Best Way To Clean Ears: Protect Your Hearing
January 28, 2022

Your ears are an important organ, and ensuring you do your best to maintain its health is an integral part of allowing you to retain your hearing. There are many steps you can take to help preserve your hearing, including avoiding loud environments and reducing headphone volume.

While these preventative measures are frequently discussed, one aspect of hearing that is sometimes overlooked is ensuring your ears are free and clear of blockage and debris. 

Blockage of the ear canals is one potential source of hearing loss. By practicing good ear hygiene, you can ensure that you avoid an excessive buildup and subsequent loss of hearing.

An ear blockage can result in a type of hearing loss known as conductive hearing loss or even tinnitus. Luckily hearing issues due to blockage can typically be resolved by removing the blockage. Getting blockages removed can be quite expensive since it requires a trained medical professional. 

Below is a closer look at some ways in which you can keep your ears clean and protect your hearing. Just like with good dental hygiene, the best way to avoid problems hearing healthcare later down the road is to practice good preventative care.

Taking these steps can allow you to take charge of your auditory health and work towards retaining your hearing. 

Common Ear Cleaning Myths

The ear is an extremely delicate organ that is able to detect the smallest changes in air pressure and relay that information as sound. With its ability to detect such minor changes in the environment, they are quite delicate and need to be treated as such.

There are a number of different ways that people have created to help “clean” the ears, but many of these do little to actually help your ears and can actually be dangerous. Below is a closer look at some of the most common ear cleaning myths out there. 

Cotton Swabs

One of the greatest misconceptions when it comes to keeping your ears clean is that you should utilize cotton swabs. While you may have been raised to believe that this is the main function of these small cotton-tipped sticks, if you ask any doctor, they will most likely strongly advise against their use

The main reason cotton swabs are not recommended to clean the ears is that they can contribute to earwax blockage. Swabs could even introduce the possibility of injuring the eardrum itself.

When you use a cotton swab, you are essentially going in your ear blind and hoping that wax sticks to the cotton tip. Without being able to see what you are doing, you could inadvertently compact earwax, contributing to a blockage or irritation. You may also accidentally go too deep and injure your eardrum. 

Ear Candle Kit

At some point or another, you have most likely come across ear candles, They are long cylindrical hollow candles that claim to help earwax removal.

While this flashy product has captivated many to utilize them, they are, in fact, ineffective and can even be dangerous. The FDA has cracked down on the use of ear candles because the claims they make are not valid and they could cause injury. 

Let Your Ears Breathe

One of the leading reasons for ear blockages is that an individual spends too much time with things covering their ears. The ears are designed to have exposure to fresh air as a means of dissipating moisture and allowing wax to be properly excreted.

When you cover or block your ear canals, it can lead to subsequent earwax buildup. Below is a closer look at specific ways you can promote healthy ear hygiene by utilizing listening devices and ear coverings more wisely. 

Opt for Over Ear Headphones

Headphones have become a staple everyday carry for many people. From commuting on public transport to allowing you to stay focused, many people today are wearing earbuds as if it is an extension of themselves. 

While earbuds are incredibly useful, with extended use, they aren’t necessarily the best for keeping your ears clean. Earbuds that go into the ear typically create a seal with the ear canal, which allows for clearer and more efficient sound transmission. While beneficial for sound quality, this seal doesn’t allow for wax or moisture to properly escape.

A great option for audiophiles and earbud enthusiasts is to pick up a pair of headphones that go outside of your ears. Rather than creating an air-tight seal with the ear canal, over-ear headphones utilize a seal around the ear, allowing your ear canals some much-needed breathability. 

Utilize Hearing Aids When You Need Them

Another potential cause of ear blockage is hearing aids. Most hearing aids work by amplifying sounds that would enter your ear normally to a volume where it is perceivable. To accomplish this many hearing aids work in a similar fashion to earbuds by creating a seal with the ear canal to allow for more efficient sound transmission. 

Hearing aids can be an important aspect of your day, but to preserve the ear canal’s cleanliness, you should try to find times in the day when you don’t need them to let your ears breathe. By periodically taking out your hearing aid, you can ensure that excess wax and moisture is able to escape and not cause obstruction. 

Some great times to give your ear’s a break include while you sleep, when you are relaxing with a book, or while you are bathing since you most likely do not need to have high auditory acuity during these times.

If you are using hearing aids such as the Audien Atom Pro, these breaks can be a great time to put them on their portable charging case and allow them to refuel with some more juice to carry you throughout the day. 

Proper Ear Hygiene

Since you're not supposed to utilize cotton swabs, you may be wondering how exactly you should be keeping up with the hygiene of your ears. The answer may actually surprise you.

Below is a closer look at the things you can do to best maintain your ears and their health. 

Ear Wax

Most Ear Nose and Throat specialists agree that the ear is naturally a self-cleansing organ. What this means is that it will naturally cleanse itself without you needing to do anything. While the ear is able to stay “clean” the question of earwax accumulation can still be a concern. 

Earwax, to many people, is simply seen as something you need to get rid of, but actually, the wax from the ear glands, also known as cerumen, plays an important role in keeping the ears clean and healthy.

The ear gets its self-cleansing properties due to the fact that the ears are constantly producing this sticky substance that, over time, naturally flows out of the ear canal. The sticky qualities of earwax help to prevent particles, dust, and bacteria from getting lodged deep in the canal. The constant production ensures it is expelled. 

The best recommendation when it comes to cleaning your ears is to not utilize anything that enters the canal and rather clean the dried earwax on the surface of the ear. Essentially this avoids the sight of crusty ears while still allowing the earwax in the inner ear to do its job.

Utilizing a towel or damp cloth after you shower or wash your face are great tips for easier removal. Besides a washcloth, you may also use a damp paper towel or cotton ball.

Wash Outer Ear

While not entirely pertinent to retaining hearing, another aspect of proper ear hygiene is to ensure you don’t miss out on it when you are bathing. Washing “behind your ears” may sound like just a cliche, but it’s key advice.

Washing behind the ears can help to break down oil and wax accumulation that could result in symptoms like painful pimples. While you don’t need to sit there and scrub at your ears, simply remembering on occasion to give them a little wash can go a long way to maintain clean ears. 

How To Deal With Ear Blockages

Even with your best efforts, there is always the possibility of an ear blockage. While your first instinct may be to request the help of a friend, the best step you can take is to seek professional medical assistance. 

As previously discussed, the ears are a very sensitive and delicate organ. Having a trained professional remove an ear blockage is the best and safest way to restore hearing. There are many other things you can DIY, but minor medical procedures are not one of them, especially when they are closely tied to one of your major senses. 

Hearing Health

In summary, the best way to clean your ears is to let them breathe and to leave the ear canals alone. Simply washing and wiping the outer ear of dried wax and excess oil is all you need to do.

If you do already have ears that are clogged due to wax buildup or other blockages, you should consult with a physician to help remove it and restore your hearing. 


Use and abuse of cotton buds | NCBI

Ear wax | NCBI

Import Alert 77-01 | FDA

Ear wax | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

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Drew Sutton M.D.

Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.

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