Earwax (cerumen) is produced in our ear canals. Its presence is usually normal and healthy. Sometimes, though, earwax buildup may be uncomfortable, unsightly, and, in some cases, temporarily affect your hearing.

Although there are over-the-counter earwax drainage products available for purchase, there are also several household items you can use to clear your outer ear canals of excess wax.

Read on to learn about safe earwax removal home remedies and what to avoid.

In a 2018 study of 206 college-aged students, the vast majority practiced ear-cleaning. Seventy-five percent said they believed the practice to be beneficial for their health.

But the thing is, you don’t really need to clean earwax out of your ears. Earwax isn’t dirt. Earwax serves an important purpose: lubricating and protecting your ears. It even helps reduce your risk of ear infections, since it has antibacterial properties.

The risks of removing your earwax can outweigh the potential benefit. Cleaning out earwax with a cotton swab can damage or irritate your ear canal or even puncture your eardrums. You should also understand that when you clean out the earwax you can see — using an object you put in your ear — you’re also shoving earwax deeper into your ears, which can lead to earwax impaction (blockages) over time.

Baking soda

You can remove earwax at home using baking soda:

  1. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in 2 ounces of warm water.
  2. If you have a dropper bottle, pour the solution into it.
  3. Tilt your head to the side and gently drip 5 to 10 drops of the solution into your ear, 1 drop at a time.
  4. Leave the solution in the ear for up to 1 hour, then flush with water.
  5. Do this once a day until the earwax clears up. It may happen within a couple of days. Don’t do this for any longer than 2 weeks.

How to remove ear wax with hydrogen peroxide

You can remove earwax at home using 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.

  1. Tilt your head to the side and drip 5 to 10 drops of hydrogen peroxide into your ear.
  2. Keep your head tilted to the side for 5 minutes to allow the peroxide to penetrate the wax.
  3. Do this once a day for 3 to 14 days.

Soften earwax blockages with oil

Earwax is an oil-like substance. Thus, some oils can cause earwax to soften when the two substances come into contact. Proponents of this remedy suggest using the following oils:

To use oil for earwax removal:

  1. If desired, slightly warm your chosen oil and pour it into a dropper bottle. Don’t warm the oil in the microwave. Always test the temperature before putting it in your ear.
  2. Tilt your head to the side and place a few drops of oil into your ear.
  3. Keep your head tilted to the side for 5 minutes.
  4. Repeat once or twice per day.

Irrigation

Sometimes earwax can be dislodged by the light pressure of water flushing:

  1. Purchase a soft rubber bulb syringe made for ear cleaning, and fill it with warm water.
  2. Tilt your head to the side with a thick towel or basin below the ear.
  3. Gently squeeze the bulb so that the warm water shoots into your ear.
  4. Allow the water to run down into the towel or basin.
  5. You may even do this over a bowl so that you can see if any visible pieces of earwax fall out.

Irrigation can be combined with any of the methods recommended above. Perform irrigation 5 to 15 minutes after you use baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or oil.

In a small trial that included 38 children, pediatricians found that irrigating the ears in a clinical setting was just as if not more successful at dislodging earwax as scraping it out with a metal tool.

Although earwax removal is often safe to do at home, there are some cases that require the attention of a medical professional. If the above home remedies don’t work for you, contact your doctor. Don’t use the following to remove earwax:

  • Small objects. Avoid using small objects such as pen caps or bobby pins to clean out your ears. Many doctors agree with the old saying, “Never put anything in your ear that’s smaller than your elbow.”
  • Cotton swabs. Although they may look safe and perfect for your ears, cotton swabs are too small to be used safely inside the ear and could cause damage.
  • Ear candles. There’s been a lot of coverage regarding this technique, but there are concerns that ear candles can cause injuries, such as burns and punctured eardrums.

If you feel that you have an earwax problem, your first step is to check with a doctor. They can decide if it’s a condition to address, a symptom of an underlying condition, or something to let your body handle without assistance.

Being overly aggressive with removing wax from your ears can sometimes lead to problems with your hearing, or ear canals that are itchy, painful, or more prone to infection. When reviewing your concerns with your doctor, discuss home remedy ideas to see if they’re the correct course of action for your situation.

Your doctor might also recommend a visit with an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.