Just as with adults, babies’ ears require special attention to make sure that they are clean and free of any unwanted obstructions or risks to their hearing health. However, babies’ ears are still growing and require some specific steps to ensure that their ears are protected when you clean them.
Explore some of the big questions around cleaning your baby’s ears and how you can protect their hearing as they grow.
If you’re wondering when to start cleaning baby ears, rest assured that you can do so even when they are infants. Newborn babies don’t need a full bath every day, but even on the “off days,” cleaning their face and bottom is a good idea. Establishing a daily cleaning routine comes naturally when you want to remove any food, mucus or other accumulations from the day.
Their ears should be part of that normal cleaning routine. A simple wipe-down of your baby’s ears with a soft, clean cloth—dampened and then wrung out—helps remove grime, ear wax or other unwanted residue that may have accumulated throughout the day. It’s also instrumental in mitigating hearing and health problems for the future.
While infants and newborns have the same ear anatomy as adults, the methods for how to clean baby ears must be handled differently. Your child is still growing and developing, meaning too rough or too invasive washing can damage delicate parts of the ear and skin or cause infection. To keep your baby's ears both safe and clean, the best way to clean baby ears is to focus on being gentle and using baby-safe tools when cleaning behind baby ears as well as inside their ears.
There are several methods to clean your baby’s ears, but as you learn safe techniques for how to clean inside baby ears and how to clean baby ear wax at home, you’ll easily fall into good hygiene habits that meet your baby’s needs. No matter what method you choose, their safety and comfort is your top priority.
Using a washcloth is a safe way to wash your baby’s ears, but keep in mind that this method is primarily used to clean the outer ear. It’s also commonly recommended by pediatricians. To wash your baby’s ears with a washcloth:
As you clean, remember to never put the washcloth inside your baby’s ears.
When cleaning your baby’s ears at home, there are several important dos and don’ts to keep in mind:
DON’T: Insert objects in babies' ears
Whether you’re cleaning the outside or inside of your child’s ears, never insert objects like cotton swabs into their ears. In both children and adults’ ears, using a cotton swab in the ear canal can actually push earwax even deeper into the ear. Some might be cleaned out, but the force will likely compact the rest, causing greater buildup, irritation or even bleeding in the ear. Because the inner ear structures are so sensitive, using cotton swabs for babies' ears can puncture the eardrum and cause even greater hearing problems.
Likewise, you should not put your fingers into your baby’s ears. Your fingernails could scratch your child’s eardrum, causing more irritation or even rupturing the skin. Bacteria can also build up on your fingertips or fingernails, introducing unwanted germs and bacteria into your child’s sensitive ear canal.
DO: Choose your cleaning tools carefully
As you clean, make sure you’re using clean, soft and gentle tools. In general, you do not want to put any objects in babies’ ears. In the case of the washcloth method, it can be a good idea to use a separate cloth for each ear or, if using one cloth, to wash it between cleaning one ear and the other. This can help prevent spreading infections. By focusing on cleanliness in your tools, you can limit the chance of unwanted or harmful materials entering your baby’s ears.
DON’T: Use soap or water
Never use soap and water on your child’s ears to clean them. These materials can cause irritation or ear infections if left inside your baby’s ears. Wring out your washcloth completely when wiping down the outside of their ears and don't add any soap to the cloth. If a little water drips inside their ear, carefully move their head from side to side to help drain it.
DO: Wipe down the outside of their ears
Refer to the step-by-step process of the washcloth method to safely and gently clean your baby’s ears.
DON’T: Attempt to fix ear wax buildup on your own
If you believe that washcloths haven’t solved the problem in your child’s ears, don’t attempt to take additional steps on your own or rely on other at-home methods to remove the ear wax. Using tools like ear candles for babies’ ears or other home remedies risks damaging the ear canal and can even affect your baby’s hearing in the long term.
DO: Consult with medical professionals
If you believe that the earwax in your baby’s ears is causing problems with their hearing, schedule an appointment with a medical professional before taking matters into your own hands. They will be able to assess your child’s ears, develop an understanding of the extent of the blockages and recommend safe strategies to clean your baby’s ears. Your pediatrician or an ear, nose and throat doctor will be valuable resources in determining what’s actually medically necessary for your child.
When done correctly, cleaning your baby’s ears can be a safe process. Keep these cleaning dos and don’ts in mind, and you can protect their ear health as you clean.
Earwax in babies is essentially the same as earwax in adults. Also known as cerumen, this sticky and yellowish substance is primarily made up of dead skin cells mixed with secretions of glands in the ear. Earwax occurs naturally and isn’t a sign of poor hygiene; it’s actually a necessary tool that moisturizes the ear canal, provides a protective barrier, repels foreign objects and acts as an antibiotic.
Earwax normally builds up, dries out and falls out of the outer ear on its own, making baby earwax removal not always necessary. If you notice earwax on the outer ear, you can remove it gently, but you should not try to remove earwax from inside your baby’s ears by yourself.
If your baby's earwax does build up , it’s important to address the problem. An excess of earwax in babies can potentially lead to an earache or infection, causing more discomfort or even further hearing problems for your baby, such as hearing loss.
The causes for this buildup vary depending on the baby and any related health conditions that they might experience, but it can be impacted by earwax leakage and/or the overproduction of earwax in the ears. In some cases, a buildup is triggered by attempts to remove the baby’s earwax with a cotton swab.
When does a little bit of earwax become a bigger problem? If you’re regularly cleaning your baby’s ears, cleaning earwax from baby ears shouldn’t cause issues. However, it may become time to schedule an appointment with your pediatrician if you notice symptoms such as your baby itching or grabbing their ears, being able to see a large piece of earwax in their ears, an apparent decline in their hearing, or expressing general pain and discomfort that can’t be soothed.
Your pediatrician will be able to properly assess your child’s condition, and they are the one you should trust for baby earwax removal, if it is necessary. If your child is dealing with a buildup, your doctor can offer descriptions of how to remove earwax from baby ears—but they should be the ones to do it. If your child has developed an ear infection, they will also be able to diagnose and prescribe medications to resolve their pain.
Your regular pediatrician visits are also a great time to ask general questions about ear health and cleaning concerns, and in the meantime, keeping a good hygiene schedule for your baby goes a long way in preventing issues.