How to Clean Your Child’s Ears

Author thumbnail Laura James  |  Published 13 February 2024  | Updated 16 May 2024  | 7 mins read

A child having an ear wax removal with a wax clinician.

Just like adults, children can also experience issues with a build-up of earwax. This can be uncomfortable and cause hearing problems so it’s best to get it sorted as soon as possible. 

But learning how to clean your child’s ears isn’t as easy as it might sound. Cleaning their ears yourself can make problems worse or even damage their ears. So if you suspect your child’s ears need cleaning, it’s best to see a professional who can help.

Why Ear Cleaning is Important for Children

Ears are actually self-cleaning. And, usually, there’s no need to remove earwax because it comes out by itself. 

Sticking anything into your child’s ears increases the risk of infection or damage to the ear canal or eardrum and in most cases, regular bathing is enough to keep it at healthy levels as the warm water and steam keeps it soft enough to fall out on its own. So unless there is a blockage or build-up, you don’t usually need to clean your child’s ears very often. 

But if there is a wax build-up it can lead to bigger issues in children. They may complain that their ears hurt or there is something in them if there is a blockage or build-up. If left too long, an excess of ear wax can:

  • Be painful/uncomfortable for them.
  • Cause hearing loss which can lead to concentration or speech issues in younger children.
  • Disrupt attention span and schooling.
An audiologist checking the ear of a child.

Is It OK if My Kid Has Earwax?

Earwax is a natural and normal part of ear heath and is not an indicator of poor hygiene. It is created by the sebaceous and ceruminous glands in the ear canal – similar to the natural oils our skin and scalps secrete. Our ears create earwax to protect our ears against bacteria and infection.

While some people have more earwax than others, in general the ear makes as much wax as it needs. It’s rare that your child’s ears make too much earwax. Therefore, earwax actually has lots of good properties and we should not interfere with this unless we need to.

Understanding the Ear Anatomy

Our ears consist of three main parts: The outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. 

  • Outer ear – Consists of the visible ear on the side of your head (also called a pinna). It’s made of cartilage and collects sound, directing it down the ear canal. A child’s ear canals are usually around 50% shorter and narrower than the average adult.
  • Middle ear – Consists of the ear drum which separates the ear canal and middle ear. The eardrum vibrates when the sound hits it and sends those vibrations to the middle ear. This is an air filled space with 3 small bones that help to send the vibration to the inner ear.
  • Inner ear – Consists of the cochlea which is a fluid filled coiled structure. The vibrations make waves in the fluid which allows a signal to be sent to the brain. Part of the cochlear also helps with your balance.

Ear wax is created by the sebaceous ceruminous glands in your ear to lubricate the area and trap dust, dirt, bacteria, and dead skin to prevent it from getting further into the ear and causing infections. 

When and How Often to Clean Your Child’s Ears

Cleaning the ear canal of your child’s ears is very rarely needed and isn’t recommended to do at home. 

However, if wax or debris is present in or around the outer ear, you can use a clean warm wash cloth to gently wipe it away. Your GP may advise to use olive oil ear drops or spray to help soften wax in the ear canal if there are issues with too much or too dry ear wax. Cotton swabs are handy for a variety of grooming needs, but should not be used to remove earwax.

If symptoms persist or are negatively impacting your child, then contact a (paediatric) healthcare provider.

A child being in pain and holding her ear.

How do I know if there’s earwax buildup in my child’s ear?

If your child has been complaining about their ears bothering them, they might have a build-up of earwax. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Earache.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Itching.
  • Feeling of fullness or as if there is something stuck in their ear.
  • They may also have concentration or speech issues.
  • Or be disruptive at school.

You can check if there is any earwax build-up by gently inspecting the inside of their ear using a torch or flashlight.

Some other signs of ear problems in children include:

  • Redness or soreness around the ear
  • Constant pulling or tugging of the ear
  • Your child is putting their fingers or objects like pencils/straws into their ears
  • Your child is under the weather and has lots of mucus from the nose or throat
  • Your child is in pain or irritable
  • Your child is not responding to loud sounds (like the door slamming shut), or needs the TV louder than normal
  • Your child has poor speech compared to other children the same age
  • Your child is struggling to concentrate
  • There is a brown, sticky substance leaking out of your child’s ears

If you can see a build-up of wax, your child is in a lot of pain or discomfort, or you’re concerned at all about your child’s ears or their symptoms, speak to your GP or a paediatric healthcare professional. 

Ensuring early intervention or medical help can make sure your child doesn’t suffer any long-lasting damage or complications. 

Safe Methods for Cleaning Your Child’s Ears

In general, it’s best to avoid at-home methods of ear wax removal, as they can actually do more harm than good.

Things like cotton buds, wax removal tools, or bulb syringes used improperly can impact the wax further into the ear and even cause damage to your child’s delicate ears. 

Instead consider:

  • Using a damp cloth to wipe away wax or debris from the outer ear. 
  • Use olive oil to soften earwax, provided your child doesn’t have an ear infection, perforation of the eardrum, or has grommets placed. 

Safe methods such as these help to reduce the risks of damaging delicate skin of the ear canal or drum, causing infection, or compacting the wax further into the ear, making it more difficult to remove. 

If your child does need help with a build-up of earwax, a paediatric specialist can remove excess wax via microsuction if it’s deemed suitable. Additionally, THCP also offers ear wax removal services if your GP recommends it. 


Our ears typically only produce the amount of wax needed to keep our ears clean, but occasionally, children can experience a build-up of excess earwax. Cleaning the outer ear with a warm, damp cloth can help to remove any wax or debris there, but the cleaning of your child’s ear canal should be avoided unless advised and performed by your GP or paediatric healthcare professional. Never use cotton buds in your child’s ear (or yours for that matter) as it can cause more problems and potentially damage their delicate ears. 

For help removing excess wax, get in touch with The Hearing Care Partnership for our gentle ear wax removal service.