Why you should never clean your ears with cotton swabs

Many of us were raised with the idea that our ears should regularly be cleaned with cotton swabs – and

Many of us were raised with the idea that our ears should regularly be cleaned with cotton swabs – and old habits die hard.

While the medical community now strongly advises against it (and cotton swabs will even come with warning labels forbidding it), countless Australians still clean their ears this way. After all, if you’ve done it all your life, is it really so harmful?

Not only are cotton swabs surprisingly dangerous; according to our friends at We’re All Ears, they’re completely unnecessary.

In most cases, earwax is healthy and does not need to be removed. While it’s easy to see it as “dirty”, it plays an important part of your body’s defence system, keep the ear clean, lubricated and protected against water, bacteria and other unwanted intrusions.

Secondly, left to its own devices, your body naturally gets rid of wax on its own. Every time your jaw moves, wax will get gradually pushed outward. (In other words, by taking, chewing or yawning, you are effectively cleaning your ears!) Even the vapour of a simple shower can loosen and remove wax.

In fact, the very skin in our ears will naturally grow in an outward spiral and shed, taking the wax with it.

Sometimes, however, wax can build up beyond the natural and expected amount, creating blockages and temporary hearing difficulty. This can be a genuine concern, but a quick trip to the doctor can resolve this safely and painlessly.

By trying to remove such a blockage at home, however, it could have the opposite effect. In many cases, cotton swabs can push earwax further into the canal rather than removing it.

As a general rule, no foreign objects should be pushed into the ear canal. The eardrum can rupture extremely easily, and it’s an incredibly painful experience. Even for those more cautious, the skin of the outer ear canal can easily scratch, paving the way for infection.

Do you clean your ears with cotton swabs? And if so, have you found it hard to kick the habit? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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This post is sponsored by Connect Hearing. For more information, please follow the links below.

  1. Maureen Mealings  

    Never put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow

    • Janice Hibberd  

      That’s what I was taught by my Nanna !

  2. Gert  

    That’s all very well unless you have itchy ears that feel damp.There’s very little wax so how can a good scratch with a cotton bud hurt? At least, it relieves the itchiness. The doctor and audiologist say there’s nothing wrong with my ears so what causes the itching?

    • Nola  

      I wear hearing aids in the tropics and I get itchy ears. I use a drop of aquaear in my ears when I go to bed. Buy it at the chemist. It keeps my ears dry. My doctor gives me some ear ointment as well if I need it.

  3. Kay Feain  

    I always use a cotton bud but never push it into the ear canal……..rather I use it to clean that extra wax in the outer ear area. As an eczema sufferer it is also important not to leave my ears wet and use a cotton bud to dry the curl of the ear at the top and wipe around in the wider part of the ear.

  4. i suffer with itchy ears and believe mre it is so good to use the bud better than a finger mnail that scraches leading to imfections any one no a cure for itchy ears please

    • Janet Haase  

      Cathy go to your doctor and ask for a script for Neosporin, I had extremely itchy ears last Summer and this stuff did wonders.

      • Janet Haase  

        Hi Cathy, I replied to you the other day and gave you the wrong name for the ear ointment, it’s called Otocomb Otic Ointment, you need a script. I had such itchy ears that it kept me awake but this cleared it up for me.

    • Jo Burden  

      My Husband has this problem, his Dr prescribed a cream called Cortic-DS 1% cream, problem solved.

  5. Robin Moore  

    My HB has had lots of ear problems over many years – 20 years ago, he was always being given anti-biotics, and drops to put in his ears. Also had hole in eardrum, which he had an op for – didn’t quite close it., so drops went down throat. He had worn ear muffs for years, in his job. At 81, he now has very little problem – one day he had an idea. He used my hair dryer, and a small funnel. Places funnel at ear entrance, and blows warm air into air canal. Dr approved when he told him about it. Warm air dries out the ear – a good Kiwi solution. Cannot harm you, putting warm air in from few inches away from funnel. Try it, folks.

  6. Rhonda Jones  

    I like to keep my ears clean, so I do occasionally use a cotton tip after my daily shower! My hearing is fine, especially given my father and his side of family all did have hearing problems which required aides! My eyesight is also good, so… simply put, I don’t know how to understand it shouldn’t be fine, given both sides of my family required glasses for reading, or hearing aides to hear! I am not saying I have perfect hearing or eyesight, I am just saying I don’t need aides of any kind right now! I am presently 67 years old! My husband is 70 years old and he requires glasses for reading! Our son required glasses as a child due to having been long sighted, but he no longer requires them as an adult, our daughter on the other hand is slightly short sighted!

  7. Diane  

    I use the cotton tips for drying my ears, I’ve never had wax problems, thankfully.
    But wake at night with wet ears, and if I don’t use a drying solution with a cotton tip, when that happens and also after a shower, I would have an ear infection for sure, and I don’t wish to go down that road again, not a nice experience.

  8. Joan  

    My ears get extreamly dry and itchy. The only way I can get relief is to use cotton buds soaked in baby oil. My mother started this with me as a young child (she also had ashma and exczma which is related to this dermatatius) by wrapping cotton wool around a bobby pin and now i’m 65 and using the cotton buds. I have not had any problems over the 60 odd years and my hearing is fine. In all that time I have developed a knowledge of my ears anatomy and feel quiet confidient in cleaning this way.

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