Dark Brown Ear Wax

By | February 24, 2016
(Last Updated On: February 8, 2017)

Dark brown ear wax removal

The color of ear wax can often be alarming, especially to parents who notice the issue in their children complaining of a “stuffed up ear”. There are a number of reasons for dark brown ear wax, most of which are benign. This article hopes to shed some light on the topic so that you can best determine whether any of your concerns are truly justified.

To recap what was said in the ear wax build up article, the main composition of cerumen is hair, dead skin and oil produced by glands near the entrance to the ear. Often included in the wax, however, are various other materials not directly produced by the body. Dust and small insects are fairly common, and the relative quantities of each component have a direct impact on the final color of the wax found in someone’s ears.

Check for the Possibility of Blood if Black Ear Wax is Observed

The first thing to do when you notice dark brown or black ear wax is to make sure it is not coagulated blood. The consistencies of the two are noticeably different and so this shouldn’t be difficult to discern. As always, however, if you are unsure, rather pay a visit to your local doctor to gain clarity on the matter. A clear sign that it may be dry blood rather than ear wax is that fresh blood is also visible which could indicate the presence of a far more severe issue than impacted ear wax. A ruptured ear drum, otic polyp or an infection may be present if fresh blood is observed. Waste no time in seeking professional help in this case.

Most Likely Reasons for Dark Brown Ear Wax

Excluding the presence of congealed blood, several more nonthreatening and likely reasons for the presence of dark brown ear wax are listed below.

  • Ear Wax Type

The actual type of ear wax the person has in terms of its wetness or dryness has one of the greatest effects on color. This is genetically determined and is related to the triglyceride or fat content of the wax. People with wax classified as wet typically have a triglyceride content of around 50%, while those with dry-type wax, have less than 20%. Reportedly, Native Americans and Asians are more genetically prone to having dry earwax, whereas Caucasians, Africans and African Americans more frequently have the wet type.

The fat itself has a brown color, and so dry wax is generally light yellow or grayish and is more “flaky”, whereas wet wax is darker brown, closer to the color of golden syrup.

  • How long the Wax has been in the Ear

The fats in earwax are sensitive to attack by the oxygen in air, much like the fats in olive and sunflower cooking oils. With time, the fats undergo what’s known as oxidation. These oxidized fats have a darker color than when they are freshly produced, leading to dark brown or black ear wax. In fact, if you heat cooking oil in a pan on high heat for a few minutes until it starts smoking, you will notice that the color of the oil has gone darker brown due to the oxidation that has occurred. The heat speeds up the process but is essentially what happens with time to the fats in earwax as well.

While cerumen is meant to be moved out of the ear naturally, factors such as above normal hair growth in the ear, the necessity to wear ear plugs or hearing aids, the use of cotton buds in an attempt to clean ear wax build up, and so on, can cause the wax to move out of the canal more slowly than it should. As a result, the wax may be darker in color in these individuals due to the longer amount of time the fats are exposed to oxygen.

How black ear wax is produced

  • Highly Recommended Products for Treating Black Ear Wax

Below is a recommendation of products you can use at home for treating dark ear wax.  These include the Elephant Ear Washer System, which has received over 1000 positive reviews, Debrox carbamide peroxide ear drops (rather use oils for children or for people with sensitive skin) and a syringe-based ear wax removal kit from North American Health and Wellness.  These are what we at EarWaxBuildUp.net believe are the safest but most effective products for getting rid of dark cerumen.

  • The Use of Ear Candles

Although the use of ear candles as a remedy for ear wax build up is strongly discouraged both here at EarWaxBuildUp.net and by most government health and safety agencies, the presence of black wax can potentially come from these dangerous devices. Dripping paraffin and/or beeswax from the candle mixed with the soot it generates when burning can create what appears to be black ear wax. If for some reason you have used one of these or suspect your child or loved one has been treated with one, then consider that the candle itself may be the source of the abnormally colored wax.


Dark brown ear wax needn’t be a cause for concern unless you suspect it may be coagulated blood. In this case, visit your otolaryngologist immediately to determine the source of the blood and rule out any potentially harmful infections or other conditions. Most often, however, the color is due to the inherited type of wax the person has, the relative composition of hair, dead skin and dust in the wax, and how much oxidation the wax has been exposed to.

In the case of a blockage, ear drops for clogged ears are one of the easiest and effective home remedies for relief, combined with syringing of warm distilled water into the ears once the wax has been softened. It is important to note that dark colored wax is not a sign of poor hygiene and often attempts to clean the ears by “conventional” means, such as with ear buds, shoving of the finger into the ear, etc. only lead to a worsening of the impaction.

Have you found oddly colored wax in your own or someone else’s ears that got you worried?  Leave a comment below and we’ll discuss.

If you found this article useful, I would appreciate it if you shared it with your friends and family.

24 thoughts on “Dark Brown Ear Wax

  1. Michael

    Why would I have only one ear that gets dark brown wax and nothing in the other

    1. George Kramer Post author

      Hi Michael – It is very common for people’s ear’s to produce wax at different rates. As long as the wax is not blood, you needn’t worry too much. I would recommend using an over-the-counter oil based ear drop, such as olive oil. Add two drops twice a day, morning and night. Don’t use cooking olive oil as this hasn’t been sterilized sufficiently for ears. You can also perform an ear wax irrigation as described here: http://earwaxbuildup.net/#4

      Finally, if it is a deep concern of yours, perhaps visit your doctor to have a look.


  2. Rita Long

    My Granddaughter is one, she had an ear infection and had to have medicine changed three times because, the infection wasn’t going away. She’s been off the meds for one week and the symptoms of the ear infection are back and her wax looks like chocolate. Why?

  3. Rita Long

    Why does my Granddaughters ear infection not going away and why is her ear wax looking like chocolate? She’s only 1.

    1. George Kramer Post author

      Rita, please take your granddaughter to an ear, nose and throat specialist as soon as possible. With an infection present together with the dark brown ear wax, this could potentially indicate blood, which could mean damage is being caused to her inner ear. I don’t mean to alarm you but a persistent infection in such a young baby’s ears can lead to facial deformation if it spreads to the facial nerves, which babies are more vulnerable to than adults.

      You can also refer to this article for further information:

      Keep us updated.


  4. Alex

    Hi. I sometimes fall asleep with my ear buds and had some dark hard nuggets of ear wax come out recently

    1. George Kramer Post author

      Hi Alex. Sometimes ear buds can compact ear wax causing it to be hard as you say. Perhaps try putting them in a little gentler if possible. Also, is there a reason you’re sleeping with them in?

      In terms of the dark color, as mentioned in the article above, there can be a multitude of reasons for this. Have you ruled out that it is not blood? If it definitely isn’t blood, then I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

      Hope to hear back from you.

  5. Hunter Wulffe

    My partner recently had an ear ache that lasted for over a week before I was able to get ear drops. I got Ear Ache Eardrops and we use a cotton ball to plug their ear to keep the drops in, yet when we take the ball out its coated in dark brown/gold earwax. It’s been like this for a few days, is it anything I should be worried about?

    1. George Kramer Post author

      Hi Hunter – if the ear ache is still persisting for longer than a week, you need to get your partner to an ENT or even just your GP. Ear infections can be very serious. The color of the wax is less concerning as long as it’s not actually blood or pus. I would be concerned so please, seek out a professional.

  6. damien

    My left ear has had black wax everyday for about 4 years. no pain but mild sensitivity. should i be worried?

    1. George Kramer Post author

      I don’t think it’s too concerning except for the sensitivity. Have you perhaps been cleaning your ear a lot, like everyday? If so, perhaps you are cleaning it a little to vigorously. A quick check up at you GP wouldn’t hurt as well.

  7. ear_alien

    um *gagging* i felt a tiny dark (pea-sized) chunk of dried disgustingness appeared from nowhere in my ear yesterday and promptly fell out!? having no clue what it was (‘is it an old raisin gone astray? an earwig??!’) hysterical i dashed to disect~and pushing down the panic i noted its crumbly slightly fibrous texture so ruled out either (nor was there any trace of fresh blood from my ear) i then flashed back to weeks ago~when i believe i first felt with my fingertip the tip of something strangely hard (presumably foreign) or what must have been this.. substance trying to work its way out but~not knowing for certain if it was part of my ear structure, and mostly from sheer terror of inadvertently shoving the object farther inside~i refrained from any aggressive “investigation” with a Qtip eg.. then lo and behold out this alien critter popped *hurling* my advice? if you can co-exist with the aliens they will exit your universe on their time

    1. George Kramer Post author

      🙂 Sometimes wax that has become compacted with hair and dead skin cells and oxidized to become dark brown can have the appearance of something out of this world!

  8. Leslie Shirkey

    Hi there.. I have to use ear plugs at night because husband snores and then I use them during the day to do my own schooling (I have 3 kids) and I need it quiet, but be around them. I have recently noticed ear plugs getting ‘dirty’ and brown. I have used q tips and dont get anything out, but if I go a little deeper and push along the walls of the canal, Ill get the hardened dark wax. Should I do a rinse on them? Should I be concerned at all?

  9. Pingback: The Color And Texture Of Your Earwax Reveals Everything About Your Health - LikeAble.co

  10. Sheena

    My earwax is a reddish brown color!! Is it blood?? I’m super worried!!!

    1. George Kramer Post author

      Sheena, please have it checked out Normally though, if there’s blood mixed with ear wax, you will feel something hard and brittle mixed with the wax. Almost sharp. BUT this is not a guarantee. Blood in your ears is too serious an issue to be unsure of. A professional needs to tell you.

  11. Brittany

    My 5 year old son all of the sudden has dark brown ear wax. I’m not sure how long it’s been, but it’s been over 4 months now since it was first noticed. It doesn’t seem to bother him though. It’s not impacted or over producing either. Just brown. 3 or 4 days after I clean his ears, I see the dark wax in his canal and on the outside again.
    He also gets “hot ears” a lot. I haven’t seen any real correlation with his hot ears though. They do it at night, in the day, when it’s warm, when it’s cold, etc.
    Could these two be related? Is this cause for any alarm? Should I get it checked out?

  12. yinka

    my son is having discharge inside is two ears and I have use antibiotics for him still abortive ,he as this moulding discharge when he was four years old now he is now 11 years ,the discharge is thick and it look little bit brown .

  13. D Lopez

    My husband went swimming 3 days in a row , yesterday he said his ear was clogged , hurting alittle so I went to the pharmacy, they told me to get meds for swimming ear so I put it in , now he said it still clogged,still hurting , brown stuff is coming out on the qtip he already used 15-20 qtips, it still coming out what should we do?

    1. Amanda G

      My son had had swimmers ear when he was 3 He wasn’t directly in water he was at a water park that just had sprinklers but that is what it’s called when it’s caused by water He got a nasty discharge in the end & had to take an antibiotic We had to avoid getting water in his ears for 10 days also It was painful for him

  14. Cass

    R.I.P my ear wax is literally black and even if it says nothing is wrong with my ear in this article i am going to possibly go to the doctor cause it is really weird.

  15. Sophia

    Itchy left ear for a couple months, mostly early evening. It felt wet and was ultra sensitive ( not pain ) but it felt as if the hair
    folicules were twitching, itiching.
    Seriously driving me nuts and I saw my doc today. She said BLACK WAX, I thought what the hell? She said normally ear wax is the color of a bee hive, a carmel color. She prescribed CARBAMIDE PEROXIDE 6.5%
    Five drops in left ear daily. I put the drops
    in kept my head tilted for about an hour to make sure the medication got all the way
    in. For the last three hours I thought I was going crazy ( again) I couldn’t hear out of my ear at all !! Reading the box it said it would foam and tingle, perhaps that will occur in a few days. Finally my hearing came back.. no discharge yet perhaps in a few days. I was very skeptical because , years ago after working out I started having problems with my ears, ended up in the ER and they said ear infection! They prescribed antibiotics along with antibiotic ear drops! Not what it was! I ended up going to a specialist and he explained ” women more often than men especially those that work out develope
    EAR FUNGUS, because women typically use
    more HAIR PRODUCTS THAN MEN. He went on to explain it causes a fungus ( what a treat) . Prescribed a medication that basically burns the fungus away, he explained that fungus of the ear should
    never be prescribed antibiotics because fungus grows even more when using it!
    It took a while but eventually he used boric acid, he called it ” magic ear “. It worked and taught me a great lesson. Use a head band when working out. I needed to be certain today we weren’t dealing with the same
    monster, my doc said no, it’s almost black ear wax and clearly ” you have been messing with your ear ” you bet I was it itched like crazy to the point I was itching it as I slept..moving forward and so glad I had it checked and FINALLY after one dose and five hours later I hear the bubbling of the prescribed peroxide! It must be a hell of a lot of wax build up… never had pain just would itch like crazy but only at night.


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