Earwax helps keep your ears healthy and clean. It’s also waterproof and helps protect the lining of your ear canal. Earwax may be soft and wet or hard and dry. It can be yellow to brown in color.

Hard, dry earwax can sometimes cause ear and hearing problems. It’s more likely to build up in the ear canal. You may need to remove it. Too much hard, dry earwax may cause:

Some people naturally have hard, dry earwax. Earwax that stays in the ear canal for too long can become hard and dry.

If you naturally have too much earwax, it can clump together in your ear canal.

Other causes of hard, dry earwax include:

  • using cotton swabs
  • wearing ear buds or ear plugs a lot
  • wearing a hearing aid
  • putting pencils or other objects in the ear canals
  • narrow ear canals
  • bony growths in the outer ear canal
  • hairy ear canals

Home remedies may help reduce hard, dry earwax. In some cases, a few drops of water can soften hard earwax.

Soak a cotton ball and place it gently on the outer ear opening to let some water drip in. You can also use a rubber bulb syringe to squirt a small amount of water into the ear canal.

Other natural eardrops to help earwax come out more easily include:

  • saline solution
  • olive oil
  • almond oil
  • glycerin
  • coconut oil

Other types of eardrops that help soften and break up hard, dry earwax are:

You can get rubber bulb syringes and eardrops for earwax removal at pharmacies and drugstores. You don’t need a prescription.

You may need to use eardrops for several days to slowly soften hardened earwax.

Use them only as directed. Using too much at a time may irritate the lining of your ear. The earwax should soften or break up into smaller pieces and come out on its own.

See your doctor immediately if you have any ear pain or an ear infection. Tell your doctor if you have trouble hearing or hear ringing in your ears, even if it only happens sometimes.

If you’ve had ear problems in the past, it’s best to have your doctor remove impacted earwax. Additionally, get medical treatment if eardrops and at-home treatments don’t work.

Tell your doctor if you think you may have hardened earwax or if earwax buildup happens often. Earwax removal is a common procedure in family doctor’s offices.

Your doctor will look into your ears with a scope to find out how much earwax there is and how deep it is. If you have a lot of impacted hard, dry earwax it may take more than one visit to remove it.

Your doctor may recommend using more eardrops first to help soften and loosen the earwax. Removal methods at your doctor’s office include:

  • Ear irrigation. An electric pump pushes water into the ear and washes earwax out.
  • Microsuction. A small medical device is used to suck earwax out of the ear.
  • Aural scraping. Your doctor uses a thin instrument with a loop at one end to clean out earwax.

Trying to remove earwax yourself can sometimes make it worse. You may push the earwax deeper into your ear. It can also damage your ear canal or even the eardrum. Avoid putting these things in your ear canal:

  • fingers
  • cotton swabs
  • cotton balls
  • pencils, tweezers, and other objects
  • scraping tools or anything pointed

Additionally, avoid overcleaning your ear canals or using eardrops longer than recommended. Without enough earwax, you can get itchy ears. You may also be at higher risk of an ear infection.

Avoid ear candling, which is also called ear coning. It uses a hollow candle that’s lit on one end to create “pressure” to help pull out wax.

A medical review on ear infections in children found that ear candling doesn’t work to help get rid of earwax buildup. It’s also dangerous. Hot wax can drip into the ear or burn the skin.

Age plays a role in earwax composition. Older adults typically have drier earwax.

Hormone fluctuations can cause changes in how much and what kind of earwax you have. Too much stress can trigger your body to make more earwax. This can lead to a hard buildup of earwax.

According to a 2015 study, dry, flaky earwax is more common in people from East Asia, while sticky or wet earwax occurs in Caucasian people and people of African descent.

Health conditions that cause dry or flaking skin like eczema and psoriasis can also lead to hard, dry earwax.

Hormonal changes, age, and other factors may affect the kind of earwax you have.

It can be difficult to remove hard, dry earwax buildup in your ear. Home remedies include ear washing kits and eardrops to help loosen impacted earwax.

See your doctor if you have any pain or irritation in your ear. Avoid trying to remove earwax yourself if at-home remedies don’t work, or if you have frequent hard or dry earwax. Your doctor can check your ears and safely remove it.