Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You have more than likely never noticed, but on the back of any package of cotton swabs there’s a written warning that is some variation of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Entering the ear canal could cause injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, go take a look for yourself.

You see, it’s not just doctors, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the manufacturers of cotton swabs believe it’s a bad idea!

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

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

1. Earwax is useful

Earwax has several beneficial functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial attributes 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 dry, 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 pressing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can bring on an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

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

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial properties, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll have a dry, itchy feeling and will be more predisposed to infections.

What you can do instead

There are several 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. However, if you’re having issues with too much 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 issues you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a good strategy to rule out more serious problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that it’s being done the right way.