It’s important to clean your ears. But cleaning them too often can lead to irritation and even infection. Your ears manufacture earwax as part of a cleaning system to help remove dirt, dust and bacteria. Here are some guidelines on how to clean your ears properly.

Don’t overdo your ear cleaning

Your ears generally do not need vigorous daily cleaning. Earwax does not migrate toward the eardrum; instead, it forms near the outer part of the ear canal and is swept out when you move your head and jaw. This process keeps the ear canal fairly clean, so a gentle washing with a washcloth or tissue a few times a week should take care of any excess earwax.

Sometimes a mild irrigation of your ears during a shower or bath can help loosen earwax. Simply tilt your head to the side a bit and allow some warm water to fill up your ear canal. Then tip your head in the opposite direction and allow the water to drain. Do not spray water in your ear. If there’s a buildup of wax, use an over-the-counter, wax-softening product first and then rinse your ears when you bathe.

Avoid cotton swabs

The simple answer is cotton swabs are not made to clean inside your ear canal. In fact, there’s a warning on the package saying, “Do not put swab in ear canal.” Cotton swabs can push earwax down the canal toward the eardrum, which can lead to an impaction. Cotton swabs can be used to clean the outer ear from debris and excess wax, but should not be inserted into your ear canal – ever! B

Never use bobby pins or sharp, pointed objects inside your ear canal.

Other safe ear-cleaning methods

Commercial eardrops can be used to clear earwax, but these can cause irritation or even infection if they’re used too often. Limit use of these products to once or twice a month.

Using a few drops of mineral oil or baby oil is a good way to soften earwax. Just use a drop or two of the oil, allow it to soak and then drain it out slowly.

At-home irrigation kits are also available if you have a buildup of earwax. But if you have pain, odor, itching or an ear infection, it’s best to see your health care provider for professional earwax removal.

It’s easy to clean your ears properly, especially since it doesn’t have to be a daily chore. Often, just a simple wipe or gentle washing can take care of any excess earwax and keep your ears healthy. Over-cleaning can lead to unnecessary irritation and possibly infection.