If you suffer from incontinence, the fear of putting off a foul-smelling odor is not new to you. Many people struggle with anxiety around bladder leaks – not only because they fear someone may notice that they’ve had an accident, but because it may also cause them to smell bad.
In our recent survey about how people are managing their incontinence while staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic, we found that for many, odor has become an issue. Some reported not being as diligent as they should be with personal hygiene. It seems that because we are all staying inside more, showers have become less frequent and for some, no one may be around to notice a bad smell so there is less incentive to clean up after urine leaks.
However, it’s important to stick with your personal care routine during this time for many reasons. A foul smell due to urine leaks is unpleasant for you and others living in your household. In addition, if left for too long, smells can become difficult to remove from fabrics and clothing. And maybe most importantly, not cleaning up after bladder leaks could cause skin irritation or rashes.
People with bladder control problems need to pay attention to deodorizing their skin and urinary products and need to remain diligent with personal care and hygiene.
Read below for some tips on how to stay clean and odor-free when you suffer from bladder leaks.
WHAT CAUSES URINE TO SMELL BAD?
Normal urine does not necessarily have a foul smell. Many people with bladder control problems limit the amount of fluids they drink in hopes of reducing troublesome leakage. However, this causes the urine to become highly concentrated. It will appear dark yellow and have a bad odor.
You can prevent your urine from having an unpleasant odor by staying hydrated and drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water per day. (Need some tricks to drink more water? Read this.) Diluted, uninfected urine does not have a strong or unpleasant odor.
However, sometimes other things cause your pee to smell. A bladder infection can cause foul-smelling urine. If a strong or foul-smelling odor exists, contact your physician for diagnosis and treatment of a possible urinary tract infection. If an infection goes untreated, it can sometimes damage the kidneys. (Read: How do I know if I have a UTI or a kidney infection.)
There are other causes of odor in the urine too. Certain foods or beverages you consume can affect urine smell. This depends on each person’s body chemistry but, for example, everyone seems to identify asparagus and coffee as producing a stronger, more distinct odor in their urine.
Some medications may also change the way your urine smells or looks, so be sure to talk to your pharmacist if you are taking a new medicine and note a difference in the way your urine looks or smells.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT BAD-SMELLING URINE?
Internal deodorant tablets such as Derifil® or Nullo® have proven useful to many incontinent people. The deodorizing tablets are taken by mouth, and the manufacturers’ instructions advise that it takes time (2 to 14 days) to get satisfactory results.
Vitamin C is another effective urine deodorizer. Speak to your healthcare professional about this; it might not be good for you to take vitamin C because of other medical conditions you have or other medicines you are taking. You should not substitute vitamin C in tablets with vitamin C in citrus fruits and juices. Citrus fruits and juices may cause your urine to be irritating to your bladder and may cause a bad odor in the urine too.
If you have a normal, healthy bladder and no problems with frequency or pain before or during urination, good juices for you to drink are cranberry, cherry, apple, pear nectar, and other non-citrus juices. Non-carbonated water is always best.
To keep urine acidic and naturally reduce odor, drinking cranberry juice (6 to 8 ounces a day) may be helpful. If you are diabetic or overweight, be careful! Cranberry juice is high in sugar. Look for a low-calorie cranberry drink.
HOW DO I CONTROL ODORS IF I’M INCONTINENT?
The best way to control odors is a combination of good hygiene and the use of commercially prepared cleansers and deodorants. Overall body cleanliness and the use of fresh, clean undergarments daily are essential. After voiding or having bowel movements, wipe from front to back. Clean the area after each pad or absorbent product change with a gentle cleanser — rinsing and drying thoroughly. You may want to look for cleansers that are specially designed for incontinence users – they are typically a bit gentler and more moisturizing than a standard body wash.
If the skin is dry or reddened, moisturizing cream may be used. For further skin protection, a protective ointment (not urine soluble) may be applied to the skin as a final step. Keeping skin, appliances, and pads clean and frequently washed or changed is the best guarantee against odor.
WHAT IF I WEAR INCONTINENCE PRODUCTS
When you buy disposable absorbent products, read the package to see if there is an odor-reducing material in the pad or garment. This should not be a perfume but rather a material that actually prevents odor from developing in the first place. If you are wearing absorbent products or collection devices, there are several important steps you should take to guard against odor.
First of all, the urine and stool must be contained. Adult briefs and pads should be worn close to the body. A properly fitted adult brief or a pad held in place by a stretch mesh brief or an incontinence pant will ensure that you are not offensive to anyone nearby. Urine collection devices, such as a condom catheter, external pouch, or leg bag, should be leakproof and air-tight.
All reusable parts should be disinfected regularly with a commercial cleaner or with a solution of one part white vinegar to two parts water. Bleach is harsh and, though it kills bacteria, it does not dissolve urine crystals the way vinegar and commercial cleansers do. It’s best to clean appliances the way the manufacturer recommends.
Always dispose of products in an airtight container. When traveling or sharing a house with others, dispose of each incontinence garment in a plastic bag with a zip-style seal.
HOW CAN I GET RID OF ODOR FROM URINE LEAKS?
CLOTHING OR BED LINENS
When stool or urine gets on your bed linens or clothing, wash them immediately. Leaving urine or stool to linger in fabrics can make it hard to get rid of in the long run. If you depend on a helper to do your wash or to take you to a laundromat, store the soiled items in an airtight container.
White vinegar added to the wash water may eliminate odor in clothes and linens. Once you’re ready to wash, add 1 cup of white vinegar to 3 cups of water and allow the clothing to soak in this mixture for a few minutes. Wash your clothes in lukewarm water, then add detergent and launder again as you usually would. If you are using white vinegar in the wash water, follow it with one or two cold water rinses.
Clothing made of 100% polyester may have to be thrown away because it is difficult to get the smell out of this fabric.
The air around you also deserves attention. Use an air freshener that neutralizes odors, not one that leaves a strong smell of perfume. Potpourri and incense, available in grocery stores, drug stores, and card shops, will keep your house smelling fresh. If weather permits, open some windows to get fresh air circulating around the house.
FURNITURE OR CARPET
Blot the stain to absorb as much of the liquid as possible before applying a cleaner. Next, apply a cleaner of your choice – vinegar is a good natural choice for furniture too, although you may want to test whatever cleanser you’re using in an inconspicuous place prior to using it on the stain.
For leather, you may wish to use a small amount of dish soap mixed with water instead of vinegar, as the acid in the vinegar can be drying to some leathers. Apart from these natural cleansers, there are also many common furniture or carpet cleaners that are sold at your local grocery store.
Sometimes people are not aware that an odor is present. If you are incontinent, find someone you trust to tell you honestly if there is any odor anywhere.
While it may feel easy to let some of your personal cleansing habits go while you’re stuck indoors during this time, it’s very important to stick with your personal hygiene habits to avoid any skin conditions or unpleasant smells due to incontinence.