Close up of ear candles that don't work to clean ear wax.

In some groups, the practice called “ear candling” is routinely thought to be an effective way to minimize earwax. Is ear candling effective and what is it?

Earwax Candles, do They Work?

Spoiler alert: No. They absolutely don’t work.

Why then, does this bit of pseudo-science keep burrowing its way into the heads of otherwise reasonable human beings? It’s hard to say with much accuracy. But although the logical choice is fairly obvious, knowing more about the risks of earwax candling will help us make an informed choice.

Earwax Candling, What is it?

So the basic setup goes like this: Perhaps you’re not sure how to eradicate all your accumulated earwax. You know you’re not supposed to use cotton swabs (which is good, cotton swabs are not a great way to clear out your ears, in most cases). So, after doing some study, you discover a method called earwax candling.

Here’s how earwax candling allegedly works: By jamming a candle into your ear (wick side out), you cause a pressure differential. This pressure differential then pulls the wax out. In theory, the pressure differential is enough to break up any wax that may be clogging up your ear. But cleaning your ears this way can be dangerous.

Why Ear Candling Doesn’t Work

There are several issues with this practice, like the fact that the physics just don’t work. There’s simply no way for a candle to generate that type of pressure differential (and in order to move earwax around, that pressure differential would have to be quite substantial indeed). Second, generating that kind of pressure differential would call for some type of seal, which doesn’t occur during candling.

Now, the candles used in these “treatments” are supposedly special. When you’re finished with your fifteen minutes of ear candling, you can break up the candle and, in the hollow, see all bacteria, debris, and wax that had previously been in your ear. But the problem is you can find this same detritus in new unburned candles too. So this “proof” is really nonsense.

Earwax candling hasn’t been proven scientifically to have any benefit whatsoever.

So Earwax Candling Doesn’t Work, But How Safe is it?

So, you may as well give it a shot, right? Well, you’re looking for trouble whenever you get a hot candle near your ears. You may be ok if you decide to try earwax candling. People do it regularly. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t hazards involved, and it definitely doesn’t imply that ear candling is safe.

Here are a few negative impacts of ear candling:

  • Once the wax cools down it can clog your ear canal. You could wind up temporarily losing your hearing or even needing surgery in extreme cases.
  • Your ear can be seriously burned. Severe hearing issues and burns can be the outcome of getting hot wax inside of your ear. In the most serious cases, this might permanently compromise your hearing.
  • You might cause significant harm when you play around with an open flame and potentially even put your life in danger. Seriously, you could burn your house down. Getting rid of a bit of earwax isn’t worth that kind of danger and risk.

You Can Clean Your Ears Without Needing a Candle

In the majority of circumstances you will never even have to be concerned about cleaning earwax out. That’s because the human ear is basically a self cleaning system. But you may be one of those people who have an abnormally heavy earwax production.

If you do need to clean out your ears due to too much wax, there are scientifically-proven (and reliable) methods to do that safely. For example, you could get a fluid wash. Or you might see a specialist who will be able to use specialized tools to clean the excess wax or wax blockages out of the way.

You should continue to stay away from cotton swabs. And you should also stay away from using an open flame to clear out earwax. Earwax candling is a technique that has no advantage and will put your ears, and your entire person, at substantial risk of damage and injury. So perhaps it’s time to put those special candles away.

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