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How to Clean Impacted Ear Wax

Impacted earwax occurs when wax or cerumen builds up in the ear canal, often as a result of external objects, such as hearing aids, ear plugs or cotton swabs, blocking the ear canal. The resulting hard chunk of wax lodges in the ear canal and causes various problematic symptoms, including gradual loss of hearing, noises or tinnitus in the ear, irritation or pain and a plugged feeling in the ear, according to Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Check with your primary care doctor before attempting to clean impacted earwax, especially in a child or a person who may have a punctured eardrum.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Fold a large bath towel in half and lay it flat across one side of a table. Sit the affected individual down in a chair at the table and have him turn his head to the side before resting it gently on the towel. The affected ear should be completely exposed, so make sure the person rests his head on the unaffected ear.

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Instill three to four drops of an oil-based cerumenolytic—wax-softening agent—directly into the affected ear canal using an eyedropper According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, acceptable oil-based cerumenolytics include olive oil, mineral oil and almond oil 2. Allow the affected person to keep her head in a resting position for 15 to 30 minutes to promote softening of the earwax.

Fill a bulb syringe with body-temperature water to minimize potentially problematic side effects, such as dizziness, that may accompany irrigation treatment with very warm or cold water. Have the affected person sit upright and drape the bath towel over the shoulder and neck on the side of the body near the affected ear.

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Hold the syringe approximately ½ inch from the opening of the ear canal and tug gently upward on the top of the ear to help straighten the ear canal. Gently spray the water into the ear canal to dislodge the softened chunk of wax. Aim the flow of water at the wall of the ear canal next to the impacted wax to keep from forcing the wax further back into the ear with the force of the water, as recommended by Medline Plus.

Tip the head slightly toward the affected ear to allow the water and loosened chunks of wax to drain from the ear onto the towel. Repeat the entire treatment 24 hours later, if necessary. Contact your health care provider if the symptoms fail to improve or increase in severity during or after the cleaning.


You may opt to use a water-based cerumenolytic to dissolve the wax before irrigation instead of an oil-based solution. Proper treatment with a water-based solution requires that you use enough of the chosen liquid to fill the ear canal. Acceptable water-based cerumenolytics include plain water, hydrogen peroxide and saline solution, notes the AAFP.


Never insert liquid into an ear that may have a ruptured eardrum; symptoms of a punctured eardrum may include ear pain or discharge and ear buzzing.

If you may have a ruptured eardrum, suffer from diabetes or have ear tubes in place, your health care provider will most likely perform manual removal of the impacted wax using specialized instruments to avoid possible complications.