Ear Cleaning 101: Everything You Wanted to Know

When it comes to ears, there’s one odd topic that people never seem to get sick of: earwax.

The internet has once again been inundated by earwax removal products, viral videos of people with candles in their ears, and the like.

Here at Vibe, we’re all about busting myths so this week we’re going to be covering everything with earwax. What is it, what causes it, and what you can do about it.

Let’s dig in. (sorry, we couldn’t resist)

What causes earwax build-up?

Earwax is a completely normal protective function of the ears. Our ears naturally generate cerumen (the technical term for ear wax) in order to do two things:

  • Keep foreign objects like dust, skin, and other things out
  • Protecting the skin of the ear canal if there’s water in it

Many people hardly notice it. But some may experience a large buildup of earwax which can lead to infection or conductive hearing loss.

The cause of this is, unfortunately, just genetics so there’s nothing one can do to solve it other than helping your ears remove the excess safely.

Are over-the-counter tools safe?

There is seemingly no end to the strange assortment of objects, tools, techniques, drops, and other assorted things to help remove earwax.

For instance, as Consumer Reports writes, “there’s the Axel Glade Spade—a tiny spade equipped with a camera that allows users to watch via an app on their phone as they scoop the wax from the ear canal…[and] There’s something that looks like a drill that claims to gently remove earwax by rotating it out.”

How safe are they? In a phrase: they’re not. Despite what TikTok and Facebook videos show, “none of the devices really work.” ENT Oliver Adunka, MD told Consumer Reports, “And some of them are flat-out dangerous."

How to safely clean your ears in 3 steps

So if none of those tools work, does that mean you’re out of luck unless you go to see a professional otolaryngologist? 

If you follow 

  1. Don’t stick anything in your ear smaller than your elbow
  2. Purchase an ear wax softener and flushing system
  3. Follow the instructions on the package

If you are still dealing with excess earwax, book an appointment with an audiologist or ENT.


The advice above is great for a small build-up of ear wax every once in a while. But, if you are frequently dealing with earwax blockage to the point that it interferes with your hearing or constantly get ear infections, you should book an appointment with an ENT right away for a formal evaluation.

Also if you take anything away from this: for the love of your hearing, stop using Q-Tips.


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