Using Olive Oil for Earwax and Ear Infections

Some people use olive oil in the ear as a home remedy to clear earwax and treat ear infections. Olive oil is thought to help break up hardened wax in the ear canal while hydrating the skin of the ear.

Putting olive oil in the ear does not appear to be harmful, but there is little evidence that it can help treat earwax or ear infections. Proponents argue that combining olive oil with ear irrigation is far safer than trying to remove earwax with a cotton swab, which could push the wax deeper into the ear and potentially puncture the eardrum.

This article looks at the effectiveness, benefits, and risks of using olive oil in your ear for earwax and ear infections. It also describes the safest way to use olive oil in your ear if you make the informed choice to give it a try.

Using Olive Oil to Remove Excess Earwax - Illustration by Danie Drankwalter

Verywell / Danie Drankwalter

Does Putting Olive Oil in the Ear Work?

Earwax is produced by glands in the ear canal. It protects the ear by trapping debris and bacteria before they reach the middle ear. It also blocks water from entering the ear canal or irritating the skin inside the ear.

On the downside, the buildup of earwax can lead to a feeling of fullness inside the ear, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), ear pain, and partial hearing loss. For people suffering from these symptoms, remedies like olive oil may seem a reasonable and safe option. 

The limited research available has found that using a small amount of olive oil in the ears is most likely safe. However, it has not been proven to be effective in treating ear infections and seems far less effective in clearing earwax than over-the-counter wax-removing ear drops.


Putting olive oil in your ear is thought to soften hardened earwax and allow it to be removed more easily. However, the research does not fully support this.

A 2013 study published in Practices in Nursing monitored 483 adults who placed a drop of olive oil in one ear every day for 24 weeks. At the end of the study period, 99.5% of participants had more wax in the ear treated with olive oil than the ear that was not.

On the positive side, the researchers found that spraying olive oil into the ear before physician-performed ear irrigation helped remove earwax more easily.

A 2020 review from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care in Germany similarly found that putting warm olive oil into the ear before physician-led ear irrigation helped soften earwax better than plain water.

Ear Infection

Olive oil is known to have antibacterial properties, but there is little evidence that it is strong enough to kill the bacteria that lead to ear infections (otitis media).

An animal study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases evaluated the effects of basil essential oil versus olive oil in rats with otitis media. After treatment, 51% to 85% of rats infected with Haemophilus influenza (one of the most common causes of otitis media) were cured or showed improvement when treated with basil oil eardrop. By comparison, only 5.6% to 6% of rats treated with olive oil showed any improvement.

Others experts contend that olive oil has anti-inflammatory properties that may help relieve ear pain. But a review published in the Journal of Family Practice found that olive oil was far less able to relieve earache pain compared to commercial eardrops containing the anesthetic benzocaine.

How Safe Is Using Olive Oil in the Ear?

It appears that placing a small amount of olive oil into your ears is safe in most cases. Side effects of using olive oil in the ear are rare, but they may include itching, dizziness, skin irritation, and inflammation of the outer ear canal.

The safest way to remove excess earwax at home is with a clean washcloth in the shower. Cotton balls and applicator tips should be avoided because it is easy to push the swab too far into the ear canal and damage the eardrum. 

If you are concerned that you have a ruptured eardrum, do not place any liquid, including olive oil, in your ear. Instead, see your doctor right away.

Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include ear pain, drainage, hearing loss, tinnitus, dizziness, and weakness of the facial muscles. The discharge associated with a ruptured eardrum may be clear, bloody, or filled with pus. 

How to Use Olive Oil in Your Ear

Always check with your doctor before starting a new health regimen. If you’d like to try using olive oil in your ear to remove excess earwax, be mindful that this treatment has not been medically proven.

To safely use olive oil for earwax removal:

  1. Fill a clean eyedropper with olive oil. This will help control the amount of olive oil used.
  2. Lie on the opposite side of the treated ear, and gently squeeze one drop into your ear. It may help to gently pull your outer ear up and back to open your ear canal.
  3. Lightly massage your ear to work the olive oil into the hardened wax. 
  4. Allow the oil to rest for five minutes.
  5. Use a commercial bulb syringe to irrigate the ear canal. Use distilled water rather than water from the tap.
  6. Once you have cleaned out your ears, dry them thoroughly with a clean towel. A hairdryer set to the warm (not hot) setting may also help.

Repeat this process once a week for one to two weeks. If you don’t notice any improvement or if you experience side effects, see your healthcare provider.

Safety and Risks of Olive Oil in the Ear

Putting any solution in your ear not designed for your ears poses risk. Even though olive oil is "natural," it doesn't mean that it is safe for all people—or that all olive oils are equal.

To be safe, stick with high-quality, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil. Avoid olive oils labeled "pure" because they are typically made with a combination of refined and unrefined oils. The problem with refined oil is that it tends to have higher acid content as it's refined with heat and chemical additives like phosphoric acid.

Start by only using one drop in one ear to see if you have any reaction. If you think you may have a ruptured eardrum or broken skin in your ear, do not use olive oil. 

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Check with your doctor before using olive oil for your ears. Your doctor may have more effective tools for removing earwax or treating ear infections. Your primary care provider or an otolaryngologist (also called an ear, nose, and throat doctor) can help you treat a buildup of earwax by irrigating the ear canal in their office and removing it with special tools. 

If you wear hearing aids, see your healthcare provider every three to six months to check your ears for excess earwax. 

Call your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms of a ruptured eardrum such as pain or discharge. Any hearing loss should also be reported to your healthcare provider immediately.


Using olive oil in the ear to naturally treat a buildup of earwax has not been proven effective, but it is most likely safe to try. Side effects are rare and may include itching, dizziness, skin irritation, and inflammation of the outer ear canal. To place olive oil into your ear, lie on your side and place one drop into the ear canal using a clean eyedropper. 

Never place olive oil (or any other substance) in your ears if you believe that you have a ruptured eardrum. Talk with your healthcare provider about the most effective treatments for earwax and ear infections. 

8 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.
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  2. MedlinePlus. Ear wax.

  3. Informed Health. Outer ear infection: What helps if earwax builds up?

  4. Romero C, Medina E, Vargas J, Brenes M, De Castro A. In vitro activity of olive oil polyphenols against Helicobacter pylori. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Feb 7;55(3):680-6. doi:10.1021/jf0630217

  5. Kristinsson KG Magnusdottir AB, Petersen H, Hrmansson A. Effective treatment of experimental acute otitis media by application of volatile fluids into the ear canal. J Infect Dis. 2005 Jun 1;191(11):1876-80. doi:10.1086/430003

  6. Prasad S, Ewigman B. Use anesthetic drops to relieve acute otitis media pain. J Fam Pract. 2008 Jun;57(6):370–3.

  7. Ameen ZS, Chounthirath T, Smith GA, Jatana KR. Pediatric Cotton-Tip Applicator-Related Ear Injury Treated in United States Emergency Departments, 1990-2010. J Pediatr. 2017 Jul;186:124-130. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.03.049

  8. John Hopkins Medicine. Perforated eardrum

Additional Reading

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.