Coming soon: AboutKidsHealth is getting a new look! Learn more Watch a video tour

Ear cleaning: How to clean your child's ears

Your ears are divided into three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear includes the pinna (the part of the ear we can see), the ear canal, and the ear drum. Together, these capture sounds and channel them into the middle ear.

The ear canal contains glands that produce earwax (cerumen). It is normal to have a lining of earwax in the ear canal, as the wax protects the middle ear from everyday dust and dirt.

How to do routine ear cleaning

Your child’s ears should be cleaned regularly to remove any dirt. The safest way to do this is to use a soft washcloth or a cotton swab around the outside of the ear.

Remember, “nothing smaller than your elbow” should be put in your child’s ear. Putting anything into the ear canal will only pack dirt in further.

Ear candling and peroxide cleaners are not recommended for cleaning your child’s ears. Ear candling has no clear benefit and can be risky.

How to remove hardened earwax

If you think your child has a build-up of hardened earwax, you can soften it with two to four drops of olive oil or mineral oil. 

  1. Warm up some oil to skin temperature by holding it in a small container in your hands. 
  2. Use a dropper to apply the oil to the affected ear. 
  3. Have your child lie down with the affected ear facing up and leave the oil in the ear for a few minutes. 
  4. When your child sits up, the wax should work its way out.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • you notice any blood, oozing or pus
  • your child is in pain, has a fever or experiences any change in their hearing.

Also see your doctor if you see anything stuck in your child’s ear.

Key points

  • Clean the outside of your child’s ears with a wash cloth or cotton swab.
  • Only use warm olive oil or mineral oil to soften any hard earwax.
  • See your doctor about anything abnormal such as blood, oozing, pain or changes in hearing.

Elly Berger, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, MHPE