Reasons Your Wee Is Smelly and Steps You Can Take to Prevent Urine Odor

Woman holding her nose

We all have to wee several times a day, so it's something most people don't think about. But if your urine suddenly starts to smell a bit funky, it could be cause for concern. The smell, colour and frequency of your urine can actually provide vital clues to your health and wellbeing.

Here are the most common reasons your wee might have an unusual scent:

You're dehydrated.

The number-one cause of pungent pee? Not drinking enough water. When your body is dehydrated, the urine has a strong odor and appears dark in color. It’s your body’s way of telling you to rehydrate.

But maybe don't wait until your toilet turns a shade of mustard yellow to start adding in some extra H₂O to your diet. Instead, keep a water bottle handy (at your desk, in your bag, wherever) so you can drink as often as you feel like. The optimal amount of water each day, btw: eight glasses.

You ate something with a strong smell.

Quick q: Have you ever eaten asparagus and noticed that your pee smelled...off afterward? You're not alone: Forty percent of people can actually smell that difference in their pee after eating asparagus, according to a 2016 study in the British Medical Journal (it's actually called asparagus anosmia, and it's due to genetic variations in smell, not the pee itself).

But asparagus isn't the only food that can change the scent of your urine. Certain foods like Brussels sprouts, onions, some spices, garlic, curry, salmon, alcohol, and even coffee can change the smell. A high-salt diet can also make your urine more concentrated, giving it a stronger scent than what you may be used to.

You just drank some coffee.

Some people may notice an interesting odor when they've consumed coffee. That odor is due to coffee metabolites (a.k.a. byproducts from coffee after it's broken down in your body).

You have a urinary tract infection.

The most common medically-concerning reason for smelly pee in women is a urinary tract infection (UTI). In fact, pee that has a strong ammonia smell, or a foul or slightly-sweet scent is often the first indication that you have a UTI.

Basically, it's the bacteria's fault (because bacteria is what causes UTIs in the first place). That bacteria is also what makes your urine appear cloudy or bloody and gives you that telltale burning while peeing sensation, according to the Office on Women's Health(OWH). If you suspect a UTI, talk to your doctor immediately so you can get started on an antibiotic.

You might have diabetes, or pre-diabetes.

And one of the first ways diabetes manifests is in the bathroom, causing you to have to urinate more frequently, says Muhammad Shamim Khan, M.D., a urologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital.

Your pee may also have a “fruity” smell thanks to the extra sugar being excreted by your kidneys, too. So if you find yourself running to the toilet more than usual, you may want to get your blood sugar levels checked, says Khan.

You're still douching—even though you shouldn't be.

If you're still douching, I've got one word for you: stop. Not only does douching not cleaning your vagina, but it can also mess up the microbiome (a.k.a., that environment of healthy bacteria) of your entire genital area, worsening bad smells rather than improving them.

Plus, messing up that delicate environment could actually double your risk of ovarian cancer. If you’re worried about the odor of your vagina, see a doctor immediately to pinpoint the real cause instead of trying to mask it with douching.

You have kidney stones.

Kidney stones are hard masses that can form in your kidneys when certain chemicals in your urine start to crystallize. Smelly pee can also be a sign of kidney stones, due to the kidney stone trying to make its way out of your body, causing a backup of urine (and possibly a urinary tract infection).

If your pee is smelly and is accompanied by cloudy urine and pain in your back or side, see a doctor to get that kidney stone out of there ASAP.

You have a yeast infection.

Itchy yeast infections come with a distinctive “yeasty” smell, thanks to an imbalance of vaginal bacteria. While, yes, yeast infections are technically in your vagina, because your urethra is so close, your urine can pick up the scent as well.

You actually have an undiagnosed genetic disorder.

This is probably the least likely scenario here, but certain genetic disorders are associated with the scent of your urine. If your pee smells “foul,” “sour,” or “fishy,” you might have a condition called trimethylaminuria, which gives you terrible body odor no matter how much you brush your teeth, shower, or bathe.

According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, trimethylaminuria is more common in women, and symptoms can worsen or become more noticeable around puberty, before or during your period, after taking oral contraceptives, or around menopause. There's no cure for the disorder, but by working with your doctor, there are lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the smell.

You're pregnant.

Here's a fun fact: The hormone changes that make it possible to grow a baby—estrogen and progesterone—can make your pee smell a bit different...to you, at least.

Urine can have a more pungent smell from the hormones produced during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester—but it's not necessarily a huge change in your pee; rather, your ability to smell it (women tend to have a slightly increased sense of smell during pregnancy).

You're ovulating.

The same hormones that gestate a baby (again, estrogen and progesterone) are also at work during your regular cycle, albeit on a smaller scale. That means you may be more aware of the scent of your own pee when you're ovulating.

Again, the hormones aren’t necessarily changing the odor of your urine itself, they are amping up your ability to smell it, making the ammonia scent more noticeable to your super-sensitive sniffer.

You might have an STD.

As if sexually transmitted diseases weren't enough fun (sarcasm, clearly), some of them can also cause foul-smelling urine.

Chlamydia is the most common culprit, followed by trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted parasite. If you even suspect you have one of these diseases, get screened immediately. Both often show no or very mild symptoms at their onset—wait too long and they could progress, making smelly pee the least of your problems.

You just started taking supplements.

Some supplements, vitamins, and medications can cause changes in your urine smell. Artificial flavors are put in some pill coatings to make them more palatable, but they can also change the scent of your urine.

The most likely offenders? Pills high in vitamin B6, including some multi-vitamins, heart, and pregnancy medications. It's not particularly worrisome, but be sure to mention it if you're concerned about it, if it changes suddenly, or if you experience other negative side effects to go along with the smell.

Steps You Can Take to Prevent Urine Odor


Drink Enough Fluids

Many people are worried about drinking fluids because they fear it will increase their chances of leakage. However dehydration leads to concentrated and intense-smelling urine. Try to focus on drinking six-to-eight glasses of water or other clear fluids a day; your urine should be diluted and its odor will be reduced.

Get an Exam

Get an examination to check for infection in your bladder or urinary tract. Infection can give urine a stronger or even foul odor.

Switch it Up

Try altering your diet; foods and beverages like coffee and asparagus can give urine a distinctive and strong smell.

Drink Cranberry Juice

Cranberry juice increases the acidity of urine, which can reduce odor.

Take Deodorizing Tablets

Internal deodorizing products can help to neutralize urine smells. Vitamin C tablets can also deodorize urine — but they can also interact negatively with other medications or treatments, so check with your doctor before consuming tablets.

Do not substitute in citrus juice and/or fruits for the Vitamin C tablets — citrus fruits are naturally acidic, and may only cause more odor or irritation.
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