What should we do about earwax?

Earwax is what we call cerumen, which is a waxy substance secreted in the ear canal.  

Photo of an animal with extremely large ears

This cerumen serves to clean and lubricate as well as to protect the skin of the ear canal.  It is a line of defense against water, bacteria, fungi and even insects.  It becomes a problem if it forms a hard plug next to the eardrum.  Here are some suggestions to prevent that from happening.

  • Some advise not to put even a finger into your ear, which can serve to push wax deeper into the canal.  Especially don’t put anything small or sharp in there as you can damage the eardrum.
  • Use a softening fluid, like olive oil,  to encourage the wax to flow.  Let the oil sit in the ear for several minutes. You can do this a few times for a couple of days to a couple weeks and then rinse the ear with a gentle flow from a bulb syringe filled with warm water.  Gently.
  • After showering, try drying your ears with a blow dryer set to warm.
  • Give yourself an ear wash once a month for prevention.
  • One option is to use simple salt water to irrigate your ear (1 tsp. salt to 1/2 c. lukewarm water).  Soak a cotton ball in the salt water and, tilting your head, squeeze some water from the cotton into your ear.  Let it sit for several minutes before tilting your head to let it drain out.
  • Check out some of the suggestions under “Other Things You Can Do” in the “Earache” entry for solutions that should be safe for your ears.
  • Put small drops of hydrogen peroxide in the ear to loosen the wax and then give the ear time to drain or lightly irrigate with warm water.
  • If you are unsuccessful extracting wax safely from your ear, a short visit to the doctor is in order.  Your doctor will have more than one safe way to remove the wax.


Ear candling is not recommended.  See Post on Ear Candling.