Ear wax builds up in the ear canal for a couple of reasons, to protect the inner ear from things outside the inner ear and to lubricate the skin of the inner ear. There are few reasons to purposely clean the inner ear and the safe ways don’t involve putting objects in the ear canal.
Everyone has ear wax in their ears. Normal jaw movements, when eating or talking, causes the excess ear wax to move out of the inner ear. Excess ear wax that doesn’t come out can cause problems, like earaches.
The safest way to remove that excess ear wax is by irrigating the inner ear with warm water and letting it drain out. It’s also the easiest way. You can do this yourself while taking a shower. Allow warm water to enter your ear canal and then tilt your head the opposite direction to let it exit.
If you’re doing it for someone else, especially a small child, you should use a bulb syringe or something you can use to inject the water into the ear canal. Not forcefully, of course.
Sometimes warm water isn’t enough, especially when the ear wax is pushing up against the ear drum, causing an earache. By the way, ear wax up against the ear drum is the number one cause of hearing loss. If warm water doesn’t do the trick, you can use various oils like olive oil or mineral oil. Even then, you should follow it up by rinsing it out with warm water. You don’t want the oil to stay inside your ear any more than the excess ear wax.
Hydrogen peroxide is another fluid that softens the ear wax enough to make it come out of the ear canal. This is one way to remove ear wax you usually can’t do by yourself.
A common way to remove ear wax is by using cotton swabs (also called ear buds), with Q-tips being the most popular brand. This is unsafe on so many levels, it’s ridiculous. Now, there’s nothing wrong with using cotton swabs to dig out the crud from the crevices of the outer ear.
The danger comes from sticking the tip into the inner ear. Cotton swabs can only remove a layer or two of ear wax. They can push the remaining ear wax further into the ear canal and up against the ear drum.
Another way that some people swear by is ear candles. If you disregard the fact that ear wax isn’t like common types of wax that melts, it still doesn’t make sense to put a cone-shaped object into your ear canal. I’ve never met anyone who’s ever used this technique.
Most ear doctors will tell you to never insert anything solid into your ear canal. The exception is a medical instrument they use.
There are times when large chunks of ear wax form in the ear canal, which won’t come out using any method other than physically removing them with medical instruments.
I have a sister-in-law in the Philippines, with six children, who regularly inspects their ears. If she sees chunks of ear wax, she uses something like what an ear doctor would use to remove them. It looks kind of like large tweezers, with a small scoop on one end.
This method of ear wax removal should only be performed when no other safe method will work. Even then, you need to use extreme caution. If you don’t want to take any chances at all, have it done by an ear doctor.