What Causes a Smelly Penis and How Is It Treated?

Medically reviewed by Daniel Murrell, MD on December 14, 2017Written by Tim Jewell

Is this cause for concern?

It isn’t unusual for your penis to have an odor. But if you feel like the scent has changed or grown stronger, it may be a sign of an underlying condition.

Most conditions aren’t serious and can be easily treated. For example, men who are uncircumcised may develop skin cell buildup underneath their foreskin. This is often the result of poor hygiene and can lead to infection.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause an odor.

Keep reading to learn more about what may be causing your symptoms, other symptoms to watch for, and how you can find relief.

1. Smegma

Smegma refers to a buildup of moisture, oils, and skin cells around the shaft of the penis. It’s much more common under the foreskin if you’re uncircumcised.

The area under your foreskin normally needs lubrication from this mixture. When too much smegma builds up — because you sweat a lot or don’t wash your penis regularly — it can create smelly white chunks that can cause bacteria to grow.

If left untreated, your penis can become inflamed or infected.

What you can do

To clean smegma from your penis:

  1. Pull back (retract) your foreskin.
  2. Wash your penis with soap and water.
  3. Rinse your penis.
  4. Pat the penis dry. Don’t rub.
  5. Once smegma has been cleaned, return your foreskin back over your penis.

Once smegma has been washed away, the smell should disappear. Repeat these steps once a day if smegma persists.

See your doctor if you notice the following symptoms:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • irritation
  • foreskin won’t pull back

2. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

UTIs occur when part of your urinary tract becomes infected by bacteria or a virus.

Infection is often caused by:

If you develop a UTI, your penis may take on a fishy odor.

Other symptoms include:

  • a frequent need to pee, even if you don’t pass much urine when you go
  • a burning sensation when you pee
  • cloudy or pink urine

You may be more likely to develop a UTI if you’re uncircumcised. UTIs aren’t always serious, but if untreated, they can lead to kidney infections.

What you can do

If you suspect a UTI, see your doctor. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as phenazopyridine (Azo), may help relieve pain and keep the infection under control until your appointment.

Once a UTI has been diagnosed, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for the infection. Common options include:

If you get UTIs often, your doctor may recommend taking low doses of antibiotics over several months.

3. Yeast infection

Yeast infections (sometimes called thrush) happen when Candida fungus on your penis grows out of control. The fungus overgrowth can give your penis a “moldy” smell.

Other symptoms may include:

  • redness or irritation
  • itching or burning
  • areas of white, chunky material
  • abnormally moist, white, or shiny penis skin

Yeast infections can be caused by not washing your penis enough, especially if you’re uncircumcised. They can also spread through sex with a female partner who has a yeast infection.

If left untreated, yeast infections can cause inflammation or lead to further infection.

What you can do

If you suspect a yeast infection, see your doctor. They’ll prescribe a medication to help clear the fungal infection.

Common options include:

Some of these medications are also available over the counter.

4. Balanitis

Balanitis occurs when the head of your penis gets inflamed. If the foreskin is inflamed as well, it is called balanoposthitis.

This can result from:

  • having unprotected sex
  • poor hygiene
  • smegma buildup
  • scented soaps or body washes
  • infection
  • skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema

Many of these causes can make your penis smell. Other symptoms include:

  • redness
  • itching and irritation
  • swelling
  • fluid buildup under the foreskin
  • burning sensation when you pee

You’re more likely to develop balanitis if you’re uncircumcised. If left untreated, balanitis can cause your foreskin to get tight and lose its ability to retract. This is known as phimosis.

What you can do

Taking a bath in Epsom salt can help soothe any pain or inflammation.

If your symptoms last more than a day or two, see your doctor. They can diagnose the underlying cause and develop a treatment plan suited to your needs.

Common options include:

  • antibiotics for an infection, such as bacitracin/polymyxin (Polysporin)
  • ointment or cream for irritation, such as hydrocortisone (Cortaid)
  • antifungal cream for fungal infections, such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin)

5. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s spread through contact with the vagina, anus, or mouth of someone who has the infection. It can affect your penis, as well as your rectum and throat.

Gonorrhea doesn’t always cause symptoms. If symptoms are present, you may notice an odor or experience:

  • a burning sensation when you pee
  • green, yellow, or white discharge from your penis
  • soreness, bleeding, or itching around your genitals or anus
  • pain while pooping

What you can do

If you think you have gonorrhea, see your doctor right away. After making a diagnosis, your doctor will likely prescribe an injection of ceftriaxone (Rocephin) along with an oral medication, such as azithromycin (Zithromax) or doxycycline (Monodox).

A typical recovery after treatment takes seven days. You can still spread the infection during this time, so you should avoid having sex until you finish treatment.

6. Chlamydia

Chlamydia is another STI. It’s spread by having vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who’s already infected.

Chlamydia doesn’t always cause symptoms. If symptoms are present, you may notice an odor or experience:

  • a burning sensation when you pee
  • abnormal discharge
  • testicle pain or swelling

If left untreated, chlamydia can cause long-term reproductive problems for you and your partners.

What you can do

If you think you have chlamydia, see your doctor right away. After making a diagnosis, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to fight the infection.

Common options include:

A typical recovery after treatment takes seven days. You can still spread the infection during this time, so avoid having sex until you finish treatment.

7. Non-gonococcal urethritis

Non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) happens when your urethra — where urine exits your body — gets inflamed. It’s called “non-gonococcal” because it is caused by something other than gonorrhea.

It may be caused by bacteria and, rarely, viruses spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. One of the most common is chlamydia, but other organisms can cause NGU as well.

Common symptoms include:

  • soreness or irritation on the tip of your penis
  • burning sensation when you pee
  • cloudy, pale, sometimes smelly discharge from your penis

If left untreated, an NGU infection can spread to your testicle or prostate gland. This may lead to infertility.

What you can do

If you suspect NGU, see your doctor. After a diagnosis is made, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection.

Common options include azithromycin (Zithromax) and doxycycline (Monodox). A typical recovery after treatment takes seven days. You can spread the infection during this time, so avoid having sex until treatment is complete.

Find relief and prevent recurrence

You may be able to ease your symptoms and prevent recurrence by keeping the following tips in mind:

  1. If you’re uncircumcised, pull your foreskin back when you pee. This keeps urine from getting underneath and causing irritation.
  2. Bathe regularly. If you’re uncircumcised, make sure you wash underneath your foreskin to prevent buildup of dirt or bacteria.
  3. Pat your penis dry. Don’t rub your penis dry, as this can irritate the skin. Make sure you pat the skin under your foreskin dry, too.
  4. Wear loose, cotton underwear. This type of underwear helps your groin area breathe so that sweat, bacteria, and other substances don’t build up and cause odors or infections.
  5. Trim your pubic hair. Long pubic hair can hold in moisture, dirt, and bacteria. Keep your pubic hair short, but don’t shave it completely off.
  6. Wear condoms every time you have sex. This can prevent the spread of STIs and other substances that can cause irritation or infections.
  7. Don’t have sex with someone who has symptoms of an STI. Be cautious before you have sex with someone who has a rash, pain when peeing, discharge, or other abnormal symptoms.
  8. Clean your penis after you have sex. This helps remove bacteria and irritants from your penis.
  9. Use water-based lube. Don’t use spit or oil-based lubes, which can introduce bacteria to your penis.

When to see your doctor

Practicing good hygiene is usually all that it takes to clear up an unusual odor. But if the scent hasn’t faded in a day or two, make an appointment to see your doctor.

You should also see your doctor right away if you experience:

  • buildup of white chunks around your penis
  • rash around your penis, genital area, anus, or thighs
  • burning or pain when you pee
  • abnormal discharge
  • itching or irritation
  • redness or swelling
CMS Id: 139546