How to Clean Out Your Ears

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There are few things as viscerally unpleasant as the ambient sound of your own ear canals.

I have what one would charitably call “chronically gunky ears.” Every few months, my ears get so gunked up that not only do I go nearly deaf, but my sense of balance gets thrown out of whack. I can’t even wear ear buds when listening to music because my ears almost immediately attack them with a deluge of wax. This is why I’ve had to get used to clearing my own ears out safely and thoroughly, and it’s a surprisingly useful skill to have.

When you think about wax build-up in your ears, your first assumption is probably to pick it out with a cotton swab, right? Well, as it turns out, that’s actually one of the worst things you can do to your ear. Not only do cotton swabs usually just push the wax deeper into your ear canal, but they can potentially damage the sensitive skin of the canal, or worse, your inner ear. So yeah, don’t put stuff in your ears.

Instead, wipe the outer rim of the ear canal with a warm, damp washcloth to clean off some of the surface level wax without irritating your skin. If the wax is deeper, then place a couple of drops of baby oil, saline solution, or hydrogen peroxide into the canal and hold your head sideways for around 15-30 minutes. This’ll loosen up the wax from the walls of the canal. With any luck, the wax should just slide right out of your ear when you tilt your head (preferably over a bathtub or sink). If it’s still stuck in there, you can gently flush your ear out with warm water using a bulb syringe. That should carry that last lump of wax out of there.

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If you visit your local pharmacy, you can find special earwax removal kits that include wax-softeners and bulb syringes. It’s a good addition for the family medicine cabinet, because let me tell you, those wax build-ups can strike at the most random, annoying times.