It's sticky. It's shiny. But what is earwax, anyway — and where does it come from?

Earwax is made in the outer ear canal. This is the area between the fleshy part of the ear on the outside of your head (the part you can see) and the middle ear. The skin in the outer ear canal has special glands that produce earwax. The fancy name for this waxy stuff is cerumen (say: suh-ROO-mun).

After the wax is produced, it slowly makes its way through the outer ear canal to the opening of the ear. Then it either falls out or is removed when you wash. In most people, the outer ear canal makes earwax all the time, so the canal always has enough wax in it.

So why do we need wax? Earwax has several important jobs. First, it protects and moisturizes the skin of ear canal, preventing dry, itchy ears. Second, it contains special chemicals that fight off infections that could hurt the skin inside the ear canal. Finally, it acts as a shield between the outside world and the eardrum. When dust, dirt, and other things enter your ear, the earwax traps them so they can't travel any further.

If you want to get rid of earwax, here's what you need to do: nothing! Most kids don't need to do anything special to remove earwax. If you wash your hair regularly, this is enough to keep your ears clean.

You can wipe the outside of your ear with a washcloth but don't use a cotton swab, your finger, or anything else to poke around inside your ear to remove earwax. Your ear canal and eardrum are very delicate, and you may hurt them or cause bleeding by trying to get rid of wax this way. Poking around in your ear can also push and pack the wax in further.

In some kids, one or both ear canals make extra earwax. If this sounds like you, tell an adult. Doctors often can prescribe special medicines that are placed in the ear to get rid of extra wax.

Back to Articles


Related Articles

Movie: Ears

Nurb and Chloe explain what goes on inside your ears so you can hear. Watch the How the Body Works movie!

Read More

Your Ears

Now hear this! Here's an article about ears. Find out how your amazing ears do their amazing job.

Read More

What's Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss happens when there is a problem with the ear, nerves connected to the ear, or the part of the brain that controls hearing. Someone who has hearing loss may be able to hear some sounds or nothing at all. To learn more, read this article for kids.

Read More

Taking Care of Your Ears

How do you take care of your ears? Find out in this article for kids.

Read More

What's Cauliflower Ear?

Have you ever seen someone whose ear looks bumpy and lumpy? It could be cauliflower ear! Find out more in this article for kids.

Read More

Can Loud Music Hurt My Ears?

Loud music can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss. Learn how to protect your ears so you won't be saying, "Huh? What did you say?"

Read More

What Is an Ear Infection?

A middle ear infection happens when germs like bacteria and viruses get in your middle ear and cause trouble. Read this article to find out more.

Read More

Swimmer's Ear

You swam! You splashed! And now you have it: swimmer's ear.

Read More

What's a Booger?

They're more than just gross. Boogers have a job to do. Find out what it is in this article for kids.

Read More

What's Puke?

Did you ever toss your cookies? That means throw up, or puke. It's gross, but just about everyone has done it. Find out more in this article for kids.

Read More

What's Spit?

Saliva, also known as spit, is a clear liquid that's made in your mouth 24 hours a day, every day. If you want to know more about spit and what it's made of, check out this article for kids.

Read More

What's Sweat?

Everybody sweats. Find out why perspiration happens in this article for kids.

Read More

How the Body Works Main Page

The human body is an amazing machine. Learn more about it through movies, quizzes, articles, and more.

Read More

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

Search our entire site.