Ear Wax Smell: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Ear Wax Smell: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Ear wax is a pale yellowish semi-solid substance present in the ear. It is produced by the glands in the ear to protect the ear and maintain its normal functioning. When produced under usual circumstances, ear wax does not bother the routine of humans.

However, at times, there might be accessive accumulation of the wax in the ears and a smelly discharge from the ear as well. This can impact life adversely and make you look for solutions to get rid of it.

Therefore, today, we will talk about the composition of the ear wax, the conditions that can make it smell, and remedies to treat the ear wax smell.

Table of Contents

Part 1: What is Ear Wax Made Of?

To know about the causes of the ear wax smell, you need to know what ear wax is. So, let us find out.

The makeup of Ear Wax

Ear wax is a waxy material in the ear known as cerumen. It is the combination of the secretions of cerumen glands present in the ear, slough of dead skin cells and mucous membranes in the ear canal, sweat produced by the skin in the middle ear, shed hair, and impurities from the environment.

Requirement of Ear Wax for the Ears

Ear wax production is a physiological mechanism of the ear to protect themselves. It lubricates the ears and prevents them from drying out.

It maintains the temperature of the ear canal by keeping it warm and traps foreign materials like dirt, impurities, and dust. Furthermore, ear wax has a particular smell that repels insects and it also acts as the first line of immunity against infections.

Appearance and Odor of Ear Wax

Ear wax starts from the production of an oily substance that accumulates other things in it. Depending upon the concentration of cerumen, dead skin cells, sweat, and hair, the consistency of ear wax varies from a sticky liquid to a dry solid.

Also, there is a variation in the color and smell of the ear wax. It might appear white, pale, yellow, brown, and black.

When it comes to the normal ear wax smell, you might not feel any smell at all or there could be a musty odor from the ears.

Part 2: Why Does My Ear Wax Smell?

If you are wondering why my ear wax smells bad, here is your answer.

1. Accumulated Ear Wax

Wax is produced in the ears and is cleaned from the ears normally as well. There is no need for interventions to keep the ear clean in general.

However, our lifestyle and usage of ear tools make the ear produce more wax. This wax then accumulates in the ear canal instead of being removed normally.

The result? Stasis of the wax in the ears makes it smell bad.

2. Infection of the Ear

Regardless of the presence of wax and other immunity mechanisms, bacteria and viruses can find their way into the ear canal at times. These microbes trigger the immune system to produce inflammatory mediators.

They accumulate in the ear, produce a discharge in the ear, and make ear wax smell bad. So, if you want to know why my ear wax smells like vinegar, an ear infection can be the answer.

3. Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is a condition where water is trapped in the ear canal. It could be due to swimming, as the name suggests. But it can also be due to improper drying of the ear after a shower.

This water gives way to infection and bad ear wax smell.

4. Foreign Body in the Ear

Sometimes little objects can get into the ear without us knowing. This might be a bead, a bug, or food particles. Although foreign body is commonly seen in children, it can happen in adults as well.

Ear wax begins to accumulate around the foreign body and gives it a weird smell.

5. Ear Tumor

Both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors in the ear can make the wax smell bad. Examples include cholesteatoma, which is a benign growth in the ear canal, and squamous cell tumor which is a cancer of the ear.

Part 3: What does ear wax smell like?

Here are the variations in the ear wax smell.

Musty/Sweet Smell:

While you might not notice, the normal ear wax has a distinctive smell. It is a musty or sweet smell. So, if your ear wax is smelling this way, there is nothing to worry about.

Sour/Strong Smell:

When water, sweat, or wax is not properly drained from the ears, the wax gets a sour smell because of its increased volume and stasis. But it is also not bothersome and cleaning the ear properly will remove this strong smell.

Pungent/Foul Smell:

If your ear has a smell that you cannot stand, this is something to get concerned about. A pungent or foul-smelling ear wax is a sign of infection or tumor in the ears.

Factors Influencing the Ear Smell

Ear wax smell is also affected by your diet, natural body smell, hygiene, and general lifestyle.

Part 4: How to Get Rid of Ear Wax Smell?

Here are the treatment options for treating the ear wax smell.

Keep Your Ears Dry

As the ear wax is the thing that is smelling bad, remove this wax, keep your ears dry after swimming or bath, and prevent the wax from smelling bad in the first place.

You can simply protect the ears from the entry of water into it by application of vaseline or you should use a hair dryer at a mild intensity to dry the water that gained entry into the ear.

Treat the Ear Infection, if Any

A colored foul-smelling discharge from the ears is a sign of an infection. In these cases, the bad ear wax smell will go away while treating the infection. Mostly, amoxicillin is the antibiotic used for ear infections.

However, you should consult a doctor before taking any medicines.

Use of Wax Softening Drops

If the wax inside the ear is impacted and hard, softening it can prove to be effective. For this, you can use glycerine, hydrogen peroxide, baby oil, or mineral oil.

Once the wax is soft, it can be removed easily by syringing the ear meticulously. Also, you can use a mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar to keep the ear canal dry and free of accumulated wax.

Over the Counter Ear Wax Removal Kits

Although DIY ear drops can be useful, using over-the-counter ear wax removal kits can be more effective. These kits contain drops that you should use for a few days.

After the recommended time, the ear wax smell disappears and so does the excess wax in the ear.

At-Home Ear Wax Removal Cameras

Using a Q-tip, over-the-counter ear wax removal kit, and other home remedies might not be the best solution for treating a sensitive part of your body.

The safest solution is to look inside the ear to determine what is the cause of the bad ear wax smell and then treat the cause accordingly.

Therefore, an ear wax removal camera like Bebird Note5 Ear Wax Removal Tool can be an effective, safe, and feasible solution to treating ear wax smell at home.

This kit features a high-resolution camera to look inside the ear, omnidirectional tweezers to remove the impacted wax, spiral tips, and curettes as well to deal with most of your ear wax concerns at home without spending a lot at a clinic.


The healthy ear wax smell lets you live your life freely. However, when the excess wax accumulates or becomes infected, a weird smell takes over your normal routine and makes you irritated.

As ear wax smells because of several causes as discussed above, the optimal treatment of these causes helps in treating the foul smell.

So, try to keep your ears clean and dry, look into them with an otoscope to remove the impacted wax, and visit a doctor when the bad smell is refractory to at-home conservative treatments.

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