Ear wax can be safely removed by irrigating the ear with water or by applying ear drops inside the ear canal, which helps to soften the wax. Q-tips or other objects should never be inserted into the ear canal, since they can permanently damage the ear drum.
Most people's ears do not require routine cleaning because ears clean themselves. When people chew and speak, the motion of the jaw helps to push out accumulated wax. Having a healthy amount of ear wax is important because wax protects the ear by preventing water from entering the ear drum. Removing too much wax leaves the ear without this natural defense.
In some people, the ear produces excess wax that slowly builds up until it forms a plug. A plug of wax can cause discomfort and muffle sound, making it difficult to hear. Another cause of a wax plug is regularly using ear swabs, which often pushes the wax further inside the ear canal.
Store-bought ear drops typically contain hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which helps to soften impacted wax. Irrigation with water or saline can also be done at home with the proper tools; however, it is important not to irrigate if the ear drum is perforated or if there is an existing infection. Impacted ear wax can also be removed by a doctor.