Did Mama teach you the wrong way?

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When it comes to cleaning, ears are a bit of a mystery. We all know that you’re not supposed to put Q-Tips in them, let alone “anything smaller than your elbow” as many a grandmother likes to say, but what are you supposed to use? It’s not like you can hose them down with Pine-Sol and hang them out on the line to dry, either. So how exactly are you supposed to get them clean? An article over at Well and Good finally gets to the bottom of this mystery and explains why you should listen to your grandmother and never put a Q-Tip in your ear.

They conscripted an ear specialist—otolaryngologist Erich Voigt—to answer a few questions about how to properly clean those pesky canals and it turns out, you don’t really need to clean them at all. “The bottom line is that some people have a perception that ear wax is dirty,” the doctor says in the article “The truth is that it’s actually a protective coating for the ear canal.”

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That coating grows from the inside out, so if you shove a Q-Tip or anything else into your ear, you’re making things worse, which can lead to impacted ear wax (ew!) and infections (ouch!). Instead, let it alone and nature will take its course. If the gunk becomes visible outside your ear, Dr. Voigt does have a suggestion: “The way we recommend to clean your ears is just with a washcloth or a towel on your finger,” he explains. “Clean the outer area of the ear and just use your towel to mop up any water or gunk that’s accumulated. But don’t go digging inside the hole.”

We hear you loud and clear, doctor.

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