If you ask any hearing healthcare professional, they will have no difficulty coming up with a list like this one – the most dangerous, harmful or simply ineffective things people do in the attempt to clean their ears. If we’re being honest, all of us have committed at least one of these – if not in ignorance, with the attitude that we knew what we were doing. The problem with that approach is that accidents inevitably happen. Staying far away from these inadvisable ear cleaning habits is the only way to ensure they won’t harm your hearing.

1. Inserting cotton swabs, bobby pins and other pointed objects into your ears.

It’s okay as long as you don’t jam it all the way in, right? Wrong. Someone could bump your arm and disrupt your careful movement, and it’s easy to miscalculate force or depth. It’s not worth the risk. Follow the guideline that suggests never inserting anything smaller than your elbow inside your ear. If you need to clean around the outside of your ear, use a cotton swab, tissue or soft washcloth.

2. Using ear candles

Ear candling is an ancient tradition, so it must be sound, right? Not according to most hearing health professionals. It’s actually ineffective and potentially dangerous. But what about the wax residue that’s left in the cone when you’re done? Isn’t that proof it works? Apparently not, since experiments have demonstrated the candles produce the same residue whether they’re inserted in someone’s ear or not. It’s likely a byproduct of the candle itself. Besides their lack of effectiveness, the American Academy of Audiology reports studies that show they can actually deposit more wax in the ear, along with ash that coats the eardrum and causes infections, pain or hearing difficulty. In the worst cases, ear candles can puncture the eardrum and cause burns. The next time someone suggests ear candling, don’t just turn them down; advise them against it.

3. Excessive ear cleaning of any kind

There are a few safer at-home ear cleaning methods such as mineral oil drops, peroxide and  irrigation, but even these can be harmful if used too frequently. It goes back to the fact that your ears were designed to be self-cleaning, and earwax is a major part of that process. Removing too much wax from your ears or introducing liquids and potentially irritating chemicals can do more harm than good. It’s always best to err on the side of too little rather than too much when it comes to cleaning out your ears.

Lastly, remember that if you have serious or frequent wax buildup, it’s always best to visit a hearing healthcare professional for safe cleaning and earwax removal.