Sorry, But Experts Say You Should Not Be Using Earwax Removal Kits

Videos for these products are soaring in popularity on social media, but doctors recommend cleaning your ears in a much less invasive way

person lying on their side candling to remove ear wax
A person doing ear candling
Photo: Daria Kulkova/Getty Images

Ah, TikTok, home of makeup tutorials, lip-syncing tunes, cute animal content and—earwax removal videos? Yes, it’s true, that goopy amber stuff on your For You page is coming out of someone’s ear canal. And, if you find that you’re weirdly into it, you’re not alone. 

Earwax removal content is soaring in popularity on TikTok; the hashtag #earwax has racked up thousands of videos, collectively reaching 5.1 billion views (graphic material at that link). The content ranges from in-office extractions performed by Ear, Nose & Throat doctors to at-home videos of people using various tools to get the sticky stuff out. 

The options for earwax removal kits and techniques seem endless. There’s the Axel Glade Spade—a tiny spade equipped with a camera that allows users to watch via an app on their phone as they scoop the wax from the ear canal. There are irrigation kits that purport to flush the earwax out. There’s something that looks like a drill that claims to gently remove earwax by rotating it out. There’s ear candling (shown above). And of course, there are ear drops (sold under brand names like Debrox and Murine) which are used to soften earwax, making subsequent removal easier. 

Is It Safe to Remove Earwax Yourself?

So which of these products should you buy? Not so fast, says Oliver Adunka, MD, an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon specializing in neurotology at Wexner Medical Center of Ohio State University, "None of the devices really work. And some of them are flat-out dangerous."

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, "The physical removal of earwax should only be performed by a healthcare provider."

detail of person with q-tip in their ear
Experts advise against putting a cotton swab in your ear.

Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

More on Hearing & Ear Care

Axel Glade Spade
Turns out, the tiny spade in this kit can scratch the skin of the ear canal, causing infection or bleeding, according to Adunka. 

The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation advises against putting anything in your ear, "[Don’t] put cotton swabs, hair pins, car keys, toothpicks, or other things in your ear. These can all injure your ear and may cause a cut in your ear canal, poke a hole in your ear drum, or hurt the hearing bones, leading to hearing loss, dizziness, ringing, and other symptoms of ear injury."

Tvidler Ear Wax Remover
While this tool—which looks like a drill—may appear promising, it’s important to keep in mind that ear canals aren’t a straight cylinder. 

"You could wind up poking yourself," says Adunka.  

Ear Irrigation
The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation advises against irrigation for people who have had ear surgery or a hole in their ear drum. One study has shown that bulb irrigation kits are effective for at-home ear removal for some adults, but warns that these results cannot be extrapolated to young children. 

Emily J. Taylor, AuD, F-AAA, audiologist and owner of Taylor Listening Center in Baltimore, says that at-home ear irrigation is a relatively safe option for people to try at home if they wish.

But she cautions that, "Water should be body-temperature, because if it is too hot or too cold it can cause nystagmus (involuntary eye movement) and dizziness." 

How to Clean Your Ears Safely

Dr. Emily J. Taylor

CREDIT: TikTok @Dr_Ear_Wax

Ear Candling
According to the FDA, ear candles (shown at top) are "hollow cones that are about 10 inches long and made from a fabric tube soaked in beeswax, paraffin, or a mixture of the two.” The agency also says that ear candles are being marketed as treatments for a variety of conditions, including, “earwax buildup, sinus infections, hearing loss, headaches, colds, flu, and sore throats."

Proponents of ear candling claim that it pulls wax and "debris" from your ear, by placing a lit, hollow, cone-shaped candle into the ear canal. Ear candling fans believe that the heat from the candle creates a suction that pulls out all the gunk from your ear canal. But does it work?

"That is a myth," says Adunka, "A candle over your ear cannot magically clean out your head."

Not only that, but they can be dangerous. The FDA has warned that ear candling can cause burns to the face, ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear; start a fire; plug the ears with candle wax; bleeding; puncture the eardrum; and cause patients to delay seeking medical care for underlying conditions. 

Ear Drops
Ear drops, some of which are sold under the brand name Debrox, earned a nod of approval from the doctor. 

"This is something we recommend if the wax is particularly hard. It will soften it up and then make extraction—which should only be done in the doctor’s office—much easier," Adunka says.

But Dr. Adunka emphasized that for most people, this isn’t necessary.

"The ears naturally clean themselves, pushing the wax to the outer ear. The best way to keep your ears clean is to gently wipe them with the edge of a towel after stepping out of the shower."

So Who Needs to Use Earwax Removal Products?

According to Taylor, most people do not overproduce earwax. But, if you have muffled hearing, feel pain or discomfort when you’re moving your ear around (such as manipulating your ear lobe with your hand), or if you have a history of ear pain or stuffiness, you may be one of the few people who do. 

"If a patient comes to the office and I am unable to remove the earwax safely, then I recommend a course of Debrox three times a day for three days and then a follow-up to finish the extraction," says Taylor, "If you are of the minority that produces too much wax, you should be seeing an audiologist on a semi-regular basis." 

It's Time To Embrace Your Earwax

@consumerreports Hear us out: Keep cotton swabs, ear candles, and tiny spades away from your ears 👂. #tiptok #earwax #earwaxremoval ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

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Laura Murphy

Just like you, I'm a consumer. I love to shop, and I'm obsessed with finding the highest-quality item at the best price. I want my products sustainably made with fair labor practices, and built to last, so I don't have to replace them every two years. I'm at Consumer Reports because I believe in harnessing consumer power to build a better world. Let's do this.