How do you massage your ear to remove ear wax?

Ear wax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced by glands in the ear canal. It protects the skin of the ear canal by trapping dust, bacteria, and other particles. Most of the time, ear wax works its way out of the ear canal naturally through jaw movement. However, sometimes ear wax can build up and block the ear canal, causing symptoms like earache, feeling of fullness, ringing in the ear, itching, and hearing loss. Ear wax buildup is one of the most common ear problems seen by doctors.

While you should never try to remove ear wax with a cotton swab or other object inserted in the ear canal, which can damage the eardrum, one safe way to help remove excess ear wax is by massaging the outer ear. Gently massaging and applying slight pressure around the outer ear can help loosen ear wax so it starts moving out of the ear canal again. Here is more detail on how to massage your ears to remove ear wax safely and effectively at home.

Steps to Massage Your Ears to Remove Ear Wax

Follow these steps to massage your ears to help remove excess ear wax:

1. Use Ear Drops to Soften the Ear Wax First

Before massaging your ears, it helps to use ear drops for a few days ahead of time to soften any hardened ear wax buildup. This makes it easier for the wax to break free and move out of the ear canal when massaged.

Some over-the-counter ear wax removal drops contain ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide, or glycerin to help soften ear wax. Use as directed on the packaging. Typically, you would use 2-3 drops in each ear, 2-3 times per day for 3-5 days before attempting to remove the ear wax. The softened ear wax is then more pliable and prone to coming out with light pressure.

2. Massage the Outer Ear Using Your Fingers

Once you’ve used ear drops for several days beforehand, you can massage the outer ear to help loosen and remove excess ear wax.

Sit or lie down with your head tilted to one side. Using your fingertips, gently massage the outer ear in a circular motion. Move your fingers in a circle around the outer rim of the ear opening.

Apply light pressure as you massage in circles. Repeat this around the entire outer ear.

Do not stick your fingers or any objects into the ear canal. Massage only the outer, visible part of the ear.

Massage the outer ear in this circular pattern for 3-5 minutes. Then tilt your head the opposite way and repeat the circular massaging on the other ear.

3. Use a Warm Compress

For added benefit, do the ear massage after applying a warm compress to the ears. The warm temperature will further soften and loosen any hardened ear wax.

Dip a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring it out so it doesn’t drip. Place the warm, damp washcloth over your ear for about 5 minutes. Repeat on the other side.

Then proceed to massage both ears using circular motions with your fingertips. The heat will have helped soften the wax, which then is more likely to dislodge with light massage.

4. Use a Few Drops of Oil After Massaging

After massaging your ears for 3-5 minutes on each side, tilt your head and add 2-3 drops of olive oil, almond oil, or mineral oil into each ear canal. This can further help soften any remaining wax and lubricate the ear canal for wax to come out more easily.

Keep your head tilted for 2-3 minutes as the oil coats the ear canal. Then tilt your head the other way so the oil can reach all sides. Wipe away any excess oil that drips from the ear opening with a tissue.

5. Allow Time for the Loosened Ear Wax to Come Out

After following the above steps, allow several hours to a day for the loosened ear wax to make its way out of your ear canal. Keep your head tilted, chew gum, or yawn periodically. This will encourage the freed ear wax to continue migrating out.

The ear wax will likely come out little by little over the course of several hours or days. You may see some wax on your outer ear or on a tissue when you wipe the opening. But much of it will come out without you noticing.

Avoid sticking cotton swabs or other objects in your ears to try removing the wax, as this can just push it in deeper. Allow the ear wax to come out on its own after massaging.

6. Repeat the Massage Daily if Needed

If your ears still feel clogged after a day or two, repeat the massage process. Use ear drops for a few more days to re-soften the wax. Then massage again and tilt your head to help the loosened wax come out.

With consistent gentle massage of the outer ear, plus ear drops to soften the wax, most blocked ears will clear out over the course of a week or so. The key is being patient and not overdoing it.

7. See a Doctor if Symptoms Persist

See your doctor if ear fullness, pain, ringing, or hearing loss continue after 1-2 weeks of trying home removal techniques. At that point, hardened wax may be too deep in the ear canal for you to remove on your own.

A doctor can safely flush or suction out excess wax using an instrument called an ear curette. Do not try to flush your ears at home using liquids, as this can damage the eardrum.

Tips for Safely Removing Ear Wax at Home

Follow these tips for safe, effective at-home ear wax removal:

– Never put objects like cotton swabs, bobby pins, or keys into your ear canal. This can scratch the sensitive skin and ear drum.

– Do not use candles or ear vacuums/irrigators intended for ear wax removal. The hot wax or water pressure can injure the eardrum.

– Avoid excessive digging and scraping when massaging the outer ear. Apply only light pressure in a gentle, circular motion.

– Do not attempt to remove ear wax if you have an ear infection, ear injury, or ear tube. Consult a doctor first.

– Visit a doctor right away if you experience severe pain, bleeding, drainage, or hearing loss.

– When using ear drops to soften wax, carefully follow package directions and do not use for more than 7 consecutive days.

Why Ear Wax Buildup Occurs

Before learning how to remove excess ear wax, it helps to understand what causes a buildup in the first place. Reasons why ear wax accumulates include:

– Too much ear wax production – Some people naturally produce more cerumen than others. Excess wax gets trapped inside the ear canal rather than coming out normally.

– Abnormal ear wax – Dry, flaky wax is more likely to block the ear than healthy, wet wax.

– Improper cleaning – Cleaning the ears too vigorously can push wax deeper into the ear.

– Hearing aids or earbuds – These devices can block wax from escaping from the ear naturally.

– Bony growths – Exostoses or osteomas can develop in the ear canal and trap ear wax.

– Ear infections – Inflammation from infections causes more cells to accumulate.

– Foreign objects – Things like cotton from swabs can get lodged and lead to blockages.

– Narrow ear canals – Some people have naturally narrow canals that wax buildup can easily plug.

– Too little jaw motion – Chewing and talking helps move wax out. Lack of movement allows wax to accumulate.

– Excess hair – Hair in the ear canal catches passing wax.

– Old age – Ear wax glands produce less lubricating wax in elderly adults, leading to dry, hard buildup.

– Certain medications – Drugs like chemotherapy can increase cerumen production.

When to See a Doctor About Ear Wax

In most cases, ear wax buildup can be treated effectively at home using the massage techniques described above, along with over-the-counter ear drops to soften wax. However, you should see a doctor if:

– Wax buildup doesn’t clear with home treatment after 1-2 weeks

– You have pain, discharge, bleeding, or hearing changes

– You have dizziness, ringing ears, or itching that persists

– You have recurring excessive ear wax, despite home removal efforts

– You cannot see the eardrum upon examination with an otoscope

– You have diabetes, immune system conditions, or use blood thinners

– You have ear tubes or a perforated eardrum

– You are elderly, disabled, or unable to properly clean your ears at home

A doctor can determine the extent of wax buildup with a visual exam and properly remove it using specialized tools. Do not attempt to remove wax yourself if any complications are present.

Methods Doctors Use to Remove Ear Wax

If wax is visible in the ear canal, a doctor can safely remove it in the office using these techniques:

– Irrigation – A syringe is used to squirt warm water into the ear to flush out wax.

– Manual extraction – Specialized small tools are used to grasp and pull out wax.

– Suction – A tiny vacuum sucks out loosened ear wax.

– Cerumen loop – A plastic loop instrument sweeps wax out of the ear canal.

– Cerumen spoon – A tiny spoon helps scoop out wax buildup.

For severe blockages, a doctor may use an operating microscope for better visualization in removing impacted wax. In rare cases, excess wax is removed under general anesthesia.

Home remedies like oil and massage should loosen most wax so it comes out on its own. See a doctor if you still have symptoms after trying home treatments for 1-2 weeks.

How to Prevent Ear Wax Buildup

Here are some tips to help prevent excessive ear wax buildup in the first place:

– Avoid sticking cotton swabs or other objects in your ears. Use them only lightly around the outer ear opening.

– Get ears flushed by a doctor once a year if you are prone to blockages.

– Apply 2-3 drops of mineral oil periodically as a precaution, especially if using ear plugs or hearing aids.

– Stay hydrated – drinking lots of water prevents dry wax accumulation.

– Take fish oil supplements – these lubricate the ear canal.

– Don’t let water linger in your ears after swimming or bathing. Tilt and shake your head to drain.

– Consider ear drops before flying to prevent wax plugs from air pressure changes.

– Don’t use ear candles or irrigation kits at home to remove wax.

– See a doctor regularly if you have recurring buildup issues.


Ear wax buildup is a common problem that can cause discomfort and hearing changes. With patience and gentle techniques, most cases can be treated safely at home. Use ear drops for several days to soften wax. Then massage the outer ears in a circular pattern to help loosen the wax so it comes out on its own. Avoid sticking objects in the ears. Allow 1-2 weeks for wax to clear after using drops and massage. See a doctor if symptoms persist after home treatment. With a careful approach, you can clear excess ear wax naturally and prevent problematic buildup.

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