Ear Wax Removal: Myths and Facts

Author thumbnail Jamie Broughton-Wray  |  Published 27 March 2023  | Updated 16 May 2024  | 7 mins read

What is yellow, sticky and lives in your ear?

Of course, we all know the answer is ear wax – but do you know your fact from fiction when it comes to the topic of wax?

With the internet full of information and misinformation, we have been debunking some of the most common beliefs about ear wax.

Myth – Ear wax has no function

Many people believe that ear wax has no function and should be regularly cleaned out from our ears

The truth

Ear wax, or cerumen as it is scientifically known, is a natural secretion that protects the health of your ear. Ear wax acts as a barrier to things getting inside the ear, such as water, soap and other debris like dust particles. Due to its sticky nature, our ear wax collects these nasties and eventually works its way out of the ear, taking them with it. Ear wax even has antibacterial properties and is antimicrobial – protecting the eardrum from bacteria and foreign objects/bodies.

Everyone has ear wax, and in most cases, you do not need to do anything about it. However, there are some instances where we overproduce ear wax or get a build-up of wax that cannot make its way out of the ear. In these cases, you should consult a professional about getting it removed safely.


Myth – I can remove ear wax at home

All over the internet, you can find at-home ear wax removal remedies and hacks, and in just one click, you can purchase a removal kit for next-day delivery – so surely that means they are safe to do?

The truth

Well, the short answer is no, never try to remove your ear wax at home, even if you think it sounds easy. Inserting anything into your ear is a risk unless done by a professional and can cause serious damage. Not only do you risk pushing any ear wax blockages further into the ear canal which can result in pain and make it trickier to remove, but you could also cause irreparable damage to your ear drum. You could also risk causing infection through the use of unsterilised equipment.

Any issues you have with ear wax should always be resolved by a qualified professional who will remove your excess ear wax safely.


Myth – Cotton buds are okay to use in my ears

Using cotton buds to clean out your ear is certainly tempting and most of us can admit to doing it at least once or twice in our lifetime. 

The truth

Contrary to popular belief, cotton buds were never designed to be used in our ears or nose. In fact, they were first made to clean the creases between a baby’s elbows and knees. 

Putting cotton buds in your ear, no matter how careful you think you are, does more damage than good and can risk pushing ear wax further into the ear and causing damage to the ear drum. 

So the next time you pick up a cotton bud, remember this article and put it back down, no matter how tempting.


Myth – You can prevent ear wax build-up

There is a belief by some that we can prevent ear wax build-up with our lifestyle choices or diet.

The truth

Ear wax occurs naturally, so we cannot stop it from forming. Some instances, out of our control, can even cause an increased ear wax build-up – such as viruses and infections like the common cold and flu. 

All we can do to prevent ear wax build-up is look after ourselves, avoid cleaning our ears (as that can have the opposite effect) and reduce the amount of time spent wearing earphones (these sit in your ear canal and wearing them for extended periods can limit the airflow that gets to your ears, stopping the old wax from leaving.)

A build-up of excessive ear wax can be removed by a professional that should leave your ears nice and clear for a long time. However, the ear wax will return.

Myth – Only a GP can remove ear wax

Because of its medical nature, some think ear wax can only be removed by a GP or via a referral.

The truth

Some GPs will remove ear wax, and the service can be available on the NHS. However, this is very dependent on the capacity of the GP practice. More often than not, your GP will not be able to perform the removal procedure, so you would likely be referred. Because of the demand for this service, you may find yourself waiting several months before you can be seen for a wax removal.

There are many private services, just like us at The Hearing Care Partnership, who perform ear wax removal. When you come and visit us, you will either be seen by one of our friendly Audiologists or Wax Removal Clinicians. They will not only perform the ear wax removal but give you some valuable information about your hearing health, possibly inviting you for a FREE full hearing assessment as a follow-up appointment. 


Myth – Olive oil removes ear wax

Olive oil has been used as a home remedy for removing ear wax for many years – but often there is a grey area around how it should be properly used. 

The truth

This statement technically is not wrong, olive oil can help to remove ear wax – however, it should be medical grade (not the stuff hanging around in your kitchen cupboard) and only ever used under the direction of a pharmacist, audiologist or other healthcare professionals.

You can purchase olive oil ear drops or ear sprays such as Earol from most pharmacies and is something that we recommend in practice, especially if you are due to come for a removal appointment. This is because they can help soften the ear wax so the wax can be removed effectively by a professional.

Myth – Ear wax removal is painful

Some people avoid having their ears looked at or wax removed because of fears the process will be painful.

The Truth 

Even though the idea of having someone removing wax from our ears doesn’t sound pleasant, it is not a painful experience. 

In practice, we can use a whole variety of removal methods to get rid of the wax, no matter how stubborn it is. At The Hearing Care Partnership, our clinicians will explain all of the methods we can use prior to the procedure and will decide on the best method to use on a case-by-case basis, this takes into account several factors including medical history, level of wax build-up and personal preference. 

A week before wax removal appointments we request the use of ear drops or sprays to soften the wax – thus making the removal easier for the clinician. 

Book an appointment

Here at The Hearing Care Partnership, we offer the latest and safest methods of ear wax removal performed by our expert team of clinicians.

To find your nearest location and to book an ear wax removal appointment, call our team on 0800 52 00 546 or book an appointment online.