How to Clean Your Ears – Earwax Removal

Everybody experiences the build-up of earwax (or in technical terms “cerumen”), in varying degrees, but not everybody knows the best way to clean your ears or how often you should clean your ears. Ear wax is produced in the outer section of the ear canal and is a yellow “wax” which is made up from dead skin cells and other particles that have been released from the glands outside the ear.

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Before we get to the detail of how best to clean ears, it is important to understand why our bodies produce earwax and why it is actually necessary for good ear health and protecting our hearing:

  • ​Earwax prevents dust, germs and other foreign objects from entering our ears
  • ​The wax serves to reduce damage to and the development of infections in the sensitive part of our ears
  • ​Earwax will slow the growth of naturally occurring bacteria living in the ear canal
  • plus
    ​It protects our ears from exposure to water, for example when swimming, showering, bathing.

Essentially, the wax provides a protective film for our ears so it is important that there is some level of wax in the ears, but we need to get rid of it when it becomes too much; too much earwax leads to more bacteria, resulting in ear infections and poor hearing.

How to Clean Your Ears

So, maintaining a balanced level of wax and clean ears are important, which brings us back to how to properly clean your ears; what is the best way to clean your ears?

​How to Remove Earwax

​Option 1 - Hydrogen Peroxide

​Prior to using Hydrogen Peroxide you should consult with your doctor to ensure it is a safe way for you to clean out your ears.

This method is considered one of the best ways to clean out your ears as it loosens the wax, turning it to a liquid form allowing you to clean it using a cotton ball and not needing to put anything directly into the ear canal.

Extended use of hydrogen peroxide is not recommended as it can irritate the skin and actually increase potential infections; two to three days consecutive use is sufficient. If symptoms persist following this, you should consult your doctor.  

Mineral or baby oil can be a less harsh alternative, with similar results.

​Option 2 – Bulb syringe irrigation (at home version)

​This can be done with lukewarm water, or a home-made solution of: white vinegar, warm water and rubbing alcohol in equal parts.

You want to watch out for a large glob of wax to fall out, once you’ve seen this you’re done! If it doesn’t happen within about five minutes, you should stop syringing; anything longer than this could cause damage to the ear canal.

There are a number of syringe’s on the market that make the process easier at home here is a list of the best ear syringe’s online​.

There are also a variety of different ear drops available on the market, so if you’re not sure how to make your own, or if the oil or Hydrogen Peroxide is the best option for you, your local pharmacy will be able to guide you.

If you’re looking for some more home-made remedies, here are some good suggestions that will help to properly clean your ears​.

​Option 3 - Professional syringing

​If you don’t want to clean out your ears yourself, or you’ve tried and it hasn’t worked properly, you can get it done by a doctor or other professional. The key word here is “professional”; if this is done wrong it can, very rarely, cause damage to the ear canal and/or drum. The process requires a higher pressure of warm water and this change in the ear’s environment may result in feeling of nausea or dizziness.

Ear irrigation should be avoided if any of the following apply to you:

  • ​You have been diagnosed with diabetes or suspect you may have it
  • ​Your immune system is already weakened
  • ​You think you have a perforated ear drum
  • ​You have any sort of tubing in your ears

General ear cleanliness is important too, you should regularly clean the outside and backs of the ears to avoid build-up of dirt – weren’t we always told as children to scrub behind our ears? Well, we shouldn’t stop now!

As well as knowing how to properly clean your ears, it is important to know how often to clean your ears. Unfortunately, there is no correct answer! Every individual is different, producing wax at different speeds and tolerating different amounts of wax build up.

When it comes to the point that there is enough wax to cause symptoms, or in order to pre-empt a trip to the doctor, you should attempt cleaning. This is known as “cerumen impaction” and symptoms can include one or a combination of the following:

  • ​Earache, or the feeling of a blocked ear
  • ​Hearing loss – not total deafness but partial loss
  • ​Ringing sounds in the ear
  • ​Itchy ears and the presence of fluid or discharge

If you are lucky enough that your body produces a normal amount of wax, enough to protect the ear but not cause blockages, then you should not need to clean your ears at all.

If you produce a lot of ear wax, which can be something that runs in the family, then look into cleaning your ears around once a month.

Obviously, it is important to know which category you fall into, in order to know often to clean your ears, so pay attention to your body to understand what works best for you. Chances are if you are someone who produces a lot of ear wax, you’ll know about it!

When talking about the best way to clean your ears, we also need to consider things to avoid in order not to cause any long-term damage or infection.

Many of us think the best way to clean your ears is using a Q-tip or other narrow-ended object, but this can actually exacerbate the problem, compacting rather than clearing out the wax pushing it deeper into the ear and causing bacteria build-up and infection.

The recommendation regarding tools to use to properly clean out your ears is that you should use nothing smaller than your elbow inside your ear.

Ear Candles:

​​This is a process that involves putting a hollow candle into the ear, lighting it and using the heat to soften and draw out the ear wax. However, there is a risk of burning the ear and the Food and Drug Administration even issued a warning in 2015 about the dangers of using ear candles. Furthermore, they continue to impose injunctions and seize these sorts of products due to the potential and serious risks.

Do not use small or sharp objects, we have previously mentioned Q-tips but this includes anything of a similar size and shape that could fit into the canal.

Definitely nothing dirty! The ear canal is sensitive, so it is important that anything (nothing smaller than your elbow) that is being used to clean your ears is itself clean and sterile.

So, we know the best way to clean our ears and how often to clean our ears (if at all) but it is necessary to consult the doctor if you feel a severe blockage or notice signs of an infection. If you are experiencing muffled hearing, earaches or the ear feels full this is likely signs of a blockage. Infections cause middle ear pain and you may experience fluid draining from the ear. 

It cannot be stressed enough that you should not OVER clean your ears! We’ve all felt that icky feeling when you just want to clear out your ears completely, but you must remember that the wax serves a very beneficial purpose and over-cleaning can lead to infections and permanent damage.

Listen to your body; if you feel pain then act on it, but in order to maintain a good level of cleanliness AND wax, don’t over-clean and don’t go poking sharp objects down your ear canal.

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