What Causes a Sour Smell in Sweat?



Sweating is a natural process that helps regulate body temperature and eliminate toxins from the body. However, sometimes sweat can have an unpleasant odor, commonly described as sour or acidic. In this article, we will explore the various factors that can contribute to the development of a sour smell in sweat.

1. Understanding Sweat

Sweat is primarily composed of water, with some dissolved minerals and trace elements. It is produced by sweat glands located throughout the body. The two main types of sweat glands are eccrine glands, which are responsible for cooling the body, and apocrine glands, which are found in areas with dense hair follicles, such as the armpits and groin.

1.1 Eccrine Glands

Eccrine glands are the most numerous type of sweat gland in the human body. They are distributed all over the skin surface and secrete a watery sweat that helps regulate body temperature. This sweat is usually odorless.

1.2 Apocrine Glands

Apocrine glands are concentrated in areas with high hair follicle density, such as the armpits and groin. Unlike eccrine glands, apocrine glands produce a thicker sweat that contains fats and proteins. This sweat is odorless when first secreted but can develop an unpleasant smell when it interacts with bacteria on the skin surface.

2. Bacterial Breakdown

The interaction between sweat and bacteria on the skin is a major contributor to the development of an unpleasant odor. When sweat from apocrine glands is released onto the skin, bacteria present on the skin’s surface break down the proteins and fats in the sweat, resulting in the production of volatile compounds that emit a sour smell.

3. Diet and Body Odor

What we eat can also impact the scent of our sweat. Certain foods, such as garlic, onions, and spices, contain volatile compounds that can be released through sweat. These compounds can contribute to a sour or pungent smell in sweat.

4. Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes in the body can affect sweat production and composition, leading to changes in body odor. During puberty, for example, hormonal fluctuations can increase sweat production and activate apocrine glands, resulting in a stronger body odor.

5. Stress and Anxiety

Emotional stress and anxiety can trigger the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can affect sweat production. Stress sweat, which is produced by apocrine glands, tends to have a stronger odor compared to sweat produced during physical activity.

6. Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions can cause changes in body odor, including a sour smell in sweat. These conditions may include:

  • Trimethylaminuria: Also known as fish odor syndrome, this rare genetic disorder results in a strong, fishy odor in sweat, urine, and breath.
  • Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to the production of ketones, which can give sweat a fruity or sweet smell.
  • Liver or kidney disease: Impaired liver or kidney function can affect the body’s ability to eliminate toxins, leading to changes in body odor.


The sour smell in sweat can be attributed to various factors, including bacterial breakdown of sweat, diet, hormonal changes, stress, and certain medical conditions. Maintaining good hygiene, such as regular bathing and using antiperspirants or deodorants, can help manage body odor. If you experience persistent or severe changes in body odor, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and guidance.

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