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8 Reasons You Still Smell Bad After Taking a Shower, According to Experts

Sometimes even a good scrub doesn't do the trick. Here's why.

When it comes to personal hygiene, cause and effect are usually pretty clear. If you fail to brush and floss your teeth, you may end up with a mouth full of cavities—and maybe even dementia, down the road. Failing to wash your hands properly can make you sick. And if you skip showering for, say, a month, you won't smell so good.

But some scenarios seem to throw the whole "cause and effect" thing out the window—perhaps never so much so as when you take a long, invigorating shower and yet somehow still smell bad after toweling off. How is this possible? Read on for seven reasons you might still be dealing with body odor, even when you just stepped out of the shower.

READ THIS NEXT: What Happens If You Don't Wash Your Hair for a Week, According to Doctors.

You're not scrubbing well enough.

Man taking a shower

First things first: Are you cleaning yourself thoroughly? "The proper way to wash yourself is with a scrubbing aid, such as a sponge or cloth," advises Max Shein, the founder of Social Citizen, a company that produces sweat-proof clothing. "Antibacterial soap also helps kill bacteria on your skin so that you exit the shower without lingering body odor," he tells Best Life.

You're not using a fresh towel.

Set of Teal Towels
New Africa / Shutterstock

How often do you wash your towels? You might want to pop a load of laundry in now, if they're overdue for a wash and tumble dry. Shein points out that using a clean towel after you shower is a must, because "your towel might also trap body odor after multiple uses."

You ate something with a strong odor.

Garlic cloves on a wooden board.

All the scrubbing and shampooing in the world may not be enough to banish body odor if it's caused by something you ate. "Certain foods, such as garlic, onions, and spicy foods, can cause body odor that persists even after taking a shower," warns Mark Lewis, a California-based health expert and contributor to

In fact, a hot shower can exacerbate certain odors, Justin Neubrander, a physician assistant at the Fredheim Lifestyle Center in Norway, tells Best Life. "Eating large doses of garlic can cause it to come through the skin pores," he explains. "So a hot shower can cause the excretion of these compounds."

READ THIS NEXT: Never Start a Shower If You Haven't Done This First, CDC Says.

You ate something that can cause a strong odor.

Person eating grilled broccoli.

Garlic and onions are well-known for their strong scent, but other foods that lead to body odor aren't as obvious. Harvard Health writes that broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, all members of the cruciferous vegetable family, produce gas that may impact your body odor.

Their experts also note that a rare condition known as trimethylaminuria can cause some people to smell like fish after a seafood meal.

Health and fitness blogger, and former pro-athlete, Michael Kummer points out that processed foods, alcohol, and some grains can also cause body odor.

You didn't clean out your pores.

Woman using sponge in the shower.

Your pores can be a major source of body odor, and they don't always get an adequate cleaning, Neubrander says. "Despite a superficial scrub with soap, removing compounds and organisms on the surface of the skin, the pores themselves are not easily washed clean and emptied," he explains.

Neubrander recommends using warm water to open the pores, as well as a washcloth "to provide extra friction for scraping away both the surface debris [and] dead skin cells. Extra attention can, and should, be given to areas that tend to have an odor (axillary and pubic areas)."

You're sweating more than usual.

Woman feeling nervous and sweating.

Maybe it's the anxiety you're feeling about a big presentation that's due first thing in the morning, or perhaps your subway ride to work tends to be on the stuffy side. Whatever is making you sweat, it can make you smell bad no matter how clean you are.

However, it's not just your perspiration that causes body odor. "When we sweat, natural bacteria on our skin breaks down the perspiration into thioalcohols, [so] the body odor we notice is thanks to bacteria interacting with our sweat," explains Shein. "Warm, wet and dark areas of the body are most likely to capture smells as they are ideal for bacteria, including the underarms."

While addressing specific situations may be in order (de-stressing with yoga and meditation, for example, or avoiding crowded, rush-hour train rides), it's still important that you wash properly when you shower.

You have a medical condition.

Woman sitting in a doctor's office talking with physician.

Troublesome body odor may have nothing to do with how thoroughly you wash yourself or how frequently you shower; certain medical conditions can cause you to smell bad. "Several [of these conditions] are just from our breath," advises Neubrander, such as tonsillitis, gingivitis, and sinusitis.

He cites diabetes as potentially causing changes in how your breath and sweat smells, as well as any type of infection. And odor-causing infections can pop up in unlikely places—your belly button, for instance, is crawling with bacteria.

Kummer notes that, "Medical conditions that can influence body odor include diabetes, gout, menopause, an overactive thyroid gland, liver disease and kidney disease, to name a few."

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You're a smoker.

Burning cigarette in ashtray.

It's not hard to find a reason to quit smoking. The habit increases your risk of multiple diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here's another reason, however: Smoking can make you smell bad, no matter how much you try to scrub the scent away. "Cigarette smoke deposits a carcinogenic residue on everything it touches, including hair, skin and mouth," warns Quit and Stay Quit Monday (QSQM), a tobacco cessation tool designed by The Monday Campaigns organization. They also note that nicotine use makes people sweat more, and makes their sweat smell worse.

The solution is straightforward. "Quit smoking," advises QSQM. "Your body will smell better in no time."

Luisa Colón
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read more
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