Sweat Smell Like Vinegar? Many Potential Causes + Multiple Solutions


We all know that sweat doesn’t usually have a floral fragrance and people don’t actually enjoy smelling sweat. But our body’s cooling system has a characteristic smell that we’re usually used to, so we don’t generally make a big deal out of it. But what if that odor changes? What if your usually neutral or even sweet smell starts smelling like vinegar or ammonia? Surely that cannot be good?

Your sweat can smell like vinegar because of your diet, hormones, poor hygiene, medications, opioids, or if you have diabetes. On the other hand, your sweat can smell like ammonia because of iregulation of protein breakdown after you exercise, or if you have liver or kidney problems.

In the rest of the article, we will explain in detail both the causes and potential solutions if your sweat smells like vinegar or ammonia. Keep reading to find out more!

The Chemistry Of Perspiration

Before we tackle the main question, we’ll briefly explain how perspiration works. Perspiration – or sweating – is the production of fluids secreted by the sweat glands located inside the skin of humans and other mammals. Although perspiration has different functions based on the species, in humans, its primary function is thermoregulation, i.e., it reduces the elevated temperature of our bodies. The cycle is different for everyone and depends on the age, gender, activities, etc. A daily maximum of sweat for a human adult is somewhere between 10 to 14 liters; children tend to sweat less than adults.

Since perspiration is practically water, it doesn’t have any specific odor. The odor of perspiration depends on your skin, your diet, and whether you have bacteria on your skin that creates acid that results in body odor.

What Causes Sweat To Smell Like Vinegar?

If your sweat starts smelling like vinegar, it is likely there may be a problem. It might not be anything serious, to be fair, but you’ll certainly want to look into it. As we’ve said, the sweat itself doesn’t smell – it’s just water. What smells are the bacteria that react with the sweat and then release a characteristic odor that we can smell on us or on others.

The smell of one’s perspiration is not something you usually enjoy smelling, but it’s good to know that it can be very helpful. Along with reducing the body temperature, sweat also releases toxins from our body. Those toxins may play a role in determining its odor. This can be a good diagnostic warning sign, as a sudden change of odor can indicate something happening inside our bodies.

If you know what the cause might be (e.g. diet, medications, opioids and similar substances, etc.), you probably needn’t worry. But, if the change is both sudden and surprising, you might want to monitor it. In any case, it is always recommended you consult the appropriate health professional when facing any sort of bodily abnormality.

So, what actually causes your sweat to smell like vinegar? We all know that vinegar doesn’t have a very pleasant fragrance and that it is an odor not natural to our bodies. Let’s dig in.

The most common cause is, of course, your diet. Some types of food (e.g. onions, garlic, cheese, etc.) can definitely cause significant changes in the smell of your perspiration. This is all due to the accumulation of a special strain of bacteria – Propionibacterium – that accumulates in our bodies (as they’re found in sebaceous glands) and then causes the change in fragrance. If this is the reason – and you should be able to identify it as such without issue – then you should be fine. Some other substances, like medications or hormones, can also contribute to this smell, as well as poor hygiene. If it’s the first and the latter, you’ll probably know that’s the cause, and if you’re going through some hormonal cycles, it isn’t usually that much of a problem, because it’s normal and natural.

But, if you actually cannot confirm any of the above-mentioned causes, you may have a more serious, underlying condition. Of course, you should always consult a licensed physician to determine the cause, but research has shown that one of the more common causes of frequent, inexplicable vinegary perspiration is diabetes, so it’s certainly not a sign you should ignore if you cannot determine the exact reason.

What Causes Your Sweat To Smell Like Ammonia?

Ammonia (NH3) is a compound of nitrogen (N) and hydrogen (H), one of the most frequently used compounds in the modern industry. Ammonia has a variety of applications in different segments of our lives, but it isn’t actually a household product. Also, ammonia has a very distinctive, foul odor, which means that you wouldn’t want to smell of ammonia. It can, however, happen so it is important to understand why.

Ammonia is the byproduct of protein metabolism in our bodies. This chemical reaction tends to happen when we exercise, which is an activity where we burn a lot of proteins after our supply of carbohydrates has been exhausted. This is why we tend to smell bad after exercising. Although never completely, we can reduce the side-effects of this chemical reaction by regulating our diet and drinking more liquid, which is a good thing to do if you’re exercising on a regular basis.

While this is the most common cause of ammonia-smelling sweat, some underlying medical conditions (like liver or kidney problems) can also result in this kind of odor. A consultation with the appropriate health professional can clear this up.

What Can You Do To Prevent Or Mask Strong Sweat Odors?

Aside from the above-mentioned actions, there are some general things you can do to prevent foul-smelling perspiration. Of the reasons we’ve already mentioned, we can only reiterate the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, regular liquid intake, and maintenance of general health – all of which contribute to the smell of your perspiration. For any serious concerns you may have, a call to a medical professional is likely in order.

As for the other reasons, we can name the following:

  • Good hygiene – this one was a fairly obvious one, right? Good hygiene is the essential thing you can do to prevent foul odor. Washing regularly will keep you clean, fresh and healthy, and will remove all the extra bacteria that accumulate on your skin and body that produce foul odors during sweating. So, wash on a daily basis and as far as foul-smelling perspiration is concerned – you’re good to go!

Using a natural body wash that has added, natural fragrance oils may not only help with preventing foul odors, but also contribute to a more pleasant fragrance should you begin to sweat.

  • Antiperspirants and deodorants – these compounds reduce sweating in general and give your body a fresh fragrance. Most mainstream deodorants and antiperspirants, however, are loaded with chemicals and even metals. Fortunately, there are more and more natural solutions coming to fruition that allow you to take a more natural, environmentally friendly, and health conscious route.

A couple I have found to work pretty well are basic Arm & Hammer deodorant and Jason’s deodorant sticks. Others, like Tom’s of Maine, have not tended to be as strong as I needed so it is important to select wisely and not give up if one does not quite work for you.

  • Genetics – this isn’t something you can actually intentionally use to your advantage, it’s just a biological fact – one that can go both ways. Since it can help you, we’ve decided to put it on this list. Genetics can hinder you in that you produce more perspiration than usual, but there are also some cases where you perspire normally, but the perspiration has no smell. Such people, although rare, have the benefit of not having to worry about smelling bad after some actions, such as exercise. This is a blessing, but again, it depends on your genes.
  • Chlorophyllin supplements – present since the 1950s, chlorophyllin is the water-soluble derivative of the more famous chlorophyll. This is a substance naturally found in plants and green vegetables. This is an interesting substance as it binds very well to different odor causing agents in/on your body, thus neutralizing their effects and reducing the smell in general. An ideal dosage of such supplements would be between 100 mg and 200 mg per day, since these doses control body odor very well. They are usually taken orally. This is one popular example of these.

In Conclusion

This covers our analysis of the topic for today. Foul-smelling perspiration can be a nuisance, but luckily, you can do several things to prevent it. In this article, we have analyzed the chemistry of perspiration, and typical problems such as vinegar – and ammonia – smelling perspiration. We’ve identified all the possible causes of these issues and have, both generally and more specifically, suggested several different ways on how to deal with this issue in the best possible way. If you have anything that worked for you – let us know in the comments below!

Sources:

https://www.jbc.org/content/99/3/781.full.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3535073/?_ga=2.123897231.406727412.1595199031-1351804370.1595199031

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6267001/

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