We tend to take ear hygiene for granted until there’s a problem, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Since our ears are designed to self-clean, failing to clean them actually protects us from the dangers of over-cleaning – most of the time. Basic hygiene is still important. This means keeping dirt, dust and water out of our ears and removing excess wax that has pushed to the surface. So what determines how often you should clean your ears? It there a set recommendation, or does it differ for everyone? Here are some answers.

Scenario one: You produce a normal amount of earwax

How do you know what’s ‘normal’? Well, if you haven’t had any problems with your ears, you probably produce just the right amount of earwax. In this case, the most you’ll need to do is wipe gently around the outside areas of your ears after a shower. Let your ears’ self-cleaning mechanism do the rest.

Scenario 2: You occasionally produce too much earwax

Sometimes our ears produce more earwax than usual. A few things that encourage this are irritated skin (often due to over-cleaning with wax-removal drops), environmental pollutants, and wearing earbuds or headphones a lot. Sometimes it might not be obvious why you’re producing more earwax. Here are a few signs you might have a buildup:

  • Ringing or popping in your ears: Many things cause Tinnitus, but a common culprit is excess earwax. It might also sound like your ears are constantly re-pressurizing if the plug is interfering with airflow. 
  • Difficulty hearing: If it seems like you’re hearing through a tunnel, you don’t necessarily have hearing loss – earwax might be the problem.
  • Earache or pain without an infection: If you think you have a slight ear infection without other symptoms, it could be earwax buildup, especially if it also affects your hearing.
  • A feeling of ‘fullness’ in your ear: Your ears might not just sound clogged, but feel clogged.

For mild buildup, you can use any number of home remedies such as warm mineral or olive oil, hydrogen peroxide drops, a warm water, vinegar or rubbing alcohol solution, or over-the-counter drops. The key is to use these methods sparingly because they can remove too much earwax and dry out the sensitive skin of the ear canal. Aim for no more than once a day until the excess wax is gone, but preferably only one or two times a week.

Scenario 3: You consistently produce excessive earwax

Consistent overproduction of earwax is usually linked to genetics. If you find yourself constantly cleaning but still experiencing serious plugs, infections and other side effects, you may want to schedule regular cleanings with a hearing health care professional. They will also recommend the most effective cleaning methods you can use to reduce your buildup between visits.