Rubbing Alcohol in Ear- Infection, Safety, Ear Cleaning & Other uses

The most common illness affecting kids especially in preschool and younger according to US epidemiologists, is the ear infection. This has not only led to escalating costs on the US health care system but has also led to adverse complications that are associated with ear infections.

Fortunately, this article can allude to a Harvard research that showed children with ear infections receive 0.2 emergency visits, 2 extra doctor visits and 1.6 more prescriptions relative to the children without this infection.

While the costs are very high in the US with otitis media being the sole infection taken into account, it is much higher when other interventions were considered. However, this does not mean that adults do not get ear infections.

The costs of treating an ear infection due to whichever causal factor is quite costly in terms of procuring antibiotics or even inserting a tube. This is what calls for cheaper and more affordable alternatives such as the popular rubbing of alcohol in the ear.

Alcohol has a variety of benefits when it comes to ear infections including the treatment and management of cerumen impaction in which wax accumulates in the outer part of the ear canal and leads to a couple of other complications such as infection and tinnitus.

Rubbing alcohol in ear for infection, safety and cleaning
Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing Alcohol in Ear-Is it Safe to put Alcohol in your Ear?

Can you put alcohol in your ear? -How safe is it?

Swimmer’s ear is what the ear infection is known as and refers to an infection of the outer ear. It is known as so due to the high prevalence and incidence in swimmers when the water gets trapped in the ear canal. Apart from swimmers, you can still get an ear infection from baths, showers and moist environments.

However, and fortunately, water entrapment occurs in people who are individually predisposed due to their having narrow ear canals. Now add the bacteria that normally reside in the ear. This equals to an ear infection and this explains why children get it more frequently.

Enough of the explanation. It is a safe method to treat ear infections without much side effects. It does work and studies have been documented to prove so.  A prospective study to evaluate the efficacy of isopropyl alcohol irrigations to prevent cerumen impaction by Silverstein et al (2012), indicates that its action can be utilized in the management of wax impaction while this is a predisposing factor to ear infections.

Another study by Daniel R et al (1999) proves that auricular chondritis caused by             ear piercing techniques involved the use of isopropyl alcohol to treat and prevent ear infections. Benzalkonium chloride was however implicated as unsafe and a factor that may lead to ear infections.

As in the previous mentioned study, results showed that poor training can be implicated in the unassured safety of using alcohol. It therefore dawns on you that using it in the right way and in the right quantities will help you keep within the therapeutic window and avert any toxicities.

Why put rubbing alcohol in ear

A number of reasons will make you rub alcohol in your ear. Here are some.

Unreliability of antibiotics

They certainly shouldn’t be unreliable but drugs do not have a mind of their own and they are manufactured by man. It has been recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians since 2004 that antibiotics should be put to a hold when it comes to treating ear infections initially


The recommendation is that the body should be given a chance to fight off the infection in the next 2 – 3 days. Other alternatives can thereafter be considered if no improvement is evident.

Routine use of antibiotics in various studies has shown little benefit in addition to increasing the rate of emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. Frequent use and untimely courses have also contributed to resistance.

According to Mayo Clinic, there are antibiotics that lead to adversities such as the common tinnitus. Tinnitus is a condition in which there are ringing sounds in the ear either subjectively or objectively. Interestingly, some of these medications are still used for ear infections.

Antibiotics such as polymyxin B, neomycin and gentamicin have preps used for ear infections while they can cause tinnitus as a side effect.

Virally caused ear infections

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention mentions that ear infections will go on their own without antibiotic treatment and taking the latter only adds side effects such as diarrhea and hypersensitivity that may be life threatening. This is because many ear infections are caused by viruses hence antibacterial drugs are not useful in such cases.

One viral ear infection is otitis media with effusion (OME). Since it is a viral infection, it is associated with a buildup of fluid and little or no pain. It is a long term condition and compels the use of ear tubes. Use of alcohol may be important in this case due to the broad spectrum it offers to fighting off pathogens whether bacteria or viruses. This condition may lead to hearing loss when the fluid becomes infected.

Alcohol as an add-on to the surgical procedure, tubing may have more impact therapeutically as opposed to tubing alone which has been found not to differ from watchful waiting in language, cognitive or academic outcomes as put by some authors. It may further reduce the side effects such as tympanosclerosis and need for adenoidectomy a procedure done before tube placement.

Wax impaction

A crossover study by Silverstein, Wycherly and Alameda (2012) [1] assessed the safety and efficacy of 70% isopropyl alcohol delivered from a bottle designed with a tip to irrigate the ear in the reduction of wax accumulation.

Tolerance was good with no cases of infections such as otitis externa hence recommended that weekly irrigation with 70% of this alcohol reduces wax accumulation. Thus, this could make you rub alcohol on your ear and should be a good reason to do so.

Rubbing alcohol ear wax cleaning
Ear wax

Ear piercing aftercare

Ear piercing is associated with ear infections. Rowshan et al in 2008 published a case report and a review of literature in which an auricular cartilage infection harboring Pseudomonas aeuruginosa was caused by a high ear piercing. There are many other studies that indicate the need for an aftercare routine to prevent infection. What parlors recommend is the use of alcohol for aftercare. Rubbing it will prevent the infection from transpiring.

Regular piercing care

It is common to see women rub some alcohol with a cotton bud every day. The reason lies in the prevention of infection by ensuring that the ear is well cleaned and disinfected. More to this is discussed in the subsequent sections.

What happens if you put alcohol in your ear

When you put alcohol in your ear, it would dehydrate the cell membranes of the pathogens present hence killing them. It would also cut into the plug of wax during a wax impaction.

However, if your ear has lost its integrity due to another condition such as a perforated ear drum, then it could lead to severe pain.

Rubbing alcohol ear infection

For use in ear infections, you can use alcohol in the following way:

  1. Collect some of the alcohol solution from the bulk of isopropyl alcohol with a cotton wool and rub it onto the infected area.
  2. Rub in a circular manner around the area going outwards.
  3. Rub onto the metal in the ear and slide it along the bore of the piercing.
  4. Use an antibiotic ointment routinely after letting the alcohol dry.

Alcohol does not lead to an infection. However, when it corrodes the skin if too concentrated, it may lead to a wound and an infection therefore.

Can you use alcohol to clean your ears & Ear Piercing?

Normal cleaning

You can use alcohol to clean your ears and ear piercing. This requires that you follow various steps. In normal cleaning, you should do the following:

  1. Make sure that before you do anything, clean your hands with an antibacterial soap. Your hands carry millions of bacteria and you wouldn’t want to spread them. If you have no access to soap, then use a hand sanitizer or an alcohol swab to rub on your hands.
  2. Since you are using alcohol to rub onto your ears, dip 4 cotton balls in isopropyl alcohol solution.
  3. Now pick a cotton ball from the solution and apply it to the ear.
  4. Applying this solution to the ear requires that you not only focus on the area with the piercing but also the adjacent areas. When applying the swab to a new area such as the back of the ear, then it is recommended that you pick a new ball. Remember that you have 4 balls. To facilitate access into the bore of the piercing, you can gently twist the metal or move it, if a ring, inwards and outwards. This method also prevents your skin from sticking to the metal.
  5. When moving to a new ear, use a new cotton bud. Always make this change.
  6. Use an ointment with antibiotic activity once you have allowed the alcohol to dry up. Turn the earring like you did in the previous step to make it enter the ore of the piercing.
  7. Make this a routine by cleaning your ear piercing daily once or up to twice in 24 hours.

Cleaning after piercing

It is conventional to provide aftercare to a new piercing. It is very important as it prevents infections that may arise and also cleans our infectious agents. This has been demonstrated by Rowshan who investigated the causative agent, Pseudomonas aeuruginosa that colonize ear piercings. Do this:

  1. Again, wash your hands with soap and clean water or use a sanitizer.
  2. Dip 4 cotton balls into a solution of isopropyl alcohol. This will however depend on the number of piercings.
  3. Turn your metal in the ear and slide it along the bore of the piercing.
  4. Use an antibiotic ointment routinely after letting the alcohol dry.

Note that the above steps are meant for prevention of infections. Therefore, once you notice swelling, excessive pain, redness and possibly pus-filled lesion, then seek medical intervention.

Rubbing alcohol in ear to get water out-does it work?

Yes it does work. Since isopropyl alcohol vaporizes at room temperature, it will facilitate reduction of evaporation point of water when it mixes with it. However, this may be slightly possible when you have a plug of ear wax and water is entrapped behind it. Therefore, wax has to be removed by more effective methods such as using an irrigation first.

Moreover, if you are experiencing signs of an infection such as a fever and ear pain, this method should not be used. In some cases such a middle ear entrapment of water may not have beneficial effects upon instilling alcohol to the ear (WebMD).

How to use Vinegar and Alcohol for Ears

The vinegar is a practical folklore indicated for ear infections such as otitis externa, otitis media, and granular myringitis. To use this method:

  1. Get white vinegar and add to an equal part of rubbing alcohol.
  2. To facilitate instillation, tilt your head slightly to one and instill a drop of the mixture into your ear. Remain in this position for 30 seconds then sit back up. Do this to the other ear then proceed to the other ear.
  3. Instill for 3 days beyond which persistence should be presented for medical examination.

Though investigations are present indicating the effectiveness of vinegar in treating ear infections,, according to Dohar JE (2003) [2], it has potential to cause irritation, inflammation and possibly damage the cochlear.


[1] Silverstein, H., Wycherly, B. J., Alameda, Y., & Van Ess, M. J. (2012). A prospective study to evaluate the efficacy of isopropyl alcohol irrigations to prevent cerumen impaction. ENT: Ear, Nose & Throat Journal91(3

[2] Vinegar treatment in the management of granular myringitis.

Jung HH, Cho SD, Yoo CK, Lim HH, Chae SW

J Laryngol Otol. 2002 Mar; 116(3):176-80.


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