Why You Should Really Stop Cleaning Your Ears with Cotton Swabs


You’ve probably heard by now that using cotton swabs like Q-tips to clean your ears can cause infection or injury to your ear can*l or eardrum, but this latest case out of Australia might be the thing that actually gets you to stop.


A 37-year-old woman who claimed that she cleaned her ears using a Q-tip every single night found blood on the swab, prompting a trip to the doctor.

There, she learned that her overuse of the product had caused an infection deep inside her ear can*l – one that caused the skull bone behind the ear to thin out and put her at risk for permanent hearing loss.

Now, even though cases like hers (and worse) have been documented, using the swabs to clean your ears once a month or so is unlikely to cause any kind of repetitive-use damage.


That said, there’s really no reason you need to stick swabs down there at all.

Human ears are self-cleaning, partly due to the fluid properties of the wax you’re trying to remove. If you do feel as if you’re experiencing issues due to a buildup, that harmless condition can be easily and safely treated without using Q-tips at all.

Basically, the upside of having a nice, dry, clean-feeling ear doesn’t outweigh the potential risks, which range from trauma to infection via the introduction of external pathogens. And trust me, “pathogen” is not something you want in close proximity with your brain and vestibular system.

This goes double for children, who landed in the emergency room over 263,000 times in 2017 after cotton-swab-related injuries. That’s 36 kids a day.


“This highlights the misconception that adults and children need to clean the ear can*l in the home setting,” advises Dr. Kris Jatana, a pediatric ear, nose, and throat surgeon. “While cotton-tipped applicators may seem harmless, there are certainly a lot of potential risks t using them to clean the ears.”

If you need another reason to dump Q-tips, they’re also terrible for the environment. Most are made of plastic and aren’t biodegradable, meaning that they contribute to the massive problem of plastic waste and pollution impacting the entire world (and killing all the fish and turtles and whales!).

Just say no, people. A little earwax never hurt anyone.