3 safer ways to remove ear wax than using cotton swabs or Q-tips — according to doctors

  • Many doctors recommend not sticking anything in your ears, especially Q-tips or metal tools.
  • Some recommend drops or irrigation systems for loosening hard wax.
  • Keep in mind that wax is a normal substance made for a reason by your body.

Ear wax is the natural safeguard for your ear canal, acting as protection against sand, bugs, and dirt getting in and damaging your canal or eardrum. But if ear wax builds up too much, it can impair your hearing — everything sounds muffled, and it can give you that feeling like you are underwater. Instead of reaching for a cotton swab or Q-tip, which experts say aren’t safe because they can puncture your eardrum and do other damage, try one of these products instead.

According to Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, otolaryngologist (ENT) and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, irrigation systems are “perfectly fine as long as there’s not too much pressure and as long as it’s comfortable.” He says to avoid using cold water in the ear, which can cause vertigo or dizziness. Irrigation systems are one of the tools ENTs would use in the office if a patient came in with excessive ear wax, and is a home remedy you can try without doing harm.

In addition, if people have an uncomfortable amount of ear wax clogging the ear, it can help to liquefy the wax with drops, which Dr. Mehdizadeh says are usually composed of peroxide, which fizzes in the ear. “It’s okay for one to two weeks max, but not on a regular basis because it can cause irritation.”

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Here are the best ear wax removal tools

  • The best water irrigator: Elephant Ear Washer Bottle System by Doctor Easy
  • The best ear drops: Detox Earwax Removal Aid
  • The best water irrigator for kids: Earwax MD for Kids, Ear Wax Removal Kit and Ear Cleaning Tool

The best water irrigator

The Elephant Ear Washer Bottle System by Doctor Easy is a simple and straightforward solution that won’t damage ears. 

What we like: No ball syringe, simple mechanism, gentle

This irrigation system is ideal because it offers a simplistic mechanism involving a spray bottle with three disposable tips. It doesn’t have a lot of extra bells, whistles, and complicated parts that make ear wax removal intimidating. Some systems have the ball syringe to suck out the remaining fluid and wax, but this one doesn’t, which means it can be considered safer than other products that are supposed to be inserted into the ear. In fact, ball syringe options fall in the category of things Dr. Mehdizadeh thinks may be dangerous to insert in your ear.

The price is reasonable, and you can buy replacement tips if you plan on using it more than three times. One downside of this design is that it doesn’t come with instructions, but there are instructional videos on the purchase site that can help.

The best ear drops

Detox Earwax Removal Aid is a non-irritating formula that can loosen tough wax.

What we like: Non-irritating formula, super easy to use, loosens wax

This popular and affordable alternative to a pricey doctor’s visit can help loosen the toughest ear wax. The active ingredient is the doctor-recommended carbamide peroxide, and users can expect a foaming, cracking, fizzing sound and feeling when they try it. This simply means it’s working well and should not be alarming. The formula claims to be non-irritating, and it’s one of the easiest-use processes for ear wax removal.

The best water irrigator for kids

Earwax MD for Kids, Ear Wax Removal Kit and Ear Cleaning Tool is specifically designed for kids with a smaller bottle and tip.

What we like: Gentle, small parts for kids

Dr. Mehdizadeh says the only way parents should be trying to clean ear wax out of their kids’ ears without a medical professional is with an irrigation system such as this one. The small bottle and miniature tip make this a more manageable option for a young child, as opposed to the adult irrigators.

Parents can simply have a child lay down, with a towel handy, and slowly fill the ear canal one drop at a time, then set a 15-minute timer and wait. Afterward, you can use the bulb to rinse the ear or allow it to drain naturally. 

Should you remove ear wax?

Ear wax is an oil secreted by the ear canal, which Dr. Mehdizadeh explains as a collection of oil, skin, debris, and dirt. While it seems gross with its light yellow to dark brown color, he says it has a protective effect: it’s moisturizing and antibacterial and is protecting your eardrum and ear canal.

So, there’s no real reason to try to remove ear wax unless it’s impairing your hearing or causing discomfort. Still addicted to those cotton swabs? Be aware that they are “pushing the wax in deeper,” and that nothing should go into the ear to the point that you can’t see it or you risk painful injuries such as eardrum perforation. If the above products don’t work, or you are unsure how to use them correctly, consult your primary care physician or an ENT.

 

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