How I Combat Stink (and Stress Sweat)

Feb 27, 2024

It’s happened to all of us: You’re walking into a meeting and you catch a whiff of something. A slight odor. A bad smell. And you wonder, “Is that me?” You want to surreptitiously check that that unsavory aroma isn’t you, but you can’t do that here. So you just keep your arms at your side, try to suppress the panic, and run to the rest room immediately upon walking out of the meeting.

And yes, sadly, that odor was probably you. Maybe you re-wore this blouse one too many times. Maybe your blazer needs a trip to the cleaner. Or maybe it was a stressful morning and the panic got to your sweat glands. Whatever the reason, no one wants to smell. So here are some tips and tricks I employ to keep things smelling fresh.

Acne Soap // While I long ago gave up using harsh cleansers on my fact, my underarms are another matter. Panoxyl and other acne face washes kill bacteria, which is what makes sweat stink. So scrubbing your underarms helps eliminate the smell. This is especially helpful if you use natural deodorants, which often don’t contain the chemicals that regulate sweat smell.

Antiperspirant v. Deodorant // Antiperspirant controls sweat and odor. Deodorant just controls odor. Choose your weapons wisely. I wear both, but not at the same time, depending on the kind of day I have. Court hearings, stressful legislative days, etc. require antiperspirant. Regular days only need deodorant.

The deodorant I like best is Lume. Their formulas have no baking soda, no aluminum, and don’t irritate my skin. The clean tangerine stick is my favorite option. It’s light, wearable, and does a good job of keeping the stink at bay. You can also apply it to other parts of your body. For antiperspirant, the go-to is CertainDri. The 1980s didn’t get much right, but they understood how to keep you from sweating through your clothes.

Detergent // What you use to wash your clothes matters if you struggle with sweat. No-Naste detergent is designed for workout clothes, but I also use it on washable work tops. It lifts the sweat stains that cause the odor to linger. Pro-tip: spritz a little Oxi-Clean stain remover on the clothes to really lift the smell out. For really bad odors, Lysol makes a laundry additive that can get any smell out of your washable items, even a dog bed.

Don’t want to buy fancy products? Diluting vodka with water to create a spray can have the same effect.

Pit Pads // Lastly, if the sweat is really bad, you may consider using a physical barrier to protect your clothes and hold smell at bay. One of my first jobs was in the costume department at my university where we sewed pit pads into all of the garments to keep them fresh. Now, you can buy disposable ones online that stick into the sleeves of your outfits. If you have some laying around, I’m told nursing breast pads also work.

For Emergencies // So what do you do if you’re already at work and you notice a smell? Pouring Febreeze on it just creates a different smell. It helps, but it’s not a solution. I prefer to use hand sanitizer. I go into the bathroom with a bottle of hand sanitizer and “wash” my underarms to stop the source of the problem. Then, I apply some of the sanitizer to the garment (if I know it won’t ruin it). Give it a couple of minutes to evaporate and dry a bit before putting the garment back on. This procedure works better than most.

So what do you do to keep yourself (and your clothes) smelling fresh? Leave your best tips in the comments.

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Beauty, Posts, Skincare

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  1. Sarah says:

    Vodka! I bring a tiny spray bottle with me when I travel for work and use it on blazers, etc that I need to repeat on the trip. If I worked in an office, I’d keep one in my desk for those mid-day scares (a new take on the bottle of liquor in the drawer?)

    • Katie says:

      I keep a small spray bottle of rubbing alcohol with me when I travel to fend off any smells. But the vodka makes more sense now lol.

  2. Audrey says:

    Hand sanitizer is a very good mood in the emergency scenarios. I’ve also used it on my feet if my dress shoes have made me a little too sweaty in a hard day. The smallest kind of panty liner has worked for me as a substitute pit pad as well. That way you don’t have to buy a second type of thing

  3. D says:

    For trials and other high-stress, long days and particularly in the summer, I use spray deodorant on the undersides of my upper arms, down the sides of my torso, on my inner thighs if I’m wearing a skirt, and anywhere else I tend to sweat.

  4. Rebecca says:

    This might just be me, but I switched to half decaf coffee, and it was a game changer for stress sweat.

  5. Anna says:

    I keep a bottle of spray hand sanitizer handy for this reason. The kind that just smell like alcohol are great, but I usually just stock up on the Trader Joe’s citrus scented one. Doesn’t leave a strong smell behind and is also nice on my hands. Plus, it’s maybe $2 a bottle?

  6. Lauren says:

    In addition to good soap, I’ve found it helps to do periodic charcoal armpit masks to clean out the bacteria. Doesn’t stop the sweat but it smells much less after a mask.

  7. Carolyn says:

    I started taking a magnesium supplement, and within days the smelly pits that no deodorant could touch were gone. So now I just pick a deodorant out of the stash of ones that “didn’t work” and it works just fine!

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