How to Clean Baby Ears

When thinking about how to clean baby ears, safety is key. Read The Bump’s easy step-by-step instructions to learn how to clean baby ears.
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Updated March 2, 2017
Illustration showing how to clean baby ears
Image: Loraine Yow

When it comes to learning how to clean baby ears, safety comes first. There are plenty of methods and tools out there to get baby’s ears clean. The key is finding the best one that works for you and baby. Baby ear cleaning isn’t as easy as you may think.

First things first—you need to understand what you’re dealing with when it comes to earwax and how to clean baby ears.

What is Earwax?

If you want to get fancy, earwax is also called cerumen. Earwax is something all of our bodies make naturally, even babies’ bodies. Glands in the ear produce earwax to trap dirt and other things that could harm the ear. As you might have seen, earwax can range in color from brownish to yellowish. In children and babies, the wax tends to be softer and lighter. But just because it’s something that naturally occurs doesn’t mean parents should ignore it altogether—it’s important to know how to clean baby ears the right way.

Earwax usually builds up, dries out, and moves to the outer ear where it falls out. But, when earwax builds up faster than baby’s body can get rid of it, things like ear aches, itching and even hearing problems can occur.

Do’s and Don’ts of Cleaning Baby Ears

When it comes to figuring out how to clean baby ears, it’s more complicated than meets the…ear.

  • Don’t use a cotton swab! This is not how to clean baby ears! You should never stick anything in baby’s eardrum as a way to get rid of wax. You may rupture the eardrum or make the wax problem worse.
  • Don’t stick your finger in their ears either. A human cotton swab is just as harmful as the real deal.
  • Do use baby earwax drops if earwax becomes more of a serious issue. Remember, not every bit of earwax is bad. Whether it’s washcloths or another method, it’s always a good idea to check in with the pediatrician to make sure you are cleaning baby ears in the safest way.

How to Clean Baby Ears Using a Washcloth

If you decide to go the washcloth route, there are some things to keep in mind. This method is typically used for cleaning the outer ear. It is also the method most recommended by pediatricians. Here are some quick and easy tips:

  1. Wet a washcloth with warm water. Make sure the water is not too hot.
  2. Next, ring out the washcloth well. You don’t want excess water to drip inside baby’s ear.
  3. Gently rub the washcloth around the outer ear to pick up any wax build-up there.
  4. Never put the washcloth inside baby’s ear. You wouldn’t do it with a cotton swab, so don’t do it with a washcloth. It’s not how to clean baby earwax.

How to Clean Baby Ears Using Baby Ear Drops

If you suspect there is wax build-up inside baby’s ear, see your pediatrician before buying any baby earwax drops. If your pediatrician says it’s a good way to clean baby ears, you may get a prescription. There are also several brands sold over the counter that your doctor may recommend.

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Sometimes the doctor will recommend a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution when parents ask about how to clean baby ears. As with the drops, you will want to check with your pediatrician first. If you get the green light, first fill a small, clean glass bottle half-way with hydrogen peroxide. Next, fill the rest of the bottle with water. Shake it up to mix. Now you’re ready to drop it into baby’s ears.

Whether you’re using a hydrogen peroxide solution or prescription drops, there are some things to keep in mind when you’re putting them in.

  1. Earwax removal drops for infants should only be administered when baby is calm.
  2. Rub the bottle between your hands to warm it up.
  3. Fill the dropper to the appropriate level.
  4. Place the dropper above the ear canal.
  5. Put the liquid into the ear one drop at a time if more than one drop is necessary.
  6. Try to keep baby lying still for five minutes to make sure the drops get into the ear canal.

If baby earwax drops and warm washcloths don’t work when it comes to baby ear cleaning, doctors may opt to use an infant earwax removal tool. Stubborn earwax is sometimes scraped out with a tool called a curette. It may sound painful, but doctors do it gently so baby doesn’t get hurt.

Remember, not all baby earwax is harmful. Some of it is normal and good. But, you can have too much of a good thing. When this happens and gets in the way of clean baby ears, it’s time to take action. Always check with your pediatrician if you have more questions about how to clean baby ears. Remember, if your mother’s intuition tells you something is not right, listen to it.

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.

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