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 warning that is some version of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Penetrating the ear canal could lead to injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs, go take a look for yourself.

You see, it’s not just physicians, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the producers 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 manufacturers so adamant that you don’t use their product in this way?

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

1. Earwax is important

Earwax has several beneficial functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial qualities to prevent infections, it functions 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 push earwax up against the eardrum

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

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is constructed to eliminate its own earwax. The normal motions of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will move the earwax to the outer ear. All that’s called for from you is regular showering and cleaning the outer ear with a washcloth.

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll experience a dry, itchy feeling and will be more susceptible to infections.

What to do instead

There are several commercial (and homemade) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is considerably safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if you’re having issues with excess earwax or you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s always best to pay a visit to a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are extensively trained in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any issues you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a good idea to rule out more serious problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the assurance of knowing that it’s being done the right way.

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