You wash your face and brush your teeth, so it seems perfectly reasonable to clean your ears as well. But unlike your face and teeth, your ears are self-cleaning and don’t need a lot of assistance. What should you use to clean your ears? Here are some dos and don’ts of ear cleaning.

Don’t use cotton swabs

Cotton swabs are not made to go into the ear canal (it even says so on the package). It’s OK to clean your outer ear with a cotton swab as long as you can resist the temptation to use the swab in your ear canal. First and foremost, a cotton swab can push earwax back toward the eardrum, leading to a possible wax blockage. Secondly, the cotton may come off and could cause an infection. Lastly, the cotton may irritate the sensitive skin in the ear canal, leading to infection.

And it’s not just cotton swabs, don’t use keys, pen caps, bobby pins, fingernails or anything else that’s long and pointy to clear your ears of wax.

Do practice good ear hygiene

Your ears require very little care when it comes to cleaning because earwax naturally migrates from the ear canal to the outer ear where it dries and flakes. For most people, a simple wipe with a washcloth or tissue a few times a week will remove any earwax that’s in the outer ear. Be gentle and don’t tug or push too hard on your ear, you may damage the small bones.

If you need to clear earwax from your ear canal, a few drops of mineral oil or baby oil usually does the trick. Put a few drops in one ear, allow it to soak for about five minutes, then, tilt your head to remove the oil. Do the same on the other side, if necessary.

Don’t fall for gimmicks

Most people don’t need complex ear cleaning equipment and in fact, some over-the-counter remedies may damage your ear canal. Another method to avoid is ear candling. It involves placing a hollow tubular candle in your ear and lighting it, supposedly to draw out wax. It doesn’t work and is dangerous.

Do know when to see your audiologist

If your hearing seems muffled and think you have a wax blockage, your audiologist has the tools to fix the problem. They can examine your ears and determine how best to remove excess wax. Your audiologist may flush your ears with a syringe or use a curette to remove the wax. Any time you have ear pain or your ears feel warm (like the start of an infection), see your audiologist or primary healthcare provider.

These dos and don’ts of ear cleaning are simple and easy to remember. Over-cleaning your ears can strip away the natural oils in your ear canal, leading to itching and possibly infection. Allowing your ears to clean themselves naturally keeps everything in check and promotes healthy hearing.