Can You Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Remove Ear Wax? — Doctors Weigh In

Before you open up your medicine cabinet, you should hear what the experts have to say about this TikTok ear wax removal technique.

If you find removing ear wax to be one of those weirdly satisfying parts of being a human, then you've probably been told that digging a cotton swab into your ears can do more harm than good. (Sigh.) But, as an alternative to that risky practice, users on TikTok have been sharing another, equally satisfying method for clearing the gunk: pouring hydrogen peroxide into the ear and waiting for it to dissolve the wax.

The TikTok ear wax removal technique involves lying one side of your head on a towel-covered surface and filling the ear canal with hydrogen peroxide, allowing it to bubble and fizz. Once the fizzing stops, you'll flip your head so that the ear you're cleaning is now on the towel to allow the dissolved wax and liquid to drain out. Mildly gross? Maybe. Effective? That's the million-dollar question. (TikTok isn't well-known for super-sound advice, TBH.)

To clear things up, two ear, nose, and throat specialists (aka ENT specialists) weigh in on the safety and efficacy of this technique, revealing if you should try or skip this DIY hack next time your ears are feeling a little gunky.

collage showing a person's hand pouring hydrogen peroxide into another person's ear for earwax removal
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Ear Wax and Hydrogen Peroxide, Explained

First things first, what is ear wax? Well, it's an oily substance produced by glands in the ear canal, notes Steven Gold, M.D., an ENT specialist with ENT and Allergy Associates, LLP. "One of the functions [of ear wax] is to help remove dead skin from the ear," he explains. The medical term for ear wax is cerumen, and it also serves a protective purpose, preventing bacteria, viruses, and fungi from coming in to threaten the ear canal, as Sayani Niyogi, D.O., a fellow ENT specialist with the same practice, previously told Shape.

And ICYDK, hydrogen peroxide is a chemical compound made up mostly of water and one "extra" hydrogen atom, which allows it to serve as a sanitizing agent that can sterilize wounds or even clean surfaces in your home, Jamie Alan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, previously told Shape. It's a clear, colorless liquid that's generally safe, which is likely why you'll often see it touted as a DIY cure-all for all kinds of things, including ear wax.

Does the TikTok Ear Wax Removal Technique Work?

Now for the question on everyone's mind: Is it safe and effective to fish out that OTC bottle of hydrogen peroxide in your medicine cabinet and start squeezing its contents into your ear?

The TikTok ear wax removal technique is "relatively safe," but with a few important caveats, says Neil Bhattacharyya, M.D., an ENT specialist at Mass Eye and Ear in Massachusetts. For starters, it's a better solution than using a cotton swab to dig out the wax, as doing so can potentially damage the delicate ear canal and even push wax even further in, fully defeating the purpose of sticking one of those bad boys in there in the first place. "I never recommend people trying to dig wax out with tools or utensils," says Dr. Gold. (Alternatively, use those cotton swabs to clean out your belly button.)

Instead, it's better to loosen the wax with a liquid such as — you guessed it — hydrogen peroxide. "Home remedies for cleaning ear wax can include placing drops of hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, or baby oil to help soften or loosen the wax, rinsing or cleaning the outside of the ear with a washcloth, or gently irrigating with warm water," explains Dr. Gold. However, instead of filling your ear to the brim, you only need three or four drops of peroxide to get the job done, as a high concentration of peroxide could potentially cause pain, burning, or stinging, he notes.

As for how it works? The hydrogen peroxide interacts with the ear wax itself and actually does "bubble into it," helping to dissolve it, explains Dr. Bhattacharyya. "The wax can adhere to the skin cells and peroxide helps break the skin down, making it easier and softer to remove. Oil drops act as a lubricant to help in a similar way," adds Dr. Gold.

How Often You Should Clean Your Ears

Even if it feels super satisfying to clean out your ears, it's not needed or recommended to add it to your nightly skin-care routine. "In general, for most people, cleaning of the ears on any regular basis is not necessary and can sometimes be harmful," notes Dr. Bhattacharyya. "In fact, ear wax has certain protective properties including an antibacterial property and a moisturizing effect for the external ear canal," he adds.

It's true: As icky as it might seem, ear wax is actually pretty helpful to have around. "The ear canal has a natural cleaning mechanism, which allows skin, wax, and debris to move from the inside to the outer ear canal," says Dr. Gold. Old ear wax makes its way through the ear canal when you move your jaw (such as when chewing), according to the Cleveland Clinic.

"Too many people believe the misconception that we must clean our ears. Your wax is present for a purpose and function. It should only be removed when causing symptoms like itching, discomfort, or hearing loss," explains Dr. Gold.

So, Who Should Try the TikTok Ear Wax Removal Technique?

If you do have excessive ear wax, it's cool to try this TikTok ear wax removal technique — but only once every few weeks or so, recommends Dr. Gold. If excess earwax is a common issue for you, though, checking in with an ENT specialist is your best bet.

However, you definitely don't want to try this if you've ever had ear surgery or have a history of ear tubes (tiny, hollow cylinders surgically inserted into the eardrum); eardrum perforation (aka a ruptured eardrum, which is a hole or tear in the tissue separating your ear canal and middle ear); or any other ear symptoms, such as pain or acute hearing loss, adds Dr. Bhattacharyya. If you do have a perforation or an active ear infection, you'll certainly want to check in with your doctor before trying any DIY remedies such as this one.

All said, letting your ear wax do its thing is never a bad idea — it's there for a reason, and if it's not bothering you, leaving well enough alone is totally fine.

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