National Continence Helpline

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What is urine?

  • Urine is a fluid that is made by the kidneys and stored in the bladder until it is passed out of the body through the urethra.
  • The kidneys filter the blood and take out the waste products. This process creates urine.

Why does it matter if you can smell urine?

Urine naturally has a smell that can be more obvious at different times. However, it is not normally a strong smell. If the person you support's urine smells different than usual, it might mean that there is a problem. It is important to try to find out why you can smell urine. This will help you work out the problem and what help is needed.

Why urine might smell strongly

  • Urine can smell strongly when it is not fresh (e.g. the person passed the urine a while ago).
    • This can be because the urine has dried on the person's skin, clothes or somewhere they live (e.g. carpet or chair).
    • If the person is wearing a continence pad or pants, it might not be absorbent enough for the amount of urine they have passed. This might have caused it to leak.
    • If the pad or pant is too big or too small or not put on properly, the urine can leak out.
    • If the person used a commode, bedpan, bucket or bottle and the urine is not flushed away straight away.
    • The person might not be able to clean themsleves properly after passing urine. This can leave a smell on their clothes. Dried urine can also damage the skin. For more information go to Cleaning skin after going to the toilet.
    • If a person is incontinent, leaked urine can dry on their clothes, bedding, chair or flooring. The dried urine will smell until it is cleaned properly.
  • Strong smelling urine can also be caused by:
    • some food, such as asparagus.
    • the urine being concentrated when a person is not drinking enough fluid, or is dehydrated. Some people notice that their urine is darker and smells stronger first thing in the morning because it has been a long time since their last drink. For more information go to Fluids.
    • some medicines e.g. antibiotics, some vitamins and minerals.
    • some health conditions e.g diabetes, if it is not managed well.
    • a urinary tract infection. However, urine is not always smelly when there is an infection, so smell on its own doesn't mean there is an infection.

If you notice any of the above signs, you need to talk about it with the person and their other support workers as well as your supervisor. It may be necessary to refer the person to a health care professional or a continence nurse advisor for further assessment.

Need more help? Call the National Continence Helpline on 18OO 33 OO 66 and talk to a continence nurse advisor.

Take the Quiz

Question 1

If the person's clothes smell strongly of urine:

throw them away immediately

insist they wear a continence pad

help the person to change into fresh clothes and wash the smelly clothes

don't do anything because it will embarrass them.

Question 2

If there is a very strong smell of urine it means:

the person definitely has a urinary tract infection

you need to work out where the smell is coming from to help you decide what to do.

they definitely have urinary incontinence

they must be showered straight away

Question 3

If a person is very dehydrated, their urine will be:

very pale yellow


dark yellow, brown or dark brown


Question 4

Urine smells strongly when:

it is fresh

it is not fresh

the person has passed urine in the toilet

they flush the toilet.

This information is not a substitute for independent professional advice.