Skip to main content

Please note: Effective March 8, the Davis Avenue Parking Garage will be closed.

See our Visitor Information Page>

Health library

How to clean your ears

Close-up view of an ear.

Feb. 26, 2024—Keeping your ears clean can help prevent infections—and protect your hearing. But the wrong approach can lead to infections or damage. This advice from AARP, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association (AMA) can help you protect your ears from the inside out.

Inner ear: Skip the swabs

According to the AMA, the inner ear comes with a built-in self-cleaning system: Earwax mixes with shed skin and dirt, allowing it to come out of the ear canal on its own.

Letting a bit of water in as you shower can help that process. But there's no need to stick a cotton swab (or any other pointy object, including your finger) into your ear. In fact, that can push wax in deeper, which can cause a blockage and hearing loss. It can also disrupt your ear's natural cleaning process or even damage your eardrum.

Some people do experience excess earwax. That's due to a variety of factors, according to AARP, including changes in earwax consistency, narrowed ear canals or other blockages, such as using hearing aids. Wearing earbuds frequently can also block the flow of wax.

To remove excess earwax, take a gentle approach:

  • Place one or two drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin or 3% hydrogen peroxide liquid into your ear while your head is tilted with your ear pointing toward the ceiling.
  • Stay in that position for a minute or two.
  • Then tilt your head in the other direction to allow the fluid to flow back out of your ear. It will carry out wax along with it.
  • If necessary, use a few gentle squeezes of warm water from a bulb syringe to dislodge the softened wax.
  • Repeat if the wax doesn't immediately break free.

Note: If you have an ear infection or damaged eardrum, skip this ear-flushing approach. It can cause a more serious infection deeper in your ear or even create a hole in your eardrum.

Outer ear: Give it a gentle scrub

While the inner ear is generally self-cleaning, your outer ears still need a helping hand. Keeping your outer ears clean can help prevent infections, and it gives earwax a clear and easy path as it exits your inner ear.

Make sure your ears are part of your daily cleaning routine. After you shower or wash your face, use water and a gentle soap on a washcloth to clean around the front and back of the outside of each ear.

As you clean the curves and crannies of your outer ear, go ahead and use a cotton swab or washcloth-covered finger. If you have ear piercings, use rubbing alcohol to keep them clean and prevent infections. (Don't forget to disinfect your earrings regularly too.)

Once your ears are clean, dry them gently with a towel. Drying your ears after showering and swimming prevents bacteria from growing—and problems such as swimmer's ear.

Know when to ask for advice

Not all ear problems benefit from a DIY approach. Let your doctor know if you experience problems such as:

  • Tinnitus.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Dizziness.
  • Persistent itching in your ears.
  • A feeling of fullness in your ears.

Explore more

Learn more about keeping your ears healthy—and protecting your hearing—in our Ears health topic center.


Read more breaking news Related stories