Saturday, March 15, 2003

How Should You Clean Earwax?

Have you ever wondered where earwax comes from? Your ear, of course! But where in your ear is earwax made? Earwax, which scientists call cerumen (pronounced suh-ROO-muhn), is made from special glands in your outer ear canal. These glands produce the gloppy substance that we call earwax. The outer ear canal is a tube between that flap of skin on each side of your head that scientists call the auricle, what most people think of as your ears, and your eardrums.

So what does earwax do, exactly? Well, your eardrum is a very sensitive membrane. It's only a few cell layers thick, so it is very important that it stays clean. Earwax protects the eardrum from dust and dirt particles that may irritate it. Dirt particles entering the ear get trapped in the gooey wax and are eventually pushed out of the ear naturally. In a healthy ear, earwax is pushed to the outside of the ear where it eventually flakes off, carrying whatever dirt and grime it has collected with it. Earwax also traps and prevents bacteria from growing in the ear canal, helping to prevent ear infections.

So how do you clean the earwax from inside your ear? You don't! Never stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear canal! Earwax helps to prevent harmful substances like dirt and bacteria from reaching your eardrum. It also helps to keep your outer ear canal moist. Ear canals that do not have enough wax tend to become itchy. Cotton swabs should NEVER be stuck inside your ear, because they can damage the sensitive skin of your ear canal, causing it to bleed, and can even hurt your eardrum. Sometimes, using things such as cotton swabs or pencils will push earwax back into the ear canal and up against the eardrum. This is BAD! If this happens, it may be difficult to hear very well. Although there are some over-the-counter remedies for compacted earwax, should this happen to you, you should have your parents call your doctor and ask what the best treatment is. A healthy ear canal will naturally push out old wax, keeping itself clean.

So how do you clean the earwax from outside your ear? All you really need to do is wash your hair to clean your ears. The soap and lather from washing your hair will get into the folds of the auricle, the part of the ear you can see, and help wash away old, flaky earwax. You can also put a cloth over your finger, and wipe the folds of the auricle, but do NOT stick your finger into the ear canal.

Little Lions Experiment:


  • 2 old paper towel tubes (outer ear canal)
  • 2 sheets of facial tissue (eardrum)
  • petroleum jelly (earwax)
  • dust, dirt or lint (grime)


  1. Tape a sheet of facial tissue to one end of the paper towel tubes. Make sure one end of each tube is completely covered by one layer of tissue.
  2. Spread petroleum jelly inside one of the tubes. Leave the other tube without any petroleum jelly. Only spread the jelly in the upper half. Do not let it go too far down the tube. Do not let it touch the facial tissue.
  3. Set the tubes beside each other, and prop up the open ends about 30 degrees.
  4. Throw the dust towards the tubes.
  5. Carefully remove the tissue paper. Compare how dirty the tissue paper got for the tube with the jelly and without the jelly. Did the earwax prevent the grime from hitting the eardrum?