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Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You’ve 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 result in injury.”

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

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

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

We’re glad you asked: here are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is invaluable

Earwax has a couple of beneficial functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial qualities to protect against 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 dry, 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 forcing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can lead to an impaction that will lead to hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

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

4. Too much earwax removal causes dryness

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

What to do instead

There are several 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 surplus 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 health issues you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a wise course of action to rule out more significant problems, and if cleaning is all that’s required, you’ll get the assurance of knowing that it’s being done correctly.