Why Does My Tattoo Smell Bad?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 6, 2020
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

While leaving the tattoo parlor with fresh ink may seem like the end of your tattoo journey, it actually signals the beginning of a new process: healing. For the next few weeks, it’s critical to follow the instructions given to you regarding care and cleaning to ensure the healing process goes smoothly. Most tattoos heal well, and true complications are rare.

However, sometimes issues can arise in the days following the tattoo session. One such problem is smell. You may be wondering, “Why does my tattoo smell bad?” In this post, we’re going to take a look at what might be causing this issue. We’ll also go over some warning signs that will necessitate a trip to the doctor.


What Does a Tattoo Normally Smell Like?

First things first: let’s address the issue of what a tattoo should smell like. Do tattoos usually have a smell?

The answer is no; tattoos should not have an odor. You may notice some distinct smells right after you get the tattoo, however.

The tattoo artist will apply antibiotic ointment once they’re finished, which often has a strong odor. Recently completed tattoos can also smell like blood, which is to be expected because most people bleed at least a bit during the process.

Wet Healing May Cause Odors

Your tattoo may have a strange smell if you are following a wet healing aftercare plan. In this case, odors are generally nothing to be concerned about.

What Is Wet Healing?

As you may have guessed from its name, this method involves keeping the tattoo wet in the days following application. The process consists of cleaning the tattoo and then treating it with an ointment of some kind, like Aquaphor. Finally, you cover the tattoo in plastic wrap and secure it.

Some tattoo artists recommend their clients follow a wet healing process because it prevents hard scabs from forming, and it stops micro-tears.

The Wet Healing Process

To understand why odors are normal in wet healing, you must understand how your body responds to it.

Most people cover their tattoos from three to four days, until flaking and peeling begin. During this time, your tattoo starts to weep fluids—which is a normal part of the healing process. This weeping is full of plasma, blood, and lymph fluid. As the cells within these fluids begin to die and decay, they generally start to emit foul odors.

What to Do if Your Tattoo Smells

If your healing tattoo is unbandaged and gives off a foul odor, it’s usually a sign that something is wrong, especially if it’s been more than forty-eight hours since you got it and you’ve since cleaned the area. Anaerobic bacteria, or harmful bacteria, are what give off a nasty smell, so if you catch a bad whiff, have a professional examine you as soon as possible.

While a foul odor coming from your tattoo is enough of a reason to see your doctor, there are some other signs that could indicate an infection. If you experience a bad smell coming from the area along with any of the following symptoms, it’s best to seek medical assistance, as you may have an infection:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Extreme scabbing or redness
  • Colored pus (usually very smelly)
  • Extreme pain

What Should You Expect While Your Tattoo Is Healing?

On the flip side, it’s vital to know what to expect from a healing tattoo to distinguish when there’s a real problem. Here are some things to expect in the days and weeks after getting inked:

  • Oozing: As mentioned above, fluids coming from your tattoo are a normal part of healing. They should be clear in color.
  • Itching: Wounds often itch as they heal, and a tattoo is basically a wound.
  • Peeling: Peeling is a natural response to injury and shows your tattoo is healing properly. Just remember to refrain from picking at your tattoo.

The Bottom Line

In most cases, actual infections are rare. As long as you follow the aftercare instructions given to you by your artist, your tattoo should heal well. However, it’s vital to keep an eye on your healing ink and recognize that true tattoo odor is usually a sign of infection. When in doubt, a visit to a medical professional is the best way to rule out or treat a potenital problem.