When we feel like cleaning our ears, many of us reach for a Q-Tip. But while the tiny cotton-tipped sticks may seem like the perfect earwax removal device, using them to get gunk out of our ears does more harm than good. In the short Business Insider video below, otolaryngologist Erich P. Voigt explains why sticking a Q-Tip into your ear isn’t just ineffective—it’s downright dangerous.

When we use a Q-Tip to remove ear wax, Voigt explains, we actually end up pushing wax toward our ear drum, where it can get stuck and harden. If you use Q-Tips too often, wax can end up hardening along the entire length of your ear canal, and you’ll end up with an inch-long “crayon amount” of wax.

Voigt is far from the only doctor who recommends keeping Q-Tips away from your ears: Otolaryngologist Stephen Rothstein gave similar advice in an interview with Slate back in 2013, explaining that the old adage “never put anything smaller than an elbow in your ear” has some real truth to it. “Buy Q-Tips if you want to make an ear doctor rich,” he quipped.

Fortunately, you don’t have to get rid of your Q-Tips completely. The versatile cotton swabs have plenty of uses, from cleaning faucets to unsticking zippers. Plus, they’re totally safe for cleaning the outer part of your ear, just as long as you don’t push them into your ear canal.

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