How To Clean Baby Ears: When And What To Do (And What Not To Do)

How To Clean Your Baby’s Ears At Home (And What Not To Do, Too)

December 23, 2020 Updated April 29, 2021

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Let’s face it: It’s hard enough to know how we should clean our own ears, but when it comes to our baby’s ears? That is a whole new terrifying challenge. Baby ears are tiny and adorable, and just like most parts of your newborn, it sometimes feels like they’re made out of porcelain. Yet, it turns out that cleaning your baby’s ears is a parenting task that is actually super easy to do. Seriously, it’s a breeze!

Granted, you’ll have to exercise a certain amount of caution — and you should know the clues that something’s off so you’ll recognize when it’s time to call a doctor. But, for the most part, this isn’t the type of baby care chore you should be freaking out over. With that said, let’s get into it.

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RELATED: Tools to Use to Clean Baby’s Ears the Safe Way

Do I need to clean my baby’s ears?

Yes, but not the way you might think. Make sure you clean behind their ears and dry them well after a bath. If the water gets into their ear, just gently move their head from side to side to help drain it. If earwax does end up outside your baby’s ear canal, you can gently clean it with a towel or tissue.

But don’t use cotton swabs (aka Q-Tips) to clean the inside of your baby’s or child’s ears (or your own ears). Resist the urge, Mama.

How to clean a toddler’s ears?

Most doctors recommend using a washcloth to clean your baby’s ears. Make sure the cloth is damp with warm water. Before putting it near your baby’s ear, wring it out completely. The last thing you want is for excess water to drip inside of your little one’s head. But if you do get water in their ear, see above.

Wipe the outside of your baby’s ear to prevent wax build-up. Like a cotton swab, do not push the washcloth inside of the baby’s ear. Do not use your finger either. Babies have a very short eardrum, and you can damage it. If your child does express pain or discomfort concerning their ear, book them a doctor’s appointment ASAP, as ear infections are common in little ones.

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Wait, why can’t I use cotton swabs to clean my baby’s ears?

There are a couple of reasons why we shouldn’t clean the inside of our baby’s ear canals. First of all, there is a real risk that you could hurt them. Yes, we’re sorry to report that fear about puncturing their eardrum is completely rational. Your baby’s eardrum is super-sensitive and easy-to-pierce — and suffice it to say, you just do not want to deal with a pierced eardrum so early in your motherhood journey.

Secondly, ear wax is actually good and important. You don’t want to remove it, because it has antibacterial and lubricating functions that are important for the health of your little cutie’s ears. Of course, if you’re like us, you may have been brought up to think that there was something dirty or wrong about earwax, but that simply isn’t accurate. Cut your parents some slack, though. As you are maybe learning right now, parenting mistakes happen. Bottom line: Leave that earwax alone!

Earwax also naturally travels out of the ear as part of that cleaning process, so you don’t need to remove it. The ears already do a pretty efficient job at it by themselves. That’s right — like a lot of organs in our bodies, our ears are self-cleaning. Ah, human bodies are a wonder, aren’t they?

Lastly, cleaning your or your baby’s ears with cotton swabs may actually have the opposite effect of what you intended. Cleaning your ear in this way can cause earwax buildup, which could end up necessitating medical intervention. So, don’t clean the inside of your baby’s ears! Seriously, we’re giving you a parenting task to forever take off your list. One less thing for your busy parent brain to worry about.

What do I do about my baby’s earwax buildup?

Again, having earwax is completely normal, and your ear canals are self-cleaning. But if you see a lot of buildup, and if it seems to cause your baby discomfort, consult a pediatrician to see if there are in-office treatments that could help with buildup.

What about home remedies for baby earwax?

Hm, well, we’ve established that earwax is good for you. But there are fairly rare cases in which earwax buildup is a problem. You really don’t want to try any home remedies like ear candles, which most doctors do not recommend. However, you can use earwax drops, which are natural and available over the counter at pharmacies to help soften the earwax. But especially with baby ears, you’re better off just talking to your pediatrician if you’re concerned.

Is earwax a sign of infection in babies?

Earwax is normal, and everyone should have at least a little in their ears. However, a build-up in earwax can cause an earache, which is pain inside or around the ear. Although earaches are a sign of ear infection, there are also other causes for ear pain, like a sore throat or a tooth or sinus infection.

What do I do about a baby ear infection?

The one time you should worry about your baby’s ears beyond the very basic care mentioned above is if they have an ear infection. Signs that your baby could have an ear infection include sudden hearing problems, liquid draining out of the ears, or baby clutching at their ears in pain. Other symptoms of an ear infection may include fussiness, fever, and trouble sleeping.

An ear infection happens behind your baby’s eardrum in the middle of their ear. Many ailments can cause one, like a cold or the flu. If that fluid doesn’t drain properly or there’s swelling in the nasal passage, it can increase your child’s risk of infection. To avoid that pain for your baby, don’t lay your child down with a bottle or pacifier in their mouth. Secondhand cigarette smoke can also increase the chances of your nugget getting an infection.

If you suspect your baby has an ear infection (which is usually caused by bacteria), call your pediatrician. That way, they can get your baby on the medication they need ASAP.

How do I clean baby ears after piercing?

Speaking of ear cleaning, are you thinking about getting your baby a piercing? Before you put a tiny hole through their tiny ear lobes, it’s important to know what the after-care and cleaning will look like.

  • After your nugget gets a piercing, avoid touching it unless you’re cleaning it. 
  • Before cleaning the piercing, always wash your hands with soap and water. 
  • Clean the front and back of the piercing with a cotton swab and alcohol two to three times a day. Rotate the earrings in your child’s ear after each clean. 
  • During the healing process, keep your baby away from swimming pools, hot tubs, and bodies of water.