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Sweat Smells Like Vinegar: What's the Cause?

Man in the shower with a bad smell in his armpits

By Dennis Madden

Our bodies are complex. There's so much going on at any one time it can be easy to forget that almost every odor, sound and fluid that comes out of it likely has a purpose or is part of a message to be decoded. Odor, for example, can tell us a lot about what's going on both on the inside and microscopically on the surface. What if you start to notice that your sweat smells like vinegar? Strange as it is, it's not entirely rare. What does it mean and what can you do about it?

What Causes Changes in Sweat Odor?

There are a few common things that can change your body odor including what you eat, skin pH (acidity), or bacteria population. If your sweat smells like vinegar, it could be as simple as something you ate. Foods are loaded with up to hundreds of volatile organic compounds that, in addition to contributing to sharp and pungent flavor profiles (think garlic, onions, cheese, etc.) can make their way out through your sweat where they alter your body odor.

A weak vinegar smell could be associated with a change in natural hormone cycles or just changes in lifestyle in general. A bacteria called propionibacterium, which is found in sebaceous glands next to sweat ducts, can break down other compounds contributing to the odor coming off of your skin, according to a study published by Nature Reviews Microbiology.

How Does My Health Fit Into This?

If you suddenly notice a vinegar smell or if you've always had a little extra punch to your BO, you may want to see your doctor. With a clean bill of health, the next likely culprit is your diet. If it happens at seemingly random intervals, try to recall what you had to eat leading up to your sweat and consider avoiding those foods when it's time to make your best impression. As always, a good antiperspirant is a great way to stay one step ahead of any kind of body odor.

This article was brought to you by Colgate-Palmolive Company, the makers of Speed Stick® products. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of the Colgate-Palmolive Company.