How to Clean a Baby’s Ears

When it comes to cleaning baby’s ears, experts say less is more—and safety is key.
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By Natalie Gontcharova, Senior Editor, Lifecycle
Updated November 16, 2023
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As a new parent, you might find yourself wishing that babies came with instruction manuals. There are just so many questions at every turn, about everything from sleep habits to grooming essentials. You might wonder, for example, how to clean a baby’s ears. Luckily, the steps are quite simple. Below, experts explain how to get the job done.

What is Earwax?

If you want to learn how to clean baby ears, you might also be wondering what to do if baby has a lot of earwax. Earwax, also called cerumen, is a substance produced by skin glands in the ear canal, explains Loretta Cody, MD, a Connecticut-based pediatrician. It’s what keeps the ear canal clean and prevents the skin inside the ear from getting too dry. “It traps dirt, dust and bacteria, which protects the ear canal,” Cody says.

In short, earwax is necessary—that’s why you generally don’t need to clean out baby’s earwax.

How to Clean a Baby’s Ears

The first rule to follow when cleaning baby’s ears: Don’t overdo it. “The ears are self-cleaning, so you really don’t need to clean the insides of a baby’s ears at all,” says Whitney Casares, MD, MPH, FAAP, a Portland, Oregon-based pediatrician and the founder of Modern Mommy Doc. “In fact, you risk damaging the eardrum and the sensitive lining of the ear canal when you attempt to clean those areas. I recommend only cleaning the parts of the ear that you can see and leaving the rest alone!”

If your pediatrician needs to clean excess ear wax in order to see the eardrum more clearly—for example, if they’re concerned about an ear infection—they’ll use a special procedure in the clinic, says Casares.

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Cody agrees, adding that you should never put anything in baby’s ear canal: “Don’t use a Q-tip or finger to try to remove wax.” Again, for the most part earwax isn’t a problem.

Image: Loraine Yow | The Bump

How to Clean Baby Ears Using a Washcloth

Using a washcloth is the most common and effective way to clean baby’s outer ears. There are a few important steps to follow, according to the experts.

  • First, dip the washcloth in warm water. Don’t use soap.
  • Wring out the washcloth so there’s no dripping water.
  • Wipe gently around baby’s ear. Do not put the washcloth in baby’s ear canal, cautions Cody. Take care not to introduce excess water into the ear canal.
  • Pat the skin with a dry washcloth after you’re done cleaning, advises Casares.

Should You Use Ear Drops to Clean Baby Ears?

Casares advises against using ear drops to clean baby ears unless your pediatrician specifically recommends it after an examination.

Image: Loraine Yow | The Bump

If you do need to use ear drops, she advises holding the top, outer portion of the ear (aka the helix) gently away from baby’s face and squeezing the dropper bottle so that one to three drops enter the ear canal. “You can use a cotton ball to soak up any extra moisture that might otherwise leak onto baby’s clothes,” she adds.

Cleaning baby’s ears is a pretty straightforward task, and—just like with changing diapers—you’re likely to be a pro in no time. Now, if only getting baby to sleep were so easy.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.


Whitney Casares, MD, MPH, FAAP, is a pediatrician based in Portland, Oregon, and the founder of Modern Mommy Doc. She is also the author of three books, including Doing it All: Stop Over-Functioning and Become the Mom and Person You're Meant to Be. Casares earned her medical degree from the University of Vermont and completed her pediatrics residency at Stanford University. She also holds a Master of Public Health in maternal and child health from the University of California, Berkeley.

Loretta Cody, MD, is a pediatrician based out of Connecticut. She received her medical degree from New York Medical College and completed her residency at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.

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