What Is That Ammonia Smell When I Sweat?

Do you work out regularly? If so, you might have come upon this situation before—you’re doing your thing at the gym when all of a sudden the smell of ammonia hits you. Upon further investigation, you realize that it’s coming from you your sweat! What causes this? Is it really ammonia that you’re smelling? Want to know the answers? If so, be sure to keep reading!

What is Ammonia?

Ammonia is a chemical made by bacteria in your GI tract. A waste product, it’s normally processed in the liver, where it’s turned into urea. Known for its strong, pungent odor, it can build up in the body under certain circumstances.

What causes your ammonia levels to rise? A number of things, the most common being liver disease. It can also be due to kidney failure or genetic disorders.

What Happens If Your Ammonia Levels Get Too High

High ammonia levels can lead to a variety of symptoms including disorientation, confusion, excessive sleepiness, hand tremors, and mood swings. Left untreated, it can result in coma or even death. Contact your health care professional immediately if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms as it might indicate an underlying health problem. The sooner you receive treatment, the better off you will be!

Why Your Sweat Can Smell Like Ammonia

Our bodies rely on carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to function properly. Without one or the either, the scales can easily tip—this can result in sweat that smells like ammonia. Let’s go over this more in-depth below.

Carbohydrates are what the body uses for energy production. As for fats, they’re more like backups—they’re only used if you run out of carbs. And for proteins, they’re like the backup of the backup. You can use them for energy, but they have other more important roles to fill.

If you eat a diet that’s low in carbohydrates and high in protein, your sweat can start to smell like ammonia. Ultimately, this is due to the lack of carbohydrates. As a result, your body is forced to use protein as an energy source instead. To do this, your body will break down amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) into various components, some of which will be converted into glucose for energy. Other things will come out of the process as well, one of which includes ammonia.

Normally, ammonia would be converted into urea, which is exerted through the urine. If there’s too much, however, that won’t be possible. Instead, the body will try to get rid of it through sweat. As a result, your sweat will smell like ammonia. While it’s not a major health problem, you want to take it as a warning that something isn’t right. After all, your sweat shouldn’t be smelling like ammonia!

Water Intake Plays a Role As Well

Your body needs water in order to get rid of excess ammonia. Given that, it only makes sense that you want to watch your water intake. In other words, your body won’t be able to get rid of ammonia as easily if you’re dehydrated. In fact, it’ll cause a stronger odor since it’ll be less diluted. That’s why it’s so important to stay hydrated when you’re working out. 

Ideally, you want to drink water before exercising, during your exercise, and after exercising. As for the exact amount, that depends on the intensity of your workout. The greater the intensity, the more water you’ll want to drink.

Preventing Your Sweat From Smelling Like Ammonia

Let’s face it—no one wants to walk around smelling like ammonia. Fortunately, it’s possible to prevent this problem from occurring altogether. The best way to do this is by consuming enough carbohydrates. For example, you might want to increase your intake of dairy, bread, fruit, and starchy vegetables. By doing that, your body will have an ample supply of carbohydrates to use for energy during your workout. This means that it won’t have to rely on proteins, which is what results in the release of ammonia.

Proper hydration is important as well, as discussed above. Avoid drinking diuretics such as tea or coffee as they’ll only dehydrate you further.

How to Get the Ammonia Smell Out of Your Workout Clothes

Just because your clothes smell like ammonia doesn’t mean that you have to toss them out. There are a few ways that you can get them smelling fresh again. Here are some of them.

1. Neutralize It With Vinegar

White vinegar is a weak acid that’s capable of neutralizing ammonia, which is a base. In other words, you can use it to remove the ammonia swell from your workout clothes. The best part is that most of us already have some lying around in the house. Even if you don’t, you can get a bottle for cheap!

To remove the odor, simply spray the white vinegar onto the offending area (you might have to pour the vinegar into a spray bottle first). Do not dilute it—you want to use the acid at full strength. Allow it to dry afterward with the vinegar on the surface. If necessary, reapply with more white vinegar. Continue until the ammonia odor is gone.

Alternatively, you can pour a cup of white vinegar directly into the washing machine, along with your clothes. Run the cycle as normal with cold water and that should do the trick. Consider letting everything soak for at least 20 minutes before running the wash cycle.

2. Use Baking Soda

Baking soda, which can be found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores, is another product that you can use as a cleaning agent. Incredibly versatile, you can use it to remove stains and neutralize odors—including those caused by ammonia.

The best way to use it is by adding it to your dirty clothes in the washer. Depending on the size of your load, you can add 1/2 to 1 cup. For the best results, run the washing machine with hot water. That will maximize the effect of the baking soda. If necessary aka if your clothes are excessively smelly, you can add another half a cup of baking soda during the rinse cycle.

While it won’t neutralize the ammonia in the same way that vinegar will, it’s highly effective at absorbing the odor so that your clothes will smell fresh again.

Another option is to soak your clothes with baking soda. For this method, you want to start by filling a bucket with hot water. Mix in one cup of baking soda and swirl until the powder is completely dissolved. Add your clothes in afterward and make sure that they’re fully soaked. Let it sit for several hours before laundering as normal.

3. Use Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a powerful oxidizer that’s capable of neutralizing ammonia. In other words, it’ll get rid of that pungent odor from your clothes. Often used for disinfecting, the solution comes in various concentrations. For removing ammonia smells, get a 3% bottle. You should be able to find it in the health and beauty section of most grocery stores.

Measure one cup of hydrogen peroxide and add it directly to the washing machine. Not only will it remove odors, but it’ll also whiten and disinfect your clothes.

Another thing that you can do is soak your clothes in a hydrogen peroxide/water solution. Simply fill a sink or tub and add in half a cup of hydrogen peroxide. Swish the water a couple of times and put your garments in. Allow it to sit for at least 20 minutes before rinsing it with water. From there, you can wash it as normal.

4. Use ACTIVE Detergent

Active detergent is different from other detergents in that it’s specifically formulated for workout clothes. Put it simply, it’ll clean them better. The reason is simple—it’s better able to penetrate synthetic fabrics compared to traditional detergents. This allows it to remove “gunk” that is embedded in the material.

Yup, you guessed it—that includes ammonia. How it works is that it contains plant-based enzymes that are capable of physically breaking down and dissolving the substance, along with other impurities. As a result, your clothes will come out of the wash smelling like new again.

It’s easy to use too. Simply measure one scoop of the powder and add it to the washing machine (either to the drum or to the detergent drawer). Make sure not to use too much, otherwise, you can run into problems. Once you’ve put the detergent in, you can run the machine and let it do its thing.

5. Use Borax

Borax has been used for cleaning for hundreds of years. A natural mineral, it can be used to get rid of stains and smells—including those on your clothes.

What you want to do is sprinkle a generous amount (approx. half a cup) onto your smelly clothes while they’re in the washer. Make sure to use hot water, otherwise, the powder might not fully dissolve.

Another way is to make a solution and soak your clothes. For that, you want to start by filling a container with hot water. Add in half a cup of Borax and mix until it’s dissolved. Add your clothes into the container and let it sit for at least 20 to 30 minutes. You can wash the garments normally afterward.

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