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May 18, 2005 12:03 AM

Broken: Cotton swab package warning

SwabsBrian Davidson writes:

After flipping over a box of generic, Qtip-like cotton swabs, I found a disclaimer saying, "CAUTION! Do not insert in ear canal." What else are these for?  Oh wow, it answered my question - for baby care, beauty, and "arts and crafts."


This guy at work puntured his eardrum while cleaning inside his ear. You are only suppose to clean the outer lobe, but I don't.

Posted by: Jeff at May 18, 2005 12:41 AM

like jeff said, its not supposed to go into your ear canal because it can damage your ear and hurt like mad, its meant for cleaning the lob.

Posted by: Dragon at May 18, 2005 01:36 AM

A lot of damage can be done to your inner ear by one of those things. Ever heard the rule "Don't stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear"???

Posted by: Andy Hoffman at May 18, 2005 01:47 AM

Help, my elbow is stuck...

Posted by: Call 911 at May 18, 2005 03:09 AM

Also, using a cotton bud can push ear wax down the ear canal (in the wrong direction) and lead to further problems.

So, I'd that warning is there for a good reason.

Looks like 'This is Broken' is broken. Again.

Posted by: PhastPhrog at May 18, 2005 04:57 AM

I am an ear nose and throat doctor and I am constantly picking these things out of peoples ears. One person permanently lost thier hearing. DO NOT STICK THESE IN YOUR EARS.

Posted by: will at May 18, 2005 06:54 AM

"Looks like 'This is Broken' is broken. Again."

I figured I'd take the time to mention that everyone makes mistakes, but since this is a website about making mistakes, no one lets Mark off about it.

Assholes. You guys act like it's a right for Mark to be doing this. He posted what someone else submitted. If you don't like it, there's a huge door with a sign that says "EXIT" above it in red glowing letters. Chill. Out.

(Oh, and the "'this is broken' is broken" line got old about August 20, 2003. No one's thinking, "This is broken... is broken! Hee hee!"

Posted by: Ilan at May 18, 2005 06:55 AM

They have to put the warning on there not to put them in your ear, but they know perfectly well that's what most people buy them for. If someone pushes wax further in or punctures their eardrum they are just stupid, it is not hard to do correctly.

Posted by: E at May 18, 2005 07:12 AM

The "...broken. Again." comment was meant to reflect the fact that the 'Broken' posts we're seeing are getting increasingly lame: this cotton-bud warning being a prime example.

Posted by: PhastPhrog at May 18, 2005 07:24 AM

I agree. What I'm mad about is that this is a very lame post, and Mark does choose which ones to put on the site. As his helpful automated response e-mail says, he receives way more posts a day than he can put on. So why'd he put on one so stupid?

PS: TRIVIA: What does the 'Q' stand for in "Q-tip"?

Posted by: N/A at May 18, 2005 07:35 AM

Baby Care? I have a baby, I don't know how this is any better than using a cotton ball. Actually, it seems far more dangerous (things with sticks are incompatible with babies). I think they just warn you not to stick it in your ear to avoid lawsuits.

Posted by: someone at May 18, 2005 07:46 AM

It's fairly clear that many people are unaware that they should not be sticking a Q-tip in their ear canal. There is a very real danger of causing yourself an injury.

Is the warning broken? Perhaps there needs to be a clearer explanation of why one should not poke the cotton swab into the ear canal, and instructions to use it only on the outer ear.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at May 18, 2005 07:54 AM

"PS: TRIVIA: What does the 'Q' stand for in "Q-tip"?"

Nothing. The swab-on-a-stick is in the shape of a Q.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at May 18, 2005 08:56 AM

I googled around about Q-Tips, and according to many doctors they should NEVER be used for cleaning the ear, due to the risk of canal or eardrum damage. Some claim they were NEVER intended for this, and were actually designed as cosmetic applicators. See for lots of other interesting uses for Q-Tips that have nothing to do with the inner ear.

Of course, if you ask just about anybody what the main purpose of Q-Tips is, they will probably say "for cleaning your ears"!!! I don't know how the product came to be known for this, but it's obviously such a common perspective (and so contrary and dangerous to the intended use) that the manufacturers of cotton swabs have started printing such warnings on their packaging.


On the "This is Broken Is Broken" discussion: I certainly appreciate that this website exists, and like talking about ways to improve customer experiences. But I don't think it's fair for us to critique OTHERS without being able to accept comments ourselves. We dish it out; we take it.

If you don't agree that something is broken (although the exact definition of that word seems to evade discussion) then I think you should feel free to say so! And if you think some functional aspect of TIB is broken---like the fact that you can't insert greater-than or less-than signs into these comment boxes---then you can complain about that too. I think it's all fair game.

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at May 18, 2005 09:37 AM

Mark isn't bothering to even think about what he's posting. Looks like he's just lining them up and rolling them out. It's obvious that this is NOT BROKEN, that this warning has a legitimate purpose.

He has to be getting some things that are *actually* broken. Does he even bother to give the things that are really broken and save the things that aren't broken for some hypothetical time in the future when he runs out of submissions?

There isn't any quality control on this site. In addition to the poor quality of the daily posts, there has been no moderation whatsoever of the discussions. Thus we all waste a lot of time reading mindless drivel that does nothing to fulfill the objective of the site. I don't think he even reads these comments.

Posted by: Jay at May 18, 2005 09:43 AM

Why does the Pop-Tart box say "Caution- Filling may be hot when heated"?

Liability. In a litigious society, we have to write these dopey warnings. Spill coffee on your privates- sue McDonalds. Pick up a spare thumb from someone- throw it in your chili and sue Wendy's.

It's society that's broken.

Posted by: nyackjazz at May 18, 2005 10:02 AM

Of course there's nothing wrong with the warning - don't put cotton in your ears, and (for what it's worth) it's a good idea not to have cotton in aspirin bottles, since cotton collects all sorts of non-aspirin organic matter. Bayer used to put cotton in the bottles, I'm pretty sure, for customers' perception - not for any health or safety reason.

What's funny about the packaging is that it lists every other conceivable use for the cotton swabs *except* the one that everyone thinks of when they reach for the product... and then it tells people, in hideous graphic design, not to even consider doing it. It would be interesting to compare this design with the Q-tip box.

So, that's why I posted it. Whether *you* feel this is worth posting on the site, or screaming about on this discussion board, is fully up to you.

Posted by: Mark Hurst at May 18, 2005 10:24 AM

I am glad it was posted, I am sure there are now a few more people out there that now understand why your DON'T put these things inside your ear cannal.

Posted by: Jeff at May 18, 2005 11:15 AM

So how do you get the wax out of your ears?

Posted by: name at May 18, 2005 11:59 AM

I realize this is supposedly dangerous and have seen the warning label myself and chuckled a bit, but I'm sorry, I'm going to keep cleaning my ear canal. I can't stand the gunk in there and how it looks/feels. I've been cleaning my ear canal for years and seem to have come out alright. What are the statistics on people getting ear damage from poking too far? Are there any other ways of cleaning out the gunk?

Posted by: Eliot at May 18, 2005 11:59 AM

What do you use to get rid of ear wax then? that's ALL i use q-tips for.

they aren't dangerous unless you stick one in your ear and then beat your head against a wall.

Mr. Slaughter-

the product came to be known for this because that's what everyone uses it for. I see no inherent danger with small cotton swabs.


I agree that the posts are increasingly lame. In such a stupid world, you'd think there'd still be some broken things out there.

Posted by: Bob at May 18, 2005 11:59 AM

I sympathise with the post-er when he said 'what else are these for?' i didn't know you *could* use Q-Tips for anything else until I read the back of the box.

Posted by: Bob at May 18, 2005 12:01 PM

Wow, 4 posts in 2 minutes. I agree with Eliot and Name, whose posts weren't up when I typed my rather confusing first post.

Posted by: Bob at May 18, 2005 12:03 PM

Ever taste ear wax? Interestingly tart.

Posted by: Yum-E at May 18, 2005 12:14 PM

So how else are you supposed to clean out your ears? Conveniently that is without having to visit doctors, expensive ear wash, etc etc? I use Q-tips to clean out my ears and if you saw the amount of wax, I'd say they do the job pretty damn good.

Posted by: Netgerm at May 18, 2005 12:18 PM

I, for one, think that Mark is doing a fine job. If the only things he posted were obviously, truly and undebatably broken, then this would be a "Hmm, interesting" site and not the forum for lively and intelligent discussion that it is. Yes, some posts are better than others and it usually *is* society that is broken, but isn't that what we're here to figure out? And just because Mark gets more submissions than he can post doesn't mean they're any good. So if you agree or disagree with whether or not something is actually broken, go ahead and give us your two cents, but don't whine about the quality of something you get for free.

Thank you, please drive through.

Posted by: Dan at May 18, 2005 12:33 PM

Good lord you people need a life! Nobody is twisting your arm to make you look at this site. If you don't like it..go elsewhere! Otherwise, quit yer whining about what's posted...or start your own damn site.

Posted by: Karen at May 18, 2005 12:44 PM

Incorect DaveC426913! the Q stands for Quality!

Posted by: N/A at May 18, 2005 01:33 PM

Actually the Q-tip leave behind tiny fibers of cotton in your ear and that causes the ear to build up more wax to cover the foreign object. Also you pack the wax up against the drum and actually loose hearing (not permanent)

HOW TO REMOVE SAFLY?? Here’s the answer…

There’s a few ways the easiest is to mix distilled water and hydrogen peroxide (one cup of warm water to about a cap full of peroxide) pore it into your ear and hold it for a sec. and it will remove the wax.

Another way is to smoke it out (this is what I call it not sure what the technical term is) they sell them in health-food stores. It’s a cone you light on fire (yikes!) while in your ear (read the directions for full details) and it evidentially pulls the wax out/

Or you could use a Q-tip and throw caution to the wind!

Posted by: wax boy at May 18, 2005 02:14 PM


1) Pretty sure that the cotton in aspirin bottles it to prevent breakage of pills during shipment and handling, that's all.

2) Q-tip box in front of me: "Ideal for the whole family, and not just for ears. Apply and remove makeup or touch up a manicure. Gentle enough to care for newborn babies."

Also has a big warning to not put in ear canal, says to use around the surface of outer ear.

So, either this entry isn't broken, or all cotton swab boxes, including Q-tips, are.

Posted by: Jarett at May 18, 2005 02:16 PM

In regards to "Wax Boy"'s comments:

1) Hydrogen peroxide ends up removing "good" bacteria along with "bad" bacteria. I am not a health expert, do your own research, etc. Perhaps this is not a bad thing when you're talking about skin surfaces and not cuts/bruises etc which are trying to heal. I place small pieces of candy on my various wounds now.

2) Ear candling is such thee bullshit. On top of that, you could lose your hearing which if I remember correctly is why I was supposed to try this cockamamie procedure in the first place instead of cotton swabs. I've never understood why people recommend things they haven't thoroughly investigated. And that took me, what, a twenty-second google search?

3) Seriously, what is everyone doing instead of sticking cotton swabs in their ears?

Posted by: name at May 18, 2005 02:32 PM

Ah, the last post didn't include this URL from the straight dope, which was on the first page of a google search for "ear candling":

Posted by: name at May 18, 2005 02:39 PM

Put some honey on your cuts and eat the candy El Gato

Posted by: El Gato at May 18, 2005 03:09 PM

I wouldn't suggest ear candles. My wife tried them, and although she was pleased with the first two attempts, the third one kicked off an ear infection that lasted a few days. I can't say with complete certainty that it was the ear candle, but we believe it was.

So the alternative is that ear wash stuff, which I've heard is quite effective, but any time I put liquid in my ears I usually end up with an ear infection. No thanks, I'll take my chances with the fluffy cotton swab.

Posted by: Manni at May 18, 2005 04:36 PM

Whether or not anyone thinks some things are "broken enough" or that the comments are lame "these days", I learn a lot from reading the site. Ear candling? Tha hell? This was the first time I'd ever heard of that. As well as the idea of putting candy into a wound.

Maybe I don't get out enough.

Posted by: Faolan at May 18, 2005 05:20 PM

This is great publicity for Q-Tips

Posted by: SC Johnson at May 18, 2005 05:39 PM

Uhhh, don't put candy on a wound. I was just cracking wise.

Put live fish on 'em instead. No, wait ... small working machines.

So candling gets you an infection and hearing loss, cotton swabs gets you a punctured eardrum, liquid gets you ear infections ... I'm sensing an opening for a young, spry inventor with a tiny take-off on the Dyson vacuum cleaner. He should also be rippling with muscles and such.



Posted by: name at May 18, 2005 05:58 PM

No, I'm not related to Mark, but a fan of his nonetheless. Good job, Mark, as always.

I'm a fat, low-class slob and I stick the darn things in my leaking ears, soaked in hydrogen peroxide and it keeps infections away. My childhood was miserable with ear infections until my Mom (an RN) started doing that. I'm not paying some Dr. $150 each time they get clogged, which is about weekly. I'm pushing 50 and my ears are tolerable, but only if I clean them.

Good grief, what a bunch of prissy busy-bodies!

Posted by: Ed Hurst at May 18, 2005 07:52 PM

How are you supposed to use these to care for babies? I can't conceive of what they would be good for. Sticking in the baby's ear? Nose? Huh??

I just checked my package of Q-Tip brand cotton swabs and it gives a warning that putting them in the ear canal could cause damage, but doesn't say don't do it, and in fact, it's got pictures of things they're good for, including a picture of one of them cleaning (admittedly the outer part of) an ear.

Posted by: anitsirK at May 18, 2005 10:39 PM

Hmmm.... Ed maybe there is a reason why you are low-class. Especially since I don't consider myself high class at all and take offense at being called a prissy busy body. Maybe if you had a better attitude and communication skills with others, you could move up the social ladder.

Andy, who does not consider himself a low or high class prissy busy body, but is concerned about his health even if it means alternative methods of cleaning his ears.

Posted by: Andy Hoffman at May 18, 2005 10:49 PM

What is the best solution to the ear cleaning problem?

Once you start to think you may have possibly damaged your hearing by trying to take care of your ears with Q-tips, you will look for a way to change your ways.

We need a cost effective method. Since ear-candling is a fancy common-sensical fraud, the ear solution may remove too much wax, and doctors are too expensive, where can you go to find a cheap safe way to clean your ears. I am thinking maybe something like a barber, maybe even barbers could be trained in the art, unless it requires an MD to clean out the inside of your ears.

What is the minimum required educational level for a professional ear cleaner? LPN,LVN,PA? What kind of facilities would one have to provide?

They could offer it as part of a Spa treatment, but how would they reach the male population of whom most are not comfortable with visiting a spa. We need a simple inexpensive reliable solution.

Entreprenurs and inventors please respond to this untouched market.

Maybe we could form a council on proper ear care. Who would we invite to the discussion?

I better shut up before i put you to sleep.


Posted by: eerie ear problem at May 19, 2005 01:54 AM

You aren't putting us to sleep. I think you raise an important point: the ear is too sensative to be cleaned by a lay person.

Posted by: n/a at May 19, 2005 07:58 AM

I keep hearing folks mentioning doctors to clean your ears. Anyone ever had this done? I did once. Know how it works?? The doctor stuck one of those extra-long swabs in my ear. I was so pissed. I went to the doc because I had listened to the doomsayers, and did not want to harm my hearing. Big ripoff. Right then I realized that doctors make no money from well people.

Posted by: truth at May 19, 2005 08:14 AM

I have been cleaning my ears with Q-tips for as long as I can remember. I have to clean them out at least every other day or they plug up.

One method I have used for quite a while is always clean them out after a nice hot steamy shower. The wax is then soft and sticks to the Q-tip rather than pushing it in.

Of coarse I do all my "body" work myself whenever possible. My way of thinking is if you want to live a long time, stay away from hospitals and doctors.

Posted by: I can still hear at May 19, 2005 09:57 AM

I've found that swimming daily in salt water keeps the ears nice and clean all by itself. It seems to loosen and rinse away the wax. Maybe fresh water works too, or a 30-minute head-soaking shower. But I only swim when I'm on vacation, so it's soapy fingers and Q-Tips for me the other 51 weeks of the year.

Posted by: Another Bob at May 19, 2005 10:38 AM

RE : "I keep hearing folks mentioning doctors {...}"

I went to an ear nose and throat specialist for hearing problems and he used a jet of hot water, it worked verry well.

Posted by: Sean at May 19, 2005 09:18 PM

2 comments. First, I can't believe any of you use Q-tip for your ears. Paper clips were made expressly for this purpose. Second, ear candling? Does this involve hot wax, or just a wick? Sounds crazy, either way...

Posted by: Jay at May 20, 2005 12:50 AM

When I was in high school I got an elbow macaroni stuck in my ear. When the doctor pulled it out he said "The last time I pulled food stuffs out of someone's ear it was a three-year-old!"

Posted by: David at May 20, 2005 02:09 PM

i use q-tips to clean my ears, after a hot shower is the best time, and i also use them to clean my guns, they get down in the little spaces easily, and i also use them to clean my bong, i dont know what i would do without q-tips!!!

Posted by: highinak at May 21, 2005 05:00 AM

I love it when a girl cleans my ears out with her tongue!!

Posted by: Mike at May 21, 2005 04:22 PM

I interpret Q-Tip to be a cute way of saying Cute-Tip.

Posted by: Kenny F at May 23, 2005 12:00 AM

A little warm water goes a long way for ear-wax reduction. I'm a musician, and I value my ears. I have a lot of friends who have suffered hearing damage stuffing things in their ears, and I even have one friend who lost the hearing in his right ear after a doctor tried to clean it and something got stuck inside...

Those of you sticking Q-tips in your ears, you might regret it eventually. Try warm water, instead. More effective, much less risk.

Posted by: Eric at May 23, 2005 04:23 AM

Mr. Truth, I have had to go see a doctor for this kind of problem several times before when I had a series of ear infections. Doctors have a tool they use to remove wax. It looks like a tiny spoon on the end of the same kind of handle you see on dentists' tools. This is only for more severe cases though, and the water/Q(uality)-tip usualy works for the rest of us.

PS: I think you can type slashes: \\ /

Posted by: N/A at May 24, 2005 07:40 AM

Uggghh, though. I had to get that used on me, and they ripped out this big glob of earwax that was stuck in my ear, and it HURT. It was not a pleasant experience, let me tell you that.

Posted by: Bob at May 24, 2005 09:32 AM

I must say after reading this entire dialogue that I think most of YOU are broken. Do you not have anything better to do than waste your time arguing about the merits and/or demerits of Q-tips? And speaking of lame, if you don't like the broken posts then unsubcribe and quit coming to this site. What a bunch of lame-ass, lazy, complaining whiners.

Posted by: Pam at May 25, 2005 01:48 PM

For you daredevils out there, I recommend one step beyond Jay's paper-clip suggestion: bobby pins. Frankly, the doctor's little spoon thing sounds like it operates on the same principle, but the bobby pins won't set you back more than $1.29.

Posted by: bos at May 25, 2005 02:21 PM

I think it's the ear itself that's broken. Why hasn't it evolved to be easier to clean? Anyway, last time I had a doctor do it, he used something that looked like a big fat metal syringe full of warm water and just shot a steady jet of it into my ears several times. It's an odd pleasant/unpleasant experience. I've seen a rubber thingie in large drugstores that looks like the end of a turkey baster (was it originally really for turkeys?) that is supposed to work on the same principle, but it has much less capacity and looks like a nightmare to clean properly.

Posted by: RS at May 25, 2005 02:44 PM

Neither the site nor the society are broken, they are both FAD, many people, many one that work best for yu.

Long-time Q-tip user (careful only to use outside of canal as per instructions)

Also, they're great for hangovers.

Posted by: madkd at May 25, 2005 08:09 PM

Your earwax questions answered here:

The history of Q-Tips here:

Q = "Quality"

Posted by: Sean at May 26, 2005 01:58 PM

There seems to be more than one Sean here, I guess I'll be "Sean P" from now on.

Posted by: Sean P at May 26, 2005 06:47 PM

Years ago, in the last millennium, my doctor recommended undiluted hydrogen peroxide to clean my ear. There'll be a tiny bubbling sound, and when it ceases, allow the fluid to drain. I use a Q-tip (ha!) dipped in alcohol to remove the softened ear wax, very gently, very carefully. The good doctor also mentioned that nothing smaller than my elbow should go into my ears. But, didn't God design my little finger for this very purpose? I asked in ignorance. No, he replied sternly.

This procedure works well for me. And, people, please, let us address each other with more kindness, generosity and civility. With a mere modicum of effort, we can express our point of view, even vent our annoyance, with courtesy and respect. I especially enjoyed the post asking why the ear had not evolved to make cleaning easier. Cheers to all from Los Angeles, California.

Posted by: farunderneaththesurface at May 27, 2005 12:27 AM

Instead of using a cotton bud, take a soft tissue (kleenex)and fold into a triangle several times until the triangle is really narrow and long. Hold the pointy end and twist the wider end in a clockwise direction. This will give it a spiral shape. Push the pointy end gently into the ear while turning in a clockwise direction. This will 'drill' into the ear and scoop up ear wax but since there's no stiff backing, it can't exert any pressure on the ear drum. In fact, it won't go but partially into the ear. Good also for sopping up water trapped in the ear canal.

Posted by: Louis B at May 29, 2005 02:14 AM

"Also, using a cotton bud can push ear wax down the ear canal (in the wrong direction) and lead to further problems."

I use a "bobby pin" for cleaning my ears. The hoop shape is perfect for snaging wax

Posted by: Nick Karnbach at June 3, 2005 04:46 PM


cotton bud stucked in my left ear!!

it not really pain but it really annoying and i'm very scared if i will lost my hearing.

and it stucked deep inside my ear,i can feel.

i went to clinic but the doctor said nothing,he not even found the cotton bud,maybe because it was deep inside..

maybe tomorrow i will go to hospital,but what if the doctor said my ear stucked because of wax?arghh!!

so what should i do.i dont want to embarassing myself't ok to just leave the cotton bud inside my ear?anyway to get rid of it?

Posted by: mark at July 15, 2005 09:54 AM

hey guys...dont stick coton wool buds in ur ears...i heavily regret it...i was doing it quite often after every shower to get the water out my eyars...and one day dont u no it my ears fucked up and now i have a constant ringing in my eyes and sometimes noises can be very dull and hard to pick up can get very depressing and i heavily regret gonna be stuck witht his for the rest of my life....great isnt it!!! its not that bad tho u can go thru the day without realising its just going sleep is HAAARRD!!

Posted by: martys at January 23, 2006 07:49 PM


My 2-1/2 year old boy saw me cleaning my ear w/ a Q-tip and decided to grab a Q-tip on his own without my knowing and tried to clean his ear. He ruptured his ear drum and was in constant pain. He was bleeding for 3 days straight. Doctors prescribed anti-biotic drops and thougth it would heal and go away. We recently took him to a specialist and found that his ear drum has a 40% ruptured hole in it. He is now in need of surgery. He is now complaining about his ear. He talks loud and yells just to hear himself. He now turns his good ear to hear anyone that speaks to him. My child, in so many words, tells me his ear sounds like a crumbled newspaper.

My story is true and I hope it will prevent you and your family from using a Q-Tip.

Posted by: Sako at March 21, 2006 02:45 AM

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