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.

You see, 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 preferred method of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the manufacturers so adamant that you don’t use their product in this way?

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

1. Earwax is invaluable

Earwax has quite a few useful functions besides 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 force 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 on an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is specifically designed to remove its own earwax. The natural motions of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the outer ear. All that’s called for from you is normal showering and cleaning the external ear with a washcloth.

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness

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

What you can do instead

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

Hearing professionals are extensively trained in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any problems 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 assurance of knowing that it’s being done properly.