Do clothes contribute to body odor?

Let’s be real: I have body odor, you have body odor, we all have body odor.

Most of us can at least vaguely remember that time during our awkward preteen years that our parents made us aware of our smell and introduced the concept of deodorant. I’ve been applied deodorant daily, been aware of and at times self-conscious of by body odor for almost two decades, yet, it never occurred to me to investigate the cause of this odor and how my activities are affecting it. As a microbiologist, I know that bacteria cause this odor. Several studies have linked a few key microbes to body odor. So I can logically conclude:

  1. I am smelly.
  2. It is my bacteria’s fault.

I’d like to stop there, so that smelly responsibility belongs to the microscopic organisms, but what if there is a third thing that is missing? In this new project, my team (Rob Dunn, Amy Grunden, Anne Madden and Lauren Nichols) and I are asking how clothing contributes to the bacterial phenomenon of body odor. We have begun an ambitious attempt to determine if the material we choose to wear encourages or prevents the growth and presence of bacterial odor producers. We’ve observed that some fabrics tend to be smellier than others but what does that mean about the bacteria that are on the fabrics and our skin?

To answer these questions we need help! We are recruiting volunteers to wear tiny bits of different types of fabric so that we can then compare smell and identify the bacteria on the tiny bits of the different fabrics. The results will help us answer how our clothing choices contribute to body odor but also suggest new ways to prevent odor for specific clothing types.

Fill out this form if you are interested in participating!

Check out the project page for more information.

This was a guest post by Dr. Stephanie Mathews. If you have more questions about her new project, feel free to email her or follow her on Twitter @sl_mathews. She is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Microbiology and Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University. In addition to this project, she studies microbes from the environment and how they can be used to solve problems like reducing industrial waste, improving biofuel pretreatment, and producing chemicals from renewable materials.