5 reasons you smell bad (and fast fixes that can help)

Five dark frosty beer glasses arranged over a white background.
Five dark frosty beer glasses arranged over a white background.Steve Cukrov / featurepics.com

Ever catch a whiff of a terrible odor and realize it's coming from you? 

Even worse: What do you do when your deodorant deserts you, your gum is long gone, and you have to freshen up on the fly? Here are five stinkin' scenarios, and how to fumigate each one.

The smelly situation: Your breath is going south in the middle of a date.

Sidestep the stink: You brush twice a day and swish plenty of mouthwash, but in between cleanings, your mouth still feels funky. Blame bacteria and mucous settling on the back of your tongue, says Bruce Paster, Ph.D., of Harvard University. If you don't have a brush or scraper handy, grab a clean paper towel and gently rub the back of your tongue to banish the germs, suggests George Preti, Ph.D., researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

You can also chomp on chewy produce, like an apple, says Patricia Lenton, M.A., of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. Crunching on those foods (and washing them down with water) physically removes some of the bacteria growing in your mouth. Drop by your dentist's office if your stinky breath continues to have a sour smell—it could be a symptom of gum disease, says Paster.

The smelly situation: You'll be shaking lots of hands tonight, but your fingers still smell like grease and gasoline from working in the garage.

Sidestep the stink: Pack a hand cream in your pocket, suggests Preti. Don't worry if it's non-scented--it's the consistency of the cream or lotion that dissolves some of the problematic particles that grip your fingers and release the smell. Slather it on. After a few minutes, scrub up again with soap and water to wash away both the lotion and the odor.

The smelly situation: You're worried that your coworkers might smell your foul feet.

Sidestep the stink: Sweat and moisture are likely the cause, Preti says. So head to the restroom, take off your shoes, and soak up all the moisture with a paper towel or tissue. If there's antiperspirant handy, apply it directly to your shoes and feet--and swap your socks if possible.

The smelly situation: You smell like a Monday-morning hangover.

The darker the brew, the stinkier your breath.Steve Cukrov / Today

Sidestep the stink: Guzzle pink grapefruit juice. The drink activates the liver enzymes that cause alcohol to metabolize faster, and increasing your liver metabolism makes the liquor smell leave your body sooner.

More importantly, remember that what you drink could foster a foul smell long after the party's over. According to research, darker beverages like stouts tend to be associated with more alcohol odor and bad breath than clearer drinks.

The smelly situation: You reek of secondhand cigarette smoke.

Sidestep the stink: "Nicotine is very sticky," says Norval Hickman, Ph.D., Program Officer for the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program supported by the State of California. If you don't have a change of clothes, at least remove a top layer of clothing, like a jacket. Near a kitchen? You can also try rubbing a cloth with a little lemon juice over the smoky surface, says Hickman. It's a natural cleanser and may give you a fresh smell. But be careful: Lemon juice can lighten clothing, so make sure to wash your outfit.

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