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What are the Most Common Causes of Underarm Odor?

By Kelly Ferguson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Many people struggle to eliminate offensive underarm odor because the underlying cause of the odor is not known. Isolating what leads to underarm odor makes it possible to treat the condition. Some of the most common causes of underarm odor are bacteria and diet or metabolism imbalances. Some people who have dealt with the problem of underarm odor before also recommend trying a detoxification program to rid the body of toxins that may be causing the odor.

It is a common misconception that excessive amounts of sweat cause underarm odor, but sweat by itself usually has little to no detectable smell. The smell is caused by the interaction between sweat and bacteria often found in the underarm area. When the sweat is excreted through the armpits, it is broken down and then eaten by bacteria, which let out an unpleasant smelling chemical. Bathing on a regular basis helps kill or remove the bacteria, but some may be left behind. Antiperspirants can be used to reduce the amount of sweat released and therefore reduce the smelly byproduct of the bacteria.

Sometimes antiperspirants are not enough to reduce the amount of sweat produced by some individuals. Extra strength antiperspirants are available over the counter to provide a little extra help in dealing with the problem. Prescription-strength antiperspirants and even removal of some of the sweat glands in the armpit may be options provided by a doctor. Most antiperspirants offer a deodorant built in, which attempts to mask the odor caused by the bacteria. These are only effective when covering up mild smells, and only if the area is kept clean and mostly free from bacteria in the first place.

Some metabolism and dietary imbalances may lead to many kinds of body odor, including underarm odor. Some people are not able to digest certain foods or food groups correctly, and produce an unpleasant smell when attempting to eat and digest the food. Cutting out some of these foods may reduce the smell generated.

Some body odor is thought to be caused by the buildup of toxins in the body. If hygiene and diet are under control and the underarm odor persists, it may be worth considering trying to detoxify the body. The simplest and safest way to do this is by drinking lots of water. Water is thought to naturally cleanse the body of toxins and gently remove them, which may help some people eliminate toxins that can cause unpleasant underarm odor.

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Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On Aug 28, 2013

@burcinc-- I think you should see your doctor for a check-up. Some diseases can cause body odor, such as problems with the kidneys or diabetes.

I don't want to scare you but I also had a weird vinegar-like underarm body odor before I was diagnosed with diabetes. After I was diagnosed and put on insulin, the odor slowly disappeared.

This might not be the cause of your odor, but it's a good idea to get checked out anyway.

By burcinc — On Aug 27, 2013

My underarms have been smelling like rotten apples for the past one month. I've tried everything and the armpit odor just doesn't go away. What might be the cause?

By serenesurface — On Aug 27, 2013

I've noticed that foods with onion and spices give me bad underarm odor. The day after I have spicy food, I smell horrible. I do pay attention to hygiene, I shower every day and wear deodorant. But there is something about spicy foods and onion that make my sweat smell very bad.

When I don't eat spicy foods, I don't have much odor.

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