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Best dog ear cleaners

Reviewing ear cleaners in The Lab

Your dog’s ears are so powerful they can hear sounds humans can’t . Of course, nothing beats the one your voice makes when you tell them how much you love them. Dog ear cleaners are an effective way to keep your pet’s hearing in tip-top shape and prevent issues like ear wax build-up, itching, and ear infections.

There are many ear cleaning solutions on the market, but you want to find the best one for your pet. Our team put together a comprehensive guide by reviewing and testing popular ear cleaners on the market. We looked at five criteria: the ingredients’ safety, effectiveness, application, quantity, and packaging.

Ear cleaners we loved

Our top pick

Vets have long considered Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner one of the best ear cleaners on the market. The pH is neutralized, so pet parents don’t have to worry about it irritating a dog’s skin or interfering with medication for ear infections. It’s also great for daily use on your pet’s ears. Epi-Otic has improved the product’s smell. It now boasts a fresh, pleasant scent versus a lingering medicinal odor.

  • Ingredients. Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner has safe ingredients. The formula includes glycotechnology, which the brand makes in-house. Epi-Otic says glycotechnology can stop microorganisms like yeast and bacteria from populating or break them up if they do. The solution doesn’t contain alcohol, so it’s gentle and typically works on dogs with sensitive ears.
  • Effectiveness. The brand says it can help with chronic otitis externa or inflammation in your dog’s ear canal. We also found that it effectively removed dirt, debris, and ear wax from our dog’s ears.
  • Application. This product was easy to apply with a cotton ball.
  • Quantity. It comes in two sizes: 4 ounces (oz) or 8 oz.
  • Packaging. The solution comes in a skinny bottle, and our reviewer didn’t have any issues opening or closing it.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Alleyne loves recommending this ear cleaner for dogs with sensitive ears because it’s alcohol-free. He says it’s ideal for daily cleaning and likely to remove debris effectively. He notes that the formula doesn’t appear to include any moisturizing agents like aloe vera, so it may not provide the best relief for pups with dry or very irritated ears.

Our natural pick

QualityPet Ear Nectar says it can get rid of debris and help stop itching with its organic formula. But experts do caution it’s not a true ear cleaner.

  • Ingredients. This product uses ingredients such as vitamin E, aloe, witch hazel, and organic MCT coconut oil. They’re safe to use on the external part of your dog’s ear (their pinna). But our product reviewer noted that one of her dog’s ears was irritated after use.
  • Effectiveness. Aloe and vitamin E can help moisturize your pup’s ear. Applying this solution can serve as an effective preventative measure against scratching or a way to fight it. Our product review expert noted that pet parents shouldn’t squeeze this cleanser into dogs’ ear canals. Instead, QualityPet designed it to clean the outer part of the dog’s ear. Though not hard to apply, it’s not the most effective way to wash a dog’s ears.
  • Application. Application to the outer surface of a pup’s ear is easy. What may confuse some pet parents — particularly ones who have used other cleaners — is that it can’t go into their dog’s ear.
  • Quantity. The bottle contains 4 oz of solution.
  • Packaging. Our product reviewer didn’t note any leaking or broken seals on the packaging. It comes in a blue bottle with a twistable top.

What our vet thinks

Though Dr. Alleyne says the vitamin E and aloe can help moisturize your dog’s ears,  he says it’s not for every pet. You can’t pour it into your dog’s ears, which he says is often necessary for treatment. It also may confuse some pet parents, and they may accidentally apply it inside a dog’s ears if they don’t read the instructions first.

Best smelling cleaner

The VetWell Dog and Cat Ear Cleaner is wildly popular among doggie caregivers who rave that it’s easy to use and effectively removes debris. The sweet fragrance is the icing on the cake (at least it smells like it is).

  • Ingredients. This product’s formula includes safe ingredients like aloe vera and lactic acid. It does contain some alcohol, but our product expert’s dog didn’t notice any irritation.
  • Effectiveness. Reviewers say the ear cleanser effectively removed dirt and build-up. It cleaned our dog’s ears well.
  • Application. The application and the ear cleaning process are cinches. We found it simple to apply with a cloth or cotton ball and wipe the product off.
  • Quantity. The bottle contains 8 fl. oz of liquid cleaning solution.
  • Packaging. The solution comes in a tall green and white bottle, and it arrived with no leaks.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Alleyne says this product is perfect for dogs with smelly ears. He cautions that alcohol is an active ingredient. It may not be best for dogs with severe infections that have caused sores. Despite the alcohol, he’s confident recommending the solution for most dogs. “It can help dry up moisture in the ear, which is important in preventing recurrence of infection,” Dr. Alleyne says.

Best post-swim

If your dog loves to make a splash, you’ll need to plan on more regular cleanings. You should always clean a pet’s ears after they’ve been in the water, whether they took a swim or bath. Vet’s Best Ear Relief Wash & Dry Combo typically does the trick.

  • Ingredients. This product contains natural ingredients, including chamomile, aloe vera, and clove oil. Though the ingredients are safe, the tea tree oil may irritate your pet’s ear.
  • Effectiveness. This product effectively cleans and dries a dog’s ear post-swim, helping to prevent irritation and infection. Our product reviewer noted that she wouldn’t use step two for dogs that already have issues with dry skin.
  • Application. The two-step process makes application — and drying — a cinch. It’s perfect for pet parents who are on the move, just like their water-loving dogs.
  • Quantity. The products come in two bottles with 4 fl. oz of solution in each.
  • Packaging. Our expert didn’t note any leakage or troubles with the packaging. These cleaners come in dark green bottles that easily open and close.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Alleyne recommends this product in part because he loves that the formula includes gentle and natural ingredients like aloe and chamomile. But, he cautions that some pups may find the tea tree oil irritating, so pet parents should check for any reactions.

Our maintenance pick

Vetoquinol is a favorite and trusted brand in the veterinary industry, and animal hospitals across the country use it. Its ear cleansing solution contains ingredients that reduce inflammation. Our product expert wasn’t the only one that liked the smell — her dogs loved it, too.

  • Ingredients. The safe ingredients include aloe vera, which moisturizes dry ears. It does have some alcohol, though — something to keep in mind if your dog naturally has dry ears.
  • Effectiveness. Long-time users say this product effectively cleans their dog’s ears. Our product reviewer believes it’s a decent go-to for routine maintenance on healthy ears.
  • Application. Our product reviewer tested this ear cleanser on dogs who didn’t take well to other scented cleaners. She says they didn’t mind the subtle aloe fragrance, making application easier.
  • Quantity. You have several options for sizes. Vetoquinol Ear Cleansing Solution comes in 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, or gallon bottles. We tested the 8 oz size.
  • Packaging. Our product expert didn’t have any packaging problems. This cleaner comes in a tall, skinny white bottle.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Alleyne says this product has the right mix of ingredients, moisturizing agents, and drying agents to clean ears effectively. But, he cautions that the alcohol may cause issues with dogs who have severely irritated ears.

Best for allergies

April showers bring…allergies. Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment with Hydrocortisone makes sniffles and scratching season much more pleasant for pups, so you can enjoy your outdoor adventures together. This solution can also help cut down on infections.

  • Ingredients. The ingredients are all safe to put in your dog’s ear.
  • Effectiveness. Zymox uses hydrocortisone to reduce agitation and inflammation from allergies. It also takes an antimicrobial approach to treating ear infections with enzymes. Our product reviewer says this method is effective if pet owners notice the irritation early, but likely won’t help with full-blown ear infections.
  • Application. The application wasn’t a problem for our product expert.
  • Quantity. Each bottle has 1.25 oz of solution.
  • Packaging. Our experts didn’t have any packaging issues, such as leaking. This cleaner was the smallest one we reviewed, arriving in a short rectangular-shaped bottle.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Alleyne recommends Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment with Hydrocortisone for pups showing early or mild signs of an ear infection. He says it can provide early relief and slow down the progression of the infection. Dr. Alleyne also notes that hydrocortisone may temporarily relieve inflamed ears. He points out that the product is marketed as an ear treatment, not a cleaner. It may not be the best for cleaning excessive debris, nor is it good for dogs who already have severe infections.

Our research process

Why you should trust our reviews 

  • Dr. Dwight Alleyne helped us formulate this list — We had a veterinarian review every product on our list. Dr. Alleyne ranked his favorites and was candid about what he liked and disliked about the ear cleaners.
  • We ordered and paid for these products — Brands didn’t gift these ear cleaning solutions to us, nor are they sponsoring them. Our team used our resources to buy the products, ensuring we could give you unbiased reviews.
  • We sent them off with our product researcher to test in the field — We sent these ear cleaners off to our product review expert, Sara Ondrako, to test with her dogs.
  • We trialed and tested these products in The Lab — Sara tested these products using our review criteria. She shared her honest feedback on everything from how effective the cleansers were to whether they irritated her pup’s ears.

How we picked 

Our team searched high and low on the internet for the most popular ear cleaning products on marketplaces, including Amazon and Chewy. We looked for tried and true ear cleaners and some natural ones to give you a range of good choices. We looked for ear cleaners with very little to no amounts of alcohol since this ingredient can be irritating to some doggie ears.

Our veterinarian helped us narrow down our list. Then, we ordered the ear cleaners and sent them off to our product reviewer, Sara Ondrako. After reviewing, she revealed her “top pick,”  the product that ranked the highest in all our criteria.

At first glance

Cost-effectiveness is important for many pet parents. Here’s a look at how these ear cleaners compare against one another when looking at the price per ounce.

Ear cleaners according to price per ounce, from lowest to highest

Product Price* Amount Price per ounce
Vetoquinol Ear Cleansing Solution $11.41 8 oz $1.43
Vet’s Best Ear Relief Wash & Dry Combo Pack $11.45 8 oz $1.43
VetWell Dog and Cat Ear Cleaner $12.49 8 oz $1.56
Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced $17.69 8 oz $2.21
QualityPet Ear Nectar $14.99 4 oz $3.74
Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment $21.99 1.25 oz $17.59

*Price on Amazon or Chewy at the time of our review

How we tested these products

We wanted to make sure we were sharing the best ear cleaners for dogs on the market. With so many seemingly great choices out there, it was important to establish standards. We worked with our product expert and veterinarian to determine the most important criteria to review these products against.

  • Ingredients. Ear cleaners should be solutions to help a dog’s ear health — literally and figuratively. You don’t want one that creates more problems, so we vetted each ingredient list to ensure these products were safe.
  • Effectiveness. You want a product that helps prevent or fix issues with your dog’s ears, from inner ear infections to allergies. We asked our experts to evaluate whether the product effectively cleaned a dog’s ear and prevented infections.
  • Application. Spending hours fiddling with a cleaning solution likely isn’t on your to-do list. Our experts shared how simple it was to apply each product. She tested applying each ear cleaner to her dogs’ ears.
  • Quantity. How many ounces will you get when purchasing this product?
  • Packaging. Leaking can ruin other items in your order and waste the product. We asked our expert to note any packaging problems and how the product opens.

What else should pet parents consider?

Does your pet need an ear cleaner?

Yes, dogs need an ear cleaner to safely and properly clean wax and debris from their ears. You shouldn’t use home remedies to clean your dog’s ears. Instead, use a vet-approved ear cleaner. It’s important to ask your dog’s vet about how often your dog needs their ears cleaned. Some ear cleaners are best for dogs with recurring ear infections or allergies and other cleaners are great maintenance cleaners for all dogs.

How to choose the right ear cleaner for your dog

Dog ear cleaners are available in different forms: liquids and wipes. Both of these ear cleaner types are effective and useful in their own ways, but you’ll want to pick one that’s right for your pup and their needs.

  • Liquid. Liquid ear cleaners are just that — liquid. These cleaning solutions are great for getting into all the delicate nooks and crannies of your pet’s ears. They’re ideal for dogs that have lots of debris and ear wax build-up. They tend to be fairly easy to use, but messy. You may also need to use other materials, such as cotton balls, to help apply liquid solutions.
  • Wipes. Wipes are best for pet parents who don’t want the mess of a liquid ear cleaner or the fuss of also using cotton balls. However, you can’t clean right down into the ear canal with an ear cleaning wipe. They’re not the most eco-friendly option either, as each wipe is disposable.

Why do dogs need their ears cleaned?

Have you noticed a strange smell coming from your pup’s ears? Or perhaps they seem to be itching their ears more than normal? Both of these signs could mean that your dog needs their ears cleaned.

There are two main reasons why dogs might need their ears cleaned: to prevent possible bacterial infections and wax build-up or to treat ongoing issues, such as allergies.

Your pup may even need their ears cleaned because they’ve just been swimming or simply because their breed is more prone to auditory issues. Here are some of the most common reasons why dogs need their ears cleaned:

  • Allergies. Seasonal allergies and airborne allergens, like pollen and dust, can cause debris build-up and irritation in a dog’s ears. While you should try to keep your pup away from these irritants, ear cleaners help get rid of the debris build-up and soothe your pooch’s ears. Allergies may also cause recurring yeast infections.
  • Infections. While bacterial and yeast infections are generally treated with oral antibiotics or topical ointments, using an antibacterial or antifungal ear cleaner can help prevent them from recurring. However, ear cleaners won’t treat existing infections. It’s important to take Fido to the vet if you suspect an infection.
  • Ear mites. More common in dogs that cohabit with cats, ear mites can cause ear itchiness, dark discharge, and a foul smell. They may make it easier for dogs to develop yeast and bacterial infections. Using ear cleaners with antiparasitic properties can help you remove mites and keep your pup comfortable. Your dog will need to visit the vet for a mite-killing medication in addition to regular ear cleanings.
  • Dog breeds. If your dog has hairy or floppy ears, they may be more prone to ear issues. These breeds include Old English sheepdogs, King Charles spaniels, cocker spaniels, and miniature poodles.

👉 Regular ear cleanings can help prevent ear infections. However, ear cleaners don’t treat active ear infections in dogs. 

Look for these signs of ear infections

If you suspect your pup has an ear infection, these are some of the key symptoms to look out for:

👉 If your dog has these symptoms, take them to the vet for a diagnosis before attempting to clean their ears at home.

How to clean your dog’s ears at home

Cleaning your dog’s ears is easy to do at home, although it will take time and practice to get your pooch comfortable with the process.

  1. Prepare your products. Whether you’ve chosen a liquid cleaner or a wet wipe, have your products close at hand and open, ready to use. It’s also a good idea to have a towel, a clean cloth, and treats nearby.
  2. Kneel alongside your dog. You want your dog to feel comfortable and relaxed, so try and do the ear cleaning in a place where they feel at ease. Just don’t clean their ears on your favorite couch or chair, because ear cleaning solution might get on it when your dog shakes their head.
  3. Tilt your dog’s head and lift their ear flap. You need to make sure the liquid cleaning solution (if applicable) won’t trickle out when you apply it, so your pup will need their head to one side.
  4. Apply the solution. Use the cleaner as instructed on the bottle or package.
  5. Massage the base of the ear opening. The solution will likely need to sit for around 20 seconds. Keep your dog still and massage the base of your dog’s ear-opening to help the solution work its magic. Distract your pooch with treats or peanut butter to keep them calm and still.
  6. Wipe away any visible debris. If debris is present, now’s the time to wipe it away with a clean cloth or cotton pad. Be gentle and don’t go too deep into your pup’s ear.
  7. Let your pup shake away the excess. You might want a towel on hand for this step in case the cleaner goes everywhere.
  8. Reward Fido with a treat. Give your dog their favorite treat for behaving during the ear cleaning.
  9. Repeat on the other side.

👉 Never put solid objects deep into your dog’s ear canal and don’t use Q-tips or cotton swabs to remove debris and wax build-up. These can damage your pup’s inner ear.

But my dog hates it when I clean their ears!

First of all, it’s normal for your dog to be reluctant about ear cleanings, so don’t panic. Here are some ways you can build trust and get your dog willing and able to have their ears cleaned at home — without all of the fuss!

Touch their ears more — Your dog might hate ear cleanings because they’re not used to having their sensitive ears touched. So, before you even attempt to clean their ears at home, start by touching their ears and rewarding them with treats. That way, when it comes to cleaning, they won’t be taken by surprise.

Use a saturated cotton pad — During the cleaning itself, your dog might be shocked by the liquid cleaner going into their ear canal. One way to get around that is by saturating a cotton pad with the liquid solution and gently sitting it at their ear opening. Don’t push it in; instead, let it sit and massage the area so the liquid drips down into their ear canal. Then, remove the cotton pad and gently wipe away any visible gunk.

Use peanut butter and treats — If all else fails, try to keep your dog distracted while you clean their ears. It might help to have a family member or friend distract Fido while you focus on cleaning. For some dogs, peanut butter is a great treat (and distractor). We recommend dabbing a spoonful of peanut butter on a Lickimat to keep them in one place while you clean their ears.

👉 If your dog seems to be in pain when you try to clean their ears, take them to your dog’s vet or groomer for professional ear cleanings instead.

Frequently asked questions

What can I use to clean my dog’s ears at home?

Cotton balls, gauze, and a vet-approved cleaning solution are all good choices for cleaning your pup’s ears. Never use Q-tips, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar.

What are the best things to use to clean dog ears?

A liquid ear cleaning solution or ear wipes are safe options for cleaning your pet’s ears. Your vet can let you know if a product is OK to use on your pet.

Should my dog’s ear cleaner contain alcohol?

Even a small amount of alcohol can be irritating, especially for pups who have chronic infections or sensitive ears. But it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker — talk to your vet and monitor your dog when using products with alcohol. Your vet will probably tell you to avoid these cleaning products if your pup has severely infected or irritated ears.

How do you clean your dog’s ears if they don’t like it?

It’s perfectly normal for your dog to dislike ear cleanings — they’re not the most pleasant thing in the world. Touching your pet’s ears more often can get them used to the feeling. Saturated cotton pads and a gentle touch can make the cleaning process more bearable. Finally, plenty of treats can help your pet learn to associate occasional or routine ear cleanings with positive vibes.

What is the brown stuff in my dog’s ears?

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), brown discharge may be a sign of ear mites or a yeast infection. Call your dog’s vet to schedule an examination.

How often should you clean your dog’s ears?

It depends on your dog’s needs. Some pups who are more prone to allergies or conditions like ear infections may need more regular ear cleanings, perhaps once per week. Every other week may work well for other animals. It’s important to always clean your pet’s ears after they’ve been in the water, including baths. Check your pet’s ears regularly for signs of debris, discharge, and redness, and call the vet if you’re concerned.