Unlock new offers at our Gift for Mom Event!

Can rubbing alcohol treat ear conditions?

Last update on Nov, 02, 2023

Isopropyl alcohol also referred to as rubbing alcohol, finds all kinds of uses as a household supply, cleaning everything from stainless steel to makeup brushes. Available in 70% (the most common) and 99% dilutions, it’s a staple you always want to have on hand. But can you use it for your ears beyond keeping fresh piercings disinfected? Read on to find out more.

Can you put rubbing alcohol in your ear?

From cleaning to small medical issues, there are many reasons why people might consider using rubbing alcohol in their ears. But if you haven’t heard of doing so before, you might be wondering, Can you put rubbing alcohol in your ear?

Is it safe to put rubbing alcohol in your ear?

When it comes to putting rubbing alcohol in ears for cleaning purposes, it’s safe to do so as long as you do it correctly. Start by putting 2-3 drops in one ear, then hold your head to the side for a few minutes so the rubbing alcohol can clear out bacteria and earwax. Let it drain out, and then do the same for the other ear.

Rubbing alcohol in ear

Prevention is key

Never underestimate the importance of ear care. Your hearing might depend on it.

When to put rubbing alcohol in your ear

You should only put rubbing alcohol in your ear in certain situations, including those listed below. 

Swimmer's ear is a painful condition that happens when water gets trapped in your ear and causes bacterial growth and infection, which can be eased by rubbing alcohol. Using rubbing alcohol for swimmer’s ear helps because the alcohol acts to dry out any water that might be in the ear. However, if you have symptoms of an infection like swimmer’s ear, you should see a doctor before treating it on your own.

Earwax—secretions from sebaceous glands, skin cells and other microscopic debris—acts as a natural, protective barrier between your ears and the outside world, but sometimes we produce too much. While putting rubbing alcohol in ears for wax removal won’t do much on its own, you can use it in combination with hydrogen peroxide.

The first step is to put drops of hydrogen peroxide, or a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide that is sold specifically for ear cleaning, into the ear. The solution will bubble and break up the wax. However, after the bubbles subside, water can be left in the ear. Flushing with rubbing alcohol will help dry the ear canal and avoid infection.  

If you have ear infection symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor before you put anything in your ears. That said, there is anecdotal evidence that using rubbing alcohol for ear infections (affecting the outer ear but not the middle ear) can help deter bacterial growth.

When it feels like your ears may be clogged, there might be an ear blockage affecting your ability to hear. Sometimes, blockages are caused by excess earwax, but cleaning ears with alcohol alone will not be effective. Use the combination of hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol described above under “Earwax.” If you don’t notice a difference, see a hearing care specialist or a doctor to get your ears fully examined.

How to clean your ears with rubbing alcohol

Cleaning ears with alcohol is most useful when you want to tap into its antiseptic properties, such as when you have an infection like swimmer’s ear. Follow these steps:

  1. Put 2-3 drops of rubbing alcohol in one ear.
  2. Tilt your head to the side so it doesn’t drain out.
  3. Wait several minutes.
  4. Drain your ear over the sink.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

If rubbing alcohol is too harsh for your ears, it can be mixed with equal parts white vinegar. Keep in mind that because rubbing alcohol has drying properties, using it too often can lead to inner ear dryness, flaking and itching. 

Find your closest Miracle-Ear center

Your store

When to not put rubbing alcohol in your ear

While rubbing alcohol can help in the situations above, there are some situations where you should avoid using it and seek medical attention instead, including:

A middle ear infection is a more serious infection than something like swimmer’s ear. Often caused by bacteria or a virus associated with a cold or flu, middle ear infections should be treated by a doctor. Do not use rubbing alcohol for middle ear infections without consulting a doctor first.

A perforated eardrum is a hole in the eardrum, sometimes caused by things like a middle ear infection, air pressure changes, physical injury or even loud noises. Using rubbing alcohol with a tear in your eardrum is painful, can cause infection and should be avoided.

Other ear conditions and situations where rubbing alcohol should not be used include:

  • Vertigo and other inner ear conditions
  • Hearing loss
  • Following ear surgery
  • Presence of a fever
girl with tablet

Try our free online hearing test

Take a free online hearing test now. Your first step to better hearing is only a click away! In less than five minutes, you'll have a better understanding of your hearing health.

Rubbing alcohol vs other ear cleaning methods

Rubbing alcohol isn’t the only method for cleaning your ears. Other options include the following:

Using hydrogen peroxide in ears—alone or as an ingredient in ear drops—is a commonly used method to clear out earwax. It can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing earwax impaction. 

Using apple cider vinegar for ear infections should only be done in the case of outer ear infections. If you’re unsure whether an infection is inner or outer ear, see a doctor first. While apple cider vinegar will not cure ear infections, it can help kill bacteria in your ear. To use this method, mix the apple cider vinegar with equal parts warm water, place 5-10 drops in your ear, cover your ear and tilt your head to the side for several minutes.

There are various types of ear drops for ear infections. Many can be purchased over the counter, but antibacterial ear drops require a prescription. Follow the instructions included with the ear drops you choose or are prescribed.

Using saline solution for ears can be part of the process of clearing out excess earwax. It can be done in a hearing care professional’s office or using an at-home kit. 

Tips for keeping ears healthy

The best way to avoid needing to use rubbing alcohol is to protect your ear health. Here are a few tips to keep your ears happy and healthy:

When to see a doctor for ear pain

Using rubbing alcohol on your ears isn’t a universal solution. If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, contact your doctor.

  • Severe fever
  • Severe pain
  • Hearing loss
  • Swelling around the ear
  • Liquid draining from the ear
  • No symptom improvement after 2–3 days
HCP at store

Experiencing hearing concerns?

If you’re experiencing hearing issues or ear discomfort, set up a Miracle-Ear appointment to talk to a hearing care professional about your symptoms and concerns.

More from the blog

Discover a world of sounds.
View all

Get support and advice

Book an appointment online

Book now

Take a free online hearing test

Start test

Find a hearing aid center near you

Search now