Why You Should Never Use Q-Tips to Clean Your Ears

Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You’ve probably never noticed, but on the back of any package of cotton swabs there’s a warning that is some variation of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. Penetrating the ear canal could cause injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs, go check it out for yourself.

The thing is, it’s not just doctors, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the manufacturers of cotton swabs think it’s a bad idea!

But why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a common method of ear cleaning, should it be avoided? Why are the manufacturers so insistent that you don’t use their product in this manner?

We’re excited you asked: the following are four good reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is beneficial

Earwax has a variety of beneficial functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial characteristics to prevent infections, it functions as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which prevents dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs push earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs can actually be dangerous. When you drive any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re pressing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can result in an impaction that will lead to hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is fashioned to eliminate its own earwax. The normal motions of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will move the earwax to the outer ear. All that’s needed from you is normal showering and cleaning the external ear with a washcloth.

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dry skin

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you remove too much, you’ll have a dried out, itchy feeling and will be more susceptible to infections.

What to do instead

There are several commercialized (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if you’re having problems with excessive earwax or you’re having difficulties hearing, it’s always best to consult with a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are thoroughly trained in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any issues you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. It’s always a good idea to rule out more significant problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the peace of mind of knowing that it’s being done correctly.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.