5 Reasons Why Your Pee Smells Weird

Photographed by Nicole Maroon.
The distinct smell of urine is impossible to miss, whether it's wafting from a kid's diaper, lingering on a subway platform, or coming out of your own body. Technically, pee is mostly made up of water and some waste product from your kidneys, which is the special ingredient that gives it its signature scent, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Sometimes, you might notice that your pee smells aggressively strong or just a little bit off-kilter. For example, it might be musty, sour, sweet, rotten, or something in between. Depending on the cause, your pee might return to its normal odor after a day. If a change in scent is accompanied by something more obviously disconcerting (like blood in your urine or pain with urination), or it simply doesn't return to normal, that's reason enough to contact your doctor. Ahead, find five common causes for a change in your urine — and take note of which ones could signal a more serious problem.
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If you've been drinking a lot of water, your pee will likely be a lighter shade of yellow (not necessarily clear), and have barely any odor at all. If you're not drinking enough water, then your urine will be made up of mostly "waste product" and a little water, so it'll look brighter and smell more like ammonia, which can be sweet and chemically, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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Eating specific foods.

Ah yes, asparagus pee. Some people discover a change in the smell of their urine after eating asparagus. It's not entirely understood why this happens, but one theory suggests that it has to do with the fertilizer used on asparagus plants, which can contain sulfur. Some people might have a gene that allows them to break down the sulfur found on asparagus plants, thus emitting an odor like rotting cabbage in their pee, according to Harvard Medical School's Women's Health Watch. Some researchers believe everyone has this gene, but only some individuals can pick up on the smell (kind of like cilantro).
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A urinary tract infection.

Having a urinary tract infection can really screw with your pee, and often sends you sprinting to the bathroom every few minutes or leaves you writhing in pain after the slightest trickle of pee. In addition to these symptoms, you may also find that your urine has a foul odor, and that's likely due to the bacteria and mucus in it, according to Medline Plus. You should definitely see your doctor if you think you have a UTI, so they can put you on antibiotics to stop the infection.
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Taking vitamins or medications.

Certain vitamins, such as B or C, can alter the odor and color of your urine, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is normal, and can most likely be traced to the fact that these vitamins are water-soluble, meaning the excess comes out in your pee. Other prescription and OTC medications — including laxatives, muscle relaxants, and antibiotics — can also make your urine a different color or smell, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's worth it to double-check with your doctor that the medications you're on are responsible for the pee smell.
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You have a medical condition.

In some cases, sweet-smelling urine can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes or a metabolic condition, according to Medline Plus. And musty-smelling pee can also be a symptom of liver disease. If you do notice that your symptoms don't go away when you change your diet or other lifestyle habits, speak to your doctor so they can rule out anything more serious.

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