Despite most people growing up cleaning their ears with a cotton swab, the medical community has made it very clear over the last few years that this is not a safe way to go. You could puncture your eardrum or push gunk deeper into your ear canal—it’s just not a good idea.
Still, it’s not like your earwax just magically disappears, and sometimes you want to get it out ASAP. That’s probably one of the reasons why one woman recently went viral on TikTok for using hydrogen peroxide to clean out her ears.
Ayisha Friedman-Negrín (@ayishafrita) has racked up 2.1 million likes for demonstrating what she says is “how to properly clean ur ears.” In the video, Friedman-Negrín lays her head down on a towel with one ear facing up. She puts a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in her ear and waits for a moment. “It’s going to just bubble in there,” she says. “It basically is just separating all the earwax and then I’m going to flip and it’s all going to come out.”
Friedman-Negrín waited until “the sizzling has calmed down” (FYI: she meant “bubbling”), and then did exactly as she explained: she covered her exposed ear with a towel, flipped her head over, and let the earwax drain from her ear.
People had plenty of questions in the comments. “Imma need a doctor to confirm this is safe before I try lol,” another said. “Getting mixed reviews on doing this and I’m so confused,” someone else wrote.
So what’s going on here? Is it safe to put hydrogen peroxide in your ears to clean the earwax out? Here’s what you need to know.
First, do you actually need to clean your ears at all?
If you rarely (or never) clean your ears, that’s actually totally fine. “Most people don’t need to do anything,” Scott B. Shapiro, MD, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Health.
Your earwax (aka cerumen) is there for a reason, he points out. It works to stop dust, germs, and small objects from damaging your ear, along with protecting the delicate skin in your ear canal.
For most people, earwax will either ooze or fall out of your ear over time or wash away in the shower, Erin McNeely, MD, an internal medicine physician at Spectrum Health, tells Health. “Your ears basically do self-cleaning,” she says.
So, is it safe to clean your ears out with hydrogen peroxide?
Yes-ish. “We typically recommend that people dilute it,” Dr. Shapiro says. “Regular strength hydrogen peroxide can be irritating to your ear canal skin and eardrum.” And, if you have any issues like an infection, pain, or a perforated eardrum, you shouldn’t do this, Dr. McNeely says—it could make things worse.
Have otherwise healthy ears and want to try this hack? John Dobrowski, MD, an ear, nose, and throat physician at Mass Eye and Ear and instructor of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at Harvard Medical School, suggests creating a mixture that’s half hydrogen peroxide and half water so it’s less abrasive on your ears. Then, just use a dropper or gently pour a little in there. Dr. Shapiro suggests letting it sit for about 10 seconds, and then flopping your head over to let it drain.
In this case, the aftercare if just as important as the process: “If used, the ear needs to be thoroughly dried afterwards,” Dr. Dobrowski says. “A damp environment can potentially lead to otomycosis, or fungal infections in the ear canal.”
There are other options for cleaning out your ears, including applying a few drops of mineral oil or baby oil in there “to soften the wax,” Dr. Shapiro says.
If you feel like you need to clean out your ears regularly, Dr. Dobrowski suggests checking in with an ear, nose, and throat specialist, aka an otolaryngologist. “The otolaryngologist can take a look in the ear and prescribe lotion, drops, or steroid oil to minimize crusting and flaking that may be present in the patient’s ear,” he says. “The ears are very sensitive, and the more you do to them—such as cleaning them excessively at home—the more problems you may experience with the ears.”
Again, there is no need for the average person to clean out their ears regularly. “Earwax is almost like the oils on your skin,” Dr. Shapiro says. “If you wash it away, the area can get dried out and set you up for irritation or infection.” So, unless you’re having trouble hearing or are really bothered by your earwax, Dr. Shapiro says there’s really no need to clean your ears. “It’s overkill for most people,” he says.