We Found The Best Way To Get That Potent Garlic Smell Off Your Hands

Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor By Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition.

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I've been making a lot of pesto lately (honestly, my basil plant is about to bust the confines of my tiny garden). And I don't know about you, but I use a lot of garlic in my pesto. I'm one of those "if the recipe calls for one clove, use five cloves" kind of home cooks.

While this approach can have great health perks (garlic is one of our favorite cancer-fighting foods), all that chopping can really stink up your fingers. I've gotten up the next morning after chopping garlic for dinner and my fingers have still smelled, despite ample hand washing. 

When you search online, there is no shortage of message boards and articles proclaiming that all sorts of weird things (like rubbing a stainless-steel spoon over your fingers) neutralize or eliminate garlic odors better than hand soap. But do they work? After whipping up various garlic-laced goodies, I tested out some of the most popular remedies circulating the internet featuring common household items and ingredients. Here are a few that nixed the odor pretty effectively—with a few caveats.

(Pro tip: Whichever method you choose, first wash your hands with soap and use cool water. Warm water, on the other hand, seems to open up the pores on your hands allowing the garlicky scent to penetrate deeper.)

1. Stainless steel

I was skeptical about the popular claim that rubbing something made of stainless steel over your smelly fingers under running tap water would effectively remove garlic odor. The idea is that the molecules in the steel bind with the sulfur molecules from garlic or onions that are clinging to your hands, thus transferring the molecules (and smell) to the metal and off of your skin. While inexpensive stainless-steel bars (which look like soap bars) are available online, I just used a large stainless-steel spoon to test it out. The verdict? This method actually worked well; however, it may be difficult to get into the crevices under your fingernails. I'd recommend using it along with one of these other methods below.

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2. Baking soda and salt

Baking soda is a well-known odor eliminator, and salt adds an extra exfoliating punch—and you likely have both of these staples in your kitchen already. When I combined about 2 teaspoons of baking soda with ½ teaspoon of table salt and scrubbed with a bit of cool water, it pretty much eliminated all garlic odor. Bonus: Baking soda can help whiten your fingernails, too! Consider using a small fingernail brush to work the baking soda mixture under your nails and kill two birds with one stone.

3. Mint toothpaste

Because of toothpaste's slightly gritty texture, baking soda content, and pleasant minty scent, it's been recommended as a potential garlic odor-eliminator. I was apprehensive since I use a natural brand and wasn't sure it would have the same effect, but it did a pretty great job. For added grit, I'd recommend combining it with a little extra baking soda before slathering it onto your hands.

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4. Lemon and salt

In the "it works but might not be worth it" department lies the old odor-killing combo of lemon juice (or a lemon slice) and salt. Rubbing these together on your hand does a pretty fantastic job of removing odors and leaving you with an uplifting citrus scent, but it's a no-go if you have any sort of cut on your hands or if you tend to pick at your cuticles, as the acid will sting pretty significantly. 

5. Leftover coffee grounds

Another method that's decent but probably not a top pick calls for rubbing your hands with damp used coffee grounds. If you don't have used coffee grounds available, fresh will work too, but you'll want to wet them first. The idea is that the exfoliating action of the grounds coupled with coffee's strong scent will help eliminate odors. The exfoliation did a pretty good job of removing the garlic smell; however, my hands definitely smelled a bit like old coffee after (a slight upgrade but not ideal). Also, be prepared for some of the coffee grounds to get stuck under your fingernails and look like dirt.

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How to prevent that lingering garlic smell in the first place. 

If you're of the "prevention is the best medicine" mindset, there are also a few ways to minimize this everlasting smell in the first place: 1) Rub your hands with oil before chopping to act as a barrier, then wash hands with soap and cool water immediately after; 2) mince your garlic with a fork, smooshing down on that clove with forks prongs (not the neatest method, but it works); 3) or just wear some rubber kitchen gloves. Whatever you do, though, keep eating that garlic—it's just too good (and good for you) to pass up over some minor B.O.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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