Skip to main content

Doctors say this is why it’s okay to clean your nose with a cotton swab

If your nose is stuffy, you may blow it using a tissue. However, sometimes, doctors may tell you that you should be cleaning your nose with a cotton swab.

This instruction may surprise you. After all, doctors have long instructed people not to use cotton swabs (more commonly known as Q-tips®) to clean their ears, saying it can cause dizziness and potentially harm the eardrum. Plus, if you ever got tested for COVID-19, you likely know that sticking a foreign object up your nose isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world.

Why would a doctor recommend using a cotton swab for your nose, then? While it may not be pleasant, using a cotton swab to clean your nose is acceptable under limited circumstances. Let’s discuss why and how to use cotton swabs to clean your nose.

q tips in a white basket on bathroom counter

Why are people cleaning their noses with cotton swabs?

Using a cotton swab to sanitize your nose may not be something you think to do voluntarily. However, there may be times it’s one of the best things to do for your health.

  • It can prevent nose bleeds. If you frequently get nose bleeds, particularly in the winter, you may benefit from using a cotton swab to put ointment just inside the opening to your nostril. Petroleum jelly like Vaseline often helps with dryness or irritation.
  • You just had a rhinoplasty. Whether you did it for cosmetic or health reasons, you’ll want to keep your nose clean after surgery. Doctors say it’s OK to use a cotton swab and diluted hydrogen peroxide to remove dried blood from your nasal area.
  • You got your nose pierced. Piercings require frequent cleanings for several weeks. Applying a warm saline solution onto the piercing site is one way to get this job done.   
  • You were hospitalized with a superbug. MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant infection. Researchers found that hospitalized patients who had this bacteria in their skin or nose could reduce their risk for developing a more serious infection by one-third, in part using a cotton swab to apply “medicated goo” to the inside of their noses for six months post-discharge. They also used special soap or mouthwash.

How to use cotton swabs to clean your nose

You’ll want to get the exact instructions from your healthcare provider. In the case of a piercing, ask the person who pierced your nose. Generally speaking, you’ll want to dip the cotton swab in whatever cleaning solution or ointment you’re instructed to use, such as saline spray or Vaseline. Then, use it to rub the solution or ointment on the site of your piercing or area just inside your nostril. A good rule of thumb: Put most but not all of the cotton on the top part of the swab into your nose.

q-tips in a wooden box next to cotton facial pads

How often should I be cleaning my nose with cotton swabs?

The answer to this question will largely depend on why you are using a cotton swab to clean your nose, and you’ll want to consult your healthcare provider or the person who did your piercing. Typically, though, directions will look something like this:

  • Nose bleeds: Clean and apply Vaseline as needed.
  • Rhinoplasty: Clean your nose for at least four to six weeks after surgery or as directed by your doctor.
  • Nose piercing: The healing process can last for many months. Clean the site twice per day as directed by the person who performed it.
  • Superbug: Patients in the study cleaned their noses on Monday through Friday every other week for six months. You should consult with your healthcare provider upon discharge and at any follow-up appointments.

Is sanitizing your nose with cotton swabs unsafe?

Generally speaking, it’s safe to put a cotton swab in your nose to clean it. In fact, parents are sometimes instructed to use a cotton swab to moisturize their infant’s nose. Patients in the study on cotton swabs and MRSA didn’t appear to have any negative side effects. Refrain from sticking it too far up your nose, and use a clean swab.

This method doesn’t sound appealing. Is there another way?

Depending on your treatment needs, you may have options other than using a Q-tip to give your nose a cleaning. For example, you might be able to use a cotton ball. Squeeze bulbs and syringes can also be used to perform sinus flushes, and sprays can help clean new piercings.

Using a cotton swab to sanitize your nose is safe and effective, particularly if you recently had rhinoplasty or had the area pierced. It may also help you mitigate your risk of a viral infection getting worse. Speak with your doctor for instructors on how to use swabs to clean your nose, including how often to do it. It may vary depending on the reason you’re doing it. Generally speaking, the doctor will probably tell you not to stick it too far up your nose by inserting most – but not all — of the cotton portion in your nostrils. Using a swab to clean your nose may not sound like the most pleasant idea. Unless instructed by a healthcare provider, there are other ways to keep your nose squeaky-clean, such as blowing it.

BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area. We are not medical professionals, have not verified or vetted any programs, and in no way intend our content to be anything more than informative and inspiring.

Editors' Recommendations