It seems only natural to want to get your ears really clean! After all, we wash our hands, faces and bodies to remove all the dirt and oil. However, your ears don’t need a good scrubbing – your body has a self-cleaning system in place. Here are some tips for properly cleaning your ears.

Don’t use cotton swabs

With more and more articles published about this, perhaps you’ve already stopped inserting cotton swabs into your ear canals. But it’s not easy to quit because many people say it feels good to clean your ears that way. However, our ears are self-cleaning and cotton swabs can irritate the ear canal and push earwax back toward the eardrum, possibly causing an impaction. Cotton swabs are best used for applying makeup or cleaning your computer keyboard (more suggestions can be found on the leading brand’s website).

Wipe away earwax

As you chew or move your jaw, earwax picks up any dirt or dust and moves it toward your outer ear. With this natural process, the earwax found outside the ear canal can be wiped away with a washcloth or a tissue. Most people only have to do this a couple of times a week. This simple move keeps earwax from building up. Gently rinsing your ears in the shower also will remove excess earwax.

Be smart

As tempting as it may be to use a pen cap, bobby pin, key or another object to clear out earwax, don’t do it. If a cotton swab is not meant to be inserted in the ear canal, why would you use something worse? If you suspect that you have an earwax build-up, use a product that’s designed to remove earwax through irrigation. These can be found at your local drug store and help remove earwax without irritation.

You can also try at-home remedies such as a few drops of mineral oil or baby oil in the ear once or twice a week. Lightly rinse out the oil during a shower or bath.

Know when to get help

If your ears are bothering you, it may be time to see an audiologist. Itchy ears, pain and odor are all signs that earwax may be impacted, blocking the ear canal. The problem can lead to earaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and temporary hearing loss. If you have any of these symptoms, it’s best to see a professional rather than try to treat it yourself.

Earwax is important, so when you take too much of it away by removing it from the ear canal, you are interfering in your ears’ natural self-cleaning process. The wax itself is actually water-soluble and also serves to lubricate and protect your ears. When it comes to cleaning your ears, there can be too much of a good thing! Avoid the urge to “stick it in your ear” and keep your ears healthy.