It seems fairly simple and straightforward – you clean your body, you clean your ears, right? Maybe so, but perhaps not in the ways that you think! Here are four mistakes in cleaning your ears that everyone should avoid.

Using cotton swabs inside your ear

If you’re sticking the fuzzy part of a cotton swab inside your ear canal, stop it! Cotton swabs are not made to go inside the ear and it says so right on the package. You can use a cotton swab to clean your outer ear, gently wiping away any wax. In the ear canal, cotton swabs can push wax back into the ear, toward the eardrum, leading to a possible impaction. Also, the cotton may irritate your ear canal and open it up to infections. Lastly, there have been cases of the cotton falling off the stick and remaining in the ear canal, leading to pain and in the worst cases, loss of hearing.

Cleaning your ears daily

There is no need to vigorously clean your ears every day. A wipe around the outer ear with a tissue or washcloth will remove any wax that has accumulated there. Our ears are self-cleaning, and earwax is the vehicle to remove dirt and debris. Your ears produce earwax, which is swept out toward the outer ear. When you try to dig earwax out of your ear canal you’re actually pushing it back toward your eardrum. Wiping your outer ear too vigorously also can be damaging, leading to irritation and possible injury.

Using foreign objects

This goes hand-in-hand with using cotton swabs. Nothing small or pointy should be used to clean your ears. If you’ve ever used your fingernail, pen cap, key, bobby pin or other small objects, stop right now. Just as with cotton swabs, these objects are dangerous to stick inside your ear and can puncture your eardrum.

Trying candling

This is a process where a hollow cone-shaped candle is placed in your ear and lit. Supposedly the hollow candle creates a vacuum and draws out wax and impurities from your ear. However, research has proven this method does not clean the ears and instead exposes them to a risk of burns and eardrum perforations. Some people have had their hair catch on fire. Candling doesn’t work and it’s not worth it.

If after reading about these four mistakes in cleaning your ears you’re wondering if there are any safe ways to remove earwax, the answer is a cautionary yes. For most people, there is no need to remove earwax from the ear canal – it will migrate out naturally as you chew or talk. However, some people manufacture more earwax than others or wear hearing aids or earplugs that may lead to an accumulation of earwax. In that case, it’s best to see your audiologist for a cleaning and to discuss safe ways to remove earwax at home.