Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You have more than likely never noticed, but on the backside of any package of cotton swabs there’s a written warning that is some variation 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 take a look for yourself.

The thing is, it’s not just doctors, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the makers of cotton swabs think it’s a bad idea!

So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a commonly used technique 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 glad you asked: here are four good reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is important

Earwax has a variety of useful functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial attributes to protect against infections, it operates as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which prevents dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs force earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs is actually dangerous. When you drive any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re pressing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can develop into an impaction that will result in hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

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

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness

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

What you can do instead

There are several 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 issues with surplus earwax or you’re having difficulties hearing, it’s usually best to consult a hearing professional.

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