Is It Safe To Clean Your Ears With Rubbing Alcohol?

Perhaps part of your regular hygiene routine involves cleaning out your ears with a cotton swab. While it may appear effective in ridding our ears of earwax, experts generally advise against the use of cotton swabs, as they can pose potentially serious health risks. Not only can they shove earwax deeper into the ear canal, but at their worst, cotton swabs can increase one's risk for a punctured eardrum, hearing loss, vertigo with nausea, or facial paralysis, Dr. Yu-Tung Wong told Cedars-Sinai.

So what is a safe and effective alternative to sticking a cotton swab into our ear? The answer may already be sitting in your cleaning cabinet — rubbing alcohol. Also referred to as isopropyl alcohol, rubbing alcohol may not only help remove earwax, but it may also be useful in treating certain ear conditions (via Medical News Today). But don't simply go flooding your ears with rubbing alcohol. Rather, you'll only want to use a certain amount and only under certain circumstances.

The effects of rubbing alcohol on earwax buildup and ear conditions

Researchers from a small 2012 study published in the Ear, Nose & Throat Journal found that the use of 70% isopropyl alcohol was effective in reducing the accumulation of earwax when administered weekly to patients through a squeeze bottle. No complications were reported and the researchers deemed the practice safe and effective in minimizing doctor visits for professional earwax removal.

In addition to keeping our ears clean, rubbing alcohol may also offer benefits to those with swimmer's ear. The condition occurs when water becomes trapped in the outer ear canal and leads to a bacterial infection. However, rubbing alcohol works by causing this water to evaporate (via University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics). Similarly, when mixed with apple cider vinegar, rubbing alcohol may potentially help ease symptoms of an ear infection by further helping to dry out the ear and protect against the growth of bacteria and fungus (per Medical News Today). But just how much rubbing alcohol should we be using?

How to make a rubbing alcohol solution

To properly clean your ears with rubbing alcohol, create a solution made up of half rubbing alcohol and half white vinegar. Starting with one side at a time, administer 1 teaspoon of the mixture into the ear before letting it drain out (via Healthline). Experts at the Ear, Nose, and Throat Center of Utah suggest leaning your head to one side and allowing the solution to sit first. 

It's important to note, however, that this at-home remedy is not advised for all, such as those recently having had ear surgery. Additionally, rubbing alcohol should not be used in cases of middle ear infections or ear drainage. In the event that you experience pain while using rubbing alcohol in the ears, this may be a sign of a perforated eardrum or other damage requiring professional medical care (per Finger Lakes Hearing Center). Some may also find that alcohol worsens symptoms of itching.

While rubbing alcohol may be helpful in keeping our ears fresh and clean in some cases, it's certainly not required. After all, our body is designed to take care of earwax on its own.