle of grocery stores.
Pay attention to your ears to help determine whether you may want to use baking soda and water to soften the wax. One of the most common symptoms of compacted cerumen is the gradual loss of hearing. According to the National Institutes of Health, other symptoms that may indicate excess ear wax include ringing in the ears (tinnitus), earaches and a sensation of fullness in the ear.
Use a baking powder and water solution alone or in combination with water irrigation to soften hardened ear wax. The University of Oregon Health Center suggests that you dissolve ½ tsp. of baking soda in 2 oz. of warm water, putting the liquid blend in a dropper bottle for convenience. Drip several drops of the baking soda solution in the affected ear at least once daily for 3 to 14 days to soften the wax, as recommended by the AAFP. If you opt to use water irrigation, as well, spray the water gently into the ear with a rubber bulb syringe about 15 to 30 minutes after one of the baking soda treatments.
Avoid using baking soda and water for ear wax if you have a perforated ear drum. If you or your child experience severe ear pain or show signs of unusual ear drainage with compacted cerumen, make an appointment with your primary care doctor before attempting to use baking soda and water to soften the wax. Never attempt to remove the softened wax by pushing a cotton swab into the ear canal; doing so may shove the wax farther back into the canal, which could lead to more serious problems, such as an ear infection or a perforated ear drum.