How to clean your ears

If you use a cotton swab or cotton bud to clean your ears, today is the day to stop. Inserting cotton swabs into your ear canal can perforate your eardrum, strip your ears of their natural oils and cause irritation and infection. The general rule is that you should avoid putting anything into your ear that’s smaller than your elbow. If you shouldn’t use cotton swabs but your ears feel dirty or clogged, what can you use instead to properly clean ears safely?

Clogged ears

You should only remove ear wax if there is a build-up of excessive wax in your ears which is called cerumen impaction. For some people this can be uncomfortable and leave them with a feeling of fullness in the ear and that their ears feel clogged. For others, it can lead to pain in the ear, dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or even hearing loss. However, it may not even be ear wax that is causing the problem as there are several other causes for clogged ears. For instance:

  • Fluid in the ear
  • Change in altitude
  • Infection
  • Sinus pressure
  • Noise damage

If it is ear wax that is leaving you with the feeling of blocked ears, there are various remedies for clogged ears you can try at home.

Get professional help

If you are concerned about your ears or feel that you have a build of ear wax then you should visit your doctor or hearing care professional to get it diagnosed. Excessive ear wax is fairly common, but it can cause your ears to feel uncomfortable or painful and can even lead to hearing loss. If you think you may have a build-up of wax then it’s best to get professional advice before treating it yourself at home.

Natural cleaning

While you may think the orangey-brown substance in your ear looks unsightly, it has fantastic antibacterial properties that protect your ears and is essential in keeping your ears healthy. When it comes to how to clean ears at home naturally, the best way to clean your ears is to do nothing at all. You may not realise it, but your ears are incredibly effective at self-cleaning and getting rid of the cerumen, or ear wax, that your ears naturally produce. The movements you make with your jaw as you chew and talk are instrumental in helping any excess ear wax move outwards and eventually drop out of your ear.

Damp cloth

Your ears are home to the same sweat glands that can be found in your armpits. While these glands produce the antibacterial earwax, they can also be responsible for smelly body odour. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep your ears clean. Probably the easiest and gentlest ways to clean your ears is with a soft damp cloth. Wet the cloth with warm but not hot water, wring it out and then wipe around the outside of your ear, including behind the ears.

Ear drops

You can buy ear drops over the counter which can be all you need to dislodge any build-up of excess ear wax.

You may find that you will have to use the ear drops a few times before the excess ear wax softens enough to fall out on its own. If the ear wax seems too stubborn to move on its own, then you can remove the softened wax by gentle irrigation. You do need to be careful though, as just the outer layer of the wax could soften and cause it to get lodged deeper into your ear canal. If you find that your symptoms don’t improve or get worse, speak to your hearing care professional or doctor as soon as possible.


If your ears are feeling uncomfortable and full then it could be that you have a blockage caused by excess ear wax. Your doctor or hearing care professional can remove the blockage using irrigation. However, you can also buy irrigation kits to use at home yourself. These contain plain water and saline to effectively flush out your ear. Before you start to irrigate your ear, you may wish to use some ear drops to help soften and loosen the ear wax. You then need to warm up the water so it’s at body temperature, then with a syringe, squirt the solution gently into your ear canal. Irrigation isn’t recommended if you have any of the following:

  • A tube or holes in your eardrum
  • Diabetes
  • Skin conditions such as eczema in or near your ear

Your ears are incredible organs that provide you with one of the most important senses – hearing. Knowing how to properly clean ears safely ensures your ears can continue working at their best. Just a gentle wipe of damp cloth can be all you need to do as your ears will take care of the rest themselves.

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