Sweat can smell like vinegar because of diseases such as diabetes, trichomycosis, and kidney disease, or because of hormone changes, certain foods, or skin infections.
Sweat is released by
Eccrine glands are found across the whole body and produce the most sweat. Sweat from eccrine glands generally does not smell.
Apocrine glands are found in the breasts, face, scalp, perineum, and the underarms. They produce less sweat than eccrine glands and open onto hair follicles rather than the skin. Sweat from apocrine glands can smell.
Apoeccrine glands are found in the underarms. The glands release sweat in the form of salt water.
Sweat helps the body stay cool by transferring heat from the body to the water in sweat on the skin. Heat then evaporates from the sweat and cools the body. Sweat also naturally moisturizes the skin and protects it against infection.
Sweat is mainly water and sodium chloride, but also
Possible cause of a vinegar odor in sweat may include:
A change in body odor can be a sign of kidney disease. In kidney disease, the kidneys may not be able to break down urea, which the body excretes through urine or sweat. This can have a vinegar-like smell.
According to The National Kidney Foundation, over 37 million American adults have kidney disease.
Diabetes is a condition that causes high blood sugar levels.
If a person does not control their diabetes, they can enter diabetic ketoacidosis. This is when the body burns fat too quickly for energy if the cells cannot get enough glucose to use.
When the body burns fat, it produces ketones, which make the blood more acidic. Metabolites such as acetone are also released into the sweat, which can smell like vinegar.
Trichomycosis, also called trichobacteriosis or trichomycosis axillaris, is a bacterial infection in underarm hair or other areas caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium.
A person may have yellow, black, or red nodules that stick to the hairs under the arms or around the genitals and buttocks.
There are two types of hyperhidrosis, primary focal hyperhidrosis and secondary hyperhidrosis.
Primary focal hyperhidrosis does not start from another health condition or medication. Focal means that the sweating affects multiple areas of the body. This can include the underarms, hands, feet, and forehead.
Secondary hyperhidrosis means that the cause of a person’s excessive sweating is an underlying health condition or is a side effect of medication.
When sweat mixes with bacteria on the skin, a person may notice it smells like vinegar.
Trimethylaminuria is a rare condition. A person with trimethylaminuria may notice their sweat has an unpleasant smell. This is because the body is unable to break down the chemical trimethylamine, which has a fish-like scent.
This can also cause urine or the breath to smell.
Other possible causes for sweat odor may include:
The body uses energy to digest food. This can increase body temperature, which may trigger sweating.
Additionally, a small 2006 study found that eating red meat had a negative effect on body odor, with participants rating the body odor of meat eaters as less attractive than those who ate a plant-based diet for two weeks.
A person may experience body odor after consuming dairy if they have a metabolic disorder. If the body cannot break down trimethylamine, sweat can smell like fish or vinegar.
Spices and seasonings
When a person eats garlic, cumin, or curry, the body produces sulfur-like compounds that can react with sweat and create odor.
Stress can cause body temperature to rise, which can activate the sweat glands.
According to the International Hyperhidrosis Society, the apocrine glands produce the most stress-induced sweat. Sweat from the apocrine glands has a stronger smell than from the eccrine glands, and so a person may notice their sweat smells stronger if they are stressed.
As hormones change during puberty, menopause, pregnancy, menstruation, and older age, sweat can smell different.
This is because hormones can make a person sweat more. For instance, decreasing estrogen levels during menopause may increase body temperature, which can cause sweating.
People can try the following to prevent sweat odor:
Deodorants and antiperspirants
Deodorants can mask body odors and help cover up sweat that smells like vinegar.
Changing clothes more frequently can control the amount of moisture that comes in contact with the skin. This can stop sweat from drying on the skin, mixing with bacteria, and producing odors.
A person can wash with antibacterial soap to reduce the amount of bacteria that may mix with sweat and cause odors. A person may also be able to reduce their risk of fungal skin infections by washing frequently.
Drinking more water
Staying hydrated can dilute sweat and make odors less noticeable.
A person’s diet can influence the smell of their sweat. If a person notices that eating certain spices, seasonings, or foods makes their sweat smell like vinegar, they can try reducing the amount of those foods they eat, or removing them from their diet completely.
Stress can cause an increase in sweating. By reducing the stressors in their life, a person may be able to also reduce the amount they sweat and any odors that occur because of sweating.
If a person notices their sweat smells like vinegar, they should look out for other symptoms of underlying conditions.
For example, other symptoms of diabetes, along with a change in body odor, include:
- dry or flushed skin
- nausea and vomiting
- breathing difficulties
- fruity odor on breath, sweat, or urine
Other symptoms of kidney disease include:
If a person develops a rash, signs of infection, or experiences unexplained weight loss or weight gain, they should contact a doctor for advice.
The International Hyperhidrosis Society recommends:
- keeping the skin dry
- washing regularly with antibacterial soap
- using antiperspirant to reduce sweating
- using deodorants to cover up odors
However, there are other treatments that can help a person who is concerned about the smell of their sweat. They include:
Microwave thermolysis uses microwave energy to destroy the sweat glands and stop them from working.
Research suggests that Botox injections can reduce sweating by 75%.
A person can try prescription antiperspirants if over-the-counter antiperspirants are not working for them.
Prescription antiperspirants can contain higher amounts of active ingredients such as metallic salts, including aluminum chloride hexahydrate.
A person should apply prescription antiperspirants before bed and follow a doctor’s instructions to prevent skin irritation.
If a person’s sweat smells like vinegar because of an infection such as trichomycosis, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection.
A person may also try antifungal skin creams if excessive sweating has caused a fungal skin infection, such as candidiasis.
A person’s sweat may smell like vinegar because of health conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, or skin infections. A person’s diet may also influence the way their sweat smells.
A person can decrease the smell of their sweat by keeping their skin and clothes dry, washing regularly with antibacterial soap, or using medications to treat underlying health conditions.
A person can also change their diet if they notice their sweat smells like vinegar when they eat particular foods.