Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You have most likely never noticed, but on the back 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. Penetrating the ear canal could lead to injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs, go check it out for yourself.

You see, it’s not just physicians, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the makers of cotton swabs feel it’s a bad idea!

But 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 insistent that you don’t use their product in this manner?

We’re happy you asked: here are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is beneficial

Earwax has a couple of beneficial functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial qualities to prevent infections, it functions as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which prevents dried out, 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 cause an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is fashioned to remove its own earwax. The normal movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will move the earwax to the outer ear. All that’s needed on your part is regular showering and cleaning the outer ear with a cloth.

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dry skin

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial properties, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll experience a dried out, itchy feeling and will be more prone to infections.

What to do instead

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

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