Glenn Stok is a technical writer who researches health-related issues and shares his knowledge to inform those with corresponding questions.
The purpose of this article is to show you how I succeeded in removing impacted earwax safely. I describe every step of my experience so you’ll know what to do.
It’s always important to see your doctor first to rule out other conditions.
- One warning before we start:
If you have a perforated eardrum, you should not use this method. If you have an earache or low-grade fever, or experience vertigo (dizziness), you may have a more severe problem, and you should see your doctor for proper treatment.
How I Got Impacted Earwax
I always thought I was doing the right thing, carefully drying my ears with cotton swabs after taking a shower. I was always careful to avoid going in too far with the swabs. I knew not to touch the eardrum. I’ve done this all my adult life.
Now, in my mid-60s, I suddenly had a problem with impacted earwax in my left ear. Evidently, I was pushing the wax deeper and deeper over time.
According to the Mayo Clinic, using cotton swabs or other items to clean one’s ears may remove some wax, but it actually pushes more wax into the ear canal even deeper.1
The Purpose of Earwax
The chemical name for earwax is cerumen. It has a definite purpose. It helps protect us by keeping foreign bodies and outside contaminants, such as dust and insects, from entering the ear canal.
Dust and pollen will get caught in the wax and not go deep into the ear canal, which could damage the eardrum. The wax can also prevent the ability for bugs to crawl into your ear. Think of it as flypaper.
The Body’s Natural Method of Wax Removal
While researching this matter, I learned that moving your jaw while talking—and chewing while eating—will help push the wax outward.
In addition, the ear canal has tiny hairs that vibrate to move the wax outward. It’s a natural function of the body to move the wax out, like on a slow-motion conveyor belt.2
I realize now that the best thing is to let the body handle wax removal naturally.
A Visit to My Doctor
I suddenly lost quite a bit of hearing in my left ear one day. It started right after I took a shower, so I already imagined it was an earwax problem, and I didn’t panic. Nevertheless, I had my doctor check it out just to be sure I was right.
My doctor looked in my ear with an otoscope (ear scope) and was able to rule out any serious conditions. That is important to confirm before attempting to resolve the problem on your own.
He told me to use an over-the-counter earwax softener, and if that doesn’t work in a week, I should see an ENT doctor. In severe cases, a specialist has the proper instruments to remove impacted earwax manually.
I was able to resolve the problem with the earwax softener at home, but it took a lot of patience and repeated softening and irrigation sessions, as I’ll explain.
What’s Needed to Remove Earwax at Home
The process is first to soften the wax that’s impacted. The safest method is with an earwax softener. This is supplied in a dropper bottle that can be used to place the required amount of fluid in the canal (usually 5 to 10 drops).
With a little research, I found the Debrox Earwax Removal Kit. It includes a syringe that’s required to irrigate the canal after using the softener.
Some people say you can use hydrogen peroxide to soften the wax, but it’s safer to use the proper chemical approved for this.
Most earwax softeners are 6.5% Carbamide Peroxide, so you can actually use any product that contains this as the active ingredient. Buying a lesser-known brand can save you some money, and they work just as well. I later discovered a similar kit made by E-R-O that sold for less at Walmart.
How to Use the Earwax Softener With My Improved Method
The instructions say to tilt your head sideways and place 5 to 10 drops of softener into the ear with the dropper. Then after several minutes, flush with warm water using the bulb syringe. Even the Mayo Clinic website says to do it that way.2
I found this didn’t work for me, so I made several improvements to this process.
First of all, it takes almost an hour. Yes, I lay in bed with my ear up for well over 45 minutes after putting in ten drops. I found the more, the better—as long as you don’t overflow the canal and make a mess.
I could feel it fizzing all that time, so I knew it was still working even after half an hour. That fizzing means that the ingredient is activating and breaking down the wax.
I had a book with me to spend the time reading. Another time I used my iPad, so I could watch a video to pass the time. The important thing is to keep your ear facing up all that time while you feel the fizzing action. It’s actually a good feeling, knowing that it’s working.
Now, this is important: I pulled my earlobe in all directions a few times during the session, as shown below. I could tell that I was helping the softener work its way around and loosen more wax.
How to Irrigate After Softening the Wax (My Improved Method)
After each session of letting the wax softener fizzle in my ear for an hour, I tilted my head the other way, using a tissue to catch the softener fluid and some wax as it drained out.
I discovered that more wax comes out by irrigating with warm water. That’s why it’s important to get a kit that includes the rubber bulb syringe to flush the ear.
I filled a teacup with warm water and sucked the water into the syringe, as shown below. The water should only be body temperature. Water that is too warm or too cold can cause dizziness or loss of balance.
I also had to improve on the method described in the instructions on the box. They tell you to gently flush the ear with warm water after letting the softener drain out, but they don’t explain how to do this the right way.
At first, I made the mistake of using the syringe to fill my ear with warm water and then turn my ear down to let the water drain out. That was wrong! No one tells you this.
The best way to use the syringe is to pump the water into the ear while facing the ear down over the sink. Quickly squeezing the bulb syringe forces the water up.
I discovered that more wax comes out when flushing upward and letting it immediately drain out. It’s a little messy, but more wax comes out that way.
I did that several times until I used up all the warm water in the teacup. Then I dried my ear with a towel, but never again will I use a cotton stick.
Every day for four days, I repeated the session of fizzing and irrigating. Each day I felt some improvement.
Success on the Fourth Day
On the fourth day, I was feeling much better and realized I could hear through my left ear again, but not very well. I continued with another session using the softener and flushing my ear.
After 45 minutes of lying in bed with my ear up to the ceiling, I turned to let it drain into a tissue and then went over the bathroom sink to irrigate my ear a few times with warm water—with my ear facing down and shooting upwards with the syringe bulb, as usual.
Suddenly a huge dark bit of wax fell into the sink when the water drained. I was amazed by the looks of it. “That thing was in my ear?” I thought to myself.
My hearing was completely normal after that, but I decided to do one more session the next day anyway—just to be sure.
I spent the next few days doing the same procedure with my other ear, even though I didn’t have any problems there. I figured if I had created the problem by using the cotton swabs, I probably might have an issue developing with my right ear too. I just thought it wouldn’t hurt to perform a good irrigation occasionally.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 Glenn Stok
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 07, 2019:
John, If you have a tendency for earwax buildup, you can keep it under control by following this procedure at home every couple of months, even if you don’t have impacted earwax. That will help avoid a build up to the point where it’s difficult to get it removed. I'm glad you found this article helpful.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 07, 2019:
This was very helpful article Glenn. I have had problems with earwax before and had to have it flushed. It is much better if you can do it yourself at home. Thanks for sharing.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on January 13, 2019:
Leah, That’s why I mentioned the caution if one has a perforated eardrum right at the beginning of this article.
That use of the Water-Pik sounds scary. I know the pressure can be way to great to be used as an ear wax remover.
Leah Lefler from Western New York on January 13, 2019:
My son has a cochlear implant and a hearing aid, and the earmold from the hearing aid can cause issues with wax accumulation. We have used Debrox and other wax removal systems in the past with great success. One word of caution: do not use a wax removal system if you don't have intact eardrums. My son did have tubes in his ears for a while, and had to have the wax removed by an ENT because perforated eardrums will allow the wax softening solution into the middle ear and could cause problems.
Our pediatrician once used a Water-Pik to remove wax! That was fairly interesting (though I wouldn't try that at home without a doctor's supervision, since the pressure needs to be adjusted properly).
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 11, 2018:
Robert Winford - I did not have any of those symptoms because I never let my situation worsen to the point beyond just the sense of hearing reduction.
I do have tinnitus, but that started long ago and not related to earwax in my case. However some people do have earache, ringing or dizziness as a result of side effects from the earwax.
Usage of earphones can be a major cause of hearing problems. I sometimes hear the music someone near me is playing through embedded earphones. If I can hear it, that means they are causing hearing damage to themselves.
Another problem with earphones is the issue with embedded earwax. You mentioned you push them in deep. That is very dangerous. You need to be deligent with information you read. The article you read is obviously not written with authority. The best thing to do when you question anything people tell you is to ask your doctor.
In your case, you pushed your earwax in by using your earphones in so far, causing it to become impacted and resulting in that “blocked feeling” you had mentioned. Ringing can also be a result of impacted earwax.
You also mentioned your use of q-tips. As I discussed in my article, I learned myself that this is not advisable. You end up pushing the natural forming earwax deeper in. You can also damage your eardrum if you do too far. No foreign objects should be placed into your ear canals, not q-tips and not earphones.
Robert Winford on August 10, 2018:
Thanks for sharing your method. I wanted to ask if you suffered any other symptoms of impacted earwax. Did you get an earache, ringing or dizziness?
I have earphones that i rarely use. A week ago i put them on - but before I did I read an online article stating that they need to be in deep to get the best sound. I have never put them in deep, but this time i did. Now I have a blocked feeling in one ear and some ringing to go with it. I am also in the habit of using q-tips after a shower. I will probably try your method.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 05, 2018:
Corinne - I had an ENT doctor do that once. Of course that’s a quick solution for those who prefer having a doctor physically dig out the impacted wax.
Corinne J. Wagner on July 05, 2018:
I will only go to my ENT doctor to clean out the wax build-up in my ears. He takes an instrument and very carefully removes the wax. He also has a tiny instrument that is like a vacuum cleaner which gently sucks out any residual wax that is still in my ears. There is no pain involved whatsoever. I will not touch my ears to remove any wax. I am afraid of injuring my eardrum so I won't take the chance to do this myself. I have so much confidence in my doctor and the wax removal works all the time.
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on April 29, 2018:
Thanks for an informative article. Occasionally, I use a combination of vinegar and rubbing alcohol to clean my ears, but I will get the product you mentioned. Ear wax can be a problem which most people don't consider.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on January 01, 2018:
Brian Leekley - You sure have a lot of questions, some of which I answered in this article.
It’s best not to probe in your ear with any type of instrument. Ear wax is necessary and there is no need to remove it. The wax comes out on its own under normal conditions.
Pushing anything in your ear may push the wax deeper in. If you push it in, then you may impact it. You’ll know if you can’t hear, as I had mentioned happened to me.
You don't want to flush out the normal wax under ordinary conditions. Only if it’s impacted. And in that case see a doctor. An otoscope is used to see into the ear canal.
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on January 01, 2018:
I sometimes swab inside my ears with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. I won't do that again. Thanks for explaining why not.
If I don't explore with a cotton swab, how do I find out if I do or don't have impacted wax in my ears, or any wax, out of reach of a fingernail without the expense and bother of seeing a doctor or using a wax softener. Try to find someone willing to look? Can someone see inside an ear all the way to the eardrum with the naked eye and a flashlight? Is an otoscope needed? Or should I assume all is OK in my ears if I can hear OK? Will running shower water into my ears flush out any wax or would shower water push in and impact any wax? Does itchiness in an ear mean there is wax in it?
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 29, 2017:
Peg Cole - Thanks for sharing that experience your mother had. It can definitely be done in one day at a clinic if done right, as they did with your mom.
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 29, 2017:
I found this to be really helpful both in the tips you shared and in the correct process for getting rid of the earwax with the warm water. My mother had impacted ear wax and I took her to an Ear Clinic where they spent over an hour spraying a peroxide solution into her ear. Eventually an enormous hunk of softened wax came out which had seriously affected her hearing.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 25, 2017:
FlourishAnyway - Putting kidding aside, you just made me realize something. I’m a little OCD when it comes to personal hygiene, so maybe that’s why I overdid it with cleaning my ears and impacting the earwax. Now I’m forcing myself to not dry out my ears anymore after a shower.
FlourishAnyway from USA on November 25, 2017:
I’ve always had a thing about clean (unimpacted) ears and white teeth. I’m going to go flush my ears and brush my teeth right now just in case. It’s a slight OCD thing.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 24, 2017:
Nell Rose - The warm water loosened the wax. Various doctors all have their own strategies, but like you said, it look a lot of water.
Nell Rose from England on November 24, 2017:
I have had that problem quite a few times. I used to do the wax loosen stuff, then go to the Docs where the nurse would pour copious amounts of warm water into the ear, and it would start popping on the way home! lol! glad you got yours sorted.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 24, 2017:
Sally Gulbrandsen - Just to be clear, it only works to help with hearing loss if it's due to impacted earwax, as it was in my case.
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on November 24, 2017:
Good job! I figure this might well be something I will be coming back to in the future. Suffering from hearing loss is not something any of us look forward to. Knowing that there is an effective way to reduce the symptoms is definitely something worth knowing about. Thank you.