Is it Safe to Put Rubbing Alcohol in Your Ears?

Isopropyl alcohol, commonly known as rubbing alcohol, is a common household item. It’s used for a variety of home cleaning and home health tasks, including treating your ears.

Three ear conditions that rubbing alcohol may be safely used for are:

  • swimmer’s ear
  • ear infections
  • ear blockages

Rubbing alcohol for swimmer’s ear

Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an outer ear infection that’s commonly caused by water that stays in your ear after swimming or other water-related activities.

Water that remains in your outer ear canal, which extends from the outside of your ear to your eardrum, creates a moist environment that promotes the growth of bacteria.

According to the Mayo Clinic, swimmer’s ear can also be caused by damaging the thin skin in your ear canal by putting cotton swabs, fingers, or other objects in your ear.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can include:

  • discomfort
  • itchiness in your ear canal
  • redness inside your ear
  • drainage of clear, odorless fluid
Over-the-counter treatment

In many cases, swimmer’s ear is treated with over-the-counter (OTC) drops that are typically made up of isopropyl alcohol and glycerin. These drops work to help your ear dry out faster, not fight the infection. Be sure to follow the use instructions on the label.

Home remedies

If you don’t have a punctured eardrum, you can make your own homemade ear drops to use before and after swimming. This solution can help dry out your ears and discourage the growth of bacteria.

To make this solution, do the following:

  1. Mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar.
  2. Place approximately 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of the solution into one ear and let it drain back out. Repeat for the other ear.
Medical treatment

A doctor will most likely prescribe ear drops that combine an antibiotic or acetic acid to kill bacteria. To calm inflammation, they may also prescribe a corticosteroid.

If a doctor diagnoses the cause as a fungal infection rather than a bacterial infection, they may also prescribe ear drops with an antifungal.

Rubbing alcohol for ear infection

An ear infection is a reason for a doctor’s visit. According to the Mayo Clinic, ear infection symptoms may include:

  • ear discomfort
  • difficulty hearing
  • fluid drainage from the ear

Although most ear infections clear up on their own in a couple of weeks, some practitioners of natural healing suggest treating an outer ear infection with a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and apple cider vinegar (ACV).

This home remedy is based on the antimicrobial (kills microorganisms) and antibacterial (kills bacteria) properties of rubbing alcohol and ACV.

Rubbing alcohol for ear flushing

Ear flushing, also called ear irrigation, is a method of removing excess earwax or foreign materials from your ear. The procedure is typically performed by a doctor.

According to Stanford Medicine, ear flushing solution is a mixture of:

  • rubbing alcohol
  • white vinegar
  • boric acid

The solution:

  • kills bacteria and fungi in your ear
  • dries your ear
  • flushes wax and debris out of your ear

See a doctor if you think you may need an ear flushing. Ear flushings may include short-lasting side effects, such as:

  • tinnitus
  • discomfort in the ear canal
  • dizziness


Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) is commonly used as an ingredient in:

  • OTC and home remedies for preventing and treating swimmer’s ear
  • home remedies for outer ear infections
  • ear flushing (ear irrigation) solutions

See a doctor if you’re experiencing the symptoms of an ear condition, such as:

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