Why Do We Have Q-Tips? Should You Put Them in Your Ear?

(Last Updated On: June 30, 2022)

While many people jam Q-tips into their ears, you’re probably aware that you absolutely should not be doing that. If you weren’t, well now you know. But many of us have lived a long time assuming one of the Q-tip use cases was ear cleaning. So if you’re never supposed to jam them into your head, what is even the point? Why do we have Q-tips?

Putting Q-Tips in Your Ears

So for starters there’s a decent chance you currently do (or have in the past) stick cotton swabs into your ears. 68% of people do. It kind of makes sense, we’re pretty sure nobody likes earwax, especially when you can have too much of it. Having too much wax inside your ears can cause ear/headaches, hearing problems, and vertigo. So what’s our first instinct when we’re trying to get stuff out of our ears? 

Well. Probably washing it out with water. But that’s tied with cramming your finger or something into your ear holes and maybe graduating to something smaller because your fingers are too big. Enter the ignoble Q-tip.

Except you’re reading this post. So you know you’re not supposed to put Q-tips in your head. In kids surveyed between 1990 and 2010, 73% of ear injuries from cotton swabs were due to ear cleaning attempts. It’s not uncommon to straight up rupture your own eardrum with cotton swabs. Plus, one of the most common reasons for emergency room visits is foreign bodies in the ear. In case you were wondering, the most common foreign body is jewelry. Cotton swabs and other first aid stuff comes in second. 

But aside from rupturing your eardrums you’re actually not getting a significant amount of earwax out. More often than not you’re getting out some dregs while pushing stuff deeper into your ear canal, which can cause earwax impaction. While causing pain or that feeling of pressure, it can also increase your likelihood of ear infection. 

Basically the medical consensus is “stop putting stuff in your ears.” 

It’s also the Q-tip consensus, because the box also says “do not insert swab into ear canal.”

Why Do We Even Have Q-Tips?

Q-tips, believe it or not, weren’t invented for the purpose of cleaning out your ears. They were invented by a guy named Leo Gerstenzang in 1923. It started when he watched his wife grooming their baby. She was using a toothpick with a cotton ball stuck to the end–so now you know why Gerstenzang’s gears got turning. 

Anyway, 1923 rolls around and Gerstenzang unveils Baby Gays, the first iteration of what we know now as Q-tips. The name was dropped in 1926 for “Q-tip,” where the “Q” stands for “quality,” and the “tip” literally just refers to the end of the stick.

Even from their inception, Q-tips never marketed themselves as something to cram into your ear canal. They did advertise themselves as something to clean your outer ear, though. They would later push their marketing focus to cleaning tools and stuff or applying makeup around the 1940s. By then, the damage was already done, though, and we had all gotten ourselves addicted to putting Q-tips in our heads.

Anyway, see how well you know the organ you should not put Q-tips inside here.



About Kyler 704 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.