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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  • 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.

  • Vikas Bengaluru

    I have problems with hearing, not that I can’t hear anything, but what I hear feels unclear. Sometimes I have to ask the person saying it to repeat what they said. Could you help me out?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Vikas, first you need an exam to make sure nothing, like wax, is blocking your ear canals, then you need a hearing test in a hearing booth to see what is causing the hearing loss (for instance, a problem with your hearing nerve or the bones in your middle ear). After the doctor finds your problem then she/he will prescribe the proper treatment. You could start with your regular doctor by calling or you could go to and ear, nose, throat specialist.

  • Meghan

    I was at the doctor’s office to remove some wax build-up… both ears had some, though my right one was worse and couldn’t hear much out of it. The right is fine now, but the left one is sort of achy. Apparently it was being stubborn and they couldn’t get it all out, so I need to use debrox for a week before going again. Only thing is, my ear is bothering me… is there something I can do for it that’ll help ease the slight ache?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You can read the section about external ear infections in the following post
      That might help. Also there are over-the-counter ear drops for pain. If the pain gets worse, contact your doctor.

  • Leona Taylor

    I went to the Doctor for a couple of reasons & upon examination the Dr said I had quite a bit of wax built up. Mind you I could hear fine & that was not why I went. They filled my right ear with this foamy stuff and had me wait 15 min. Irrigated my ear with warm water & she pushed hard to the point of pain. My appointment was December 19th and now its January 5. I am still trying to get the wac build up out. Have minimal hearing in my ear. Hope I’m not doing more damage by using same drops and irrigating my ear.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Leona, someone needs to recheck your ear again to see if the wax is still the problem or if it’s something else, like ear drum damage.

      • Leona Taylor

        Thank you Dr. Hubbard. I did not use the ear drops today or irrigate my ear. I will contact the Dr office right away.

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  • Jeremy Armour

    Here’s a question for you. What’s the best way to scratch an itch inside your ear? I don’t use Q-tips for cleaning my ears, but they’re the safest way I know of to scratch one of those extremely annoying itches inside the ear canal.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Q-tips can pack in wax. I’ve seen a couple whose arm was accidentally hit while using one and they puncture their eardrum. Just like cleaning, the safest method is to use a finger. If they itch really bad, perhaps you should see a doctor and get some prescription drops or try some over-the-counter ones first.

      • Jeremy Armour

        Thankfully it’s not a problem I have often, but when I do it’s one of those itches that won’t go away on its own and will drive you absolutely insane until it’s scratched. And it’s always just deep enough into the ear canal so that I can’t get to it with my finger. My mother, an LPN, drilled it into to me to never use Q-tips to clean my ears, and I don’t, but I just haven’t found any other way of way of scratching that itch, well, any other way that’s even remotely safe anyway.

        I guess I could let the nail on my pinky finger grow out really long. That would probably work, but somehow I think it might give people the wrong idea! ;)

        • sharon

          Google/Youtube the battery operated “EARDOC”. Using external vibration it opens eustachian tubes, and relieves ear itch. I keep it in my glovebox & use it to deal with altitude pressure when driving up/down mountains.

        • Pegtastic

          This is totally unsafe if you get hit on the arm or aren’t careful enough, but if you’re careful enough, a bobby pin (hair pin) works well. Stick the round end in and hold the open end, or hold it halfway so it can’t go too far in. It scoops wax without pushing stuff in.

          • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

            Pegtastic, thanks for sharing. You still run the risk of packing in some wax and also irritating or scraping the sides of the canal which can make them swell or getting infected or both.

  • Echo Moon

    i’ve used ear candles for years… i make my own out of very soft white fabric and canning wax, both items are white. the first time my dad had his ears done a friend of ours did it and taught both me and my mother. she also used white items. when she was done with the first ear she cut the candle tube open. inside was a huge about of yellow gunk. when my mom asked dad how it felt he flinched. his eyes got big and said that it sounded like she was hollering. when his second ear was done and she spoke he asked her to speak quieter. he said it was the first time in a very long time that he could hear that well……
    kinda hard to say that the debris left in the candle is only from the candle when it’s colored yellow and there is globs of it!!!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for your opinion on ear candling. I wish I could cite one good objective study showing one iota of proof it works. So I can’t advise it. However, it probably doesn’t hurt either except in rare incidences from burns.

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