Guess What? Sweat Is Not Smelly! (So Why Do I Smell?) in NPR

An athlete can sweat 500 mL in 15 minutes out in the heat.

July 8, 2012 - New York, NY

by Robert Krulwich

It’s hot today. Really, really, hot; over a 100 degrees Fahrenheit hot, and so I’m sweating.

Sweating is what we people do to cool off, which is good. But sweating is also what makes me . . . what’s the word? Odoriferous. (Latinate for stinky, which is not so good.)

Here’s my question: If I swipe a little sweat trickling down my leg and hold it to my nose, it smells fine. But if I take a swipe from my armpit (or several other places I choose not to mention) it's very un-fine. Why the difference?

Why does sweat sometimes smell and sometimes not?

The answer comes from my Radiolab pal Josh Kurz (here working for Distillations, a chemistry podcast sponsored by Chemical Heritage magazine). In this very sweaty video, featuring a warmly clad Louis Pasteur, Josh discovers that sweat, when it’s just plain sweat, doesn’t smell. But sometimes sweat bonds with a particular group of proteins, and it’s those proteins that smell, not the sweat. You’ll see. Just hold your nose . . .

Link to NPR

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