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Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You’ve most likely never noticed, but on the back 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 result in injury.”

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

The truth is, 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!

So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a commonly used method of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the producers so adamant 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 several useful functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial properties 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 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 cause an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is crafted to remove its own earwax. The natural motions of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will move the earwax to the external ear. All that’s required on your part is regular showering and cleaning the external ear with a cloth.

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dry skin

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

What you can do instead

There are a variety of commercialized (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having problems with excessive earwax or you’re having trouble hearing, it’s always best to talk to a hearing professional.

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