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Why Pillow Smells Like Vinegar

Why Pillow Smells Like Vinegar

You probably noticed that your child's or spouse's or even your own pillow smells like vinegar. What exactly is causing this odor and how to eliminate it? Is the smell an indication of a bigger problem. I am going to answer all these questions in this post.

Smelly pillows are not rare. The average person spends at least 8 hours a day sleeping, and over time, pillows accumulate body odor. However, vinegar smell is not normal.

So, why the pillow smells like vinegar? Besides the pungent smell, you most likely noticed a "golden yellow" color of the pillow as well. The odor and color are coming from the sweat we produce when sleeping. By itself, the sweat does not have any odor. The sweat consists mainly of water, salt, proteins, and oils. Bacteria actually cause the smell.

For instance, there are a bacteria called propionibacterium, which break down the sweat to several compounds. One of the compounds is a propionic acid which belongs to the acetic acid family. Acetic acid has a distinctive sour taste and pungent smell. And it is better known as, you guessed it, a vinegar.

So, we established that pillow smells like vinegar because the person who sleeps on the pillow is sweating. But why some people sweat like vinegar and others not? After all, we all covered by bacteria, and they usually do not cause any problems.

It turned out that the problem is with the bacteria quantity. With small amounts, propionibacterium does not produce an unpleasant odor. However, when its population grows the smell becomes very noticeable. So the question is what's causing propionibacterium growth?

What's causing vinegar body odor?

Type of food

As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. Some food products are stinkier than others. Nobody will ever go on a date after eating a food reach in garlic because your breath will have an unpleasant smell. But garlic effect does not end with the breath only.

Garlic also gets absorbed and released in your sweat. There are other food items that are also rich in sulfur. Here is a sample list of such items:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Red meat
  • Seafood
  • Egg yolks
  • Yogurt
  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Spices such as mustard seed and coriander

Obviously, if you eat one asparagus for dinner, it does not mean that you immediately start sweating vinegar. The odor is stronger when this kind of food is consumed in large quantities.


Another problem with consuming a large amount of food is obesity. Obese people sweat more. More sweat, more propionic acid, more odor.

How do you know if you obese or not?

While most ladies concerned with their weight, it does not mean that they are obese. There is a clear scientific definition of obesity. According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) an obese person is someone with BMI 30 or higher. BMI stands for body mass index.

In simple terms, it means that there is a correlation between your height and weight. Taller people are supposed to weigh more. For instance, a 6 ft 5-inch tall man weighing 200 pounds is considered normal. On the other hand, a 5 ft person weighing as much is classified as obese.

BMI Chart
BMI Chart

I like the BMI calculator from Mayo Clinic. They have separate calculations for men and women, which I think is better than having the same calculator for both genders.


Another reason why obesity is bad for health is diabetes, which in many cases associated with extra weight.

When the body does not have enough insulin, it starts burning fat instead. This makes acids called ketones, and the process is called ketoacidosis. A body odor is a by-product of ketoacidosis.

Hormonal Changes

Another health-related change is hormonal. A hormonal disbalance often comes with extra sweating. There are several types of hormonal disbalance associated with odor. The most common is the menopause. For men, there is another one called hypogonadism, which is related to problems with testicles.


Some prescriptions are known as causing excessive sweating. Here is a limited list of such medications:

  • Antidepressants
  • Migraine medications
  • Pain Relievers (anything with aspirin)
  • Diabetes medications
  • Heartburn medications
  • Sildenafil

Poor hygiene

This one is kind of obvious. Everyone needs to take a shower once a day. However, washing hair every day may be problematic for someone who has long hair. But don't worry, I have a solution below for such people.

Change in weather

The last one is also simple. During summer we sweat more, so control the odor by taking a bath or shower more often than during other seasons.

Treatments and Solutions

Meet with doctor

There is a number of things you can try while identifying the cause and remediation for vinegar smell. But before trying anything, I strongly encourage people with odor problems to consult with the doctor first. It is possible that unpleasant odor is a result of health change. I read many stories of people finding out that they have diabetes after noticing a body odor.

If the person is taking medicine, it makes sense to review with the doctor and identify the ones that might cause excessive sweating.

There is another health condition which, according to this article smells like vinegar: schizophrenia. I am not sure about the accurateness of the material, but it makes the suggestion meeting with the doctor even more important.

Once the doctor is off the list, it's time to proceed with other solutions.

Change the diet

As we already established, certain foods rich in sulfur may cause vinegar sweat. I am not advocating to exclude those items from the menu, but limiting them could be the right solution. Substitute some of them with raw fruits and vegetables. Additionally, reducing consumption can help with overweight problem.

Internal Deodorant

One interesting solution for sweating is the so-called internal deodorant.

If you remember from biology class plants, get their color because of the pigment called Chlorophyll. In the 1950s, Dr. Franklin Howard Westcott suggested using Chlorophyllin Supplements as a solution for both body odor and bad breath. Subsequent researches supported the effectiveness of such supplements.

Similar to external deodorants, this solution does not fix the cause but rather masks the symptom. The supplements neutralize odor-causing compounds in your body.

There are multiple supplements on the market. I like Chlorophyll Liquid Drops by Benevolent Nourishment. You can buy them from Amazon. They have hundreds of 5-star reviews, and they also organic and gluten-free.

liquid chlorophyll

Chlorophyll Liquid Drops

Use pillow protector

If you frustrated with pillow smell and the yellow color, there is a quick and simple solution: buy a pillow protector. For instance, this pillow protector is waterproof and hypoallergenic on Amazon. It has a waterproof layer which will protect your pillow from spills and most importantly sweat. If the odor sticks to the protector, all you need is to wash the protector instead of the pillow. It will stay soft and squishy after multiple machine washes.

Improve hygiene

One of the most common advises for battling the body odor is to take a bath more often. For someone who has long hair washing them every night may not be so practical. In this case, consider using a dry shampoo.

For instance, the Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo by Living Proof is probably the best on the market. The shampoo absorbs oil, sweat, and odor so you can wash your hair less frequently and still feel clean.

perfect hair shampoo

Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo


Grice, Elizabeth A., and Julia A. Segre. "The Skin Microbiome." Nature Reviews Microbiology, no. 4, 2011, p. 244. EBSCOhost,

Leyden, James J., et al. "The Microbiology of the Human Axilla and Its Relationship to Axillary Odor." Journal of Investigative Dermatology, vol. 77, no. 5, Nov. 1981, p. 413. EBSCOhost,

Is Chlorophyll the Cure for Bad Breath?

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