As it turns out, some shirts encourage more of those rank molecules than others. According to a new study by researchers at Ghent University, in Belgium, polyester, when compared to cotton, serves as a superior host to the kinds of bacteria that best break down sweat's fatty acid chains and churn out foul-smelling molecules.
Scientists arrived at their conclusion after studying the shirts of 26 healthy bicyclers after an hour-long workout. The shirts were analyzed for their microbial makeup and given the smell test by a separate panel. The nose and microscope concluded the same thing: sweaty polyester smells worse than sweaty cotton.
Researchers say the main bacterial culprit in this smell-producing process is micrococci.
"They are known for their enzymatic potential to transform long-chain fatty acids, hormones, and amino acids into smaller -- volatile -- compounds, which have a typical malodor," explained study author Chris Callewaert. "The micrococci are able to grow better on polyester."
The work of Callewaert and his colleagues is set to be published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology in November.
Callewaert advises people with body odor, and says wearing cotton might help minimize post-work smelliness. He also tells his clients to stop applying so much antiperspirant, which -- for biochemical reasons -- can exacerbate the problem, not solve it. Try deodorant instead.
Ultimately, Callewaert would like to find a way to solve the problem completely, not just mask it. He wants to do so by transporting the non-smell-producing relatives of sweat-eating microbes to the skin of those with serious BO problems. He says early experiments toward this end have been promising.