Gee, my underwear smells disgusting
February 5, 2016 11:37 AM   Subscribe

For a couple weeks now, I've been noticing that my underwear suddenly smells really really gross all the time. It's not smelled like this before. I have no health or lifestyle concerns likely to change the way I or my underwear smell, but there must be a reason. More inside.

I'm a female in my 30's. I'm not currently sexually active. I have a Mirena IUD that I've had for a couple years. In my last gyno visit, all std tests and pap smears were normal.

I wear cotton underwear that I change daily. I haven't changed laundry detergent, and I use a fragrance-free one. I shower with unfragranced body wash and don't use any kind of feminine hygiene products. Because of the IUD, I don't menstruate.

I have not changed my diet or medication recently.

I don't have any vaginal symptoms aside from this. Also, my underwear doesn't smell like urine or like yeast or anything identifiable, just bad. And I know underwear isn't meant to smell awesome, but this sudden change from "normal" to "gross" is what has me concerned.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it definitely just underwear? Is it possible that some sort of gunk has built up in either your washer or dryer? If underwear is the only all-cotton stuff you wash frequently you might not notice and I've found that front-loading washers can cause things to smell kind of unpleasant but there are ways to clean them out with vinegar that might help.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:40 AM on February 5, 2016 [8 favorites]

This may not be the case, but I'm thinking outside the box here: any chance you stopped smoking recently, or hanging out with a smoker, or suffered from allergies?

It's possible that your underwear has always smelled like that, and you haven't noticed until now because your sense of smell has improved.
posted by INFJ at 11:41 AM on February 5, 2016

Could be a yeast infection. Sometimes you just can't pinpoint a cause because so many things can throw off your normal flora. I know you said that it doesn't smell like yeast but I wouldn't trust your nose on this. Go to your gyn BEFORE you try treating it with OTC meds.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:42 AM on February 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

How old is your underwear? Maybe it's time to replace it? I know that sometimes my cotton underwear will just get gross after awhile.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:43 AM on February 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'd assume it's a laundering issue if you have had no health or dietary changes. Have you changed detergents, washing machines, washing temp, etc recently? Fabrics can become breeding ground for yucko bacteria/fungus and those things can persist through laundering.
posted by quince at 11:52 AM on February 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Are you saying like you notice the crotch smells bad when you go to the bathroom during the day? If that's the case you should go to the doctor.

If the whole underwear (not just the crotch) just smells bad even unworn, then that's a laundry issue. I wash them in hot water and bleach to make sure nothing survives.
posted by bleep at 12:01 PM on February 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Periodically my clothes will start smelling musty. It turns out it's something that builds up in my washing machine from time to time, so once a month I do an empty load with nothing but lots of "no splash" bleach that I spread all around the cylinder and into the places you load detergent. The musty smell has stopped.
posted by bluecore at 12:06 PM on February 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Some more details might help: How are you washing them (by hand, in the washer)? How do you dry them--air-dry or dryer? Do they smell all the time, before wearing, after collecting from the wash, or only after you wear them for a while? Can you describe the smell other than 'bad'? What part of the underwear smells?

I wear cotton underwear that I hand-wash and hang to dry. I noticed that sometimes they smelled funky after being air-dried. After a while I realised it was a sort of mildew-y odor that went away when I took more care to rinse and wring before hanging them up.
posted by methroach at 12:07 PM on February 5, 2016

I agree that laundry is the prime suspect. I prefer vinegar over bleach in these situations.
posted by SMPA at 12:07 PM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I was using cloth diapers they periodically got funky and I boiled them in a stock pot with a little bit of dish soap to de-funk them. I'd boil the underpants, and then if the smell persists, see your doctor.
posted by kmennie at 12:07 PM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Could be bacterial vaginosis, which often doesn't have any symptoms other than a bad smell. It can be diagnosed really easily with a swab at your gyno's.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 12:10 PM on February 5, 2016 [18 favorites]

AS bleep says, it is a relevant question whether it is the whole underwear (laundry issue), or just the crotch (possibly a medical issue like bacterial vaginosis).

If it is a laundry issue and you have not changed detergents, perhaps the detergent manufacturer changed the formula and it does not work as well, in which case try a different detergent.

Also, what water temperature are you using to wash your underwear? I wear cotton underwear and change them daily also, and I've found with cotton underwear, despite the clothing manufacturer's recommendations, that I need to wash it in hot water periodically to keep things good laundry wise. Hot water and hot dryer work for me (I skip the bleach and vinegar).

I did notice when I was in the perimenopause period, that one of the things that changed was the odor of my vaginal discharge (only on mefi would I talk about this!), but that did not happen till I was in my 40's.
posted by gudrun at 12:14 PM on February 5, 2016

I'm throwing in under BV. It just makes sense. Very easily treated, too!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:29 PM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also I think the real question is how your actual vagina is doing - I think the underwear thing might be a red herring. It's not supposed to make you think "Wow, this smells _unusually bad_." That means it's doctor time. In my experience if you tell them you think you have a vaginal infection they fit you in asap.
posted by bleep at 12:44 PM on February 5, 2016

Have you been taking a lot of vitamins (or Emergen C)? That is a possible culprit.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 2:01 PM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Unscented laundry detergent may be part of the problem. Every time I switch to it, certain cotton workout t-shirts never de-stink no matter hot water or multiple washings, even with borax added. Stronger detergent usually cures the smell with one go.

Yes, you should see your doctor and get tests done.
posted by jbenben at 2:01 PM on February 5, 2016

Did you change your exercise habits? Go to a pool or sauna? Take antibiotics?
posted by salvia at 2:17 PM on February 5, 2016

How fast does it smell gross? Sometimes the fibers in clothes trap bacteria, and as soon as there is any heat or moisture the buggahs come back to life. I have cotton t-shirts that smell perfectly fine when I put them on, but smell funky within 30 minutes of wearing them - far too quickly for the smell to be coming from me! (that, and it's always the same shirts).

If this is the case, try soaking the undies in vinegar for an hour, then washing them. If this doesn't work then throw them out.

If it is an actual body odor issue then switching fabrics might help. Merino wool is more expensive, but feels great and does not capture odor in the same way as cotton. Synthetic fabrics might also work
posted by kanewai at 2:35 PM on February 5, 2016

TMI time! I have a Mirena and I polled a number of my similarly Mirena-ed friends. Many of us have noticed SIGNIFICANTLY increased watery vaginal discharge with our IUDs. I have definitely notice that the increased moisture had lead to muskier undies. It certainly can't hurt to get checked out to make sure there's nothing going on, but panty liners and hot water/vinegar/oxyclean in the wash may be all you need.
posted by mostlymartha at 3:31 PM on February 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

Mostlymartha, I'm glad it's not just me! Because (TMI!!) I got my Mirena about 4 months ago, and I've definitely noticed that too.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:58 PM on February 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Washing cotton things (not just undies) in a cup of white vinegar every so often is helpful for keeping the musties away - especially if you are air-drying.... if you think it still smells vinegary after washing - just wash again with regular detergent. (I usually do not though)
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 5:56 PM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

My vote Goes to bacterial vaginosis. If that is the case be sure to BOIL your undies. I had trouble getting rid of mine because stupid washing machine did not have a hot cycle.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 8:48 PM on February 5, 2016

Unless you are experiencing any other symptoms, I would try sending the undies through the wash with 1 cup white vinegar & an additional cycle with 1/2 cup baking soda to see if there is any improvement before seeking medical treatment.
posted by smellyhipster at 5:59 PM on February 8, 2016

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