Is it dangerous to clean ears with a Q-Tip?

Are you one of those persons who uses a Q-Tip to clean your ears? If some people advise against using them, it’s rare that they know the risks, or can provide alternatives to keep your ears clean.

To definitively answer all your questions, here are tips from a hearing care professional regarding the use of cotton swabs to clean ears. Is it dangerous? What are the risks associated with using the Q-Tip? How can a person otherwise clean his ears?

A cotton swab to clean ears, really?

First, remember that a cotton swab, sometimes called the brand name Q-Tip, has nothing to do with an earpick. The name earpick is used wrongly and actually refers to a small spoon that only health professionals use in the clinic to remove wax from the ears of their patients.


Contrary to popular belief, the cotton swab is not designed to clean ears.

When we carefully read the directions on the box, it is clearly stated that the cotton swab should not be used to clean ears.


Do not insert the cotton swab in the hearing canal. Inserting a cotton swab into the hearing canal could cause injury. If you use a cotton swab to clean the ears….


What are the dangers associated with cleaning ears with a Q-Tip?

First, when you insert a cotton swab in your ear, solid wax, which represents the largest part of what lies in your hearing canal, can be pushed in deeper. Painful wax plugs are created with time and it is not uncommon that you’ll need the help of a healthcare professional to get rid of them. In some cases, repeated use of a cotton swab has been the cause of a perforated eardrum.

The friction of the tip of the cotton swab on the inside of your ear may also cause skin irritation and itching. People have the unfortunate habit of relieving this discomfort with... another Q-Tip! What is the solution to this vicious circle? Forget the Q-Tip and keep reading!


How to clean ears without a cotton swab?

Did you know that ears in fact clean themselves? We could characterize them as being self-cleaning, and this is precisely the job of cerumen, or ear wax, to carry accumulated dirt and dust up and to the outside of the hearing canal.

It isn’t worth putting your ears at risk with a Q-Tip to help keep them clean. Just wrap a thin, wet washcloth on your little finger and slide it into the hole. Your ears will, thus, be freed of excess wax that might appear.

If necessary, you can apply a few drops of mineral oil using a dropper into your ears about once a week. Then wipe the excess off with a tissue. This technique prevents hardening of the wax in the ear and facilitates cleaning.

So, it’s possible to clean your ears without damaging your hearing system with damaging Q-Tips. Pass on the good news to your friends’ ears!

Pascale Bolduc, audioprosthetist

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May 23, 2017