Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

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

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. 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 believe it’s a bad idea!

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

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

1. Earwax is invaluable

Earwax has several useful functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial attributes to reduce the risk of infections, it operates as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which prevents dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs drive earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs can actually be dangerous. When you force any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re driving 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 normal motions of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will move the earwax to the external ear. All that’s called for from you is regular showering and cleaning the outer ear with a washcloth.

4. Too much earwax removal causes dry skin

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

What you can do instead

There are a variety of commercial (and homemade) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is considerably safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having issues with too much earwax or you’re having trouble hearing, it’s always best to talk to a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are extensively educated in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any health issues you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a wise decision to rule out more significant problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the peace of mind of knowing that it’s being done properly.