Got Stinky Shirts? Get Rid of Shirt Armpit Odor

Body odor is one of those embarrassing things that people don’t like to talk about. Well, so what? It’s a real thing and we’re going to talk about it.

What I’m about to describe isn’t regular run of the mill body odor. I’m talking about shirts with armpits that smell like onions even after going through several washes. I’ve lived it, and it smelled like I just walked out of an onion burger joint. Turns out the reason was two-fold: clothing material and hormones.

I mostly shop at thrift stores and paid no attention to the material. I was only concerned with the price tag. Seemingly out of nowhere my shirt’s armpits would start smelling horrendous about midway through my workday. My own armpits would smell fine at first, but by the end of the day the smell had transferred from the shirt itself to my pits. Trust me, it was pretty potent. I started troubleshooting and tracking my efforts over the course of 3 months. Today, the smells are gone so I wanted to share my results.

  • I started out by doing a lot of research.
  • I bought Dial anti-bacterial body wash and used baking soda on my armpits while showering.
  • I then wrote down when the smell happened (which is how I found out it was monthly-the hormone factor ).
  • My research showed that deodorant residue can accumulate on the inside armpit area of shirts, and considering I bought them second hand I thought this was one good way to approach fixing the problem. I began some experiments (see notes below).
  • When my experiments weren’t getting the results I wanted I started looking at the fabric content of my shirts. The most horrible smelling shirts were made of rayon and/or polyester. Like I said, I bought them at thrift stores for cheap and just trashed them.
  • Then I bought Dickies 100% cotton shirts on Amazon because I could not find 100 % cotton shirts ANYWHERE in brick and mortar stores.
  • I still wash in vinegar and line dry in the sun

The difference is night and day. There is no smell 3 weeks out of the month, and even at week 4 the smell is nearly non-existent. I now have a new-found appreciation for cotton. I consider it my little miracle because I had no idea that clothing material would make the difference. I hope this helps someone else who is struggling for a solution to rid their shirt’s armpits of that horrible onion smell.

UPDATE 2/12/14

This is one of my most viewed posts, so I wanted to give an update.

I have noticed in the past 4 months or so the smells were coming back (though the smells are still much less strong than when I first wrote this)

A little about me; I’m not overweight and  I have a good BMI. I’m generally healthy, eat healthy foods, and work out 3-4 days a week.

I expect the smells came back for a few reasons (basically stress, diet, and environment):

  • We moved overseas in late 2013 and it was a very stressful move.
  • We were in a hotel for a long time while we waited for housing, so I couldn’t do my regular laundry ritual. While displaced we were also eating a lot of ready-made junk food while in moving “limbo.”
  • Our apartment has no direct sunlight, so line drying isn’t as easy as before.

I have not yet bought the detergent that one reader suggested in the comments.

All this being said, I have found 2 additional tools I’m testing.

1. The 100 yen stores have these stainless steel “soap” bars- similar to this version on Amazon. They are supposed to get rid of garlic, onion, fish, and similar smells from your hands after cooking.

I have rubbed the wet “bar” on both my shirt armpits, and my own armpits. It works, but the effects don’t last all day.

2. I saw a Japanese commercial for this spray on deodorant that kills bacteria. It is called 8×4 and is from the makers of NIVEA. It is also sold on Amazon.

I just bought it at a local drug store 3 days ago, but so far it seems to be doing what it is supposed to. Plus, this is that one time a month when the odor is always strongest.

UPDATE 5/6/14

This post still continues to be one of my most read, so I wanted to update my readers with something I discovered.

Your problem may really be related to the fabric of the shirts, but you may also have another issue going on.

My odor issue originally started around the time I discovered that I had thyroid cysts on both sides of my throat (around December 2012). As my cyst grew in size my smell got stronger each month.

It is quite possible that my onion/garlicy smell might have to do with my thyroid.

I am not a doctor and am not saying you do or don’t have thyroid issues, but if you have tried everything but still have an odor issue see your doctor because there may be something else going on.

I have had several blood tests done over the past 2 years and I am still in the normal range, but my research shows that the garlic/onion smell sometimes presents with hyperthyroidism.

I am scheduled to have my thyroid tumor (cyst-turned-tumor) removed in 2 weeks and if that makes any difference in my body’s unique monthly fragrance.

  • The Japanese deodorant I mentioned in the update above seems to help on a day-to-day basis.
  • I can’t find the laundry detergent locally that a commenter mentioned, but I’ll keep looking.

 UPDATE 8/4/14

As it turns out the tumor was cancerous (stage II and really gross looking), but I had a full thyroidectomy and I seem to be in the clear. I wanted to mention that after having my thyroid removed my body odor (without any deodorant) is almost non-existent just like before when I first started my laundry experiments.

On a scale of 1-5, where 5 was the horrible odor I first blogged about, I’m now at a 1 during my monthly menstrual cycle.

I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t experienced it myself. Again, I am not a doctor, but if you happen to have access to a doctor and have the kind of odor I described (especially if you’re a female and it is worse once a month) you may want to ask your doctor about your thyroid.

I never would have connected the dots myself had I not run into this chain of events that started in December 2012 (when the cyst was first discovered)

  • I am now thyroidless and am taking a daily supplement.
  • My diet and exercise routine has not changed that much from before.
  • I am still using baking soda on my armpits and in my laundry.
  • I am not line drying as often because I don’t have easy access to a sunny area in this apartment.
  • I am still using 8×4 deodorant (it does not appear to be an antiperspirant).

 UPDATE 11/15/14

So, a lot has happened in the past year. My odor disappeared for a while, but once my thyroid medication dosage was increased it came back- though still weaker than before.

I read that transdermal magnesium chloride spray works for some people, so I figured I would try it. I use 4 sprays under each armpit. It stings a little the first time you use it, and if you use it right after shaving, but it goes away.

I have been using it for about a month and have not had a need for deodorant at all. THAT part is crazy to me considering all the testing and trials I’ve conducted.

So far, this transdermal magnesium chloride spray gets 5 stars.

I also bought Lavilin deodorant paste on Amazon on the same day, but the mag spray arrived before the paste. I’ve decided to go ahead and keep it on hand just in case the mag spray stops working.

I regret this post’s title, because while some of the early experiments worked (and might still work for some people), I, the author, continued to have episodes. That might seem misleading, and that’s not my intention. But, for what it’s worth… my shirts don’t smell anymore!


Notes from my *many laundry experiments: Major Trial #1 Scrub the armpits of shirts with orange cleanser (I used the GoJo brand that my husband uses for wash his hands after working on the cars) Let sit several hours (3+) Run hot water with 4 cups white vinegar Put shirts in washer, let sit all day in vinegar Line dry or tumble no heat Results: The smell was gone for 3 weeks, but came back on week 4 when I was on menstruating. Some shirts smelled worse than others. Major Trial #2 Rub pits with orange rub Spray pits with ammonia water spray (3 to 1 ratio) Let set 5 min Washed, no soap. Filled washer, added 2 cups vinegar Let sit in vinegar water for 1 hr or so Line dried Results: Same thing, the smell came back at week 4 but it was much weaker. Some shirts smelled worse than others still (fabric related) *I did several trials, but they were all variations of the 2 major experiments I conducted. The results were all the same.


13 thoughts on “Got Stinky Shirts? Get Rid of Shirt Armpit Odor

  1. If you can deal with sweat, an all-natural brand may be a good alternative. I use Lavilin, but there are a lot of brands out there. The adjustment period can be tough – a lot of sweating and lots of odor. But once your body adjusts, you will be thrilled. No more odor!

    • I’m game to try most anything for the sake of experimentation so I will look into this. I’m not a fan of sweating but it’s worth a try and the sweat is only temporary. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  2. i have been working in thyroid imaging lab and never heard about thyroid-BO connection.
    In my case I am allergic tothe perfumes and deodorants: ) thanks to the substance abuse as a teen:(
    Is there any connection between cysts in your thyroid and Japanese nuclear crisis??
    Best wishes for your surgery!!(benign cysts can be treated with PEI, but the doctor must be sure that the cyst is benign)

    • Thank you for your comment and encouragement about my surgery. Unfortunately my cyst turned into a tumor and 2 doctors told me that PEI was no longer an option. 😦

      About the body odor connection, I have both read and heard from doctors that an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can lead to increased sweating/body odor for some individuals, but I am unsure if that’s very common. I actually had this thyroid issue before we moved to Japan, so I’m afraid it’s simply a product of my genetics.

      Thank you for reading, and for sharing your insights about the thyroid-you probably have a lot of great insider knowledge from your work in a thyroid imaging lab!

    • I’m not sure if you’re following this post, but I wanted to let you know that having my thyroid removed made a huge difference in my monthly odor. I’m pretty surprised!

  3. Pingback: My Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Timeline | angela schnabel

    • Thanks, Denise! I actually bought the Lavilin paste around the same time that I bought a transdermal magnesium chloride spray. For a few weeks now the mag chloride spray has done the trick. If it ever stops working I’ll try the Lavilin for sure!

  4. Hi there. I find your blog interesting. I too had been experiencing HORRIBLE underarm odor. I tried all kinds of experiments too to figure out what the issue was. It came down to detoxing my underarms and switching to a non antiperspirant. Antiperspirants block toxins in that are meant to naturally come out in the armpits. Over time, it builds, and you have a problem like I did. I used a detox method of making a paste with bentonite clay (found in health food stores) and apple cider vinegar. Rub on underarms once a day for 15 mins, for about 1 week. Rinse off, dry, then apply a natural, non antiperspirant deodorant. Took the odors away!!!! And I am so happy. I hope it’s something that you could experiment with! Also, I recommend reading about the benefits of using bentonite clay. It helps remove heavy metals from your body. Like the ones stored in our armpits if we use antiperspirants for a long time.

    • Hi, Samm! Thank you for taking the time to share your success story here!

      The magnesium sulfate spray fixed my issue (since mine seemed to be related to thyroid cancer-weird, I know!) but this post has continued to be one of my most popular, so I know that your suggestion will surely help someone who is struggling with this issue!

      I totally agree about avoiding anti-antiperspirants. Once your body is free of those toxins it’s really amazing how different things can be. Thank you, again, for taking the time to share this!

      I will be reading about the other benefits of bentonite clay- thanks for the suggestion!

  5. My daughter has the issue of under arm order which after years of research and trial and error, I discovered she has Trimethylminuria also coined as fishy odor syndrome. It can affect the order in different areas of the body but for her it is the underarms. The liver does not process certain foods properly.We eliminated traditional anti perspiratants, use arm and hammer deodorant, drink ACV, eliminated cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli ), tomatoes, fish and vitamims. And drink lots of water. This helped tremendously.

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