Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You have probably never noticed, but on the backside of any package of cotton swabs there’s a warning that is some version of this:

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

If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, go check it out 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 producers of cotton swabs think it’s a bad idea!

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

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

1. Earwax is important

Earwax has a couple of beneficial functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial properties 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 dried out, 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 pressing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can result in an impaction that will lead to hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

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

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness

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

What you can do instead

There are several commercialized (and homemade) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far less dangerous than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having problems with surplus earwax or you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s always best to pay a visit to a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are extensively educated in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any health issues you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a good idea 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 correctly.