Why Do My Clothes Smell?

Whether it’s the aroma of fresh flowers, a hot apple pie, or an old shoe, we live in a world of smells. Depending on the strength of your sniffer, every month may unofficially be “Olfactory Awareness Month.” With the spirit of smelling in mind, take a minute and click your body’s metaphorical “smell check” button and then read this quick summary on the science of body odors and the tips to combat the funky ones.

Smell Lemons

Sweat Glands and Bacteria
According to the fine folks over at the Mayo Clinic, the primary cause of body odor (not including odors that you pick up from the environment) stems from your body's temperature regulation system, specifically your sweat glands. Our bodies have two types of sweat glands: eccrine glands and apocrine glands, and each one contributes a bit differently to your aromatic aura. Eccrine glands are found over most of your body and mainly secrete water and salt. Apocrine glands on the other hand develop in areas abundant in hair follicles -- your scalp, armpits, groin etc. -- and secrete a fatty substance that bacteria love to eat. It’s this fatty sweat, secreted by your apocrine glands and broken down by bacteria found on your skin, which is so odorous. Needless to say, your clothes pick up this odor whenever they come in contact with your skin and can be tough to remove.

smelly socks

The amount of fatty sweat produced by the apocrine glands varies from person to person. However, the following three tips to combat odor caused by sweat can be used by nearly everyone.

Tip #1 – Soap and Silver Underwear Since most body odors are caused by the breakdown of sweat by bacteria, it makes sense to stunt the growth of those bacteria or remove them completely. Anti-bacterial bath soaps exist and can be used, provided they don’t irritate your skin, to slow down bacteria growth, stymieing the ravenous consumption of your fatty sweat. However, if you’re a particularly sweaty person down in the more delicate areas of the human body and anti-bacterial soap isn’t effective, you’ll be happy to know there is a silver lining…literally. Special underwear woven with silver (a natural antimicrobial agent that doesn’t allow bacteria to grow) can be found via a simple Google search and is currently being worn by members of the British military. If you have weapons grade odor problems, look into a pair of military grade underwear.

woman smearing perfume

Tip #2 – Pre-treat the Stink If you’ve ever put on a pair of clean clothes and were confused because there was still a foul odor attached, you either need to head to the store and look at washers, or try pretreating your most offensive garments with vinegar or white mouthwash. The antiseptic properties of each treatment should leave your clothes unharmed and smelling fresh post wash. Make sure to test the treatments out on old clothes first so you don’t accidently ruin something fancy.

Tip #3 – Kill It With Fire In non-technical terms, the sun is a giant ball of fire that emits light. Luckily for those with smelly clothes, sunlight contains ultraviolet radiation that kills bacteria. Therefore, if you’ve got a tough bacteria-based smell hanging around your clothes, hang them out to dry on a sunny day.

clothes drying in the sun

Ashley Spade enjoys spending her time keeping up with the latest innovations in home appliances, DIY beauty tips, and her law school studies.

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1 comment:

  1. Manjusha10:03 AM

    Try something like sterilizing solution (the stuff you use on babies' bottles) - that might work. Another option is to rinse them in a solution of spirit vinegar (the clear stuff) and then wash again with a biological washing powder


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