How to substitute cotton buds?
Not at all!
Isn´t that great, when for some change the answer is just really easy?!
The earwax has, as the other secrets from our body a useful task for us. It carries dirt and bacteria out of the ear and therefore helps cleaning and protecting it. Thus you should avoid cotton buds, not just because they can plug your ear, if you are not careful. The frequent cleaning is not constructive, because the earwax protects the ear from drying out and insects to enter.
There are a couple of alternative cleaning methods, from ear candles, towards douching to proper tools. Some are more useful than others. In general our body is a genius creation, that it is pretty good at sorting out it´s issues by himself. But one or the other ear does look a but untasty. For the optical care, external cleaning is enough. Therefor you could use a cotton bud again. But the same job does a piece of toilet paper, Water, a cloth, a shower…be creative!
Bottom line – You don´t have to substitute your cotton buds – just through them out of your mind.