Could cleaning your ears help your hearing?

Having some earwax is healthy, but too much of it might affect your hearing. Find out the facts, plus how to clean your ears safely.

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Earwax is key for keeping your ears healthy. Seriously. The cells in your ear canal make earwax.1 Among its many jobs, earwax moisturizes your ear canal skin. It also traps dirt and protects your ear canal and eardrum from bacteria.2

Normally, earwax clears out on its own. It works its way out from the inner ear to the outer ear, where it falls out or is washed away when you take a shower or wash your hair. In fact, you don’t have to do anything special. Just dry your outer ears well.1

The problem is when earwax builds up. This is called an earwax blockage, and it can happen for many reasons.3 “Some patients will get more wax as they get older,” says Michael Thomas. He’s a hearing care professional at Beltone Hearing Aid Center in Beaufort, South Carolina. People who wear hearing aids are also at higher risk of an earwax blockage.4 “It’s usually right behind the hearing aid,” says Thomas.

Wearing earbuds or earplugs or cleaning your ears with cotton swabs can also cause blockage. So can previous ear surgery or trauma.5 That’s why it’s good to learn how earwax affects your hearing and how to clean out the excess the safest way.

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How too much earwax can affect your hearing

Too much wax may lead to temporary hearing loss. “When we have an ear canal impacted with wax, our lower frequencies are blocked,” says Thomas. “To us, it seems like the volume is lower.”

You also might also experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears).4 Or things might just sound muffled.

You might also have other symptoms. Those include a feeling of fullness or stuffiness in your ear. Your ear may be itchy. Or even painful, as too much earwax can cause infections.

When to see a specialist about earwax

Notice any of these symptoms? It’s a good idea to have an expert check your ears for wax. You can see your primary care provider (PCP); an audiologist; or an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT). All these types of providers can remove earwax.2

First, they will look inside your ear with a tool that shines light into the ear canal.3 They’ll be able to see right away if too much earwax is what’s behind your hearing loss, or if it’s something else. For example, an ear infection could be causing your muffled hearing. And you’d need your PCP or ENT to diagnose and treat that.5

The PCT, ENT or hearing care professional may ask questions about your symptoms. They might also ask if you’ve had drainage, pain or hearing loss. You should tell your provider if your symptoms are always there or if they come and go.

Providers can remove excess earwax in several ways:2,3

  • They can flush out your ear with warm water or a combination of warm water and hydrogen peroxide.
  • They can use a curved tool known as a curette to dig it out.
  • They can vacuum it out with a small suction tool.

Even if you don’t have symptoms, ask your PCP to check your ears during a visit or your yearly checkup. Checking your ears for wax often gets overlooked, adds Thomas.

How to safely clean ears at home

It’s best to ask your PCP when you have questions about removing earwax. They can give you the best advice on how to clean your ears at home. They will probably recommend a plan that includes these tips:

Concentrate on your outer ear: “Earwax and dried skin can collect in the little crevices on the outer ear,” says Thomas. So, keep that area clean by using a washcloth in the shower or bath to wipe out the outer ear. Afterward, towel dry gently.

Use softening drops: You can buy these drops over the counter (OTC). Look for ones that contain carbamide peroxide, as peroxide is good for breaking up wax.4 To put them in your ear:5

  • Tilt your head sideways with the clogged ear facing upward. Then put in drops as directed by your provider or the product’s instructions.
  • Lie down for 5 minutes with the clogged ear facing up. This gives the drops time to soften the wax.
  • Sit up. Then use a tissue to soak up the liquid and wax that runs out of your ear.

You don’t have to buy OTC drops. You can also use:2,3

  • Mineral oil
  • Olive oil
  • Hydrogen peroxide (alone or mixed with warm water)

Just don’t use hydrogen peroxide if you’ve had ear surgery or get a lot of ear infections. The peroxide could cause harm and pain in those cases.1

Flush it out with a bulb syringe: Bulb syringes are also available over the counter. To flush your ear out safely:5

  • Fill the syringe with warm water (not hot or cold, which can cause dizziness).
  • Gently and carefully squeeze water into your ear.
  • Tilt your head over the sink to let the water and wax run out.

Never use cotton swabs: Don’t put anything inside your ear canal to try to remove wax. This includes cotton swabs, as well as hairpins and paperclips, says the Mayo Clinic.3 Trying to dig it out yourself may push it deeper into your ear canal. You risk damaging your ear canal or eardrum.

Once you clean out the earwax, you’ll be able to tell whether your ears were clogged or you really don’t hear well.

If that’s the case, consider checking your hearing online at AARP® Hearing Solutions™ provided by UnitedHeathcare Hearing. While it may not give you official results, an online hearing test may help you decide whether to get a comprehensive exam from a hearing care professional. They can diagnose what’s going on and whether you could benefit from hearing aids.

Did you know that AARP® members may be able to get a no-cost hearing exam and consultation? Learn more.


  1. The scoop on earwax Mayo Clinic Health System. Published June 13, 2022.
  2. Earwax American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Published 2021.
  3. Earwax blockage Mayo Clinic. Published July 12, 2022.
  4. Earwax blockage Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed January 13, 2023.
  5. Earwax removal 101: The best and safest way to clean clogged ears Cleveland Clinic. Published November 28, 2021.

Information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a licensed medical provider. Consult your provider prior to making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine.

AARP Hearing Solutions is available to all AARP members and does not require a health insurance plan from UnitedHealthcare. The AARP hearing program discount cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions, coupons or hearing aid benefit plans unless noted herein. Products or services that are reimbursable by federal programs including Medicare and Medicaid are not available on a discounted or complimentary basis. AARP commercial member benefits are provided by third parties, not by AARP or its affiliates. Providers pay a royalty fee to AARP for the use of its intellectual property. These fees are used for the general purposes of AARP. Some provider offers are subject to change and may have restrictions. Please contact the provider directly for details. UnitedHealthcare Hearing is provided through UnitedHealthcare, offered to existing members of certain products underwritten or provided by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or its affiliates to provide specific hearing aid discounts. This is not an insurance nor managed care product, and fees or charges for services in excess of those defined in program materials are the member's responsibility. UnitedHealthcare does not endorse nor guarantee hearing aid products/services available through the hearing program. This program may not be available in all states or for all group sizes. Components subject to change.

The online hearing test is not intended to act as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider with any question about a medical condition.