You've probably noticed that synthetic t-shirts stink more after a workout, compared to cotton. But hey—it's not the fabric's fault. It's the microbes that hang out on synthetics, that create that characteristic stench. That's according to a study in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Synthetic polyester workout wear has become popular because its lightweight and fast-drying. But theres a downside to opting for synthetics over cotton, especially for those working out around you
Certain fabrics will make you stinkier than others, although its not the fabric itself thats to blame. It turns out that Micrococcus bacteria prefer the open-air lattice of synthetic fibers over cotton, according to new research by Chris Callewaert (aka Dr. Armpit) and colleagues.
Bacteria Thrive on Synthetic Fabric, Not Cotton
The study involved 26 volunteers who took a spinning class while wearing shirts made of cotton, polyester, or a cotton-polyester blend. The shirts were sealed in plastic bags then sniffed by trained panelists the next day.
The panel reported that the polyester shirts were significantly less pleasant and more intense and smelled more musty, sour and ammonia-like than the cotton.
The odor-causing bacteria Micrococcus were isolated in almost all synthetic shirts and were detected almost solely …
DNA analysis revealed that Micrococcus bacteria were to blame. They aren't actually all that common in the armpit itself. And they don't flock to cotton. But researchers say they thrive on the open-air lattice of synthetic fibers—where they sit chomping on the long-chain fatty acids in our sweat, turning them into shorter, stinkier molecules.
These findings might just explain one of the most vexing questions of adolescence: why do stinky shirts smell so unpleasantly different from the body odor in the armpits themselves? Could be because your favorite shirt has a microbiome of its own.
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