Earwax buildup? Olive oil to the rescue

Margaret Boyles

Every four or five years, I suffer a temporarily deafening buildup of ear wax. It usually hits me early in the outdoor swimming season, when pond water seeps in behind and around the growing wax ball.

Years ago my doctor recommended an olive-oil and warm-water procedure to remove it safely at home. When I suspect the wax buildup, I get out my gear: an eye-dropper, a hand-held bulb syringe, and a little olive oil.

I sterilize the dropper and the syringe in boiling water, warm (to skin temperature) some oil on the stove, and use the eye-dropper to insert a few drops of the warmed oil into each ear, tilting my head to one side to allow the oil to flow down into my ear canal.

In the morning, I fill the syringe with warm water and, kneeling in my bathtub, tilt my head sideways and deliver a strong squirt into each ear. Sometimes it takes a few swishes of warm water and a few good shakes of the head before for the wax ball slides out.

Don’t use a pressurized device (e.g., a Water Pick) to flush out the wax, as it could damage your eardrum.

Occasionally, I have to repeat the process another evening. Other times, the wax comes out without any warm-water syringing.

For decades the technique has worked well for me. But if I experienced pain, swelling, or unusual sensations in my ear before or after using this technique, I’d definitely see my doctor.

Doctors warn against removing ear wax unless symptoms develop (sense of pressure/swooshing, ringing, or roaring in the ears). Earwax serves important health benefits: It lubricates and cleans the ear canal, picking up bits of dirt, dust, and dead skin that stick to it on the way out. The wax also contains antibacterial substances that help prevent infection. It generally removes itself without help.

Experts also warn against poking cotton swabs or anything else into your ears that might push the wax ball further down into the ear canal. Wearing ear buds for MP3 listening or ear plugs for sleep may also encourage wax buildup by blocking its normal exit route.

Frugal folks in times past have used earwax for a variety of purposes.

  • Medieval scribes mixed earwax (as one among many other substances) to prepare the pigments they used to illustrate illuminated manuscripts.
  • The 1832 edition of the American Frugal Housewife recommended earwax as a remedy for cracked lips and noted that “nothing was better than earwax to prevent the painful effects resulting from a wound by a nail [or] skewer.”
  • Dating back to medieval times, early sewing needles often had an “earscoop” at one end, designed for harvesting earwax that the seamstress would use on thread to stop the cut ends from fraying.


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atta girl

U B a smart girl to keep handy! A looker, knower and doer.


Do you find you get oil on your pillow?

Oil on my pillow?

I forgot to mention: I generally place big cotton balls in the outside opening of each ear to keep the oil from oozing onto my pillow.

Cotton swabs

Cotton swaps work best and only if you don't use them regularly does one get a wax ball.

Cotton swabs?

Whoa, Joe! I've always heard that using cotton swabs in ears for any purpose is a bad idea.
A swab can push a wax ball further into the ear canal, cause abrasions, even perforate the eardrum. Also, the cotton end can pull off the stick and become lodged in the ear.

Cotton swabs?

Whoa, Joe! I've always heard that using cotton swabs in ears for any purpose is a bad idea.
A swab can push a wax ball further into the ear canal, cause abrasions, even perforate the eardrum. Also, the cotton end can pull off the stick and become lodged in the ear.

ear wax removal

My doctor suggested a few drops of hydrogen peroxide which liquifies the wax. One can hear the mixture "boiling". When the action stops, tilt the head and the liquified wax will run out.


I've read and heard about adding hydrogen peroxide to the ear solution.
So far, the plain olive oil has worked its magic alone, so I've never needed it, though.

My 2 year old had visited the

My 2 year old had visited the Dr. for wellness check up and stated that we should add drops of olive oil in his ears due to the buildup of wax in his ear. We had tried it, but I was still not sure, but I will have to try again due to the amount that seems stuck in the canal & this blog does a better job of explanation. Also I did use hydrogen peroxide on two occasions with my 8 & 7 yr old. I had seen on true stories of ER where a man had a bug lodged in his ear and they used it to kill the bug and it was safe for ear. It was such a strange story it stuck with me and one evening my son came to me and said he had a bug stuck in his ear and I tried the method and there was a bug and the ear Dr. said I did good in using the H. Peroxide to drown the bug and keep the ear disinfected. Another occasion my 7 yr old was crying complaining of his ear and afraid of another bug repeat I did the same thing w/ the H. Peroxide, but a hug ball of wax came out and it eased his pain, but next morning Dr. said it was ear infection. Hope this helps.

Thanks for your response!

Thanks for your response! Peroxide is a useful anti-germicidal agent with many uses. Great as a mouthwash, for sanitizing cutting boards, and more. Would make a good blog post--look for it soon!

The final takeaway: when the gentle, well-tested home remedy doesn't do the trick, see the doctor.



Have you ever experienced of

Have you ever experienced of swelling in some part inside of your ear?