Information on Malodor

If you've ever suffered from strong body odor, chronic bad breath or persistent foot odor, otherwise known as malodor, you know how unpleasant and embarrassing it can be to live with this condition everyday. Those suffering from malodor may also experience emotional distress and worry, leading to significant psychosocial burden, social isolation and rejection.

Having bad breath, stinky feet or strong body odor is common and usually not a problem, unless they become lingering issues caused by something that requires treating.

Approximately 50% of the United States population has bad breath at any one time, of that 50%, half suffer from chronic halitosis and of that 25% have it in a severe form.1 Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth can also be a warning sign of gum disease or other underlying medical problems that need to be addressed. Some medical conditions can cause you to smell differently. For example, a fruity smell can sometimes be a sign of diabetes, while a bleach-like smell may indicate liver or kidney disease. In addition, body odor carries with it social stigma. No one wants to associate with people who emit excessive overpowering smells.

For many, malodors is a condition that passes, while for others it is an on-going problem that they are constantly struggling with. However it affects you, malodor can put a considerable strain on your day-to-day quality of life.

What is Malodor?

Malodor is a condition characterized by namely chronic bad breath, body odor or foot odor. It can be caused by a variety of factors including improper poor hygiene, type of diet, illness, everyday stress, dehydration, genetics, hormonal changes and certain types of medication which can all affect the way a person smells. These odors originate within the body and are emitted through the skin, mouth and other orifices. Men and women of all ages are at risk from malodors.

Bad breath, medically called Halitosis or fetor oris, is a symptom in which an undesirable odor is present on the exhaled breath.

Offensive body odor, or B.O., medically known as Bromhidrosis, is a distressing problem that can affect a person's confidence and self-esteem and can cause significant social embarrassment. Suffering from strong persistent body odor affects millions of people, with many experiencing intense bouts. Body odor is closely linked with excessive sweating (Hyperhidrosis) in about 3% of the general population, affecting both men and women equally.2

Many people describe foot odor as a cheesy or vinegary smell that sticks to their feet, socks, and shoes. Men are more likely to get foot odors than women, and often it depends on their choice of footwear. Ensuring that your feet get enough airflow throughout the day is very important. Spending time barefoot (in a safe and hygienic environment) may significantly reduce risks of developing foot odors. Foot odor is extremely unpleasant and often a difficult condition to cure permanently.

What are the Causes, Characteristics and Symptoms of Malodor?

Malodor has numerous causes. Certainly poor hygiene will result in a less than desirable smell but, it is not the only or primary cause. There are many other causes that are not as well known. Diet, illness, mood changes, stress, dehydration, genetics, gender, hormonal changes and certain types of medication can all affect the way a person smells. Some are a result of unbalanced bacteria in the intestinal tract. In many cases, people with impeccable hygiene still have issues with odor. These odors originate within the body and are emitted through the skin, mouth and other orifices. Because certain odors originate from within the body, they are not necessarily area specific.

Symptoms vary from person to person based on the specific area of the body where they are stemming from. Odor from the mouth, may be accompanied by a dry sensation or bad taste. Offensive foot odor may be a result of fungal infections which are accompanied by redness, flaking and cracking of the skin on the foot, coupled with uncomfortable itching and burning sensations. Being aware of how your foot odor develops and progresses is an important key to finding a solution for it.3

The kind of malodor you suffer from will then determine the effectiveness of various available treatments.

Bad breath can be caused by several factors, such as dysbiosis (an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract), dehydration, stress, and an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. For example, increased protein consumption can elevate the likelihood of bacterial overgrowth in the mouth. Often the odor is caused by bacteria present below the gums and on the tongue. Bad breath can also be a result of many other different conditions, including disorders in the nasal cavity, sinuses, throat, lungs, esophagus, stomach or elsewhere.

While body odor is usually associated with the armpits, bacteria can also produce odor in the groin, anus area, upper thighs, pubic hair and other hair, belly button, behind the ears and feet, among other places. Contrary to popular belief, sweating excessively, does not cause body or foot odor. Sweat by itself is virtually odorless, however, when it comes into contact with bacteria it begins to smell foul. Shoes and socks are the perfect environment for sweat and bacteria to mingle, which is why if you wear socks and shoes that do not allow evaporation, the moisture gets trapped and the bacteria begin growing. The bacteria initially stick to the shoes and socks, but over time they stick to the skin and cause the foot to smell bad. Still, your footwear is not the only thing that can cause your feet to smell. Additional causes of foot odor include: fungal infections (athlete's foot), stress, medication, hormonal changes, and poor hygiene.

How to Prevent Malodor?

Because of the varying conditions that make up malodor, there is no single, foolproof way to prevent it. If it is a serious recurring issue, your dermatologist, general physician or podiatrist may be able to identify a pattern of causal effects along with any associated problems.

Good oral hygiene is the key to fighting bad breath. Ideally, you should brush, floss and use a mouthwash after every meal to help reduce the odor-causing bacteria in your mouth. Maintaining frequent dental check-ups is also important. In addition to good oral hygiene, eating a healthy, balanced diet at regular times will help keep digestive issues at bay. The type of diet you consume will also influence greatly on your odor output. Ideally, you should limit the amount of protein, avoid spicy and odorous foods, increase the consumption of cooling foods such as radishes, cucumbers, celery, watermelon, cantaloupe, pears, and apples and eat fermented foods like raw cultured vegetables (sauerkraut and kimchee). Other steps that will be helpful include increasing chlorophyll intake, reducing stress, not smoking, and avoid drinking coffee.

In order to avoid getting body or foot odor, the most important element is to prevent the accumulation of bacteria mixing with sweat. Some ways to do this, are keeping your armpits clean and dry, bathing daily, regularly shaving, and wearing clean clothes made from natural fibers, such as wool, silk, or cotton, which enable your skin to breathe allowing your sweat to evaporate faster.

The most effective ways to reduce foot odor are to keep your feet clean, toenails trimmed and dry as much as possible, and avoid wearing nylon socks or plastic shoes. If sweaty feet are a problem, wear sandals or flip-flops wherever possible. Alternatively, wear well ventilated shoes that allow your feet to breathe and change your socks twice a day. Socks should be made out of cotton or wool, and shoes should be canvas or mesh.

In the event that you do continue to suffer from malodor, in any form, there are many treatments available, both over the counter and by prescription. Some pharmaceutical treatments are known to cause serious and uncomfortable side effects, so it is always good to look for a risk-free all-natural alternative.

Malodor is not a quick fix condition. It is not a condition that can, or should, be dealt with in a few treatments then forgotten. Attempts to do so will often result in an unsatisfying experience or recurring bouts of strong offensive odor. For real and effective relief from bad breath, body or foot odor, be sure to choose the best treatment you can find and stick with it until your unpleasant odors have completely disappeared.


1 - The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA)

2 - Hyperhidrosis and Bromhidrosis: A Guide to Assessment and Management

3 - American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA)