They can be pretty gross sometimes, right?
They tend to get snot everywhere, never cover their mouths when they cough, and accumulate massive amounts of dirt under their fingernails.
And if you ever look inside a toddler’s ear, you’ll likely be pretty horrified!
Yes, even their ears can get surprisingly filthy.
But do you need to clean a toddler’s ears? Is it safe? What’s the best way to clean a toddler’s ears?
In a large majority of cases, you don’t need to really do anything to get ear wax out of a toddler’s ears.
For general hygiene, the easiest and safest way is to simply take a wet, warm washcloth and gently wipe out dirt, wax, and gunk from the outer part of the ear.
The big safety rule to remember is to never put anything bigger than an elbow in your child’s ear! That means no Q-tips! Wax that’s still deep inside the ear canal will almost always work its way out on its own.
Still, there’s a little more to it and some special circumstances worth examining. Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about cleaning children’s ears.
When, why & how often do you need to clean a toddler’s ears?
Most of the time, believe it or not, you don’t have to do anything!
The American Academy of Otolaryngology (Ear, nose, and throat experts!) does not recommend using Q-tips or other cleaning devices designed to get wax out of the inner ear.
They write that when you get wax out of your ear using a Q-tip, it would have come out on its own eventually, anyway.
(Wax is formed in the inner parts of the ear canal and slowly works its way out toward the outer ear opening.)
And the dangers of sticking a Q-tip or another tool in too far and damaging your ear far outweigh any potential benefits.
- Irritate the sensitive skin in your ear canal
- Puncture your eardrum
- Or introduce harmful bacteria into the ear
These kinds of problems are massively common.
Doctors also say that Q-tips really don’t work that well, anyway.
They push more wax further into the ear canal than they remove!
Besides, ear wax has a lot of important functions in our body.
It might be kind of gross, and we certainly don’t like the way it looks when it’s visible, but it really has some critical jobs.
- Protects our inner ears from bacteria
- Keeps the ear canal clean and moisturized
- Can even keep insects from crawling into your ear, believe it or not!
The bottom line is that there’s really no good reason to remove ear wax by hand before it’s ready to come out on its own, for kids, toddlers, and adults alike.
So don’t do it!
Keep extra dirt and gunk from getting into your toddler’s ear with a simple wipe down using a warm washcloth a few times per week, most likely during a normal bath.
A little bit of mild child-safe soap on the cloth is probably fine, but it’s not necessary. Soap and shampoo can sometimes get in there accidentally, anyway, and surprise, surprise… it’s the EAR WAX that stops it from getting deep into the inner ear!
So a little soap in the ear isn’t the end of the world, but there’s no need to lather things up like crazy.
(Washing behind your ears is another story. Soap it up and rinse it thoroughly to avoid a foul smell!)
Some doctors say it’s OK to use a Q-tip when your child is older than 1-year-old, but ONLY if you keep the head of the Q-tip outside the ear canal. Simply use it to gently wipe away wax that’s already visible in the outer ear.
Never stick it into the actual ear canal.
What about when my baby or toddler has a build-up? How do you remove excessive or hard ear wax?
To recap, in normal circumstances you shouldn’t really ever worry about cleaning earwax out of your toddler’s ears.
When it reaches the outer ear, it should come off by itself during bathtime.
You can take a warm, wet washcloth and gently rub around the inside of their ear to remove all the gunk.
And whala! That’s pretty much all you need to do.
But some people (and this applies to babies and toddlers) create excessive or very thick ear wax that does need to be cleaned out.
In other words, the natural “conveyor belt” that moves wax from the inner ear to the outer ear isn’t working properly.
If you notice some of these symptoms in your baby or your toddler complains of:
- An earache
- Uncomfortable feeling in the ear
- Ringing noises (tinnitus)
- Decreased hearing
… it could be because of an ear wax build up, blockage, or a hardened chunk of earwax in the ear.
These symptoms come by way of Mayo Clinic, who advise you to see a doctor or ENT in these scenarios. However, they do recommend a few home remedies for toddler ear wax build up:
(If and only if your child does not have ear tubes… Scroll down further for suggestions on how to handle that.)
Step 1: Do not use a Q-tip!
Just checking to make sure you’re still paying attention.
Step 2: Gather some baby oil, mineral oil, olive oil, or hydrogen peroxide
You can warm it up slightly by holding a small container or eye dropper of the liquid in your hands for a few minutes.
(Don’t microwave it!)
A lot of people will recommend removing ear wax using hydrogen peroxide, and that’s definitely one option, but distilled water, olive oil, and over the counter ear drops will work just as well according to Healthline.
Step 3: Put a few drops of the liquid into the affected ear
Have your toddler lie on their side with the blocked ear facing up.
Use an eyedropper to put just a few drops of the solution into that ear, and then have your child lie there for a few minutes while the liquid works its way into the wax build up.
Step 4: Use a cotton ball or tissue to blot away any excess liquid or wax
Have your child sit up.
Some of the fluid will run out, and some of the now-softened wax may start to seep out as well.
Do not stick anything in the ear! You’ll just push the wax in further.
Let it come out naturally, and soak up anything that does come out with a cotton ball or tissue.
This home remedy can work very well, but if earwax buildup is a recurring problem for your baby or toddler, definitely see an ENT.
Earwax clogs that affect hearing are one of the most common causes of toddler speech delay.
How to clean wax, fluid, and other buildup out of ears with tubes
My daughter had more ear infections as a baby than I care to remember.
It seemed like it was a new one every month.
Fever, crankiness, the whole nine yards.
Over and over again.
Eventually, we got ear tubes put in and it was a serious gamechanger.
But I’ll never forget the first time after her ear tube surgery when I noticed this disgusting brown gunk flowing out of her ear!
If your child has ear tubes and you see lots of cloudy, bloody, or otherwise pretty gross fluid coming out of the ear canal, it most likely means that the tubes are working perfectly.
There’s an ear infection there, but instead of fluid building up in the middle ear and causing hearing problems and a fever, the fluid’s just running out.
Here’s what you can do about that:
- Use a few drops of an antibiotic ear drop (will probably have to be prescribed by a doctor)
- Wipe the gunk away with a warm, wet cotton ball (or dipped in hydrogen peroxide)
- Gently use an infant nasal aspirator (booger sucker!) in the ear to get more fluid out
- (I’ve always loved the NoseFrida for clearing out ears and noses. It sounds gross but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work! Check out the NoseFrida on Amazon right here.)
So that’s the simple way of getting rid of ear drainage after your kid has tubes put in.
If there’s an earwax buildup in your toddler’s ears, and they have tubes, the consensus among doctors is to call a professional doctor or ENT.
Don’t try to remove wax at home in this scenario.
Keep in mind, ear tubes can sometimes fall out. They can last anywhere from 6 to 18 months in the short term, while certain kinds can last for years.
When they fall out, the eardrum will usually just seal up on its own as if the tube was never there!
A good sign to look for that your toddler’s tubes have fallen out is if they get all the hallmark signs of an ear infection with no drainage.
That could mean the tube is gone or isn’t functioning properly anymore.
Is ear candling or flushing the ear safe for children?
What is ear candling?
It’s when you stick the unlit end of a hollow candle up to the opening of your ear canal and burn the other end for about 15 minutes.
When the candle has been burnt down, you’ll be left with a brown, waxy substance. Many people believe this to be earwax and other harmful bacteria from inside your body.
The truth is that the large majority of science says not only does ear candling not work, but it’s more likely to leave candle wax in your ear than it is to remove earwax!
Obviously, it should go without saying that it is a horrendous idea to use candling to clean your toddler’s ears.
Not only has it been well-shown not to be effective (and it can actually deposit candle wax in your ear, making any blockage issues way worse), there’s a clear burn risk here.
Please don’t do it!
As for flushing the ear with significant amounts of water or hydrogen peroxide, it’s probably not the best idea for children.
There are a couple of key risks of ear irrigation or flushing like:
- Ear infection
- Perforated eardrum
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Scaring or shocking the child
You’ll be much better off using the eyedropper method above.
Just put in a few drops of olive oil, distilled water, over the counter eardrops, or hydrogen peroxide, and let it sit for a few minutes to soften up any earwax buildup.
From there, the wax should continue to work itself out naturally.
A large majority of parents will never have to clean the wax out of their toddler’s ears.
Our bodies design ear wax to work itself out naturally! And while it is in the ear canal, it serves lots of important purposes like:
- Protecting our ear from bacteria
- Keeping the skin of the ear canal moisturized
- Keeping dust, dirty, insects, and other objects out of the ear
Using a Q-tip or other narrow tool to remove it will probably only speed up the natural process at best, and harm your ear at work.
It may even push the ear wax further into the ear, which is the exact opposite of what you want!
In most cases, wiping the outer ear of your child with a warm washcloth a few times per week is more than enough for clean ears.
In cases of excessive wax buildup, you can try to soften any hard wax with a few drops of warm olive oil or distilled water before letting the wax try to work itself out normally.
But anything beyond that is really best left to a doctor or ENT.
If your child has tubes put in due to chronic ear infections (I’ve been there!), lots of brown or cloudy gunk coming out is totally normal.
Just clean up whatever comes out with a wet washcloth, NoseFrida (Amazon link), or a cotton ball. But don’t try to remove any wax buildup in kids with tubes. Leave that to the professionals.
I hope this helps, parents!