It’s International Ear Care Day! You’re cleaning your ears wrong

Nope, nope, nope.
Nope, nope, nope.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
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Today is International Ear Care Day, and the World Health Organization has two major directives: Getting you to turn your music down and stop sticking things in your ears, dammit.

Surprisingly, not much research has been done on our predilection for earwax spelunking. But a small study in 2005 found that just over half of respondents at an ear, nose, and throat clinic used cotton swabs to clean their ear canals. And nearly one out of five disagreed with the statement that cotton swabs could cause infections, wax impaction, and eardrum perforations. Which they can.

Everyone should be well aware of the dangers of poking cotton-covered sticks into one’s ear canal. Just last year, popular TV show Girls featured a cringe-worthy Q-tip accident. And Q-tips has made it abundantly clear on its website that its cotton swabs are not for that one thing you actually use them for. Here are some approved uses:

1. Removing excess lipstick
2. Cleaning the creases of your dog’s face
3. Fixing a manicure
4. Obsessive compulsive micro-cleaning in the home
5. Cleaning the outer ear, studiously avoiding anywhere that’s at all satisfying to clean

So what do you use to clean your ears, then? Nothing. Really. The ear is a self-cleaning organ (pdf), and “doesn’t require any active cleaning.” If you truly feel that the gunk in there is out of control, it’s time to see a doctor. Don’t go for alternative ear-cleaning services like ear candling, either—they don’t work, and could actually harm you.