How to Clean Out Your Ears

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Earwax Removal: How to Clean Out Your Ears at Home

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Q. What should a person do about earwax?  What’s that you say? Huh?? :)
Judy, Tennessee

A. Most people don’t need to clean out their ears. The wax is there for protection, and the little hairs in your ears will usually bring it out naturally.

However, some people produce a little too much wax or impede the natural process by packing it in with earplugs or earbuds. They may begin to have muffled hearing.

If earwax is giving you trouble, here are some suggestions on how to clean it out:

  1. DON’T use cotton swabs, such as Q-tips. They pack the wax in and may damage your ears.  Never use anything to clean your ears that’s smaller than a finger in a washcloth.
  2. DON’T use ear candles for removal. Again, you can damage your ears. The debris you see after using them is waste from the procedure, not contents from your ear.
  3. DO purchase an earwax-removal kit. Put a few drops of the solution in your ears before bedtime for several nights. The wax will become soft and may come out on its own during the night.
  4. If it doesn’t, DO try irrigating your ears with the bulb syringe that comes with the kit (like the one pictured).
    • Use lukewarm water so you won’t get dizzy.
    • If you don’t have a bulb syringe you can try a shot syringe without the needle. If not that, try a steady squeeze of water through a pinhole in a plastic bag or bottle—or anything that will spray a steady stream (not too hard, of course) of water in your ear canal.
    • While irrigating, grab the back of your ear with your other hand. Pull backwards and slightly upwards. This straightens and opens the canal so the water can get to the back better.
    • You’re through if you see a glob of wax come out. Stop anyway if you don’t see one within about five minutes or if you have pain or dizziness. You can try again in a few hours. By that time the wax should be even softer.
    • After you finish put a couple of drops of alcohol in your ear. You can mix it with peroxide if you have it. The alcohol helps dry up excess water.
  5. If the irrigation works, DO use the removal solution in your ears at night every week or so to keep the wax soft and coming out. You won’t need the syringe again, or will only need it rarely.

If you can’t get the wax out after a couple or three sessions, just stop until you can see a health-care provider. You don’t want to irritate the ear so much that it leads to an infection.

If you’ve had wax in your ear, how did you get yours out? What was the cause?

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  • Joelmanoj

    I went swimming and when I came home i used the q tip to take the water out but put q tip in lots of wax come out but now I can’t hear anything

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      As I write in the post, cotton swabs can pack the wax in. The rest of the post suggests how to get wax out but, sometimes, you have to see a doctor.

  • Anonymous

    I just went to the E.R. this past Wednesday for this. My ears were extremely blocked, but I have hearing loss as it is so I had no clue this is what was going on.
    The bulb they do not suggest, or using alcohol, ONLY the peroxide and water mix, to irrigate them. As bad as mine was I had to go there though.

  • nicole

    Is there such a thing as an ear potty?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      I’ve never heard of one. There’s a neti pot that you use to rinse out your sinuses.

  • Marie

    One thing that I discovered several years ago was that if I wash the outer ear with soap daily, it cuts the ear wax build up to almost nothing.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Marie.

  • Deb

    Yesterday we attempted to wash out my daughter’s ears. Water came out of her nose, and she kept swallowing some. We had never seen this happen before, so we stopped. Is this normal or something to be alarmed about?

    • fs_alexania

      Disclaimer: Im not a doctor.
      I know you’ve probably sorted this by now but I’m pretty sure there isnt supposed to be an opening between your outer ear and your sinuses (thus why your ears pop). She may have a perforated eardrum. Id get it checked out by a doctor asap. How’s her hearing in that ear?

  • Vince

    Paper clip to ‘loop’ it out.

  • stevenqu248

    When I was young I had horrible ear infections. I had to have tubes in my ears. The tubes came out, but the hole in the left ear never closed. It was discovered by an ENT, and patched through surgery. Many years later, I had a horrible earache. I went to a doctor, who said that my sinuses drained into my ear which caused the pain. I got some sudafed to dry my sinuses up. Shortly after I could hear a sound coming from my ear (possibly the sound of the liquid in my ear drying up) followed by a whoosh of air coming out of my ear. I went back to the doctor who said that there was a slightly larger than normal hole in my ear and that it would close up over time. I think it may have actually been that the patch covering my ear hole came off. Now I have continuous and excessive wax buildup out of that ear. I’ve been in a job that requires earplugs, but this has never happened before this. I don’t feel any pain, just a ton of buildup to the point where, if I don’t remove the wax, it feels like an artificial(or natural in this case) earplug and it produces a horrible smell. What should I do?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You should have a doctor check and see what’s going on. If it’s wax buildup from the earplugs, consider using ear muffs.

  • chris

    I went swimming in the ocean and now my ears are ringing i can hear my pulse and my hearing is very muffled iv tried earwax removal and only got a small amount out its been this way for a week what else can I try

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You should have a doctor, or some healthcare provider, look into your ears. Wax may or may not be the problem (see the last part of my post.) If it’s fluid or infection something else going on in the middle ear behind the eardrum, continued irrigation is not going to help and may harm.

  • Brooklyn

    I was using a qtip in my right ear a couple days ago and now I can’thear very well out of my right ear. It feels like iI have an ear plug in. I’m thinking maybe I pushed earwax in there? I don’t have hydrogen peroxide or olive oil, but I do have coconut oil. Would that be okay to try? I already tried warm salt water, it did nothing. Thanks.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Brooklyn, I don’t know about coconut oil. Perhaps you could get a wax removal kit at a pharmacy. And see a doctor, if that doesn’t work.

  • Milleam

    My son took a hearing test to get into the military and his results were slightly over the military standard by about 10dbs at the 4000 range. Then 2 days later he come down with a flown blown head cold. So I am wondering if that could have possibly been one of the issues for him to fail his test?
    He did have a few times as a child where he had fluid on his ears and they had to give him medication to help dry the fluid. He is scheduled to go to a civilian doctor on the 25th for a hearing test again. Is there anything that he can do ahead of time that will help him improve his results?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Milleam, you’re right. A cold can certainly affect your hearing short-term. He needs to make sure he’s not around loud noises, for the few days up to the test. And, he needs to make sure he’s a few days over the cold. The 25th will be cutting it close. Be sure to tell the civilian doctor about it.

      • Milleam

        Would it be beneficial for him to take something like a Clarityn D to help dry anything up and then maybe also use the wax removal kit before he goes? Or let the doctor access if that is needed at the appt and then schedule a hearing test for a later date

        • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          Yes, Milleam. Claritin D is a good idea and drops out of the wax removal kit might help, but only if he does have wax in his ears. I wouldn’t get too aggressive. The main thing is, yes, have the doctor check him over and, if the cold is still going on, ask about rescheduling the test.