What is an Ear Pick?

Donn Saylor

An ear pick is a type of instrument used to remove wax buildup from the ear canal. Also known as ear scoops or ear spoons, ear picks come in a variety of shapes and sizes and possess a rich cultural history in Asia. While medical experts advise avoiding inserting any type of instrument into the ear canal, many have found ear picks to be incredibly useful hand tools for removing earwax accumulation.

An ear pick is used to clean wax out of the ear canal without harming the sensitive inner ear.
An ear pick is used to clean wax out of the ear canal without harming the sensitive inner ear.

For thousands of years, East Asian cultures have used ear picks. An ear pick is commonly made of bamboo, plastic, or stainless steel, though many luxury brands are made of gold or silver. They are considered highly decorative and functional objets d'art, and an entire industry has sprung up around the creation of attractive, unique, and artistic ear picks.

An ear pick has one of three different types of tips. Disk tips are comprised of three disks affixed to the end of the pick; these disks help trap and remove earwax. With a ladle tip, a tiny scoop-like spoon is fashioned onto the end of the pick, allowing the user to gently dig out any wax buildup. Wire loops are a series of miniscule wires, styled into small rings that scrape out the earwax and trap it within the wires for easier removal.

As the ear pick industry has grown, so too have the added features available on different types of picks. A few examples of ear pick ornamentation include a small wisp of goose down on the end of the pick opposite the tip, designed to dust the outer ear after cleaning to remove any debris remnants; a light bulb, which shines into the ear and makes the cleaning process much more thorough; shapes, figures, cartoon characters, etc., which are attached to the handle for a touch of whimsy; and a safety stop, which allows the pick to only be inserted a certain length so as not to puncture the sensitive inner ear.

Ear picks have been shown to be highly effective at removing dry earwax. They are far less successful at removing wet varieties of earwax. One reason for their popularity among Asian cultures is that, according to medical studies, Asian populations tend to have drier strains of earwax.

Despite their well-regarded status, usage of ear picks is rarely advised by medical doctors. Some suggest that the picks push away just as much earwax as they remove, lodging it further into the ear. There is also the risk of injury when inserting a sharp, pointed object into the ear canal.

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