I’m pretty much a natural person, especially when it comes to fabrics. Although I don’t talk in terms of absolutes about myself because there are always exceptions. But I have made a strange observation when wearing polyester. It was strange enough that I had to ask, “Why?” This led to my investigation into the connection between body odor and artificial fabrics.
The final straw came when I attended a memorial service for a friend and is what actually drove me to create my own natural deodorant. My deodorant absolutely failed me. I was afraid to even raise my arms. It was terribly embarrassing.
Long ago, I had to give up all of the commercial deodorants because of all the fragrances and chemicals. I had tried just about every ‘natural’ deodorant on the market. They all worked – to a point. But they let me down that one day.
My husband and I tested my deodorant during a road trip across the Southernmost part of the United States in the middle of June. We saw temperatures as high as 110 degrees and were towing a 35 foot travel trailer. We got stuck more than once on the side of the road due to blow outs on the trailer. (I call this trip “The Road Trip From Hell” but that’s another story.)
Later, after I had created my own deodorant, I wore that same outfit again. And while the odor wasn’t as bad as before, it was still there. The clothing item in question is a very loosely woven jacket made of 100% polyester. That’s when I started wondering about the connection between body odor and artificial fabrics.
I also talked with a friend who reported that my deodorant had failed her on just one day. And when I asked, she said the shirt she had on was polyester. Since then we’ve both noticed this phenomenon. And based on my Google search, so have a lot of other people.
I found a number of articles on this topic and it clearly is a common enough phenomenon. This one article explains it nicely. Basically, all the articles point to the fact that the artificial fabrics actually worsen the situation. Sure, they “wick away” that moisture, but they provide an ideal environment for the odor-causing bacteria to grow.
Those synthetic fibers are designed with microscopic pores that pull sweat away from your body. The problem is that the sweat remains in the pores. With cotton, you may have the moisture next to your skin, but it actually dries faster rather than holding the moisture. This explains the primary reason why I prefer natural fabrics.
It’s worth noting that you can make the argument that it is no longer body odor since it resides solely within the fabric. So you could call it clothing odor? Or fabric odor?
Have you noticed a difference in odor based on the type of fabric you’re wearing?
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29 thoughts on “Body Odor and Artificial Fabrics”
I have a shirt that does that; I have no idea what it’s made of. However, when I ask others if they smell it, they don’t.
Mrs. Gray – Do you think they’re just being polite? 😉
Actually I think we all notice our own odors more than others do. Sounds like your shirt is not a natural fabric!
Thanks for stopping by!
Barbara, I have noticed this with synthetic fabrics – it just seems more difficult to remove smells from them. I’ve washed blouses and gotten out of the shower, put on deodorant and put on the blouse and still smell old odors. I hate that! I’m glad to know it wasn’t just me noticing this!
Colleen, from what I read when researching this, that smell is deep in the pores and will never, ever come out.
Wow- I thought I was crazy! I have 2 really pretty blouses, and everytime I have worn them I can smell b.o. I just bought a new blouse for a wedding in a few weeks and realized when I got home it was polyester and I got really disappointed….. Ugh, I guess I’ll have to return it. Does anyone know of a way to prevent the smell from happening? I really do t want to go shopping again…. I never have this problem except with polyester shirts.
Hi Kate. I’m not real sure if there’s a solution for the polyester issue. When I researched it, I believe they indicated that the bacteria stayed behind in the clothing and because of the way polyester fibers knit together, they don’t seem to wash out.
You might try extra soaking of the clothing. You could maybe soak w/ some vinegar in the water. But test that because vinegar reacts with some clothing dyes.
For me, I select cotton when possible because it’s more comfortable to me. But I understand buying polyester at times.
Hi Barbara, Pretty desperate son here. Triggered an offensive reaction from my Dad on the pungent smell coming from his synthetic-moisture wicking shirt. Seemingly, not communicating with me since this incident occurred over a week ago. I tried to tell him the same smell comes from me when wearing these synthetic shirts but he took it as a personal attack. Any advice is most welcome! Love my Dad and it’s hurtful not speaking with him. Should’ve never raised it up but thought he should know at the time. Thank you, Keith
Hi Keith! It’s always awkward to talk about things like body odor to someone. A lot of times people’s reactions are triggered by something else in their past – not by you.
Advice? I’m not sure I’m the one to be giving such advice. Perhaps printing an article or my post on the topic? OR, if you have a synthetic shirt of your own with that smell in it, perhaps you can take it to him to show him you’re serious? I’m not sure but you may need to heat the shirt a bit – say in the sun – to pull out the odor.
Hope this helps!
Thank you Barbara. Great advice! Just want to provide my Dad more empirical evidence that the smell is not about him but more about the synthetic shirt. If you have another source or reference I can reference indicating the smell derived from these nylon/polyester materials is a common and recognized occurrence…..much appreciated!
You can find a few links here: https://www.google.com/search?q=Body+Odor+and+Artificial+Fabrics
One good explanation is here: http://singlosport.com/blog/the-reason-synthetic-fabric-smells/
After you talk with your dad, let us know how it went!
Hi, I was searching for related topic regarding artificial fabrics and ran across your site.
I personally use salt bath to soak the offending piece of clothing in.I typically leave it in overnight and either hand wash or throw it in the washing machine. It has worked great
so far. (Salt solution kills the bacteria left on the fabric by action of osmosis. )
Thanks for the tip, Richard.
I work in a clothing store and my boss tells me that if you wash the garment prior to wearing it, it shouldn’t smell.
I havnt tried this though and stick to buying natural fabrics if possible.
Thanks for you comment, Suzy. I am able to report to you that this is absolutely not true. I know this because I was everything I buy before I wear it. I have to because there are often traces of air fresheners or other perfume odors on clothing that I buy. And I still have this problem with polyester.
I rarely buy polyester because it is very uncomfortable in the heat. I recently bought two tops that are 50% or more polyester. I keep trying to put them on, but, here in Texas, we are in the dog days of Summer. I just can’t wear them!
I have a nice-looking and comfortable, loose-woven 100% polyester shirt. Reading comments here, it looks like a lot of time and money to keep using this shirt. I Fabrezed it and that lasted for the next 2 washings. ..Now back to smelly. I already use borax in my shirt wash, too. Have a simple solution? (throw it away lol)
Sadly, I have no answers for this issue. I would not even use Febreze, but that’s a personal issue because it is full of fragrances. Have you tried a soak in vinegar? Not sure it will help, but it’s worth a shot, right?
I try to stay away from polyester because I find it too uncomfortable when the temp and the humidity both approach 100 here in South Texas.
Let us know if you find something that works!
I spray unscented or scented Febreze on my shirts and let it sit for several minutes before I wash the them. I must mention that for serious odors a post wash spray may be required. In my experience, I have found that Borax is not as effective on 100% polyester as it is on other materials. I hope this helps.
When I was in high school in the early 70’s, school uniform manufacturers began making blouses from polyester instead of cotton and that’s when my body odor problems began. The issue continued after I later joined the military and uniform makers switched from cotton blouses and fatigues to synthetics. So for over 40 years I’ve been as faithful to plant and animal based fibers as possible. However I’m noticing an unfortunate trend of online retailers not listing fiber content in descriptions of their clothing and have been writing them asking them not to omit this information.
Anyway I’m always comforted that I’m not alone – my mother always used to tell me it was all in my head but it wasn’t. I long ago found my sweet spot anti-odor deodorant ingredient – zinc oxide – in NOW’s stick deodorant but the residue can be a problem and while in Singapore a few years back discovered a clean weekly wipe on that uses io-Lactobacillus: one swipe lasts me at least five days. These are useful because affordable all-natural fiber brassieres that fit properly are hard to find. Anyway just wanted to say thanks:-)
Renee, I agree with you on the plant & animal based fibers. I have always found the synthetics to be uncomfortable because they don’t absorb moisture; as well as holding in odors.
I have never heard of the wipes that you are referring to. I make and sell a deodorant which actually inhibits the bacteria growth that causes the odors. It’s available here: Mariposa Naturals Deodorant.
I would stay away from products like Febreze – like piling on one petrochemical product that may wreak havoc on hormonal activity on top of another. Some things are hard to avoid but this is one we can avoid putting next to our skin, I think. Sometimes I think we’re part of the brigade of canaries in the mine…
Hi Renee. I totally agree with you both about the Febreze and about being part of the brigade of canaries. Unfortunately, not enough people are listening.
I bought a new coral fleece (100% polyester) blanket. It had no smell but I washed it as I do all new things before use. Dried it on the line outside in the shade. While still damp it had no smell. Once completely dry, when I was getting it off the line I noticed it had a horrible smell. All over, every square inch! Washed it again, several times, using different washing products, but every time, same result. Bought a piece of the same material, did the same thing and got the same result. I will never buy polyester again. In my case it just be the material and has nothing to do with body odour.
That doesn’t sound good. I have not had that experience, but I don’t own much in fleece, or polyester. I really prefer the feel of natural fabrics better. Wonder if you could return the blanket? It sounds defective to me.
We have tried all the natural deodorants as well and have resorted to making our own with Bentonite clay, refined coconut oil, aloe vera, vitamin E, baking soda and lemongrass/tea tree oils.
It works well most days, even in the summer.
I am used to the natural body odor after a long day at work and it doesn’t bother me.
But when I wear a poly /sheer shirt I can smell myself before noon. That bothers me…
Ive changed up my wardrobe to stick to hemp and natural cottons which are MUCH more comfortable.
I have found if I wash all of my “smelly parts” with straight hemp castile soap at the end of my shower I come out much fresher.
Thanks for visiting, Jason. As far as polyester goes, I refuse to even buy it anymore. I find it very uncomfortable in the heat. And living in South Texas that means most of the year. Kudos to you for finding a solution that works!
Wow!! Glad to know its not just me. I was so self conscious for years.
I know what you mean, Craig. This was a surprise to me, but also good to know!
I’m also having this problem with gym clothes. However, I’m commenting on the remarks about febreeze and it being a ‘petroproduct.’ Fortunately febreeze is not a perolueum distillate or byproduct it is completely natural and made from corn. The Oder eliminating chemical extracted from the corn has actually been used for years in baked goods. Corn is a grain after all not a vegetable I.e. Germ, hull, endosperm. I forgot the name of chemical though.
The bad news I got this information from my pulmonologist who said that the Oder eliminating chemical in febreeze causes a non-allergic reaction of some kind in 2/3rds of the population. This could be non-allergic rhinitis or sinusitis like me or bronchitis,asthma or dermatitis. But it will still be non-allergic meaning the symptoms won’t be mediated by an antibody since the chemical is not a protein and you can only be allergic to proteins.
Chris, You’re likely right about the primary ingredient in Febreze, but there’s more to the story. When it was first introduced, it had no fragrance to it. But it didn’t sell until they included fragrance along with the main ingredient. It’s those fragrances that are man-made from petrochemicals. So there are petrochemicals in the finished product.