blue ear diagram
blue ear diagram

The Truth About Ear Wax and How to Properly Clean Your Ears

Earwax may sound like a gross topic, but understanding how it works is important for maintaining proper hearing health. Here's everything you need to know.


What Does Earwax Look Like?

Earwax, also known as cerumen, can look a few different ways—it could be firm and solid or dry and flaky or almost liquid. This can vary from person to person. It tends to be a yellowish color.

Are There Different Types of Earwax?

The short answer is yes. The reason that earwax can become visible or even feel like it is filling your ear canals is because of jaw movement that occurs from speaking and chewing actually moves the substance through the ear canal. It gets exposed to air, somewhat dries and usually flakes off of the ear.

Studies also show that your ethnicity can often dictate what type of earwax you might have. For instance, researchers have found that people of East Asian descent are more likely to have dry earwax over people of other origins.

However, if you’re someone who has a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, then you’re also likely to have hard earwax versus those who do not, and some people are simply born with a tendency that causes their bodies to produce a wetter or a drier type of earwax.

If you’re someone who has ears that don’t produce enough earwax, or if you’re overcleaning them, then you’re likely to have itchy, irritated and dry feeling ears that cause you discomfort.

What Is the Purpose of Earwax?

Earwax is between 20-50% adipose tissue. It coats the skin of the ear canal and acts as a moisturizer, water repellent, infection fighter and general protector against dust, dirt and germs from getting into the ear. Earwax is produced about one third of the way into your ear canal and it slowly makes its way out of the ear, taking with it anything that shouldn’t be in the ear, including dead skin and hair cells.

How Do I Know If I Have Too Much Earwax?

Believe it or not, most of us clean earwax from our ears much too often. In so doing, we remove a protective layer that helps keep our ear canals healthy and clean.
On the other hand, excessive earwax can lead to a variety of different symptoms, including:
  • Hearing problems / hearing loss
  • Ear infection
  • A plugged sensation in the ear
  • Tinnitus – ringing in the ears
  • Itching

Are Cotton Swabs or Q-tips Unsafe?

Did your mother ever tell you not to put things in your ears? She was right! You should never stick anything in your ears, even to clean them! Do not stick cotton swabs (or any other foreign objects) into your ears, as you will risk damaging the very delicate eardrum or the ear canal itself. You may also be pushing more earwax back into the ear than you’ll be removing. Counter-intuitively, what's known as an "impaction" usually occurs after people attempt to use Q-tips or stick something in their ear to remove earwax.

What’s more, by removing that layer of wax with the antibacterial and antifungal properties, you’re increasing the risk of potential ear infection, which can cause you a whole host of problems.

What's the Best Way to Remove Earwax?

Not only should you avoid Q-tips/cotton swabs, but you'll also want to avoid "ear candling" or similar such methods for cleaning your ears.

Here are some dos and don’ts for cleaning your ears safely and effectively:


  • Use a damp washcloth: Gently wiping the outside of your ear with a damp washcloth can help remove dirt and sweat and prevent it from traveling deeper into your ear, where it can cause damage to your delicate system.
  • Use a few drops of olive oil or mineral oil: Applying a few drops of olive oil or mineral oil to your ear canal can help soften earwax and make it easier to remove with a bulb or gentle rinse.
  • Use an earwax removal kit: If you have excessive earwax buildup, an earwax removal kit can help safely remove it.
  • Get in touch with your local hearing care provider: If cleaning your ears makes you nervous or you can’t seem to get them cleared up, don’t hesitate to contact your local Beltone for professional assistance.


  • Use cotton swabs: We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: for goodness sake, please don’t use cotton swabs to clean your ears! Using cotton swabs can push earwax further into the ear canal, causing blockage and potential damage. All around a bad choice.
  • Use ear candles: Ear candles claim to remove earwax by creating suction, but they can cause serious injury and damage to the ear canal and delicate hearing systems that live there.
  • Attempt to clean if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort: Putting anything into your ear canal when you’re already feeling discomfort or inflammation will only make things worse. Instead, contact your hearing care provider or take a pause before cleaning them next.
  • Use alcohol, soap, or other solutions unless specifically meant for ears: Some cleaning solutions that are okay for the rest of our body may not be safe for our inner ears. Choose your cleaning solution wisely, and when in doubt, opt for something specifically meant for ear cleaning.

Earwax and Your Hearing Aids

When people remove their hearing aids, the devices might have earwax on them. Beltone hearing aids are designed to wick away sweat and earwax to help keep them clean.  However, there will still be times earwax can interfere with your hearing aids, causing a blockage or even damage, due to its acidic nature.
Because of the potential for earwax clogs, hearing aid cleaning should be an important part of a daily care regimen.  For those who wear hearing aids or frequently use earplugs—or anyone who does experience excess wax build-up—you can come to a Beltone location nearest you and we can help clean your hearing aid.
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