That yellowish-orange waxy, oily substance that comes out of your ears may seem gross. But cerumen (the proper name for earwax) is vital to the health of your ears and your hearing. It’s a bit oily to help keep water out, sticky to stop debris from getting to the eardrum and naturally antimicrobial. It’s still unsightly; so you want to get it out. Here are the proper techniques for cleaning your ears.

Do nothing

Can you believe it? The best way to keep your ears clear of earwax is to leave them alone! The skin cells in your ear canals are the only ones in your body that grow in a focused direction. That’s right. Earwax actually starts deep in the ear canal and as the skin cells die and are replaced, the skin moves outward towards the outer end of the canal. As the skin moves, the wax and debris move with it. If you stick something in your ear in an attempt to clean it, you are only undoing your body’s hard work by pushing the wax back into the ear.

Use a warm washcloth

When you bathe, just wipe the outer portion of the ear (that’s the pinna) with a warm washcloth and the outer portion of the ear canal. Don’t go sticking anything in that ear canal! That means no fingers! The skin on the ears is very sensitive and is easily damaged and dries out easily. So, make sure the washcloth isn’t too hot and be sure to rinse afterward to remove any soap residue. It’s just that easy.

Removing built-up wax

Okay, so maybe you haven’t washed the wax away in a while, or maybe your ears produce copious amounts of wax. If you feel you have a build-up of wax there are a few at-home techniques you can use. Notice that none of them involve cotton swabs. That’s because cotton swabs don’t belong in your ears, they are not safe. Here are two ways to safely remove earwax; however, make sure you talk to your audiologist before trying any of the methods below:

Mineral oil: Lay on your side with the affected ear facing the ceiling. Place a few drops of mineral oil in the ear. Maintain the position for 10 to 20 minutes. The mineral oil will gently loosen the built-up oil. Your normal jaw actions from talking and chewing will help the wax work its way out. If you are treating both ears, place a cotton ball in the ear to catch any wax when you change sides.

Peroxide: The same technique can be used with peroxide. The peroxide will pull the wax away from the wall of the ear canal. However, peroxide can sting or burn if the skin is scratched or injured. Only use a few drops and maintain the position on your side for 5 minutes or so. When you sit up, wipe the outside of the ear with a cotton ball to catch any wax.

Professional cleaning

Wearing hearing aids, earbuds or protective hearing devices can keep wax from moving out of the ear canal in an orderly fashion. These devices serve as a dam to keep cerumen in. If you wear hearing aids or use earbuds on a regular basis, see an audiologist or otolaryngologist for a professional cleaning several times a year. These professionals have the tools and training to remove impacted earwax without damaging the ear canal or eardrum.