Is Ear Candling a Safe and Effective Way to Remove Earwax?

Ear candling is an alternative approach for removing earwax. It involves placing a lit, hollow candle in your ear to create a low-level vacuum that softens earwax and pulls it out, along with other impurities.

While popular, there is no evidence that ear candling works or that it is safe. Medical experts advise that you do not try it.

This article explores how ear candling is done, the truth about purported benefits of ear candling, and the possible safety concerns and side effects of this practice.

Ear candling

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How Ear Candling Is Done

Ear candles are hollow tubes that are about 10 inches long. They are also called ear cones or auricular candles.

Ear candles are made of cotton or linen that’s been tightly wound into a cone shape. The candle is soaked in beeswax, paraffin, or soy wax, and allowed to harden.

An alternative health provider may offer ear candling. Some people also attempt it at home, though this is not advised.

Here’s what happens during an ear candling session:

  1. You lie on one side with the ear to be treated facing up.
  2. The candle is put through a hole in a paper or foil plate to catch wax drips.
  3. The candle is put into your external ear canal and then lit.
  4. Burnt material is trimmed away as the candle burns.
  5. The session is done when the candle stub is a few inches from your head, which usually takes a several minutes.
  6. The candle is removed, the flame is put out, and the outer ear is wiped clean with a cotton ball or pad.

Ear Candling Benefits

Proponents of ear candling say that it softens earwax and sucks out wax and impurities from the ear. With that, they claim that ear candling can treat:

Supporters of the practice claim that the dark, waxy substance sometimes left in the hollow candle stub after a session is earwax and other debris—proof that ear candling works.

However, it’s unlikely that ear candling benefits any of these conditions because they involve the middle ear, sinuses, Eustachian tubes, and nasal passages. The eardrum separates these structures from the external ear canal, where the candle is placed. That means any changes in the external canal would not affect anything beyond this membrane.

One study found that ear candles did not produce a vacuum or negative pressure, as suggested, and that the “remains” from a session were substances from candle—not earwax.

The researchers further noted that not only did ear candling not remove earwax from the ear canal, it often left candle wax behind in the ear.

Some ear candle manufacturers claim that it’s the smoke from the burning candles that dries the ear canal. They say that the smoke stimulates your body’s natural excretion of:

  • Wax
  • Dead cells
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Parasites
  • Other debris 

Again, there is no evidence to support any of these claims about ear candling.

Ear Candling Side Effects and Safety

 Verywell / Lara Antal

Serious potential risks of ear candling include:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against using lit candles close to your face.

According to the FDA, ear candling carries a high risk of “potentially severe skin/hair burns and middle ear damage”—even when the candle is used according to the manufacturer’s directions.

While some practitioners use a plate to catch dripping wax and a towel or cloth for extra protection, the risk of injury is still there. There’s also a risk that lit ear candles could start a fire.

In a published case report, ear candling left a patient with:

  • Pieces of candle wax in her ear
  • A perforated eardrum
  • Hearing loss

The patient’s providers concluded that ear candling “can do more harm than good” and they recommended that healthcare providers discourage ear candling.

Ear candling is especially dangerous for people with existing eardrum perforation, babies, and young children.

Alternatives to Ear Candling

The American Academy of Otolaryngology does not support you trying ear candling because of the lack of evidence that it works and the risks that it poses.

In fact, you don’t need to remove earwax at all. Your ears have a self-cleaning system that naturally removes earwax, as needed. Most people don’t need additional cleaning.

Earwax is actually a good thing in that it cleans and lubricates your ears, as well as protects the ear canal from bacteria and fungus.

Earwax buildup can cause occasional discomfort in some people, however. And a breakdown in the self-cleaning system of the ear can cause what’s known as cerumen impaction—when your ear canal gets clogged with earwax.

Symptoms of an earwax blockage include temporary hearing loss, dizziness, and ringing in the ears.

If you think you have too much wax in your ears, your healthcare provider can take a look and safely remove it, if necessary.

What’s the Best Way to Remove Earwax at Home?

The safest way to remove earwax is to have your provider do it. They may recommend that you try using hydrogen peroxide drops to soften the wax that has built up and remove it at home with a bulb syringe. Never use a Q-tip, as this can push earwax further into the ear.

Summary

Ear candling is an alternative practice that involves placing a lit, hollow candle in your ear as a way to remove earwax. Despite what supporters say, there is no evidence that ear candling has benefits or that it can treat any health condition.

The risks of ear candling, including burns, a perforated eardrum, and hearing loss, are serious.

Modern medical practices for removing earwax have been proven to work and be safe. If you’re having discomfort you think is related to wax in your ears, talk to your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What comes out during ear candling?

    Research has found that nothing—including wax—comes out of your ear during candling. The substance on the candle stub is from the candle itself, not your ear.

  • What is the white powder when you ear candle?

    After ear candling, people may notice a white powdery substance. While some proponents of the practice claim that it’s mold, yeast, or mucus, it likely just residue from the wax of the candle.

  • Can ear candling relieve a sinus infection?

    There is no evidence that ear candling can treat a sinus infection or any other health condition.

  • What does dark earwax mean?

    Dark earwax usually just means that it’s old. However, if you’re worried about the color of your earwax or think it might have blood in it, talk to your provider.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Schwartz SR, Magit AE, Rosenfeld RM, et al. Clinical practice guideline (update): earwax (cerumen impaction). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;156(1_suppl):S1-S29. doi:10.1177/0194599816671491

  2. Nee ST, Athar PP. Ear candling: a non-proven method for benefits. Clin Surg. 2016;1:1088.

  3. Rafferty J, Tsikoudas A, Davis BC. Ear candling: should general practitioners recommend itCan Fam Physician. 2007;53(12):2121–2122.

  4. Hornibrook J. Where there’s smoke there’s fire—ear candling in a 4-year-old girl. N Z Med J. 2012;125(1367):138-140.

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.