What to Know About Unusual Smelly Urine

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on July 16, 2024
7 min read

Urine is mostly waste products and water and normally has a mild smell and a light yellow color. If you have more waste than water in your urine, it can smell more strongly. 

In most cases, a strong smell isn’t a sign of disease. It’s usually from your diet and medications, or it means you need to drink more water. Certain urine smells can be a sign of some conditions, but your doctor might not consider that to be the case unless you have other symptoms.

If you notice odd smells along with feeling sick, pain, or bloody urine, you should see your doctor. 

Dehydration, your food, vitamins, and medications are the most common cause of a bad urine smell.

Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much fluid, which can affect how well it works. Your body might lose fluids when you have conditions like diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, don’t drink enough water, or pee or sweat too much. 

Dehydration can affect how your urine smells and looks. When dehydrated, your urine will look dark-colored and have a strong or ammonia-like smell. Other signs that you might be dehydrated include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin 
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Peeing and sweating less 
  • Feeling tired
  • Dizziness

Foods

Some foods have compounds that naturally have a strong odor and can make your urine smell. These include:

Vitamins and supplements

 B vitamins are water soluble, which means your body doesn’t store them, and whatever you don’t need is removed in your urine. B vitamins in your multivitamin are often the culprit of urine that has a fishy smell.

Other vitamins and supplements that can cause your urine to have a noticeable smell include

  • Vitamin D
  • Prenatal vitamins

Medications

Some medicines like antibiotics can make your urine stink. Some antibiotics are made from mold and can make your urine smell yeasty.

Medicines in a class called sulfonamides or sulfas, which are often recommended for treating conditions like bacterial infections, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, may also cause smelly urine.

Drinking lots of water throughout the day can help with these smells and keep your urine clear.

Health conditions

Urine smells might be a symptom that you have a health condition. Managing the health condition may make your urine smell less or lose its strong odor. 

Health conditions that can cause your urine to smell include:

  • Metabolic diseases like fish odor syndrome and diabetes
  • Maple syrup urine disease, a rare and inherited condition that prevents your body from breaking down amino acids
  • Bladder infection
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Menopause
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia
  • Prostate infection

One sign that you possibly have diabetes or high blood sugar is urine that smells sweet or fruity. The sweetness comes from sugar in your urine and is a sign your body is trying to get rid of extra sugar in your blood. Some people say their pee smells like Cheerios, which might be a sweet smell that you should tell your doctor about. 

 

Fruity-smelling urine can be a sign of other diseases and complications.

Diabetic ketoacidosisKetoacidosis is a dangerous complication of diabetes that happens when ketones build up in your blood. It causes symptoms like fruity breath, sweet-smelling urine, excessive thirst, and tiredness.

Maple syrup urine disease. This rare, life-threatening genetic condition prevents the body from breaking down some amino acids. It affects babies and children. 

When these amino acids build up in your blood, they become poisonous in your body. Symptoms of the condition include making your urine, earwax, or sweat smell like maple syrup. The disease can cause other serious symptoms like seizures, sleepiness, irritability, and poor feeding.

Foods that convert to sulfur compounds in your body can make your urine smell rotten. This smell is commonly compared to rotten cabbage or rotten eggs and can come from eating asparagus, garlic, and onions. There are rare conditions that create a rotten smell, too.

Trimethylaminuria. In this condition, also called fish odor syndrome, your body can’t break down a compound called trimethylamine. This chemical on its own smells like rotten eggs, rotting fish, or garbage. As trimethylamine collects in your body, your sweat, breath, and urine will smell rotten or fishy.

Tyrosinemia. There are three types of tyrosinemia, which cause problems breaking down the amino acid tyrosine. Byproducts build up and cause breath, sweat, and urine to smell like boiled cabbage.

Home remedies for fishy urine smell

If your urine smells fishy, two things you can do at home are stay hydrated and improve your hygiene.

Staying hydrated. You can stay hydrated by drinking as much water as your body needs. Having enough water can make it less likely that you’ll have a fishy urine smell when taking medicines that cause this smell. You can have the recommended 15.5 cups of fluids a day for men or people assigned male at birth and about 11.5 cups a day for women or people assigned female at birth. Most of your fluid intake will come from drinking water and other beverages and about 20% from eating water-rich foods like watermelon, strawberry, and celery.

Improving hygiene. Sometimes, poor hygiene can make it seem like your urine smells fishy or foul. You can improve your hygiene by bathing regularly with mild, unscented soap and water, ensuring you wash your genitals. Also, shower after exercising, doing activities that make you sweat, or staying in warm, hot, or wet environments.  

Strong, ammonia-like urine is a sign that you’re a little dehydrated. Drinking more water can often help. Sometimes, ammonia is also a sign of:

Urinary tract infection. Also called a UTI, such an infection happens when you have bacteria in any part of your urinary system. It causes strong or sweet smelling urine. Other UTI symptoms include:

Liver disease. A problem with your liver can make your skin and eyes yellow and your urine dark and smelly. It can also cause stomach pain, throwing up, and feeling sick. 

Kidney stones. Crystals made of waste products and minerals can build up in your kidneys and form hard stones, which can cause strong-smelling urine. You might also feel sick, have pain that comes and goes, and have bloody urine.

Pregnancy might cause you to have urine that smells if:

  • You’re in the early stages of pregnancy and you have morning sickness that causes you to be dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea.
  • You take prenatal vitamins. 
  • You have a UTI, which you might be more prone to having when you’re pregnant.

You might also notice that your urine smells because your hormones have increased your sense of smell, a condition called hyperosmia. This condition often happens in pregnancy. 

It is often impossible to predict how your urine smells or prevent it from smelling. However, you can take steps to ensure you have a healthy pee. 

  1. Pee as often and as quickly as you feel the urge to urinate. You can also use the toilet every 3 to 4 hours so your pee doesn’t become so concentrated that it smells when you pee.
  2. Wipe from front to back after using the toilet to prevent bacteria from entering your urethra and causing a UTI, which may lead to smelly urine.
  3. Pee after having sex to reduce the likelihood that you’ll have an infection that would make your urine smell.
  4. Drink as much water as your body needs and eat foods with lots of fluids so that you can pee every few hours. When you do, your urine won’t be dark-colored or smelly. 
  5. Shower at least once daily with mild soap, focusing on your armpits and groin when you’re short on time.

Urine smells are usually not a cause for concern, especially if they go away within a few days. However, see a doctor if your urine still smells differently after a few days or if you notice other symptoms, like 

  • Blood in your pee
  • Stomach pain
  • Back pain
  • Peeing more often
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Pain when peeing 

In most cases, a strong urine smell is caused by your food or is a sign that you need more fluids. If your urine smells sweet, you feel unwell, or you have other symptoms along with foul-smelling urine, talk to your doctor. Treatment for an unusual urine smell depends on the cause, and once the cause is treated, your urine smell will return to normal. 

What does strange-smelling urine indicate? Strange-smelling might indicate health conditions like dehydration, UTI, or diabetes. But most times, it could be because of the food you’ve had or medicines and supplements you’re taking.

What causes strong-smelling urine in adults? Strong-smelling urine could happen when you have had foods like asparagus, garlic, and onions or have conditions like a UTI, liver diseases, or kidney stones. 

What does diabetic pee smell like? Diabetic pee smells fruity, sweet, or like Cheerios

Why does my urine smell bad? Your urine might smell bad if you’re dehydrated or eat foods that can cause it to have a  bad odor. 

What does urine smell like with liver failure? Urine smells like ammonia with liver failure.