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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 warning that is some version of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. Penetrating the ear canal could cause injury.”

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

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

But why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a prevalent technique of ear cleaning, should it be avoided? Why are the manufacturers so insistent that you don’t use their 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 essential

Earwax has a variety of beneficial functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial qualities to prevent 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 is actually 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 bring about an impaction that will result in hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

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

4. Too much earwax removal causes dryness

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

What to do instead

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

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