How to Clean Ears With Q-Tips

Mid adult woman cleaning her ear with a cotton swab
Earwax, a byproduct of a naturally occurring cleaning mechanism, may need removal. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The outer part of your ear canal has special glands that secrete a waxy substance called cerumen. According to MedicineNet, the purpose of ear wax is to protect the ear from water and infection. Normally, the ear canal cleans itself, leading to a slow buildup of dried ear wax at the opening, where it falls out. When that does not happen for various reasons, removal of the wax must be done, but with caution. Consult your physician for any concerns or questions about the procedure.

Step 1

Position your head so that your assistant has adequate lighting and access to your ear canal. Poor lighting is especially important to avoid over insertion of the Q-Tip.

Step 2

Instruct your assistant to grasp the cotton swab with two fingers at the base of one end of the cotton tip.

Step 3

Insert the cotton swab into your ear canal. The swab should go no further than your assistant’s fingers. Be sure you do not make any sudden movements.

Step 4

Wipe the earwax from the wall of the ear canal using a gentle circular motion. Repeat as needed with the other end, or use additional swabs.

Step 5

Discard the cotton swab immediately. The earwax contains bacteria that may be harmful to pets and curious children.

Things You'll Need

  • Adult assistant

  • Cotton swabs (Q-Tips)

  • Mineral oil (optional)

Tip

Use only gentle pressure throughout the cleaning process. Excessive pressure may rupture the lining of the canal.

Use a few small drops of mineral oil if the wax is too hard to remove gently. Use each end of the swab only once for best results.

Warning

The lining of the ear canal and eardrum are extremely thin. Never insert items such as hairpins or sharp objects into the ear canal.

Use extreme caution if you clean your ears alone. According to Time magazine, between 1992 and 1997, more than 100 people experienced damage to the eardrum as a result of cleaning their ears alone with Q-tips.

Stop immediately if you experience any pain or discomfort and consult your physician.

This procedure is not recommended for children. According to Pediatric Safety, a punctured eardrum from an over-eager toddler may cause lasting hearing, language and behavioral damage and complications.

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