Causes of Fishy Odors on Clothes

No one wants to be known as "the co-worker who smells like fish." Yet, even if you take hygiene seriously, fishy odors can creep into your wardrobe. Keep your nose attuned to fish smells and what causes them. Preventions and treatments are there, but you must first get to the root of the problem.

Fish Products

Gardeners and cooks can get a fishy smell on their clothing simply from fish products. Fish sauce, oyster sauce, Caesar dressing and other sauces found in the kitchen contain ocean products that can leave a pungent smell behind until clothing is washed -- and sometimes even after. In the garden world, fish emulsion is a common organic fertilizer. It encourages earthworm population to grow and gives needed nutrients to the soil. However, it can also make your clothing smell if you spill it on yourself.

Normal Body Odor

Body odor naturally transfers from a person's body onto their clothing. Often, the smell of the odor on the clothing can get stronger than the odor on the body, especially if clothes are worn multiple times between washings. To avoid body odor smell on clothing, shower regularly, wear deodorant and regularly wash your clothes with plenty of soap and water. Also, note that polyester clothing is much more likely to smell than cotton or wool clothing, so if a fishy smell is a problem, stick to natural fibers.


Trimethylaminuria, also known as fish odor syndrome, is the result of a rare, genetic metabolic disease. It causes a strong fishy body odor smell that can come and go as hormones fluctuate. This smell will easily transmit to clothing. The disorder can cause much embarrassment and difficulty for the person who has it. Prevention includes avoiding certain foods and supplements and reducing circumstances that cause sweating, such as exercise and anxiety. Washing clothing frequently can help but will not fix this disorder.


Mildew can give off a wet, fishy smell and can easily inhabit stored clothing. Mildew colonies need something to live on, and the bacteria on soiled clothing is a good start, so always wash clothing before storing it. Also, try to hang it in the sun occasionally to air it out, and store it in a cool, dry place. If your clothing already has a mildewy smell, wash it with vinegar instead of detergent. Use 1/4 cup of white vinegar per load.