Yup, Booze Can Totally Change Your Body Odor

Photo: Stocksy/ Pietro Karras
When you’ve had one too many glasses of wine, you can be left with a lasting, and often unpleasant, reminder of the alcohol you consumed—and we’re not talking about a hangover. We’re talking about body odor, which is arguably no less enjoyable than the thumping in your head the morning after. Indeed, imbibing alcohol can lead to body odor, in addition to bad breath and even foul-smelling urine.

Experts In This Article

What causes alcohol-induced body odor?

According to experts, the reason for the smell after drinking alcohol all comes down to biology.

“The body treats alcohol like a toxin because the liver can only metabolize about 12 ounces of beer an hour,” says substance abuse expert and clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD. The alcohol that isn’t metabolized is excreted through another method, says Jim White, CPT, registered dietitian and ACSM-certified exercise physiologist.

“The body gets rid of the rest through a process called oxidation, which breaks the toxins down into smaller parts [...] diacetic acid, carbon dioxide, and water that the body can metabolize and excrete through urine, breath, and sweat.” The excretion of these compounds, particularly diacetic acid, might explain the odors that arise when you drink—according to White, it smells reminiscent of vinegar.

Is it normal to have body odor after drinking alcohol?

Just as eating certain foods can cause body odor, so too can drinking alcohol. Alcohol-induced odor is likely to surface when you sweat, which is to be expected when you drink, says Dr. Mayer. “Drinking causes the blood vessels near the skin to enlarge, which causes people to feel flushed or hot and as a result triggers the body to sweat,” he says.

However, sweat in itself isn’t responsible for the fetid odor, but rather, diacetic acid—which as mentioned, is a compound the body excretes after alcohol consumption—and typically, the more alcohol a person imbibes, the more pungent the odor. “The higher the alcohol content of the drink or drinks the person consumed the night before, the more alcohol oxidation a person’s body will go through, which means more stink-causing diacetic acid,” he says.

What about bad breath?

Alcohol can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth too. Diacetic acid is also responsible for bad breath, or alcohol breath, which can linger until your body fully excretes the alcohol from your system. Lawrence Fung, DDS, board-certified dentist and owner of Silicon Beach Dental in Los Angeles, told Well+Good that if you experience mouth drynesswhich is a common byproduct of drinking alcohol—it can also exacerbate the odor. As he mentioned, “dry mouth is a common culprit of bad breath.” He said that you can combat dryness by drinking plenty of water, which can help tamper down the stench.

How long does the odor last after drinking?

According to Kimberlee Blyden-Taylor, ND, MSc, a practicing naturopathic physician and the chief medical officer at Sonoran University of Health Sciences: “Your body will be able to break down approximately one standard drink per hour, and once this happens, there will be no possibility of producing more odor.”

However, she says that there are instances in which the odor can linger into the morning, like a night of heavy drinking. In other cases, it might be because the liver is working on overdrive, which can slow down the process in which the body breaks down alcohol. She explains that any other toxin that enters the body also has to be broken down by the liver, and when these toxins build up in the body, it may not have the metabolic resources to break them down quickly, resulting in lingering odor.

How to reduce alcohol-induced body odor

If you’re worried you’re putting out an unwanted odor after a night of drinking, Dr. Blyden-Taylor says that you can “mask” the odor by, for instance, taking a shower, which can also get rid of any other bacteria that might be contributing to the smell. However, even if you use the best body wash for body odor (or even venture to use panoxyl for body odor), she says that you’ll typically have to wait for the alcohol to leave your system to rid yourself of the smell entirely, so don’t worry if your deodorant is not working as well as it usually does.

“It really is a waiting game,” says Dr. Blyden-Taylor, adding that unfortunately, you can’t sweat out the alcohol to speed up the process. “Theoretically, you’re going to excrete a little more [alcohol] by sweating more, but because only 10 percent goes through breath, urine, and sweat, you’re just not getting rid of that much alcohol,” she says.

If you’re also dehydrated, you may even want to avoid sweat-intensive workouts after drinking. Excessive sweating will only dehydrate you further, leaving you worse for wear. To replenish the fluids you’ve lost, Dr. Blyden-Taylor recommends not only drinking water but also electrolytes.

How to reduce alcohol breath

You can likewise reduce alcohol breath by masking over the smell by brushing your teeth, says Dr. Blyden-Taylor, and fortunately, she adds that mint is perfect for the job. She also says that mouthwash formulated with baking soda can help reduce any malodorous bacteria that might be present. “Baking soda is going to get rid of any bacteria that’s in the mouth, so anything else in the mouth that’s also contributing to the smell will be reduced with baking odor,” she says, with the caveat: “You don’t get rid of the alcohol smell, but you’re certainly getting rid of any other possible sources of breath odor.”

Can you prevent bodily odors while drinking alcohol?

If you are prone to bodily odors when you drink, Dr. Blyden-Taylor says that you can tamper down smells from drinking booze by eating something that’s rich in protein or fat. “The more you eat with alcohol, the slower it’s absorbed in the body,” she says. “If you’re not eating, [alcohol] gets absorbed faster, and you accumulate more [alcohol in your system], and that can cause more odor.”

Dr. Mayer adds: “Drinking water will help dilute the alcohol and help a person excrete it more quickly, which will keep them from smelling so strongly of vinegar.” However, Dr. Blyden-Taylor argues that drinking more water can’t dilute alcohol-induced smells but rather slow down your alcohol consumption, so you’re not drinking as fast or as much. “In that way, because less alcohol is coming in at a slower rate, there can be less odor,” she says.

However, experts agree that if you want to avoid alcohol-induced body odor, the best method is to steer clear of the booze and have fun without drinking.

Frequently asked questions

Why do my armpits smell bad after drinking alcohol?

If your armpits smell bad after drinking alcohol, it’s possible that you’ve consumed more booze than your body can readily metabolize, and your body is excreting the rest through a process known as oxidation, in which it breaks down the alcohol into diacetic acid, carbon dioxide, and water, and then excretes these properties through your breath, urine, and sweat. Diacetic acid, in particular, has a scent reminiscent of vinegar, and when you sweat—which, according to experts, is likely when you drink alcohol—it might explain why your armpits smell.

How long do you smell like alcohol after drinking?

Typically, the body can break down one drink per hour, so if you consume three drinks, it’ll likely take three hours for your body to stop producing related odors from drinking, says Dr. Blyden-Taylor. However, this is only an approximation, and the odor can linger long after you’ve drank. According to her, this is usually the case when a person has consumed a lot of alcohol or has other toxins in the body that the liver needs to excrete—and when this happens, it can slow down the process in which the body extracts the alcohol and accompanying odor.

How do you get rid of the alcohol smell in your body?

According to Dr. Bylden-Taylor, you can’t get rid of the alcohol smell in your body until it has been fully excreted from your system. What you can do, however, is mask the odor by taking a shower or brushing your teeth. This can help lessen the odor, as well as get rid of any bacteria that is contributing to the smell.

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Loading More Posts...