Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You’ve more than 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 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 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!

So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a popular technique of ear cleaning, should it be avoided? Why are the manufacturers so insistent that you don’t use their product in this way?

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

1. Earwax is invaluable

Earwax has a variety of useful functions apart from being gross. It has antibacterial qualities to reduce the risk of infections, it works 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 drive earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs is actually dangerous. When you drive 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 result in an impaction that will result in hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

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

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dry skin

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll experience a dried out, itchy feeling and will be more predisposed 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 considerably less dangerous than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having problems with excess earwax or you’re having trouble hearing, it’s usually best to seek the advise of a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are thoroughly trained in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any ailments you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a wise decision to rule out more serious problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the assurance of knowing that it’s being done properly.