Close up of ear candles that don't work to clean ear wax.

In some groups, the practice known as “ear candling” is routinely believed to be a good way to decrease earwax. What is ear candling, and does it work?

Is Ear Candling Effective?

Spoiler alert: No. They definitely don’t work.

Why then, does this piece of pseudo-science keep finding its way into the minds of otherwise reasonable people? That’s a difficult question to answer. But even though the rational decision is quite clear, knowing more about the risks of earwax candling will help us make an educated choice.

Earwax Candling, What is it?

So the basic setup goes like this: Maybe you aren’t sure how to remove all your accumulated earwax. You know you aren’t supposed to use cotton swabs (which is good, cotton swabs are not an ideal way to clean out your ears, in general). So you begin looking for an alternate and come across this method called earwax candling.

Earwax candling is supposed to work as follows: You produce a pressure differential by inserting the candle into your ear, wick side out. The wax inside of your ear, then, is pulled outward, towards the freedom of the open world. Any wax that might be clogged up in your ear can, theoretically, be pulled out by this amount of pressure. But this harmful technique is not a smart method of cleaning your ears.

Why Doesn’t Ear Candling Work?

This practice has several problems, like the fact that the physics just don’t work. It would require a significant amount of pressure to move earwax around and a candle just isn’t capable of creating that amount of pressure. Also, a candle doesn’t have the kind of seal necessary to maintain pressure.

Now, the candles used in these “procedures” are supposed to be special. All of the wax that was in your ear can be found in the hollow portion of the candle which can be broken apart when you’re finished with your 15 minutes of ear candling. But the problem is you can find this same detritus in new unburned candles also. So the entire procedure amounts to fraud.

Scientific analysis has never been able to prove any benefit regarding earwax candling.

So Earwax Candling Doesn’t Work, But How Safe is it?

What’s the harm in trying, right? Well, whenever you get hot candle wax around your ears, you’re looking for trouble. Look, it’s very possible that you might try ear candling and leave completely unscathed. Plenty of people do. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks involved, and it definitely doesn’t mean that ear candling is safe.

The negative effects of ear candling can include:

  • Extreme burns inside ear. When melted candle wax goes into your ear, it can lead to severe hearing issues and burns. This could permanently damage your hearing in the most extreme cases.
  • Any time you’re mucking about with an open flame, there’s a possibility that you may cause significant damage and put your life in danger. Seriously, you may burn down your house. Getting rid of a bit of earwax isn’t worth that kind of risk and danger.
  • Once the wax cools down it can clog up your ear canal. This can cause temporary hearing loss or, in the most serious cases, require surgery.

You Don’t Require a Candle to Clean Your Ears

Most people will never truly have to be concerned about cleaning earwax from their ears. That’s because your ears are really pretty good about cleaning themselves! Nevertheless, there are some people who will have unusually heavy earwax production or accumulation to contend with.

If you do need to clean your ears out because of too much wax, there are scientifically-proven (and effective) ways to do that properly. For example, you could get a fluid wash. Another alternative would be to consult a hearing care professional for an earwax cleaning.

Cotton swabs are definitely not the way to go. And open flames are not good either. Earwax candling is a procedure that has no benefit and will put your ears, and your whole person, at considerable risk of injury and damage. So maybe it’s time to put those special candles away.