How do you clean the back of your ears?
September 6, 2017 8:52 AM   Subscribe

When I rub the back of my ears, my hand comes away smelling like rhinoceros ass. This happens even an hour or two after a shower. Scrubbing hard with a washcloth and soap seems to help a little, but that causes irritation. What is YOUR outer ear care routine? Thank you! Not rhinoceros-ist
posted by Melismata to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Do you wear glasses? I wear glasses, and the backs of my ears smell like a finely aged Parmesan cheese.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:01 AM on September 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, I do.
posted by Melismata at 9:02 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Every day in the shower:

-Rub my ears (with my fingers) with soapy hands (not shampoo) on the front and back getting into all the nooks and crannies.
-Drying THOROUGHLY upon shower exit.
-When I wash my face at the sink (cetaphil) I always reach up for a swipe behind my ears with my fingers.
-Drying THOROUGHLY after.
-I use stridex pads to exfoliate my face once a day after washing, and generally 2 or 3x a week will also swipe it behind my ears to ward off zits.

I was always prone to behind-the-ear crustiness (which I think is a mild fungal infection) as a kid so really keep on top of my ear cleanliness. Also my hair is short so my ear area is high vis and I don't want them looking nasty, either.

The most important thing is really making sure that they're DRY. I really can't stress that enough. Cleaning is one thing, but you gotta make sure you're not letting anything percolate back there in a warm, moist environment.
posted by phunniemee at 9:03 AM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wear glasses. I've never rubbed the back of my ears and smelled it. I just did. Ew. THANKS A LOT.

I wash the backs of my ears every day. I also wash my glasses every morning (I shower with them on. Don't judge me.)

If I recall, when I was a kid, I always had infections where my ear connects with my skull. My mom would tell me that my ear was going to fall off. It was a persistent fungal infection that cleared with age and the knowledge of better cleanliness. (Not saying you don't have knowledge of better cleanliness. I'm just a little over the top. I also wash my eyelids, so there's that).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:08 AM on September 6, 2017 [11 favorites]

I have some scalp itchiness/flakiness/crustiness and also had a lot of ear crustiness as a kid, so I just make sure to get my dandruff shampoo on my ears as well. I also clean my ears occasionally with rubbing alcohol, especially if I skip washing my hair.

Also, it's important to clean your entire glasses frame regularly with soap and warm water, not just spray the lenses with glasses cleaner. I focus on scrubbing the part of the arms that sit on my ear, and also the nosepad, since those have the most contact with my face.
posted by radioamy at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a yeast overgrowth. Put dandruff shampoo on them in the shower. Also, you might try Lotrimin Ultra, which is an antifungal.
posted by praemunire at 9:18 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you have piercings that might not have entirely healed? Those can ooze and smell.
posted by delight at 9:35 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and rub it on a little bit.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:36 AM on September 6, 2017

Best answer: I never thought about the glasses thing. THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING about how stinky my ear-rears are.
posted by goatdog at 9:37 AM on September 6, 2017 [11 favorites]

Seconding "yeast overgrowth". I get this too (and do not wear glasses).

Just plain cider vinegar will help. I use cider vinegar as a hair rinse, partly because it does good things to my hair, but also partly because it keeps that yeast/candida/fungal/whatever overgrowth at bay; this is what causes some forms of dandruff and itchy scalp, and I have gotten that in patches too, or at least I used to until I started using the vinegar hair rinse.

When I get that cheesey-behind-the-ears thing, I just use a cotton ball to wipe my ears with cider vinegar. That does the trick.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:52 AM on September 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Stridex (or Noxema) anti-blemish pads with salicylic acid. I have very oily skin and if I don't clean that area with something harder than soap every few days the sebaceous nastystuff begins to accululate.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:00 AM on September 6, 2017

If the problem is yeast/fungus related, Nizoral A-D shampoo might help. It's great for calming down scaly , flaky areas. The over-the-counter stuff, which you can get in the chain drugstores (or from Amazon) is 1%. A dermatologist can prescribe the 2% stuff, which isn't that much more expensive, and works even better.
posted by dws at 10:02 AM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: wow. my eyes (and ears and glasses) are opened! Thanks all!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 10:40 AM on September 6, 2017

Seconding cleaning your glasses. Any time you're scrubbing your ears, followed minutes later by putting on your glasses, you are re-inoculating your ear-rears with whatever special cocktail of fungus (typo: funkus) and bacteria loves to live there and stink up the place.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:51 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

My dermatologist prescribes Head & Shoulders as it has selenium sulfide, unlike many other brands. Also, I have dermatitis seborrheica (nice catch-all term for yeast/fungus/unknown eruptions) for which I use hydrocortisone 2.5% (prescription). Behind the ears/lobes is the first place I see eruption/scaliness. Can't use cortisone if there are any cracks/open sores as it will just exacerbate everything, so keeping it clean and dry is necessary. Good luck.
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:56 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Me too, sedimentary_deer! Never occurred to me about the glasses. Thanks everyone for great answers!
posted by Melismata at 11:04 AM on September 6, 2017

I rub a dry cotton swab where ear and skull meet.
posted by brujita at 11:08 AM on September 6, 2017

This is what dr. Bronners is made for (except for those myriads of other things), in my view the peppermint version is very useful for all of us glasses wearers. I had those same problems when I was young and my doctors' advice was no good. But dr. Bronners was.
posted by mumimor at 11:19 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

i wash my ears with soap and water every day in the shower, and with shampoo on the days i am able to wash my hair. i dry the outsides with a towel and the insides with a q-tip and i don't care if people say that is bad for me, as the trickling sensation of water inside my ear is 10000x more bad for me. on very sweaty summer days i will clean behind my ears with a cotton ball's worth of alcohol-based toner or witch hazel if i have any. since i am not able to wash my hair as frequently as i'd like, i have to be pretty vigilant against hairline breakouts, and having clean ears goes a long way towards prevention.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:21 AM on September 6, 2017

I use a dampened cotton swab (just run it under the faucet briefly) on each ear. Takes no time. Farewell, icky smell.
posted by bearwife at 11:54 AM on September 6, 2017

Dry well after a shower. Use an astringent like Witch Hazel. Make sure it's all dry back there before you put your glasses back on. Also clean the ear pieces of your glasses every day with soap & water & dry well.
posted by wwax at 12:34 PM on September 6, 2017

Best answer: September 6th, 2017: the day thousands of Mefites checked for foulness behind their ears for the very first time.
posted by Elly Vortex at 12:52 PM on September 6, 2017 [76 favorites]

I am here to report that I am also a glasses-wearer who has ears and just checked the status of said ears...mine aren't foul! I'm going to attribute this to the fact that I wash my glasses at least three times a day with soap and water. I do that because no matter how hard I try not to, I'm constantly smudging the lenses with my fingers and I prefer the soap and water routine to lens clothes or whatever.
posted by cooker girl at 1:26 PM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am also a glasses-wearer who also just did the thing, and it smells...fine. And I don't wash my glasses ever. But I do wash behind my ears in the morning and at night, with a washcloth and then I also use "toner" (whatever that actually is) on a cotton ball. Apparently it works; my ears are not smelly.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:39 PM on September 6, 2017

In addition to keeping that area clean, keep the skin in good condition so it doesn't crack or develop other issues. I like Aveeno Eczema lotion with oatmeal, it absorbs quickly and keeps things healthy.
posted by Ahniya at 2:42 PM on September 6, 2017

So. I don't stink behind my ears. I also don't use soap there. Stop the scrubbing and the soaping, let your body build up some natural resistance against stinky bacteria, is what I say [I do wear glasses. I do not wash my glasses there (the viewing part, yes)].
Drying well, as others said, might help, though.
posted by Namlit at 4:23 PM on September 6, 2017

All right, as a fellow four-eyes I had to do the check myself. It seems my ear backs are perfectly fine smelling. I think I can attribute this to frequent (twice to thrice daily) glasses washing (I don't just clean the lenses--I also wash the earpieces and nose pads with soap and water) and washing and drying behind my ears every time I shower.

This is my favourite AskMe question in a long time!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:42 PM on September 6, 2017

I wear glasses and don't have funk. I keep the backs of my ears clean with a washcloth or fingers in the shower, but I'm not super scrubby and regimented about it. I am fastidious about cleaning my glasses lenses but mostly forget the earpieces, which don't really get dirty/grimy for me. I have to nth that it sounds like a yeast issue. Clear it up with medicated soap or ointment and keep them dry, and you should be good.
posted by moira at 5:24 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You need to clean your glasses where they touch your ears. Alcohol will work. Also clean behind your ears with an astringent after you get out of the shower. Last, you may not be a dainty mid-century lady, so you may not know this, but traditionally women put perfume behind their ears - perhaps for this reason? Consider doing the same?
posted by Toddles at 8:59 PM on September 6, 2017

I noticed this recently and switched to a washcloth, which helped a lot. But I also wear glasses and now I know to clean them! I think we've all learned something today.
posted by Threeve at 9:25 PM on September 6, 2017

In 56 years this is the first time I've ever thought about outer ear funk. Huh. Learn something new every day.
I can report no weird smells on earpieces or ears. Must be my good genes.
So I got nothin' for you except use gentle soap and water on body parts and eyeglasses and don't overdue it. The apple cider vinegar rinse on hair is good, too.
posted by TrishaU at 11:16 PM on September 6, 2017

I wear glasses and have never deliberately washed behind my ears in my life. I've always assumed that that was one of the body parts taken care of by general water run-off in the shower. I just tested for smell and there is nothing. So now I feel like I've just gained one more random, tiny thing to feel good about.
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:04 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Um. Ear-rears.
posted by allthinky at 10:02 AM on September 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

I can't say I've checked the smell behind my ears until now, but I just did, and it actually smells very clean some ten hours post shower. I am also a glasses wearer (who doesn't deliberately wash anything but the lenses, though I'll do that now!) But I do wash behind my ears daily, with just plain water because that's how I wash my face in the morning. No pimples, no dirt, no dryness, no smell! Plain tap water! (And yes, my oily skin actually does quite well with just a rinse in the morning!)
posted by BlueBear at 2:36 PM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yep, the backs of my ears smell like cheese. I also wear glasses. (I just scrub behind 'em with my shampoo suds in the shower.)
posted by sarcasticah at 4:38 PM on September 7, 2017

But... wait, what, how do you shower with your glasses on?? How do you wash your face and such without knocking them off?
posted by sarcasticah at 4:40 PM on September 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Selsun 2.5% selenium (in blue bottle, not orange) is great for topical treatment of fungi/yeast. Years ago a doctor recommended it to me to cure a nasty case of Tinea versicolor I had endured for ages. Worked great, but was harsh. Now Selsun has changed its shampoo so that it is far more gentle (with added vitamins, for what that's worth) and nicer to use. Yeah, I get rhino ass ears sometimes, but shampooing really works.
posted by CCBC at 3:21 AM on September 8, 2017

I used to smell my children's ears when they complained of ear ache. If they had a well established ear infection, I could smell that. That wasn't what determined whether or not, I took them to the Doctor, necessarily, but it was one of the things that went into the decision.
posted by Oyéah at 5:00 PM on September 9, 2017

Wear glasses, never wash behind my ears, ears don't smell....

Examined glasses and structure of head. The hooked parted of my glasses that might hook around the back of my ears does not. The arms of the earpieces are long enough that the only contact between my glasses and my ears is a tiny space where they rest on top of my ears. The curved part of my earpieces tends to be stuck out somewhere into my hair.

My earpieces are too long and I am benefiting from it!

Suddenly wondering now if the tens of dollars in repairs for broken glasses that I was forced to pay repeatedly as a child might have actually been because my glasses got broken because they didn't actually fit...! That could be why the fell off so often!! You mean it wasn't me being careless...?

With my head shape, diet and yeast/skin bacteria profile and glasses, shampoo applied liberally and carelessly seems to be sufficient to keep me from bacteria or yeast overgrowth.

Could those mefites whose ears don't stink but who do wear glasses test to see how closely their glasses adhere to their heads and ears to test my theory that it is all down to the fit of the glasses?
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:50 AM on September 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I wear glasses, don't wash behind my ears daily (probably 2ce a week. I live alone. It's a perk.) Aaaaand they don't seem to smell bad. I mean, maybe I'm desensitized. But also, like Jane, my glasses don't actually touch my ears at all. I wear my hair back most days, and my glasses are kind of stuck up in the hair slightly above my ears. So... Maybe that helps?
posted by greermahoney at 2:03 PM on September 10, 2017

I thought that was a normal smell from dead skin building up ...

Piercings that are being stretched will get a funky smell, even if they're 100% healed and being cleaned daily. Bandages that sit on your skin for a long time will get that same smell. And that's the same smell I find behind my ears. I assumed it was the combination of dead skin and sweat. It's not super objectionable, I would call it a mild funk.

But it's possible the funk you're getting is worse than what I'm thinking of, and it's possible I'm wrong and it is a mild fungal growth in addition to that.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 3:48 PM on September 17, 2017

I wear glasses, wash my hair every day, dry behind my ears with my bathroom towel (changed weekly) and otherwise leave them the heck alone. I've done a sniff test and everything smells fine - no funk at all.

I credit this to being female, having veeerrrryy short hair that gets cut around the ears so that there's no hair sitting on the actual ear at any point, and also having the thinnest glasses frames I could find.
posted by ninazer0 at 6:24 PM on September 19, 2017

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