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What Is That Ammonia Smell When I Sweat?

March 14, 2023

Do you work out regularly? If so, you might have experienced this before – you’re training at the gym when all of a sudden there’s a strong odor.

You scrunch your nose and wonder if you have body odor before realizing it’s actually the smell of ammonia.

What causes this strong ammonia smell? Does it have anything to do with body temperature or excessive sweating? Can you get the smell out of your workout clothes?

For the answers, be sure to keep reading. We’ll be going over everything you need to know below.

What is Ammonia?

what is ammoniaAmmonia is a chemical made by bacteria in your GI tract. It’s a waste product and is normally processed in the liver, where it’s turned into urea.

It’s also known for its strong, pungent odor and can build up in the body under certain circumstances.

For example, it can be due to kidney disease, liver disease, or diabetes. Eating a high-protein diet can also cause this ammonia sweat smell.

What Happens If Your Ammonia Levels Get Too High

High ammonia levels can lead to a variety of symptoms such as disorientation, confusion, excessive sleepiness, hand tremors, and mood swings.

If left untreated, it can result in coma or even death.

Contact your healthcare professional right away if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms as it might indicate an underlying health problem – this is especially true if you have underlying kidney disease. The sooner you receive treatment, the better the outcomes.

Why Your Sweat Can Smell Like Ammonia

Our bodies rely on carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to function properly. Without one or the other, the scales can easily tip and that can cause a sweat smell like ammonia.

Carbohydrates are what the body uses for energy production.

why does my sweat smell like ammoniaFats, on the other hand, are more like backups; they’re only used if you run out of carbs. As 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, it can cause ammonia sweat smells.

Due to a lack of carbohydrates, your body will be forced to use protein as an energy source instead. To do this, your body will break down amino acids (results of protein breakdown) 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.

What Normally Happens to Ammonia

Normally, ammonia is converted into urea, which is exerted through the urine. If there’s too much, however, the body won’t be able to excrete it all.

Rather, it will try to get rid of the excess ammonia through sweat and that’s what ultimately causes ‘ammonia smell sweat’.

Water Intake Plays a Role As Well

ammonia smell from sweatYour body needs water to get rid of excess ammonia. That’s why it’s so important to stay hydrated, especially if you have kidney disease.

If your body is dehydrated, it won’t be able to get rid of the excess ammonia easily and that can result in a stronger odor since it’ll be less diluted.

To prevent that, you want to drink water before exercising, during your exercise, and after exercising. Generally speaking, the greater the intensity of the exercise, the more water you’ll want to drink.

Preventing Your Sweat From Smelling Like Ammonia

The best way to prevent ammonia from coming from your sweat glands is to consume enough carbohydrates.

For example, you can do this by increasing your intake of dairy, bread, fruit, and starchy vegetables. That will give your body an ample supply of carbohydrates to use for energy during your workout, which means it won’t have to rely on proteins, which is what’s responsible for sweat smells like ammonia in the first place.

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. Here are a few ways to eliminate body odor so you can get them to smell fresh again.

1. Neutralize It With Vinegar

White vinegar is a weak acid that’s capable of neutralizing ammonia, which is a base. This means 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 and even if you don’t, you can buy some for cheap at stores.

To remove the ammonia-like sweat smell, simply spray the white vinegar onto the offending area (you might have to pour the vinegar into a spray bottle first).

Do not dilute the white vinegar; you want to use the acid at full strength. Allow the fabric to dry afterward with the vinegar on the surface. If necessary, reapply with more white vinegar. Continue until the ammonia odor is gone.

Alternative Option

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

how to remove ammonia smell from workout clothesBaking soda, which can be found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores, is another product that you can use to eliminate that ammonia-like odor.

Simply add the powder directly 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 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.

Alternative Option

Another option is to soak your clothes with baking soda. 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.

The solution is often used for disinfecting and comes in various concentrations. For removing ammonia smells, you want to get a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. 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.

Alternative Option

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. Wash as normal afterward.

4. Use ACTIVE Detergent

best detergent to remove sweat ammonia smellActive Detergent is different from other detergents in that it’s specifically formulated for workout clothes and is capable of penetrating synthetic fabrics – much more so than traditional detergents.

It also contains plant-based enzymes that are capable of physically breaking down and dissolving ‘gunk’ including ammonia, meaning 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). Just make sure not to use too much, otherwise, it can cause more harm than good (ie. it can leave residue on your clothes which can attract dirt and oils).

Alternative Option

You can soak your clothes in an ACTIVE Detergent solution if they’re excessively smelly.

Start by filling a tub with warm water. Measure half a scoop of ACTIVE Detergent, add it to the tub and gently swish the water with your hand to dissolve the powder.

Once the powder is completely dissolved, place the clothes in the solution, making sure they’re completely saturated and wet.

For the best results, let them sit in the detergent mixture for at least 30 minutes (the longer the better). Launder as normal afterward.

5. Use Borax

Borax is a natural mineral and can be used to get rid of stains and smells—including sweat smells like ammonia from 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. Start by filling a container with hot water and add half a cup of Borax and mix until it’s dissolved.

Add your clothes to the container and let it sit for at least 20 to 30 minutes. You can wash the garments normally afterward.

Sweat Smelling Like Ammonia – FAQs

Why does my sweat smell like ammonia?

ammonia odor from sweatYour sweat may smell like ammonia if you eat a high-protein diet, or if you have an underlying health condition such as diabetes or kidney disease.

For those with diabetes, you may also notice that your breath smell fruity.

Can you get rid of sweat smells like ammonia from your clothes?

Yes, there are several ways to eliminate ammonia-like sweat smells from your clothes. For example, you can use white vinegar, baking soda, or Borax.

ACTIVE Detergent is another highly effective option. Simply add one scoop to the washing machine and run a normal wash cycle. Alternatively, you can soak the offending garment in a detergent solution – just dissolve some of the powder in water and place the item in the solution.

For the best results, let it soak for at least 30 minutes – the longer the better.

How can I prevent my sweat from smelling like ammonia?

You can prevent your sweat from smelling like ammonia by eating a healthy diet. Those who have underlying health conditions such as kidney disease should also see their doctors for regular medical treatment and checkups.

It can be caused by various things, from the amount of protein in your diet to health conditions such as diabetes.

When in doubt, check with your doctor. They’ll be able to conduct tests to see whether or not it’s due to an underlying health issue.

In the meantime, you can eliminate ammonia smells from your clothes by using white vinegar, baking soda, Borax, and hydrogen peroxide.

We also highly recommend ACTIVE Detergent. Not only is it highly effective at eliminating ammonia sweat smells but it’s also gentle and can help extend the lifespan of your workout clothes.

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Clara Jennings

Clara Jennings is a retired Pilates instructor with a profound understanding of health and fitness. She channels her extensive experience into writing instructional guides, offering readers valuable insights into maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Clara’s comprehensive approach combines fitness wisdom with practical advice, empowering individuals to achieve their wellness goals through informed, balanced practices.

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