Chance to win $500 when you attend a FREE hearing test. Book now

About ear cleaning with cotton buds

Should ears be cleaned with cotton swabs?

Although proper ear hygiene is a topic surrounded by many doubts, uncertainties and myths, we know for certain that keeping the ear clean is essential to avoiding hearing problems. But what is the best way to clean your ears? For many years, cleaning the ear with cotton swabs has raised many questions: Is this kind of cleaning healthy? Could it lead to hearing damage? In this article, you will find out more about if, when and how you should clean your ears using cotton buds.

Cotton buds / swabs explained

Cotton buds are lightweight plastic sticks with small balls of stiffened cotton wool attached to the ends. Despite their inconspicuous appearance, they are one of the most commonly found household items.

Contrary to popular belief, cotton buds shouldn't be used to clean the inside of your ears, as the pressure that can be applied can lead to the occurrence of some hearing disorders. Instead, they should be used to clean the outer part of the ear. Improper use of cotton swabs can lead to dizziness as well as injuries to the three tiny bones in the middle ear.

The historical background of the cotton swab

Cotton buds came into existence in New York in 1923. For almost 100 years, the cotton bud has been used to remove excess earwax. While the ear swab has been known since ancient times, the so-called cotton swab, which is filled with a small, soft, disposable cotton ball at each end, has only become a must-have in our home over the last few decades.
An audiologist positioning a hearing aid in the Amplifon center

Why choose Amplifon?

By choosing Amplifon as your hearing care provider, you’re choosing to be cared and looked after by qualified and experienced Audiologists who can help change the way you listen to the world around you.

Can cotton buds be bad for your ears?

Although it is important to avoid the accumulation of earwax, cleaning your inner ear with cotton buds may pose a real risk. While cotton buds may be fine for cleaning the outer ear, if used incorrectly, they can damage your hearing in the following ways:

Special care should be taken when using cotton buds for babies, as their ears are even more sensitive.

Earwax plugs

When cotton buds are used incorrectly they can cause an earwax plug by pushing the earwax to the bottom of the ear canal. Earwax build up or the accumulation of earwax in the ear can result in hearing loss.

Ear infections

It is also possible to get an ear infection from improper use of cotton buds. By inserting objects like cotton buds into your ears to clean them, you increase the likelihood of bacterial or fungal infections. These infections could lead to an excessive build-up of fluid and earwax which can cause hearing loss.

Ear bleeding

The ear canal is a very sensitive part of the ear which can be easily scratched. Improper use of cotton buds can trigger infections inside the ear and push earwax further into the ear canal, causing unwanted earwax build up. Not to mention, incorrect use of the cotton buds could cause redness and bleeding in the middle and inner ear. I your ear is bleeding, consult an ENT specialist immediately. Ear bleeding may be an indication of a perforated eardrum.

Injury (perforation) of the eardrum

If the cotton bud is inserted too deeply into the ear canal, it can perforate the eardrum, causing pain, tinnitus or even long-term hearing loss.


An earache can sometimes result from injury to the inside of the ear, such as perforation of the eardrum caused by inserting the cotton bud too deeply.


Tinnitus can be a possible consequence of a perforation of the eardrum as well of a blockage caused by pushing earwax back into the ear canal when inserting a cotton bud too deeply.

(Long-term) hearing loss

Improper use of cotton buds can damage many sensitive structures inside the ear canal as well as puncture ear drums. In severe cases, this can cause prolonged hearing loss or complete deafness. If you have the impression that you are suffering from a hearing impairment due to improper use of a cotton bud, take our online hearing test to get an initital indication of your hearing health, then book an appointment with a hearing care professional at Amplifon for a more thorough examination.

How to clean ears without cotton buds

Earwax is a well-known substance that forms inside the ear and it is a natural substance that protects the ear from bacteria. 

If you are experiencing an earwax plug or earwax buildup and wish to clean your ears without cotton buds, all you have to do is carefully wash the outside of your ear with soap and water to support the natural cleaning action that the organ ensures in complete autonomy. For a more thorough cleaning of the ear canal, there are also special seawater-based sprays available in pharmacies.

If the blockage persists, it is best consult an ENT specialist or visit the Amplifon centre nearest to you and learn all about optimal ear hygiene.

a woman looking at herself through a mirror

Check your hearing online

Check your hearing regularly and keep tabs on your overall hearing health and wellness. Our free online hearing test is a quick and easy place to start to learn more about your hearing health.

Have a look at our related contents

Learn more on how your hearing works, thanks to our experts contents. You can also have a look at our blog, with our lates news. 

Get support and advice

Request an appointment

Book now

Take an online hearing test

Take the test

Find a clinic near you

Find a clinic