6 Ways to Clean Your Ears Without Cotton Swabs

iStock
iStock

As the old saying goes, "You shouldn’t put anything in your ears smaller than your elbow." And that includes Q-Tips.

The cotton swabs that most of us use to clean wax out of our ears are a lot more harmful than helpful. When you put a Q-tip in your ear, it actually ends up pushing most of the wax deeper into the canal instead of digging it out the way it’s supposed to. The wax then sits up against your ear drums and prevents them from vibrating properly, which can cause hearing problems. And if you dig too deep, you can actually wind up puncturing your ear drum, which is not only traumatizing (as anyone who has seen Season 2 of Girls can attest), it can have serious long-term effects on your hearing.

As gross as it sometimes seems, it’s important to understand that having earwax is actually a good thing. The wax helps lubricate our ear canals to keep them functioning properly, keeps bugs from crawling inside our ears, and prevents fungus from growing around our ear drums—situations that are all a lot worse than the earwax itself.

Ears are pretty good at cleaning themselveson their own, but if you do feel like they need a little extra help, here are six alternative methods for getting wax out of your ears without a Q-tip.

1. TRY THE FINGER AND TISSUE TRICK.

No Q-tip? No problem! If you haven’t let things get really backed up inside your ears (as in, it’s not hard and crusty in there), all you need to do is cover your pinky finger with a tissue and wiggle out the wax gently. Again, stick to the outer part of the ear and avoid jamming your pinky into your ear canal. This is most effective post-shower because the warm water helps soften the wax and makes it easier to move.

2. ADD SOME HYDROGEN PEROXIDE...

Lie down on your side and squeeze a few drops of hydrogen peroxide ($14) into your sky-facing ear. Don’t let the fizzing and popping noises freak you out—that means it’s working. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then tilt your head into the sink or a bowl to drain the remaining solution and the wax it dislodged out of your ear.

3. ... OR OLIVE OIL.

Who would have guessed everyone’s favorite kitchen staple could double as an ear cleaner? According to the American Hearing Research Foundation, adding two to three drops of olive oil ($17) into your ear can help soften ear wax so that it can work its way out. This procedure likely only needs to be performed once a week, but it won't harm your ears to do it daily.

4. TURN TO EARWAX DROPS.

If the DIY stuff isn’t for you (or if the idea of putting olive oil in your ears just grosses you out), drops like Debrox Earwax Removal Drops ($6) are available over the counter at the pharmacy and can help soften the wax to make it easier to remove with a tissue.

5. USE A SPECIAL TOOL.

Consider the Clear Ear Oto-Tip ($45) the Q-tip of the future. Developed out of Stanford University’s BioDesign Program to safely clean ears, it rotates gently within your ear to loosen up the wax instead of pushing it in even deeper. There’s also a safety cap that prevents deep insertion and excessive movement inside the ear, both of which can cause damage.

6. GO TO THE DOCTOR.

Time for some real talk: If things are so backed up in your ear canal that you’re having trouble hearing, it’s time to see a doctor. Make an appointment with your GP or an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor (ENT) who can give you a more heavy-duty cleaning.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Why Researchers Believe a 'Crappy' Coronavirus Test Can Help Fight the Pandemic

Cheap tests may be the key to fighting coronavirus.
Cheap tests may be the key to fighting coronavirus.
CrispyPork/iStock via Getty Images

Depending on where you’re located, getting a coronavirus test may not be so simple. It can take days or even weeks to get results, leaving people unsure of their status and potentially transmitting it to others.

Some health experts are now arguing that the country’s insistence on accurate tests that take time to process may actually be counter-productive in controlling outbreaks. They’d like to see a “crappy,” less sensitive test that trades accuracy for being inexpensive, widely available, and able to produce results quickly.

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Boston University economics professor Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health assistant professor of epidemiology Michael Mina say that at-home tests that use saliva are inexpensive to produce and can be distributed on a scale that makes daily self-testing possible.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved these tests, which use paper strips to indicate infection, owing to the fact they’re not as sensitive as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) nasal swab tests and often give false negative results. But according to Mina, that’s not the whole story.

While it’s true simple paper tests that change color after just 15 minutes are less accurate overall, they do a reasonably good job when large amounts of virus are present and when a person is likely to be most contagious. And because the tests can be taken frequently—even daily—a person stands a good chance of identifying an infection. Positive results could also be confirmed with the usual nasal swab test.

Under most circumstances, a person going to a drive-up or walk-in coronavirus testing site may be evaluated only once. With paper tests, their status can be assessed daily, allowing for early intervention and isolation so they don’t spread the infection to family, co-workers, or classmates.

The test could even be government-subsidized and distributed, Kotlikoff and Mina say, absorbing the $1 to $5 cost per test to allow for monitoring in real time. Instead of the current structure, which sees only one in 10 people likely positive for the virus being tested, the paper tests could do a reliable job of providing data for the rest of the population.

“As long as you’re using the test on a pretty frequent basis, you will be more likely than not to catch the person on the day they might go out and transmit,” Mina told NPR. “And they’ll know to stay home.”

Companies like E25Bio have developed such tests, but when or if they will obtain FDA approval remains to be seen.

[h/t ScienceAlert]