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What Soap Is Strong Enough to Tame My Fiercest Post-Workout Scent?

Even the mildew on my shower curtain wants nothing to do with me

You’ve just come in from a lengthy morning jaunt through the woods, and while you’re knocking back your morning glass of OJ, you notice that your pits are smelling particularly putrid. Frankly, you should have known something was up when every wildflower you strode past on the way home withered and wilted in your wake. 

Not wanting to waste another moment before rendering your odor less offensive, you scurry off to the shower, and it’s Irish Spring to the rescue! You lather and spread those greenish suds betwixt and between every flap and fold of your body, and voila — problem solved!

Or at least that’s what you thought. As soon as you emerge from the shower, you take a deep whiff of armpit and discover that much of the unpleasantness that was oozing from your pits is still there; it just smells a little bit more like Ulster. 

So there you stand — a ball of helpless, smelly confusion -— wondering how overpowering the fetid stench of your armpits must be if a soap forged in the springs of Ireland couldn’t wash it clean.

Yeah! What does soap do if it can’t get rid of my funk?

As commonplace as soap is within all of our lives, very few people take the time to delve into what soap is, where it comes from and why we expect it to make us clean. Instead of being magically cobbled together out of the raw essences of cleanliness and purity, soap is actually a bizarre combination of fat, oil and salt. This enables it to penetrate through the water and contend with the residue on your skin in a way that water alone is incapable of doing. When soap encounters the dirt that’s lingering on your skin, it hits it with the old Wingardium Leviosa, and floats it clean off of your skin.

So that’s it? That solves the problem?

You wish.

The presence of dirt is one thing — and you’re far better off to be rid of it — but the persistence of odor is often a separate problem altogether. Most of what is contributing to your overpowering B.O. is bacteria, and this isn’t always so easily spirited away by mere soap and water. 

You know how you thought you could skate by after gym class by masking your post-workout stench with a dash of cologne? Remember how that didn’t work out as you planned it? In a simplistic sense, that’s how most soap works. It lifts away much of the dirt and grime, and then seeks to leave behind an ambrosial scent. Despite your best intentions, this often just serves to gently camouflage the malodorous aroma seeping from beneath your armpits. 

And so, in some cases, there’s nothing soap can do to keep you from subjecting everyone around you to the unpleasant scent of Pity City.

How do I kill the bacteria and prevent myself from smelling like one of the Nasty Boys?

In order to hit bacteria with the Avada Kedavra, you need to use a soap with antibacterial properties. If you’re familiar with that particular Harry Potter spell, it should come as no surprise to you that a soap that’s legitimately antibacterial is equipped to kill odor-causing bacteria. Some soap products that we won’t mention (*cough* Irish Spring! *cough*) will use fancy language to dance around the fact that their soap doesn’t actually kill bacteria, but will instead wash it away. Oftentimes, this simply isn’t a sufficient remedy.

If you’re looking for an antibacterial soap, you’re likely to run into triclocarban and triclosan sooner rather than later. Both of these compounds have antibacterial properties, which means they’re capable of eradicating the odor causing bacteria from your body. But unfortunately, that’s not all these human-made compounds are capable of doing; they accumulate in the environment at unsafe levels, and have proven to be toxic to some animals. It’s for this reason that many cosmetic companies have been scrambling to find natural alternatives that are less environmentally harmful.

Luckily, there are several soap and body wash products presently available on the market that contain natural ingredients with antibacterial (and sometimes antifungal and antimicrobial) properties. These include soaps containing tea tree oil, zinc, charcoal and green tea. Such ingredients may raise the price of your body wash, and you don’t necessarily need to wash with them every time you shower or bathe, but they’re very useful to have around when you absolutely can’t afford to leave anything lingering in the air aside from a pleasant impression.