Garlic Body Smell: Causes, Symptoms and Remedies

Not very long ago I was introduced to Italian cuisine and one of the first dishes I learnt to make was tuna spaghetti with tomato sauce and garlic. Never had it crossed my mind that eating even 2 cloves of sweet, cooked garlic could make me smell as bad as it did. Even worse, that I wouldn’t notice the smell myself and simply went about my life stinking and not knowing it. Because the odour was unbearable.

I smelled of putrid, unwashed, vinegar, garlic and ammonia and it was intense and overwhelming for those around me, but not for me. I am a perfectly healthy person with great hygiene and a generally pleasant body odour. Yet not long ago, I acquired quite the foul scent and did not know where it came from. I didn’t even know I smelled bad until my husband pointed it out to me. The smell initially came from my nose and, after a week, was emanating from every pore of my skin. When I asked my husband what I smelled like to him, he explained it was a strong ammonia or vinegar-like odour, truly unpleasant, at times reminiscent of food gone bad. Naturally, I was horrified.

Garlic smell

When I was a child I would eat garlic all the time and only experienced the normal garlic breath that lasted for a few hours. However, after eating tuna spaghetti for about 2 weeks in a row at lunch, I started smelling bad from the garlic, just did not know it. Looking back, the odour began in my nose. After a week or so of eating 2 or 3 cloves of garlic a day, my husband pointed out that there was a bad smell coming from my nose when I exhaled. Surprisingly, my mouth smelled just fine (so no garlic breath), probably because I was brushing my teeth regularly. Naturally, I did not know at the time that the garlic I had been eating was the culprit.

The first thing I suspected was a sinus infection. It was also summer and quite hot outside, so we were always in the car with the air conditioning on and the cold air did upset my sinuses at the time. After waiting it out for four days or so, I went to the doctor and was put on antibiotics as a preventive method. It was really strange that the smell wasn’t emanating from my mouth at all, but from my nose. Naturally, the antibiotics did nothing and I was afraid that maybe there was something wrong in my lungs.

As if things weren’t worrisome enough, in another week’s time, my husband pointed out there was quite an unpleasant smell emanating from my skin, all over my body. But I couldn’t smell anything. According to him, it was an ammonia smell, vinegary, acidic somehow. It was then that I decided to change my diet completely and only ate foods I knew were safe: fresh fruit, nuts, whole grains and leafy greens. And the smell slowly faded. Until I made tuna, tomato sauce and garlic spaghetti again and the smell returned. Only then I realized what was causing the odour: it was the garlic.

Garlic body odour

After doing some research on the topic I found out that garlic is one of those foods that can make you smell bad. The symptoms I experienced included:
1) Acidic, sour odour coming from the nose when exhaling air.
2) Strong ammonia-like body odour emanating from my skin pores.
3) Smell grew stronger when it was hot and I was sweating.
4) I physically could nor perceive the smell.
5) Did not have garlic breath.

How to get rid of bad body odour caused by eating too much garlic? This is only a matter of flushing out the garlic out of our system. Only after clearing out the problematic food will our body restore its normal odour. Here is a list of things you can do to get rid of the garlic smell faster:

1) Stop eating garlic. It goes without saying that we need to stop eating garlic, fresh, ground or other form.
2) Drink plenty of water. Our body uses water to flush out toxins and waste through the skin and kidneys.
3) Brush teeth after every meal, clean the tongue and use mouthwash for garlic breath.
4) Take a hot bath or shower to help open up the pores and encourage the body to clear the garlic from our system.
Sometimes, more than one shower a day is needed, especially after working out.
5) Try to improve body odor by eating alkaline foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.

The reason why garlic causes a bad skin odour is because of the way it is metabolized in our body. Garlic and other related vegetables are rich in organosulfur compounds, naturally occurring compounds that give them their characteristic odour. Most sulfur compounds in garlic are released when we crush and chew the cloves in our mouth, giving us garlic breath. But not allyl methyl sulfide. Following the digestion of garlic, this particular compound is released into the blood stream, from where it reaches our lungs.

Our body eliminates it with the help of our lungs and through the pores of our skin. In other words, eating significant amounts of garlic can have us exhale quite a pungent garlic aroma from our lungs (hence the smell of my nose) as well as give off a sour, vinegary, ammonia or garlic-like odour through the skin. It takes our body some time to metabolize this particular sulfur compound, so we might smell of garlic for a while after eating it. Also see 8 Side Effects of Eating Garlic.

Bad body odour

It is believed that certain foods and beverages can counteract the smelly effects of the pungent volatile compounds in garlic. These include:
1) Apples, pears, bananas and other foods that brown.
2) Lettuce, spinach, parsley, mushrooms.
3) Mint, peppermint and mint tea, green tea.
4) Lemons and lemon juice, cocoa.
5) Drinking coffee and chewing on coffee beans.
6) Drinking milk.
7) Chewing on cardamom, cloves, fennel or anise seeds.
But most important, avoid eating garlic.

It has been suggested that the enzymatic reaction known as (enzymatic) browning and attributed to polyphenol oxidase enzymes is what makes most of these foods great for bad body odour caused by garlic consumption. Milk is believed to help reduce garlic breath if it is consumed along with the garlic or soon after. Other acidic beverages such as lemon juice, green tea or coffee work by interacting with and neutralizing the effects of the organosulphur compounds in garlic.

Eating other problematic foods can contribute to bad body odour as well. Here are a few examples of foods that make you smell bad:
1) Onions, leeks and other related vegetables.
See 11 Side Effects of Eating Onions.
2) Eggs (in certain people).
3) Asparagus.
4) Vinegar and pickles.
5) Durian.
6) Too much fiber (causes fermentation and flatulence).
7) Foods that cause acid reflux such as coffee, alcohol, spicy foods and spices in general etc.
8) Smoking.
9) Eating too much red meat and animal products.
10) Too much dairy products, especially matured cheeses, whole milk etc.

Conclusion. Body odour is something we all care about very much as it has an incredible social impact. Aside from keeping to good hygiene, we must also learn to avoid certain foods and beverages and increase our intake of others if we want to enjoy a pleasant body odour because everything we eat contributes to the way we smell. I ate too much garlic and ended up smelling bad, so I now know that I need to avoid it despite its wonderful health benefits. There are many more foods that, just like garlic, can make some of us smell bad. We simply need to pay attention to the effects our dietary choices have and learn to eat better to improve our health in every aspect, body odour included.

24 Replies to “Garlic Body Smell: Causes, Symptoms and Remedies”

  1. It doesn’t surprise me that the odor got worse after the round of antibiotics. Bacteria helps you deal with toxins, and since you erradicated the bacteria from your body the toxins couldn’t be released as well as when you had the bacteria.

    • Well, I was releasing those byproducts even before the antibiotics. It was just that I kept eating garlic so the odour would still be present until I would have changed my diet to exclude the cause: garlic. If only I had known I was eating too much garlic and didn’t need that round of antibiotics. But I took them at my doctor’s advice. I guess the odor must have been pretty bad. Joking aside, I was lucky because the smell disappeared a few days after finishing my antibiotics, despite the fact that the antibiotics didn’t help with it. But I did notice that day 3 into my antibiotics my intestinal transit was like clockwork and kept being so for a couple of weeks afterwards. Overall, I am happy the experience ended well because I know what big of an impact a bad body odor and antibiotics can have.

  2. I don’t eat garlic but sometimes I eat ready made spaghetti sauce in jars. Overnight and in the morning I can smell my home as though there was a gas leak from a pipe, could be ammonia not sure. But not very pleasant. I thought it was my heater giving off a sulfur-like smell but realized that it was the garlic from prepared foods. It’s a good thing I take hot showers every day, it does help get rid of the smell.
    I smell the off-garlic in the bus when it is cramped with people and I just want to gag. I don’t think many took hot showers.
    Garlic should be illegal! I think fried onion is more tolerable.

    • Hot showers really help because garlic can make your skin smell bad all over. But if you eat too much, then the smell won’t go away easily because you actually sweat garlic. This was my experience at least. Because I have had such an unpleasant experience, I try to avoid eating it. If I ever crave a clove, I eat it only when I know I’ll be spending the day at home and won’t meet anybody. And you are right: fried onion is a lot better. When you cook it and it gets sweeter, it probably loses most of its pungent compounds, so no after-smell.

  3. I thought I was going crazy because I could smell a garlic smell coming off me sometimes (not daily but occasionally) as if it were on my chest and arms and everywhere. However my underarms didn’t smell bad, so I knew it wasn’t just bad perspiration. Now I looked this up and it makes sense because of the various foods I ate when I went out recently. Nothing a soapy shower couldnt get rid of though.

    • Unless you’re clueless like me and keep eating garlic. In my defense, my underarms didn’t smell either, just my skin, and that was what made it all the more confusing and had me guessing for some time.

  4. I’m surprised by the comments. I am hypertensive and been eating at least 3 cloves of raw garlic per day on the advice of my doctor. It indeed improves on my blood pressure control. But I never get anyone or myself including my wife to tell me that I smell badly or have a bad odour of any kind. Nor has anyone told me anything like that. I asked my wife time and again and she says I smell goo. So I believe I do not have any garlic related oduor. Could there be anything wrong with me? Someone out there help explain my situation. My wife says she only smells it it my excretions like urine when I go to the toilet.

    • Hello, Atika. There is nothing wrong with you. It’s not a rule that you have to smell like garlic if you eat it. It’s just something that happens to some of us. Some bodies just metabolize certain compounds in garlic differently, hence the garlic smell on the skin. For most people, eating garlic just makes their breath smell bad, but for others like me the skin too takes on a bad odor. We are all different and so we may respond differently to various foods. Some people get a really upset stomach after eating pineapple. Others get diarrhea after eating buttermilk (a sour, acidic milk). Others get a headache if they drink coffee or caffeinated beverages. I get bad smelling skin if I eat garlic. That’s just how we’re made. So while garlic appears to be good for you because you said it helps you with your blood pressure, it’s just not that good for me. And it’s ok. Wishing you lots of health.

  5. My 24 year old daughter has a strange smell that comes and goes. It has at times been totally repulsive but it baffles me. She eats very healthy and showers regularly and I am stumped. It is a musty or mothball smell not a sulfur or oniony underarm smell. She uses a lot of spice in her food and sometimes garlic. To me it seems to come from her entire body not her breath.

    She does not know she smells either. I know she will be crushed when she finds out others smell her. I have asked medical people and they keep saying it could be v. malodor but that is supposedly continuous.
    Any insight would be appreciated.

    • Hello, Andrea. I am confused to where the smell comes from. Is it an overall bad body odour or does it affect only certain areas? In any case, if she has been eating garlic, it is possible the smell is caused by this and it can be both a local or a generalized bad odour. Garlic makes me smell horribly, although I don’t smell a thing myself. There are several foods that can really make us smell bad and garlic is one of them. Eggs, fish, onions and even other more pungent herbs can cause bad body odour. Changing one’s diet completely and only eating safe foods that shouldn’t make one smell of anything (lots of fresh fruit and more bland vegetables like carrots or spinach, grains or chicken) can maybe help get rid of the bad body odour, wherever it may come from. Cheeses, pungent vegetables like onions, leek, garlic, chives, even cauliflower or cabbage, heavy meets and fatty foods, coffee etc. can slowly change the way we normally smell and lead to all sorts of bad odours. I would try excluding potentially problematic foods and then reintroduce them into my diet one by one to try and pinpoint the culprit, but this could take time. The truth is you’re never prepared to hear ‘you smell bad’, but telling your daughter the truth can maybe help her discover the cause faster. You should also stay in touch with your doctor in case there is a chance an infection is causing the bad smell, which is somewhat likely if the smell is localized and there are other symptoms. Hope things work out for the best. Wishing you both lots of health and hope to hear good news from you.

  6. So how much garlic is too much? I recently found this to be my odor problem too. I have been eating about 3 cloves per day also. Thanks!

    • Hi, Mike. If garlic is what is making you smell bad, then it will continue to do so as long as you eat it, no matter the quantity. Although the more you eat, the stronger the smell and the more long-lasting it is (I speak from experience here). And, dare I say, 3 cloves is quite a lot to eat every single day. It can really fuel the smell. I’ve found that giving up garlic for at least a week, drinking plenty of water and showering often helps reduce the smell and eventually makes it disappear, but if you eat it again, the body odour will most likely return. What I do is avoid garlic in general, but treat myself to some every once in a while if I really want to eat it (but make sure I don’t socialize very much two or three days afterwards). Hope this helps.

  7. My granddaughter, age 10 year old. Her armpit smells very strongly. Have tried lemon and other suggestions. Kindly advise.

    • Unfortunately, I can’t advise you based on the fact that her armpits smell very strongly. Have you tried going to a doctor? Because there are so many things that can cause bad body odour or smelly armpits. It can be stress, it can be a poor diet (foods like fish, garlic, onions, cheeses, eggs, alcohol, too much coffee can cause you to smell), hormonal changes (when children reach adolescence) etc. Some people stop smelling bad when they change their diet. Others are better with changing deodorants; the best are said to be deodorants with minerals or zinc (I use a mineral deodorant too). For some, it’s about the clothing. I have found that when I wear cotton, even though I sweat, my armpits don’t smell bad. But if I wear something made from synthetic fibers, then the clothes smell really bad, although I don’t. I have heard of people using an antibacterial wash or baking soda to keep their armpits dry and prevent excessive sweating. Anyway, my advice is to see a doctor and tell him or her every symptom: when it began, for how long has it been happening, does your granddaughter also sweat a lot, what does she eat (think about foods she eats more often), how often does she wash, what does she wash with, what type of clothing does she wear (is it cotton or something else) etc. Hope this helps.

  8. I’ve been consuming raw garlic for practically over 5 years that it seems to have become an addiction and I kid you not, I can consume an entire whole garlic on a daily basis in one setting. Not by itself of course, mixed in with other foods. I was strictly after the compound allicin in the beginning, but eventually desiring the garlic’s taste and potency. That has resulted in the unpleasant odor, which I could not detect, other than my bystanders. I do keep a healthy oral hygiene and apply lotions unto my skin. Although the amount of garlic I eat has become an issue for some time. I would certainly find another alternative natural raw remedy containing allicin, but there is none, right? I’m debating whether to give it up completely or greatly decrease my intake by a month? Garlic is a wonderful remedy to keep illnesses, flu, colds, you name it at bay! I may be mistaken, but don’t doubt it exceeds yearly flu shots. But it comes at a price, the odor and I speak from experience. Thanks for sharing your story Marius.
    Rudy

    • Hi, Rudy. Thank you for sharing your story with us too. Indeed, garlic is the source of allicin and numerous health benefits. But there are so many other natural compounds in food with immune-boosting action. Vitamin C and zinc are excellent for a strong immune system response and my personal secret to not catching a single cold year round. You can get vitamin C from kiwifruit, strawberries, red bell peppers and especially acerola cherry, camu camu and billygoat plum (kakadu plum) or supplements derived from these last three fruits. You can get zinc from pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and other nuts, seeds and whole grains, but also supplements. If you want to give up garlic or simply discontinue it for a while, you would surely benefit from a generous intake of both vitamin C and zinc to keep your immune system strong. I know garlic is absolutely delicious, but I also know that it can have side effects if you eat too much for too long. Acid reflux, heartburn, stomach upset, accentuated gastritis symptoms and digestive discomfort in general are potential side effects associated with eating too much and are much more unpleasant than the bad smell. Overall, if you decide eating garlic is the right thing to do for you and you feel good, then that’s great. Similarly, if you decide to stop eating garlic because you think it’s best for you, then that is great too. You have to do what’s best for yourself and only you know that better than anyone else. Wishing you lots of health.

  9. You have helped me alot with your experience lady! My cousin who works out with me was telling me the same thing, that I smell bad, but we thought it was the perfume I used. He also works with me at my job and said even when you are not sweating still the smell comes on and on! Up until today my dad, when he stood and prayed next to me, he told me son you smell bad. That is the cause of the garlic you eat to prepare for the bodybuilding competition and that was the shocking moment of my life! Because the whole 6 weeks of dieting I never smelled my self bad at all and I take a shower twice a day and brush my teeth after each meal, and changed my perfume but there was a smell straight away even after I showered. It took me 6 weeks of hard diet with chicken brest mixed with garlic so when I went through your experience I was certain and believed my cousin and my dad, because if 2 persons told me this that means behind them there are 20 more persons smelling it but never even said a thing to me. Either they felt shy or they don’t want me to feel bad.

    I would stop garlic and be wise in choosing my food in my diet program. Thanks a lot. Really and hope the best to all.
    Abdulrahman bastaki

    • I am happy to hear all is well and you have managed to get rid of the garlic body smell. As healthy as it may be, garlic can really cause a bad odor. And like you said, we don’t always smell it, but the people around us do. And most of them might be too shy to tell us because they don’t want to hurt our feelings. Luckily we can count on family to help us in all circumstances. If you would like to know more about other great sources of protein, you can read this article here. Also, whey protein is a great alternative for building muscle. You can read more about the benefits of whey protein here. Wishing you lots of health and best of luck with your bodybuilding competition.

  10. I think there’s no problem with garlic. 1-3 big cloves a day, chopped and let to rest for 4-5 min. One clove a day, or a half of a big garlic clove to boost immunity when you are feeling off. Don’t forget water if you don’t want it to be too concentrated. You know garlic destroys a lot of micro-organisms and even bigger things. All thanks to the garlic. So water is a good thing. They say 2 liters a day. Maybe I’ll come up to 1. It’s not good, so I’m trying to remember at least 1-1/2 liters of water a day and, if I’m lucky, 2-3 liters.

    • You are absolutely right, garlic is healthy and has quite impressive antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties. The thing is not everyone can eat it without smelling bad. And it’s not just bad breath; the skin, nose and sweat all give off a strong garlic or ammonia odor that can become unbearable for those around you. And this kind of affects your relationship with family, friends and people at work. Because, honestly, bad smells and even smells that are just strong are not pleasant and divert your attention from what you need to do. This is why I stopped eating garlic for some time. Because as healthy as it may be, the garlic smell gave me a big health scare and affected my relationships with other people.
      But your advice is nice. Indeed, one or a couple of cloves of fresh garlic a day can do wonders for you health. And you can also crush garlic and mix it with water to dilute its taste. This could make a great and simple garlic sauce for fries, roasted peppers or baked potatoes, for example.

      Also, it’s great you are trying to keep hydrated. I understand the struggle of maintaining a good fluid intake because I too find it hard to drink all the water I’m supposed to. Of course, you need to adapt you water intake to your individual requirements such as weight, level of physical activity, temperatures in the area you live etc. For example, a person weighing only 50 kilograms may only need to drink 1.6-2 liters of water a day, while a bigger person might need 3 liters of water a day. If it’s hot outside, you sweat a lot and risk becoming dehydrated, so you usually drink more water. Dehydration can cause fainting, low blood pressure and constipation which could also worsen hemorrhoids. So it’s quite important to drink water. What I do to maintain good hydration is alternate water with fruit juices, herbal teas, soups and foods with a high water content like watermelon.

  11. This is rather annoying, all of these people giving up garlic for vanity reasons. Eating garlic daily is recommended by MANY health experts. Telling someone to give it up is not good. Garlic is very very good for us. I am wondering if bathing and using vinegar helps. Vinegar doesn’t smell if you do this, I just don’t know if it would take smell away. Must look it up. KEEP EATING GARLIC! It’s very very good for you!

    • Well, Anon, most people only eat garlic occasionally anyway and in limited amounts (a clove or two) so the overall health impact is minimal and short lived.
      For some people, myself included, eating garlic causes a really bad body smell and bad breath and this alone can really affect your self esteem when you’re in the presence of others. What I mean to say is that you can end up feeling self-conscious and it can impact many aspects of your personal and work life. Mental health is just as important as physical health and if someone thinks it’s better for them to not eat garlic anymore if it will make them feel better about themselves (although this doesn’t mean they’ll never eat garlic again at some point), then that should be fine with the rest of us. There aren’t really any benefits in garlic that we can’t get from other foods, but without the bad, chemical, garlic body smell side effect.

      And if you stop to think about it, it’s not vanity. Garlic is one of those foods that comes with both benefits and side effects. And eating it every day or too often, even if it’s in small amounts, can lead to stomach problems or worsen existing stomach problems – think acid reflux, gastritis. In my opinion, when a food produces side effects, then maybe it’s time to consider alternatives. You CAN get the same benefits from multiple foods which is great because if you don’t respond well to one food, you can enjoy the same benefits from another. Also read 8 Side Effects of Eating Garlic.

      And, believe it or not, bathing doesn’t help get rid of the garlic smell emanating from the body (tried and tried, multiple showers a day). This is because the garlic smell emanates from all the pores of your skin as long as the chemicals in the garlic are still in your body and the odorous compounds in it even reach the lungs from where they are exhaled, further contributing to the bad smell. And vinegar is acidic so it might not be the best remedy for garlic body smell because it can damage the skin if used in excessive amounts or at high concentrations or if you have more sensitive skin.

      To conclude, yes, garlic is very good for you, but it can also be very bad for you. And if you choose not to eat it, know there are other just as healthy and even healthier foods that can provide the same benefits, but without the side effects.

    • Unfortunately there is no proof of this. On the contrary, to me and many others with acid reflux disease, eating garlic is the exact opposite causing stomach juices to rise into the esophagus and mouth, extreme heartburn, stomach pain and overall making us feel sick. Eating garlic is not bad for everyone, but it is bad for many people.

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