Are you being bothered by ear wax? Is it irritating you, affecting your hearing, or just making you feel self-conscious? Not sure how to remove ear wax blockage? You may know that there typically isn’t a medical reason to remove ear wax, and trying to remove it can even cause more serious problems. However, there are times when ear wax becomes so uncomfortable you may not feel like you have a choice.
That’s where we come in. In this guide, we go over the six most popular methods of ear wax removal, and we explain what’s the best way to remove ear wax. We also provide general safety tips to help you remove excess ear wax without creating other problems.
Should You Remove Ear Wax?
First off, should you even be trying to remove ear wax? Isn’t there a reason your body is producing it?
That’s right; ear wax helps protect the ear canal from fungi, bacteria, water, and anything else that enters your ear. It also protects the skin of the ear canal and helps keep it clean. It’s normal and healthy for your body to produce some ear wax, and the vast majority of people don’t need to worry about removing it.
However, some people’s bodies produce so much ear wax that it causes discomfort or health issues. Excessive ear wax can be an issue if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Pain in the ear
- Hearing loss
- Ringing in the ears
If you have one or more of those symptoms, you may want to look into ear wax removal treatments. There are many over-the-counter remedies for ear wax, but because using them incorrectly can result in serious issues such as an infection or punctured eardrum, you should talk to your doctor before you begin any ear wax treatment.
6 Ways to Remove Ear Wax
Next, we’ll discuss how to remove ear wax blockage. Below are six of the most common ways to remove ear wax. For each one, we explain the method and gives a price estimate, pros, cons, and an overall recommendation. The methods are listed roughly from most recommended to least recommended.
Method 1: Suctioning
How to do it: A small suction is inserted into the ear canal (typically a doctor does this) and the ear wax is suctioned out.
Price: This will likely be done in your doctor’s office, and the cost will be determined by them, although it usually won’t cost much (or anything) in addition to your copay.
Pros: Fast, effective results. Especially good for those with wax deep in the ear canal, those with narrow ear canals, and other people who would have difficulty removing ear wax some other way.
Cons: Procedure can cause mild discomfort, should only be done by a medical professional to ensure safety and prevent damaging the ear canal.
Recommended? Suctioning is a fast way to get rid of ear wax, especially for people with ear wax that would otherwise be difficult to remove. However, suctioning should only be done by a doctor or other medical professional, which can make it less convenient than at home remedies.
Method 2: Ear Drops
How to do it: Many brands of commercial ear drops are available. You’ll lay on your side, with one ear up and one ear down. Then, use the dropper to put the proper number of drops (this will vary depending on the brand you use) in the ear canal. You may need to remain still for a few minutes (again, instructions will be on the bottle), then you’ll switch sides and repeat. The drops soften and break up ear wax so that it’s more likely to break down naturally.
Price: A bottle of ear drops typically costs $5-$10.
Pros: Generally safe, easy to do, allows ear wax to be removed naturally.
Cons: Can take several hours or days for results to occur, shouldn’t be used by people with ear sensitivities or holes/perforations in their ear drum.
Recommended? Ear drops can be a safe and effective way of removing ear wax. We recommend using commercial ear drops, rather than homemade ones, for safety purposes. If you use the ear drops for wax removal correctly and don’t have any prior ear issues, this is a low-risk way to effectively remove ear wax.
Method 3: Hydrogen Peroxide
How to do it: Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most popular home remedies for removing ear wax. Similar to ear drops, a few drops of hydrogen peroxide are dripped into the ear to help soften and dissolve ear wax. To start, mix a 1:2 ratio of water and hydrogen peroxide. Next, lie on your side, with one ear facing up. Drip the solution slowly into the ear until the ear canal is full of fluid. Keep still for five minutes. After five minutes, slowly raise your head and blot any excess liquid with a tissue. Repeat with the other ear.
Price: A bottle of hydrogen peroxide is about $2.
Pros: Inexpensive, low risk of side effects.
Cons: Results may take a few hours or days, may need to do this multiple times to see results, often not quite as effective as commercial ear drops.
Recommended? Like ear drops, removing ear wax with hydrogen peroxide is one of the safest methods, but it may not give you the immediate results you’re looking for. Using hydrogen peroxide is cheaper than buying ear drops, but it may not be quite as effective at removing ear wax, and it may take longer to see results.
Method 4: Ear Syringes/Irrigation
How to do it: Irrigation kits can be purchased over the counter or administered by a doctor. There are some variations, but most require you to lay with your head tilted so one ear is up and one is down. A small bowl is placed under the ear facing down. You or another person then inserts a syringe bulb (included in the kit) filled with warm water into the ear and squeezes it to apply a steady stream of water through the ear canal. Excess water will run into the bowl. Stay in that position until the ear canal is completely drained of water, then switch sides and repeat.
Cost: An ear wax removal kit is usually less than $20.
Pros: Fast way to get results, can be done at home.
Cons: Can be difficult to do on your own, some people don’t like the sensation of water running through their ears.
Recommended? Ear irrigation is generally a safe and effective way to remove ear wax; however, it can be difficult to do yourself the first time. Be sure to carefully read the instructions on the kit, and ask a doctor to perform the procedure if you’re not comfortable doing it. Also, it may not be the best method for you if you think you’ll be bothered by feeling water running through your ears.
Method 5: Cotton Swabs
How to do it: A cotton swab (such as a Q-tip) is inserted gently into the ear canal, twisted or wiggled, then removed with (hopefully) some ear wax sticking to it.
Price: A pack of 500 cotton swabs is usually less than $5.
Pros: Cotton swabs are cheap and easy to buy, you probably already know how to use them.
Cons: In the past few years, doctors have been much more vocal about the potential dangers of cotton swabs. Using them can damage your ear, puncture a hole in your ear drum, and push the earwax deeper into the ear, causing further problems.
Recommended? Even though cotton swabs are probably the most common method for removing ear wax, the medical community is firmly against them. Evidence shows they have no useful benefit and can be very harmful, particularly when used by children. In fact, dozens of children (as well as adults) get sent to the ER every day due to complications arising from cotton swabs. These complications can sometimes be serious, such as when the eardrum is punctured, or the cotton swab becomes stuck. It’s not recommended that you use them, but if you do, insert them into your ear very slowly and gently, and don’t push them in farther than feels comfortable. You also shouldn’t allow kids to use them themselves.
Method 6: Candling
How to do it: A 10-15 inch, hollow, cone-shaped “candle,” typically made of wax-impregnated cloth, is inserted into the ear canal, and the exposed end is lit. The heat from the candle supposedly draws wax out of the ear canal.
Price: Cost varies widely, but an ear wax removal candle can usually be purchased for about $5.
Pros: None that are supported by the medical community.
Cons: Ear candling carries a number of risks. People who have done it have experienced burns, wax dripping into their ear, and tympanic membrane perforation (basically a hole in the eardrum), among other issues.
Recommended? Candling is one of the worst methods for ear wax removal. Although it’s popular among some alternative medicine communities, there’s no evidence that it’s effective, and it can put you at risk for injuries much more serious than a buildup of earwax. It’s highly recommended that you use a different method.
4 General Tips for Ear Wax Removal
As you can see, there are multiple ways to remove ear wax. Regardless of which method you use, you should always keep these tips in mind when removing ear wax to prevent injury to your ear canal or eardrum, something that can have far more serious consequences than a buildup of wax.
#1: Consult a Doctor Before Using Any of These Methods
Even the safest method of ear wax removal can be risky if you’re not sure what you’re doing or you use a product your body has a negative reaction to. It’s best to always err on the side of caution and discuss ear wax removal treatments with your doctor before you start using them to ensure you aren’t putting your health at risk.
#2: Never Force Anything Into Your Ear
You should never push anything, whether it’s a cotton swab, syringe, dropper, or any other ear wax removal tool, into your ear canal. If it doesn’t go in easily, don’t force or push it, even if you don’t think it’s in all the way. Forcing something, even the best ear wax removal tool, into your ear canal can rupture your eardrum or cause other serious issues, and, unfortunately, this exact issue sends many people to the hospital each year.
#3: Remember That Your Body Is Supposed to Produce Earwax
Even though ear wax can be annoying and unsightly, remember that your body is meant to produce it. The goal shouldn’t be to eliminate earwax completely, but to keep it at a level that is comfortable for you.
#4: Be Especially Careful If You’re Prone to Ear Infections or Other Ear Issues
If you have a history of ear infections, ear sensitivity, diabetes, a hole in your eardrum, or another issue relating to your ears, you should always speak with your doctor before you begin any earwax removal treatment. People with a history of ear problems can suffer serious side effects from even the safest earwax removal treatments, so you shouldn’t try any of them before speaking to a doctor.
Conclusion: The Best Way to Remove Ear Wax
Even if you think that ear wax is gross or annoying, you likely don’t need to worry about removing it. It’s normal for your body to produce ear wax, and, unless it’s causing you discomfort or affecting other parts of your life, it doesn’t need to be removed.
If you do decide to remove it, there are several ways to do this. The most common ear wax removal methods are:
- Ear drops
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Ear irrigation
- Cotton swabs
What’s the best way to remove ear wax? We recommend suctioning or ear drops as the safest and most effective ways. However, all of these methods, particularly cotton swabs and candling, carry some risk, and you should always consult a doctor before you try any of them, especially if you’re not sure how to remove ear wax blockage. No matter which method you use, you should always avoid forcing anything into the ear canal in order to avoid serious injury.