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How to clean baby ears: A step-by-step guide

Never use cotton swabs when cleaning a baby's ears

close up of a baby's ear
Burst / Pexels

Cleaning your baby’s ears seems so simple until it comes time to actually clean your baby’s ears. After all, many adults find the process of cleaning their own ears quite satisfying, especially if they feel some water trapped in there, but when it comes to their baby’s delicate ears, some precautions need to be taken. Baby ears are delicate and need to be treated with gentleness and loving care. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to clean baby ears.

Can babies get earwax?

A baby after a bath in a towel
FamVeld / Shutterstock

Just like with adults, babies can also experience a buildup of ear wax. Ears produce earwax all the time. Earwax is basically a combination of dead skin cells and gland secretions. And just like with adults, ear wax in babies can be unsightly, with a yellow or orange appearance.

Fortunately, ear wax in babies is perfectly normal and necessary as it protects the ears from the environment and provides lubrication. “It traps dirt, dust, and bacteria, which protects the ear canal,” pediatrician Loretta Cody, MD explained to The Bump. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t remove your baby’s ear wax because it’s there to serve a purpose.

How to clean safely

Baby being bathed in convertible style tub.
Marko Poplasen / Shutterstock

The first rule of cleaning your baby’s ear is not to use a cotton swab! These are the go-to cleaning tools for adults, but it can be very dangerous for your little one’s delicate ears. Not only can these damage a baby’s eardrums and the soft tissue inside the ear, but they can also lead to more ear wax buildup by pushing the ear wax further into the ear canal.

To safely clean your baby’s ears, use a washcloth soaked in warm (not hot) water. Wring out the cloth, ensuring no water is dripping, then carefully wipe around the baby’s ear. Avoid inserting the washcloth into the ear. Experts recommend using a clean cloth for each ear to avoid any possibility of spreading a potential infection, especially if you’re concerned about ear wax buildup.

When to call the doctor

Female pediatrician examines a baby
Evgeny Atamanenko / Shutterstock

If you’re cleaning your baby’s ears properly but notice an increase in wax buildup or their ears seem to be bothering your child, it may be time to see your pediatrician. Ear tugging, fever, discomfort, and a lack of response to softer noises may indicate that your baby has an ear infection. If wax buildup is an issue, your doctor will probably be able to safely remove it during a routine office visit, but if your child’s discomfort is the result of an infection, the doctor may prescribe ear drops.

Your baby’s ears are very delicate so it’s best to reach out to their pediatrician if you have any concerns. Otherwise, regular, gentle cleaning of the outer ear using warm water and a washcloth is all you need to keep your baby happy.

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Kelli Catana
Kelli is a freelance writer who has covered the world of entertainment, pop culture, parenting, and lifestyle for various…
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