How to Deal with Odor in Wounds

Odor in wounds can be distressing for both the patient and the caregiver who must care for them. Odor can cause the patient to feel embarrassed or ashamed and may lead them to withdraw from their daily civilities. Patients with foul-smelling wounds are often driven to cover up the odor using various methods which may actually impede wound healing, such as the application of scented creams or too-frequent bathing. In short, malodorous wounds can have a significant impact on the patient’s life, causing depression and poor self-esteem.

Caregiver Challenges

odor in wounds

For the caregiver charged with caring for the wound, the task can be an unpleasant one. Wounds may be so foul-smelling that the caregiver becomes ill, making it difficult for the caregiver to perform the arduous task of caring for these wounds. Those who have cared for such wounds know how difficult this can be.

So what can be done to address the issue of foul-smelling wounds? As it turns out, the problem is not a hopeless one.

What Causes Wound Odor?

The breakdown of tissue through tissue death and necrosis is a common cause of odor in wounds. Certain bacteria that colonize wounds and release compounds can also cause odor. For example, Pseudomonas has a characteristic odor, as does Klebsiella. Anaerobes are frequently the culprit of foul odors, and any wound that suddenly becomes foul smelling has likely become colonized with anaerobes.

Many people try to manage odor using deodorizers, ventilation and charcoal dressings, but generally find these methods ineffective.

How Can Wound Odor be Combated?

The most important first step in combating odor is to ascertain the cause, or source, of the odor. The pathogen should be identified where possible. Antimicrobial wound cleansers may be used, but should contain safe ingredients. The wound should be debrided if needed. The following products may be useful:

  • Products containing silver
  • Products containing polyhexamethylene biguanide
  • For systemic infections, topical and systemic antibiotics may be used
  • Odor-control dressings, like those containing charcoal, may be used to absorb odor molecules, preventing odor from escaping the dressing
  • ŸCyclodextrins are naturally occurring lipids which absorb odor, and work best in a humid environment, making them ideal for heavily exudating wounds
  • ŸMetronidazole (flagyl) has also been used to fight odor; when used topically it can eradicate the anaerobes that cause odor. It is easy and convenient, and using Metronidazole topically does not cause the same side effects as using the drug orally can. Several studies have found topical Metronidazole to be an effective odor destroyer.

Chronic Odor in Wounds

The problem of wound odor can be life-altering for the patient who lives with constant foul odor, and can be unpleasant for the caregiver as well. Every effort should be made to identify the cause of the odor. There are several products that may be effective in combating odor.

Learn More With Our Wound Care Education Options

Interested in learning more about wound care and certification? Browse through our wound care certification courses for information on our comprehensive range of education options to suit healthcare professionals across the full spectrum of qualifications and experience.


  1. Alvarez, O., Comfort, C., Hernandez, L., Kalinski, C., Laboy, D., McGrinder, B.,
  2. Nusbaum, J., & Schnepf, M. (2005) Effectiveness of a topical formulation
  3. containing metronidazole for wound odor and exudate control. Wounds,17(4), Pp. 84-90.
  4. Fleck, C. Fighting odor in wounds. Advances in Skin and Wound Care, 19(5), pp. 242-245


  1. Wearing wound vac have much flatulence it is absorbed by the dressing and then the canister. Why hasn’t my doctors suggested and wound medication like flagyl or silver sulfadiazine to put directly in the wound.

    1. Am on antibiotics and due to kidney transplant also immunne suppressed system how do i clear up my widespread infection which constantly weeps on my lower leg

  2. My name is William, in my case it’s barely been about 3 weeks now. It hurts and stinks. I get it to dry out but then it leaks that fluidy water out all over my leg. Its fustrating. I live in Mexico. What can I do on own to manage and get it to heal more?? If you have advice and suggestions I’m open to anything. Please help me out my Email is below someone contact me let me know.. Ok. Thank you for your time.

  3. Should I remove the top, eschar maybe, from my husbands deep tissue wound on his right heel? I am using a silver based product to combat infection. The wound is stinky, I clean it with warm water. Could it have been caused by him rubbing his heel on the gurney bed in an ER?

  4. Iam Isaac from uganda avictim of cancer sacorma on my shoulder i need your help because i failed to go to the hospital cause of money for treatment and transport it is very far my family cannot aford the money. Ineed your advice and asistance. Thank you

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