What colour should earwax be

Author thumbnail Laura James  |  Published 22 February 2024  | Updated 16 May 2024  | 4 mins read

A close-up of a woman's ear.

Earwax plays an essential role in the health of your ears. It helps to protect your ears by trapping dust and dirt that can cause infection or irritation. 

Knowing more about the colour of your earwax can help you understand what is normal for you and when they could be a potential issue. 

What does healthy earwax look like

There are two main types of earwax – dry and wet. And the type you have actually depends on your genetics. 

Woodworker creating wooden furniture.

The ABCC11 gene is responsible for the type of earwax you likely have (although lifestyle can have an impact).  

  • People with the dominant variant of the ABCC11 gene typically have wet earwax.
  • People with the recessive variant typically have dry/flaky earwax.

There are other factors that can contribute to this though.

Lifestyle factors that can affect the consistency of your earwax:

  • Using drops/oil.
  • Working in a dirty/dusty environment.
  • Working in a very dry or very humid environment.
  • Working or having certain hobbies that mean you are under water a lot.

Fun fact: the gene that dictates the consistency of your earwax also dictates whether you have smelly armpits or not. For example, many East Asian people have the recessive ABCC11 gene which means they not only have dry earwax, they also don’t suffer from body odour. 


Dry earwax

Healthy earwax looks different for everyone. But generally, “normal” wax is a shade of yellow, orange, or brown. 

Dry earwax generally looks more flaky or crumbly. Newer wax tends to be lighter in colour and softer in nature but gets darker as it ages, and can become flakier and drier as it picks up more dust and debris from your environment. 

Wet earwax

Wet earwax is sticky and can get thicker and stickier as it ages and picks up dust and dirt. The normal colour range of wet earwax is the same as the dry type – ranging from yellow to orange to brown. 

An infographic about ear wax colours and their meaning.

Earwax colours

Black earwax

If your earwax looks black it’s likely that it is just very old. Older, more compacted earwax build up can look very dark and might be either very thick and sticky or hard and compacted depending on the type of earwax you have. 

Alternatively if you work in a very dusty or dirty environment like in construction or a car workshop, you might find that your earwax is very dark where it collects dust. 

Dark brown earwax

Dark brown earwax is still considered healthy and normal but it could just be older in age. If your earwax is building up regularly it can cause issues such as hearing difficulties, pain, and even dizziness. This is where earwax removal can be useful. 

Green earwax

Green earwax is unusual and could be cause for concern as it can be an indicator of discharge from an ear infection. The earwax may also have a bad odour to it. If you experience green earwax, especially if it is accompanied by ear pain, make sure you see a doctor to get it treated. 

White earwax

White earwax is an example of why it’s important to become familiar with what is normal for you. 

Off-white earwax could be within the normal range for you. Some ear drops or sprays can also bleach earwax so it appears paler or whiter. But a sudden appearance of white earwax can sometimes be an indication of an ear infection as well. 

Red earwax

Red earwax can be a cause for concern as it usually means there is blood mixed into your wax. 

It could stem from an injury to the ear canal such as a scratch. Or, if you notice that it is coupled with a sticky discharge, it could indicate a perforated ear drum. Visit a doctor if you experience a sudden appearance of blood in your earwax. 

What to do if I have bloody earwax?

Blood in your earwax can indicate an injury in your ear or damage to your eardrum. If you suddenly notice the appearance of blood in your earwax, don’t hesitate to have your ears checked. 

Either book in with your GP or your local hearing centre.