The Dos and Don’ts of Removing Ear Wax

If you ask people how they clean their ears, most will say they use cotton tips. But did you know that this is precisely what the manufacturers of cotton tips/cotton buds/cotton swabs/whatever you’d like to call them, advise us against doing?

Despite warnings on the boxes of cotton tips strongly recommending that they shouldn’t be inserted into the ear canal, we continue to do so. Using cotton tips can damage the ear and lead to wax impaction

So just how do we keep our ears clean and problem-free? Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind when looking after your ears.

Ear Wax - What Not to Do

Don’t…think of ear wax as just being gross and unnecessary. Actually, ear wax plays a very important role in keeping our ears healthy and clean because it helps to block the entry of dust, germs and bacteria. Ear wax also lubricates ears stopping them from becoming dry and itchy.3

Don’t…worry. For the majority of us, our ears produce just the right amount of wax needed and this wax is expelled naturally without us noticing, simply by falling out as we chew or talk. It tends to be only in some people, especially elderly people and hearing aid users, that an excess of wax is produced or accumulated, which can cause problems.2-4

Don’t…ignore signs of trouble. If you notice a feeling of fullness in an ear, have difficulty hearing, hear a ringing sound, or are experiencing pain, discomfort or discharge, it’s important you visit your doctor so that they can identify and resolve the problem.

Don’t…stick anything into your ear, such as a cotton tip, finger or pen, as this can cause damage to the ear drum and is more likely to result in a build-up of wax by pushing it further into the ear.1-5

Don’t…wear ear plugs or earphones for long periods of time as they inhibit ear wax’s ability to fall out of your ears.2,4

Ear Wax - What to Do

So now you know what not to do, what should you do to keep your ears free from damage and a build-up of wax?

Do…clean your ears simply by wiping the external part of your ear with a damp face cloth every day or every few days.2,4,5

Do…dry your ear thoroughly with a towel after showering or swimming.4

Do…tilt your head to each side and hold for a few seconds to drain the water out after you’ve been swimming.4

Do…talk to your doctor about special earplugs for swimming.

Do…consider treating an ear wax build-up with over the counter ear drops like WAXSOL.

Do…see your doctor if you're unsure whether or not your symptoms are caused by ear wax, or if your symptoms persist.

Do…not suffer ear problems any longer than you need to. More often than not they can be treated easily, affordably and painlessly. Be sure to see your doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing any ear problems.

References used:

1. Schwartz, S.R., Magit, A.E., Rosenfeld, R.M., Ballachanda, B.B., Hackell, J.M., Krouse, H.J., Lawlor, C.M., Lin, K., Parham, K., Stutz, D.R. and Walsh, S., 2017. ‘Clinical practice guideline (update): Earwax (cerumen impaction)’. Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, vol. 156, no. 1, pp.S1-S29.
2. Better Health Channel 2021, Ear wax, viewed April 2024,
3. RACGP guidelines for ear wax management 2015, viewed April 2024
4. Department of Health & Human Services. Swimmer’s ear. Published August 21, 2024. Viewed April 2024.
5. Krouse HJ, Magit AE, O’Connor S, Schwarz SR, Walsh SA. Plain Language Summary: Earwax (Cerumen Impaction). Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. 2017;156(1):30-37. Viewed April 2024.


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