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Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You have most likely never noticed, but on the backside of any package of cotton swabs there’s a written warning that is some variation of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Entering the ear canal could cause injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, go check it out for yourself.

The truth is, it’s not just doctors, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the makers of cotton swabs believe it’s a bad idea!

So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a preferred method of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the producers so insistent that you don’t use their own product in this way?

We’re excited you asked: the following are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is important

Earwax has a couple of useful functions apart from being gross. It has antibacterial attributes to reduce the risk of infections, it works as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which helps prevent dried out, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs force earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs can actually be dangerous. When you drive any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re pushing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can result in an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is structured to remove its own earwax. The natural movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the external ear. All that’s needed on your part is normal showering and cleaning the outer ear with a washcloth.

4. Too much earwax removal causes dryness

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial properties, so if you remove too much, you’ll experience a dried out, itchy feeling and will be more predisposed to infections.

What you can do instead

There are a variety of commercial (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if you’re having problems with excess earwax or you’re having difficulties hearing, it’s usually best to seek the advise of a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are thoroughly educated in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any issues you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. It’s always a wise course of action to rule out more severe problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that it’s being done the right way.