Sweat is usually odorless, but bacteria, hormones, certain foods, and some conditions can give it a bad smell. Smelling vinegar in your sweat may indicate a medical cause like diabetes or kidney disease.
Though your workout clothes might disagree, pure sweat is actually odorless.
But bacteria on the skin, hormones, compounds in certain foods, and other factors — most of them harmless — can cause your sweat to smell like vinegar or something else that may seem disagreeable to your senses.
In some cases, a pungent vinegar scent in your sweat may be due to an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Read on to learn more about 10 possible causes of sweat that smells like vinegar and what you can do to treat and prevent the underlying causes.
Sweating, or perspiration, is one of your body’s cooling mechanisms.
Sweat emerges through the skin from sweat glands. You have two types of sweat glands:
- Apocrine. This kind is found in areas with hair, such as armpits and groin, and releases a milkier type of sweat.
- Eccrine. These are located throughout the rest of your body and release a clear sweat.
Sweat is composed almost entirely of water but also contains:
Changes in sweat contents can cause sweat odor to change.
It’s not just your breath that can give away what you’ve eaten recently.
The way the body breaks down vinegar, onions, garlic, curry, cumin, and other spices and seasonings can leave compounds that come through your sweat, giving it a distinct odor.
Other foods, such as red meat, may also change the way your sweat smells. Dairy products, including milk and cheese, may do the same thing.
In general, foods containing many types of volatile compounds can change the odor of perspiration.
When you’re stressed, the apocrine glands are activated, and vinegar-scented stress sweat can let others know you’re feeling the pressure.
Fluctuations in your hormone levels due to puberty and older age, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can cause odor changes that come through in sweat.
A bacterial skin infection caused by corynebacteria can cause sweat to smell like vinegar or other strong scents.
These infections generally affect:
A bacterial infection of underarm hair follicles, trichomycosis isn’t contagious or life threatening.
But trichomycosis can be uncomfortable and affect the way your sweat smells. It’s one of several types of skin infections that can affect the way your sweat smells.
If your body and especially your feet sweat excessively, especially in conditions that shouldn’t trigger a lot of perspiration like quietly relaxing in cool weather, you may have hyperhidrosis.
It’s a treatable medical disorder that sometimes accompanies menopause and thyroid disease but may exist on its own. The abnormal amount of sweat produced can lead to a strong vinegar smell.
When diabetes isn’t properly managed, more glucose remains in the bloodstream rather than in cells where it can be used for energy.
Instead of glucose, the body then burns fat for energy, releasing metabolites, such as acetone, into sweat and your breath. Acetone odor is often perceived as sweet or fruity, but it can also carry a vinegar-like smell.
Changes in the smell of sweat and urine can indicate the presence of biomarkers for kidney disease as well as other conditions, such as cystic fibrosis and some forms of cancer.
A rare disorder, trimethylaminuria is a condition in which the body can’t break down the chemical trimethylamine, which is produced in the gut as bacteria breaks down certain foods during digestion.
As a result, trimethylamine builds up in the body and is released in sweat, urine, and vaginal fluids, giving it a strong vinegar or fishy smell.
While some serious causes of excessive or odorous sweat require medical attention to be resolved, you can also take steps on your own to reduce this issue.
This may seem obvious, but the easiest way to address extra smelly sweat is to wash it off.
Bathing daily (or more often if necessary) with an antibacterial soap may help reduce levels of bacteria on your skin that are reacting to sweat.
Wear antiperspirant or deodorant
Deodorant and antiperspirant are often discussed interchangeably, but they are two very different products:
- Deodorants simply mask body odor with a different, hopefully stronger scent.
- Antiperspirants actually block sweat pores from releasing sweat.
You may need to experiment with different products to find the ones that work best with your body chemistry.
Change your clothes
Sweat and the smell that goes with it can linger on clothes long after you’ve stopped perspiring.
If possible, have a change of clothes handy, especially shirts and tops, to change into as needed.
Strong body odor related to sweat, known as bromhidrosis, can affect your self-esteem and social life.
And while a noticeable sweat odor may sometimes be treated with some simple home remedies, there are cases when medical intervention is necessary.
If changes to your personal hygiene routine aren’t reducing the scent and it remains as strong and consistent as ever (or it’s growing more noticeable), talk with your doctor.
It’s especially important if you notice these other symptom, which may indicate a serious medical condition:
- changes in the smell of urine, which could indicate diabetes or kidney problems
- pus, blisters, or other changes on your skin, which could indicate a skin infection
- sudden weight loss or gain, which could suggest conditions ranging from diabetes to cancer
Certain conditions that bring on the vinegar sweats are treatable.
When a bacterial infection is causing a change in your sweat smell, antibiotics may be enough to fight the infection and restore your usual body chemistry.
Prescription antiperspirants and creams
If you’ve been diagnosed with hyperhidrosis, prescription-strength topical treatments may help.
Injections of botulinum toxin A (Botox) in the armpits can block nerve signals to your sweat glands, limiting their production of sweat.
For excess sweating from the armpit, a relatively new treatment called microwave thermolysis is available to actually destroy the sweat glands under the arms with directed beams of energy.
Only a small fraction of your body’s sweat glands are located in the armpits, so destroying them won’t affect your body’s natural cooling system.
Sometimes, changes in your diet or lifestyle can prevent or at least reduce the instances when your sweat smells like vinegar.
Consider these recommendations.
Change your diet
If you notice that certain foods trigger a vinegar-type smell in your sweat, consider avoiding them or eating them in smaller amounts.
Drink more water
The more water you drink, the more diluted your sweat becomes. This helps reduce the intensity of whatever may be causing your sweat to smell like vinegar or ammonia.
Choose the right clothes
Natural fabrics, such as cotton, allow your skin to breathe and can help keep your body cooler.
For exercise clothes, fabrics that wick moisture from the skin may help, too.
Because stress is such a common trigger for sweat, learn practices such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing to help you relax.
Managing your stress means having more control over perspiration.
It’s important to remember that the sense of smell is the most individualized and subjective of the five senses.
You probably think your sweat smell is worse or more noticeable than it is to anyone else. But the vinegar smell you detect in your sweat may not even register with others. It may not smell like vinegar but something else entirely — maybe even something pleasant.
Research suggests this variation may be explained by
While no one wants sweat that smells like vinegar, just know that if you pick up that scent from your own sweat, it’s probably caused by lifestyle choices that can be changed or conditions that can be treated.
Keep in mind that if home remedies don’t affect your sweat odor, your next step is to talk with your healthcare provider to see what tests can be done to figure out the cause and get started on treatment.