How to Remove Armpit Odor

What causes armpit odor?

armpit-microbiome-illustration - how-to-remove-armpit-odor

After puberty, the sweat glands in our body secrete an odorless fluid under stress. This is a good thing! Sweat cools the body and excretes substances that are better not left inside the body and it doesn’t actually smell bad.

What causes armpit odor is the way bacteria, hormones, and sulfur compounds break down the excreted fluid as it sits in the moist armpit. Recent studies have identified an enzyme in bacteria Staphylococcus hominis as the primary cause of armpit odor, though other bacteria contribute to the process as well. Each of us has a different combination of bacteria living on our skin all the time, and that microbiome affects how our armpits smell.

To remove armpit odor, it’s important to realize that the armpit microbiome can be affected by many things:

  • medicines or drugs we take
  • our genes
  • our age
  • our overall health and weight
  • our hygiene practices and products
  • the foods we eat and water we drink
  • our stress levels
  • alcohol we consume
  • the clothes we wear
  • hormone fluctuations
  • strenuous exercise

What is the difference between antiperspirant & deodorant?

Antiperspirants and deodorants are products designed to reduce or eliminate armpit odor.

Antiperspirants block sweat using aluminum salts that create plugs in the sweat glands.

Deodorants either mask or block odor but not sweat.

Many products on store shelves are both antiperspirants and deodorants.

Recent research has shown that antiperspirants and deodorants affect the armpit microbiome differently.  Antiperspirants, unlike deodorants, increase the number of odor-causing bacteria in the armpits.1 So, while they can control odor and wetness, if you stop using them or switch to using deodorant, it can take a while for the armpit microbiome to return to a less-stinky normal.

Apply antiperspirants on clean, dry skin at night. Apply deodorant in the morning or as needed throughout the day to dry skin.

Deodorants can usually also be used to control odor in other sweaty places on the body such as the groin (bikini area), under the breasts, and the soles of the feet.

Both antiperspirants and deodorants may contain irritants such as perfume, alcohol, polyethylene glycol (PEG), propylene glycol (PPG), dyes, or preservatives. So, if you experience irritation from your product, check the ingredients list.

The active ingredients in antiperspirants may be shown on the product label as:

  • aluminum salts
  • aluminum chloride
  • aluminum compounds
  • aluminum chlorohydrate
  • aluminum hydroxybromid
  • aluminum sesquichlorohydrate
  • aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly

Natural deodorants usually avoid more controversial synthetic ingredients but still may include irritants such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Some will include bacteria-fighting ingredients such as zinc or essential oils. Some essential oils help to kill odor-causing bacteria, but not everyone should use products with essential oils.

Learn more about essential oils in personal care products here.

1 Bouslimani, A., da Silva, R., Kosciolek, T. et al. The impact of skin care products on skin chemistry and microbiome dynamics. BMC Biol 17, 47 (2019).

Is aluminum in antiperspirants dangerous?

More research is needed to answer this question. The research is mixed. It appears that we are more likely to get too much aluminum in our bodies from medications than from the use of antiperspirants.

A study from 20172 showed a possible correlation between antiperspirants and breast cancer, but it did not confirm that antiperspirants caused the cancer.

A 2018 study3 suggests that aluminum salts in antiperspirants may affect the female hormone estrogen in a way that is harmful over time.

Another 2018 study4 found that higher levels of aluminum, mercury, and cadmium were associated with patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. However, the study didn’t prove that the aluminum in antiperspirants was the source of the aluminum found in the patients.

Many experts believe the available research suggests that aluminum in antiperspirants is not a concern for healthy people because most people get rid of excess aluminum in the body through the kidneys. However, the FDA warns that if you have chronic kidney disease you should consult with your doctor before using antiperspirants.

We don’t have a definitive word on the impact of blocking sweat glands. If you’re concerned, consider using a natural deodorant that helps remove armpit odor while allowing your body to operate normally. If you want some tips to deal with wetness, read on.

2 Caroline Linhart, Heribert Talasz, Evi M. Morandi, Christopher Exley, Herbert H. Lindner, Susanne Taucher, et al. Use of Underarm Cosmetic Products in Relation to Risk of Breast Cancer: A Case-Control Study. eBioMedicine (2017).
3 Gorgogietas VA, Tsialtas I, Sotiriou N, Laschou VC, Karra AG, Leonidas DD, Chrousos GP, Protopapa E, Psarra AG. Potential interference of aluminum chlorohydrate with estrogen receptor signaling in breast cancer cells. J Mol Biochem. 2018;7(1):1-13. PMID: 30148119; PMCID: PMC6108589.
4Xu L, Zhang W, Liu X, Zhang C, Wang P, Zhao X. Circulatory Levels of Toxic Metals (Aluminum, Cadmium, Mercury, Lead) in Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease: A Quantitative Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;62(1):361-372. doi: 10.3233/JAD-170811. PMID: 29439342.

What natural deodorant can I use to remove armpit odor?

We use hard-working ingredients in Corum Natural Deodorant to keep you smelling fresh: Totarol (an antioxidant and bacteria-fighting ingredient from the bark of the New Zealand totara tree), Triethyl Citrate (a mild ingredient made from citric acid), and Zinc (a naturally-occurring mineral). The scented varieties also contain odor-fighting essential oils. (Our unscented deodorant does not contain essential oils.)

New Zealand Totarol not only fights odor, but it is non-irritating and suitable for sensitive skin. It’s also a high potency antioxidant, 3 times stronger than Vitamin E!

Our natural deodorant stick comes in two convenient sizes.

If your sweaty parts are itchy or have a rash, try Corum Malassezia Deodorant. This Malassezia-safe natural deodorant keeps you smelling fresh without triggering the yeast that often contributes to those uncomfortable conditions.

Below are some other ingredients you may want to try to remove armpit odor. You may need to apply these several times a day.

Apple cider vinegar applied with a cotton pad may help to control armpit bacteria, but not everyone would consider the smell of vinegar to be an acceptable alternative to body odor. The pH of vinegar can also cause irritation.

Witch Hazel can help remove armpit odor.  I recommend witch hazel that does not contain alcohol. Alcohol can irritate the skin.

Baking soda can fight odor-causing bacteria and also help to absorb sweat. However, it can cause irritation.

Corum Hydrating Cleanser helps to quickly cleanse and remove odor throughout the day. For even more convenience, put a few cotton pads in a small container and soak them with the cleanser. Take the container with you for on-the-go de-odorizing.

What should I expect when switching to a natural deodorant?


Using aluminum antiperspirants can cause toxins and bacteria to build up in and under the skin due to the clogging nature of those products. Antiperspirants, unlike deodorants, also alter the armpit microbiome by increasing the number of odor-causing bacteria in the armpits.

So, when you allow the clogged pores to breathe, your pits begin to unload all the gunk they’ve been holding onto, and sometimes that’s stinky business. You might actually have smellier pits than ever for a few weeks until your microbiome goes back to normal.

The length of time this process takes will vary because each person’s microbiome is different. You may find you need to apply a bit more often when you first make the switch to a natural deodorant.

Consider cleansing more often during the first few weeks after stopping antiperspirant use. Corum no-rinse Superfruit Hydrating Cleanser makes it easy to soak a cotton pad and swipe sweaty parts throughout the day. For even more convenience, put a few cotton pads in a small container and soak with the cleanser. Take the container with you for on-the-go cleansing.

Can a clay armpit detox help with odor?

If you switch from using an antiperspirant to using a natural deodorant, you may wish to speed up the process of recovering a normal armpit microbiome. Consider creating a paste with kaolin clay and plain yogurt with live probiotic cultures. The clay will help to draw out toxins and the probiotics in the yogurt may assist with balancing your bacteria. You may need to apply the paste for 15-20 minutes 1-2 times per week.

You could also use Corum Manuka Mud to speed up the detox process.

What else should I do to remedy armpit odor?

How to remove armpit odor - girl holding her arm up man holds his nose near her sweaty armpit
  • Drink 2-3 quarts of clean water a day.
  • Reduce intake of carbohydrates.
  • Eat smaller meals as digestion raises your body temperature.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for better-smelling sweat.5
  • Reduce consumption of processed foods, meats, spicy foods and caffeine.
  • Try a gluten-free diet.
  • Cleanse your body daily. Keep Corum Hydrating Cleanser on hand for a quick cleanse throughout the day.
  • Trim underarm hair. Less hair allows more exposure to air.
  • Wash your towel often.
  • Reduce stress which can cause extra-stinky armpit odor. (Easier said than done, right?)
  • Wear light, loose, clean clothing made of cotton, bamboo, merino wood, linen, or hemp.
  • Stay cool by moving to the shade, closing curtains in warm weather, drinking cool water, using a fan or air conditioner, or using a cooling towel (paid link).
  • Keep your armpits dryer.

Consider talking to a naturopathic doctor who will help you find the cause of your odor. Some remedies may include biofeedback, homeopathy, or acupuncture.

If you sweat excessively there may be an underlying illness that needs to be explored by a medical professional. Your doctor may test you for diabetes or a thyroid condition or discuss medical options such as liposuction, lasers, or surgery to remove sweat glands. 

An armpit microbiome transplant may help restore a healthy bacteria balance.6

5Andrea Zuniga, Richard J. Stevenson, Mehmut K. Mahmut, Ian D. Stephen, Diet quality and the attractiveness of male body odor, Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 38, Issue 1, 2017, Pages 136-143, ISSN 1090-5138,
6Callewaert C, Lambert J, Van de Wiele T. Towards a bacterial treatment for armpit malodour. Exp Dermatol. 2017 May;26(5):388-391. doi: 10.1111/exd.13259. Epub 2017 Feb 2. PMID: 27892611.

How can I reduce wetness without antiperspirant?

Don’t worry about perspiring during exercise, which is a very healthy, natural response that helps to rid the body of toxins. Just cleanse and apply a natural deodorant afterward.

However, there are times when keeping dry is preferable. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep tissues handy to blot excess perspiration.
  • Keep arrowroot powder (paid link) handy to apply to the armpits. Arrowroot powder is absorbent but usually non-irritating, which is why it’s included in Corum Natural Deodorant.
  • For added sweat protection consider using armpit pads or garment guard (paid link).
  • Wear lighter, breathable clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton, bamboo, merino wood, linen, or hemp.

How can I reduce stress sweat?

I wrote a separate post about how to reduce stress. Check it out.

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