why do my hands smell like garbage?
May 22, 2011 7:39 PM   Subscribe

Why do my hands smell like a combination of garbage, taco bell, and sulfur?

I woke up this morning and my hands smell like the garbage dumpster from a shitty mexican restaurant. I've washed them at least 20 times and the smell keeps coming back, especially when they sweat (which makes me think it has to do with something I ate). This is the first time this has ever happened to me and I haven't eaten anything out of the ordinary; I had a sandwich for lunch and a hamburger for dinner (pretty standard fare for me). I haven't noticed any other weird symptoms and out-of-the-ordinary things that are happenin. What is this smell and how do I make it go away?
posted by frnzks.a to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Take a stiff brush and scrub under your nails.
posted by mhoye at 7:43 PM on May 22, 2011

Are you drying your hands after each wash? Is the towel clean?
posted by contessa at 7:47 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: i scrubbed with a nail brush and have been using paper towels to dry! No luck
posted by frnzks.a at 7:48 PM on May 22, 2011

Some paper towel dispensers at work are stocked with recycled paper. I try to avoid those cause they smell like dirty socks.
posted by udon at 7:50 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

try using a mixture of baking powder and hydrogen peroxide. It is about the only thing that gets rid of skunk so might work. You might also need to used some kind of degreaser as well like simple green or such.
posted by bartonlong at 7:57 PM on May 22, 2011

Do you have anything, like a large chef's knife, made of stainless steel? Try rubbing it (the flat part, not the sharp part, obvs) on your hands under running water. I don't know first-hand if it works, but people seem to think it does. Can't hurt, and it's worth a try if you're still stinky at the end of the day.
posted by phunniemee at 8:00 PM on May 22, 2011

Heavy garlic in a meal? Once it's on board it goes everywhere (breath, sweat, farts). Still, it does usually smell garlick-y and not quite as gross as you describe ...
On preview try the stainless trick, I was given a soap-bar shaped device for that very purpose and it does work, come to think of it (I mostly forget to use it)
posted by bebrave! at 8:06 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Here is a list of things I have tried:
-lemon juice (juiced up my hands, let it sit for a minute, rinse with cold water)
-Stainless steel spoon (rubbed my hands all over the spoon while running under cold water)
-baking soda (wet my hands with cold water, rubbed hands together with baking soda, rinsed with room temp water)
-good old soap n water (lathered up with hand soap, rinsed with hot water)
-dr bronners (same technique as soap and water)
-drying with paper towels
-air drying
-drying with blow drier

all resulted in smelly hands. I haven't eaten any garlic recently. I have however eaten a little more meat than I usually do--could that possibly explain the problem?
posted by frnzks.a at 8:15 PM on May 22, 2011

OK, this sounds ridiculous but are you sure it's not something in or around your nose or hair? I can't imagine anything that would last through what you've described and I've got a really sensitive sense of smell.
posted by Space Kitty at 8:19 PM on May 22, 2011

Could you get a second opinion? Have someone else smell your hands.
posted by rancidchickn at 8:19 PM on May 22, 2011

Response by poster: It's most definitely my hands. I have had others smell them to make sure I'm not going crazy.
posted by frnzks.a at 8:20 PM on May 22, 2011

If it's localized around your fingertips, it might be from scratching your anus in your sleep. A shower before bed followed by an application of hydrocortisone cream can help with the itching; witch hazel-based hand sanitizers can help with the smell.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:23 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Garlic is likely...the scent enters your bloodstream and remnants of it can be smelled on the skin for at least 24 hours. It doesn't smell as awful as you describe, but some people do have an aversion to it.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on May 22, 2011

Well ...
My only next suggestion is a product called Skunk-Off, we use it in animal medicine. It is a little perfume-y after use but animal owners prefer it to skunk-whiff, and it is not cloying. An (animal) ER clinic might have some.
BTW, skunk does smell garlick-y up close, any chance you touched something that got skunked?
Or, the meat you ate ... a steak or something ground (up)? Ground meat can accomodate lots of flavorings/additives without looking obvious.
posted by bebrave! at 8:35 PM on May 22, 2011

Do you have a strange taste in your mouth or anything?

It's more zebras than horses, but could you have come into contact with DMSO somehow?
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:39 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it only your hands that smell? What about other areas that get moist or sweaty, like armpits, groin or feet?

If it's just your hands, that suggests it's something you touched. If it's everywhere, it's systemic and may be something you ate.

After that, I got nothin'.
posted by Quietgal at 8:42 PM on May 22, 2011

You live in a dorm, right? Any chance this is part of a prank? Sniff around some of the things you normally touch (door knobs, etc.), and wait it out?
posted by Houstonian at 9:37 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: nope. I have since moved to an apartment.

anti-skunk measures seem to be working.
posted by frnzks.a at 10:31 PM on May 22, 2011

Sulfur compound emitting bacteria can live in your water heater.

Try washing your hands a few times in cold water only.
posted by jamjam at 11:56 PM on May 22, 2011

Next time use bleach. We de-stench glassware with bleach and it works by oxidizing the sulfur compounds from their volatile sulfides into their non-volatile sulfates. Peroxide might work also, but I would get some pool peroxide as it is about 30% instead of the stuff from a drugstore as it is only 3%. A nice soak in some bleach followed by a soapy wash with some nice hand soap should work fine. (It works for thiophenol and ethanethiol which are much worse than garbage.)
posted by koolkat at 2:12 AM on May 23, 2011

I'd leave my hands alone for a while, and watch how my sense of smell is developing. A beginning cold/looming flu does sometimes funny things to one's way of filtering out certain components, and especially to one's sensitivity to certain of these components.
posted by Namlit at 2:49 AM on May 23, 2011

Best answer: A drop of 30% peroxide will leave a milk white patch of dead skin on your hands. But they probably won't stink afterward. At first. If 3% H2O2 isn't cutting it, H2O2 is not the answer.

My guess is that you were handling something like garlic and that, after the volatiles went away, the less volatile less pleasantly smelling compounds are lingering. If soap and water aren't doing the trick, try something non-polar like a little turpentine or kerosene, a quick spray of WD-40 or some acetone (fingernail polish remover).
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:22 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dont let it become an obsession. Put some scented hand cream on them and leave them alone for a day.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:58 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

When my hands stink of garlic during cooking I wash them in salt. Wet one hand, with the dry hand put a few big pinches of salt in the palm of the wet hand and then rub them together under cold water trying not to flush away all the salt too quickly.
posted by pwb503 at 8:35 AM on May 23, 2011

Vegetable oil and then dish soap maybe?
posted by en forme de poire at 1:31 PM on May 23, 2011

You could try this: eat garlic. The garlic's volatile compounds will deaden or desensitize your nose to the smell, and it won't bother you anymore.

Be careful of washing your hands too much. I was told by a doctor that overwashing your hands can actually increase bacteria. Makes sense, I suppose, you wash away protective oils and you can get more (at the microscopic level) flaky skin for bacteria to hide under.
posted by Xoebe at 10:24 PM on May 23, 2011

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