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

In some groups, the practice called “ear candling” is routinely believed to be an effective way to decrease earwax. Does ear candling work and what is it?

Earwax Candles, do They Work?

Spoiler alert: No. No, they don’t.

Why then, does this piece of pseudo-science keep finding its way into the minds of otherwise reasonable human beings? It’s difficult to say with much precision. But the more you know about earwax candling, especially the risks involved, the more likely you can make an informed decision (even if the logical decision is pretty obvious).

What is Earwax Candling?

So here’s the basic setup: Maybe you have an excessive amount of earwax and you aren’t quite certain how to eliminate it. You’ve read that it’s dangerous to use cotton swabs to clear your earwax out. So you start looking for an alternate and come across this method known as earwax candling.

Earwax candling supposedly works as follows: You produce a pressure differential by inserting the candle into your ear, wick side out. The wax in your ear, then, is pulled outward, towards the freedom of the open world. In theory, the pressure difference is enough to break up any wax that might be log-jamming in your ear. But cleaning your ears this way can be dangerous.

The Reason Why Ear Candling Doesn’t Work

There are a number of issues with this process, like the fact that the physics simply don’t work. There’s simply no way for a candle to generate that kind of pressure differential (and in order to move earwax around, that pressure difference would have to be pretty substantial indeed). Second, producing that type of pressure difference would require some sort of seal, which doesn’t happen during candling.

Now, the candles that they use in these “procedures” are supposedly special. All of the wax that was in your ear can be located within the hollow portion of the candle which can be broken apart when you’re done with your 15 minutes of ear candling. The only problem is that the same detritus shows up in both burned and unburned candles. So the whole procedure amounts to fraud.

Scientific research has never been able to prove any benefit involving earwax candling.

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

So, you might as well give it a try, right? Well, any time you get hot candle wax near your ears, you’re looking for trouble. Look, it’s quite possible that you could try ear candling and walk away completely unharmed. Lots of people do. But that doesn’t imply there aren’t risks involved, and it certainly doesn’t imply that ear candling is safe.

The negative effects of ear candling can include:

  • Any time you’re mucking about with an open flame, there’s a possibility that you may trigger serious damage and put your life in danger. Seriously, you may burn down your house. It’s not worth the risk to try this useless technique of wax elimination.
  • Your ear can be badly burned. When melted candle wax goes into your ear, it can result in serious hearing problems and burns. This could permanently jeopardize your hearing in the most severe cases.
  • Once the wax cools down it can clog your ear canal. You could wind up temporarily losing your hearing or even requiring surgery in extreme cases.

You Can Clean Your Ears Without Needing a Candle

In most circumstances you won’t even have to be concerned about cleaning earwax out. That’s because your ears are really pretty good about cleaning themselves! Nevertheless, there are some people who will have abnormally heavy earwax production or accumulation to deal with.

If it happens that you have excessive earwax there are methods that have been proven to work safely. For example, you could use a fluid wash. Or you might see a professional who will be capable of using specialized tools to clean the extra wax or wax blockages out of the way.

Cotton swabs are definitely not the way to go. And you should also stay away from using an open flame to clean out earwax. Earwax candling isn’t effective, and it can create dangers that will put your comfort and your hearing in significant danger. So perhaps it’s time to put those special candles away.