Smelly Baby Ears: Potential Causes & What To Do About Them

When you have a new baby, you’ll be hypersensitive to their needs and changes to their behavior or body.

One of the most common things that new parents notice about their babies is a distinctive smell coming from their ears. 

Earwax (Cerumen) is a naturally occurring substance that helps to protect the ear canal from damage and keeps it waterproof, so if you notice that your baby has a lot of earwax, it could be completely normal.

Babies’ earwax is much softer and lighter colored than adult wax. This is completely normal, and it tends to toughen up and develop a yellowy color as they get older. 

The wax works on a cycle and gradually makes its way to the outer ear, carrying any bacteria or germs to keep their ears clean.

However, if the earwax starts to take on an unpleasant smell, there may be a problem. 

What Could A Smelly Baby Ear Mean?

Fungal Infection

Anaerobic bacteria – bacteria that can survive without oxygen – thrives in your baby’s ears and can develop into a severe fungal infection if it’s not managed correctly.

Your baby may also experience earache, itching, dizziness, feel off balance – which can be particularly dangerous if they’ve just started walking and they may hear ringing in their ears. 

If left untreated, it could have a long-term impact on their hearing as they get older. Ear infections are especially problematic in young children, as their ears are still developing. 

How To Treat An Ear Infection

If you suspect an ear infection, you should always see your pediatrician for advice. Prescribed ear drops can treat minor infections.

However, if the infection is more severe, your pediatrician may need to scrape out any excess wax using a curette (a small scraping tool used to pull out wax clumps). Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. 

Your baby’s ear should be kept as clean as possible throughout the ear infection treatment, avoiding any water. 

How To Clean A Baby’s Smelly Ears

babies ear smells like vinegar

To prevent a build-up of wax and that awful earwax smell, you should always make sure your baby’s ears are clean.

Wash Cloth

Using a washcloth is the easiest way to clean their ears if there’s not too much wax build-up. 

  1. Soak a cloth in warm water.
  2. Squeeze out any excess water – don’t let droplets get into their ears. 
  3. Gently sponge off any excess ear wax from around the ears. 
  4. DON’T put the cloth inside their ears – it could make the issue worse. 
  5. Dab the ears dry with a soft towel. 

Ear Drops

If there’s a substantial amount of wax and you’re worried that it might develop into an infection if not cleared, you should see your pediatrician for advice.

They may tell you that baby ear drops would be a suitable solution. 

DON’T buy ear drops over the counter without consulting your pediatrician. Some ear drops aren’t suitable for babies. 

  1. Always administer ear drops when your baby is calm and laying down – wriggling will mean that you miss their ears. 
  2. Warm the bottle up between your hands first to make sure the drops aren’t too cold. 
  3. Tilt their head gently to one side.
  4. Allow the correct amount of drops to fall into their ear. 
  5. Try to get your baby to lay still for a few minutes to let the drops take effect. 
  6. Wipe off any excess that runs out of the ear. 

Hydrogen Peroxide

Your pediatrician may also recommend diluted hydrogen peroxide as an alternative to ear drops.

If you’re making this solution up yourself, you’ll need to mix 50% hydrogen peroxide with 50% fresh water in a clean bottle.

Shake thoroughly to ensure it’s properly diluted, then use it in the same way as ear drops. This method is slightly gentler on your baby’s ears if the infection is minor. 

How To Prevent A Baby Ear Infection

baby ear smells like sour milk

Cleaning Techniques

One of the leading causes of ear infections in babies is the way that they’re cleaned. Many people try to use Q-tips to get the wax out or even the end of their fingers.

Anything that you put into your baby’s ear could have bacteria on there, which you’re transferring into their ear canal. 

Your Q-tip may also crush the earwax into the eardrum or to the side of the ear canal, making it uncomfortable for your baby and impacting their hearing and balance. 

NEVER put anything into your baby’s ear to clean them. 


Many baby ear infections are hangovers from viral illnesses, so they aren’t necessarily avoidable unless you avoid the virus. Unfortunately, this means that antibiotic drops probably won’t work. 

If you’ve tried drops to no avail, then speak to your pediatrician. They may be able to gently scrape away any infected wax to make your baby feel more comfortable and smelling fresher. 

Why Does Your Baby’s Ear Smell Like Vinegar?

baby ear smells like sour milk

Ears sweat. If the smell from your baby’s ears is intensified when it’s a warm day, it could be because they’re too hot. There are lots of tiny sweat glands behind your baby’s ears.

The vinegar-type smell could be caused by the sweat not being wiped away correctly. You should always make sure you wipe behind your baby’s ears thoroughly with a damp cloth – especially on hot days.

It’s a spot that’s often missed, but as long as you wash behind their ears, you should be able to avoid the pungent smell. 

Baby Earwax In Hot Weather

The hot weather is a bit of an enemy of your baby’s perfectly clean ears.

Damp earwax smells and could become watery and appear a darker, greenish color if left for too long. The problem is that when it solidifies later, it might cause a blockage. 

What To Do

Remove a few layers if it’s clear that your baby is too hot. This should stop the problem from becoming worse.

Never sit your baby in direct sunlight – always make sure they’re in the shade. 

When it’s a scorching day, you should make sure that the outer ear is completely clean at all times by using a damp (not wet) cloth. 

Baby Waterlogged

Although earwax does contribute to making your ears waterproof, it can’t remove every drop of water from the ear.

If your baby’s ear fills with water and isn’t dried correctly, the wax inside will start to give off a damp, musty smell – sort of like wet clothes that have been left out. 

What To Do

If you’re concerned that your baby’s ears are waterlogged, you should gently dry the outside of their ear with a soft towel. 

Your priority should be to get all of that water back out, even if that means tilting their head gently to the side to allow stray droplets to run out themselves naturally. 

Don’t put anything in your baby’s ear to try to dry it out – you’ll only make the problem worse. 

How To Prevent

Whether your baby is having a bath or is at the pool, you should always make sure that their ears don’t go below the waterline. 

If they do, dry their ears immediately with a towel to remove any excess water. It’s the damp wax that smells if it’s left to dry on its own.


Your baby’s ears could begin to smell because they have a fungal or viral infection. Don’t panic right away, as most minor infections can easily be cleared up using drops.

The key is always to make sure that your baby’s ears stay clean and dry, and you shouldn’t have any issues. 

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