What’s the Best Way to Clear Ear Wax?

Try ear drops. To help your ear with its natural self-cleaning process, Dr. Schwartz recommended over-the-counter ear drops. These tend to be best for those with naturally drier earwax, he said, since they work by softening the wax, making it easier to clear.

Some people find drops ineffective — or as effective as using drops of water — but because they’re generally safe, experts recommend ear drops over swabs.

Avoid D.I.Y. tools. Beyond cotton swabs, experts warn against using any homemade or store-bought tools that allow you to scrape, pick or scoop the wax from your ear. They can be as simple as paper clips, or they may be tiny curets, brushes or camera-tipped picks that you can buy in drugstores or online. These tools are as dangerous as cotton swabs, Dr. Schwartz said.

He also advised against ear candling, which involves placing the unlit end of a hollow candle in the ear canal and lighting the other end. This is supposed to create suction that pulls the earwax out. But “candles are both ineffective and dangerous,” Dr. Schwartz said. They can lead to burns; and the visible leftover wax, which some people might consider as proof that the technique worked, is really just wax from the candle, not earwax.

If you can’t resist cotton swabs, use them responsibly. Still, some people feel the urge to use cotton swabs despite their risks, Dr. Hwa said. “If you’re using them to sop up a little moisture right around the opening of your ear, that’s probably fine,” she said.

But it shouldn’t go any deeper than that. And if your ears hurt, itch or feel clogged, go to a doctor who can diagnose a blockage and remove it safely. That’s “the least risky approach,” Dr. Hwa said.

Caroline Hopkins is a health and science journalist based in Brooklyn.

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