What to Do About a Smelly Cast

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The use of a cast is a common treatment in orthopedics, a branch of medicine that treats bones and muscles. Often used for treating a broken bone, a cast can be useful after surgery and for other conditions that require immobilization.

Unfortunately, a cast can start to stink, and often the smell can become quite bad. Once a cast starts to smell bad, it is unlikely that it will start to smell good.

Cast odor tends to be most problematic in young children and athletes. Little kids have a hard time keeping the cast dry. Athletes may not give up their exercise, causing sweat to accumulate under the cast. So, what can you do if you have a smelly cast?

This article discusses some ideas to help prevent or deal with a stinky cast and when to see a doctor.

Boy sitting in the grass with a neon green cast on his arm
Michael Krinke / istock

Keep It Dry

The key to an odor-free cast is moisture. If you can keep your cast dry, you'll likely not have odor problems. This means keeping water out of the cast and keeping sweat from being produced under the cast.

Cover Your Cast

There are a number of ways to keep your cast dry and keep you clean. You can either be creative with products from around the house ​or buy devices specifically made to keep your cast dry.

While household products (newspaper or bread bags) may be readily available and cheap, be careful as these are flimsy. Many people don't realize it until water has leaked under the bag or made its way through a tear. More heavy-duty plastic, like using plastic bags with medical or duct tape, is generally a better option. 

Don't Play Sports

This may not be acceptable to everyone who has a cast, but if you exercise, you will likely sweat under the cast. This moisture promotes bacterial and fungal growth that is the cause of bad odors and could be a sign of infection. If you do exercise, try to dry the cast out as quickly as possible by blowing fresh air with a hairdryer under the edge of the cast. The quicker you can get to the problem, the better!

Recap

Keep your cast dry by preventing water and sweat from getting in it. Cover it with plastic to keep water out and avoid strenuous exercise and sports if possible.

Get a New Cast

If the odor becomes a problem, call your healthcare provider. Let them know that you think you should have the cast looked at. Sometimes a cast cannot be removed because it is holding the bone in an important position. However, often a cast can be replaced.

There are conditions where a cast should be removed. Odors can be a sign of a more severe skin infection under the cast. If this is suspected, the skin should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.

Odor-Solving Ideas

Use these items to tame the smell:

  • Baking soda: A little baking soda can help to dry up some moisture and cover some of the smell of a stinky cast. Gently powder the cast with a small amount of baking soda.
  • Perfume: Simply covering up the bad smell with a stronger, less annoying odor can help to cover up the problem smell. Obviously, dabbing a little perfume on the cast will do nothing to rid the smell under the cast. However, it may help you and those around you cope with the problem.
  • Fabric softener: Try taking a sheet of fabric softener and rubbing it on the cast. This can help in the same way perfume can cover up some of the odor. Fabric softener tends not to be as strong as perfume. Thus, it may be more appropriate for those who don't like the scent of perfume.
  • CastComfort spray: CastComfort is a product that is made specifically for cast smells. There is nothing fancy about this product, just a talc-based spray. However, it is easy to apply to your cast and not too expensive.
  • Vacuum suction: CastCooler is a product that wraps around your cast and connects to a standard vacuum. The product helps to cool the skin and remove moisture under the cast. This is a safe product that seems to help with some of the common symptoms of cast annoyance.

What Not to Do

These solutions may not solve your problem. If that's the case, see your healthcare provider about possibly getting a new cast. There are two things you should avoid:

  • Don't wash a cast you were told to keep dry. There are waterproof casts, but make sure that's what you have before getting your cast wet.
  • Don't push anything under the cast to scratch an itch. Don't stick hangars, sticks, pencils, forks, or other objects under the cast. Not only can these do skin damage, but they can also pull the padding out from under the cast.

It never hurts to call your healthcare provider to discuss the problem, and the only solution may be to have the cast replaced. You may also consider a waterproof cast. There is a cost sometimes associated with the materials for a waterproof cast. However, it may be worthwhile to help you keep it from smelling too bad.

Summary

It's common for casts to get an odor, but there are things you can do to help.

Keeping your cast dry is one of the most important ways to prevent odor. Keep your cast out of water, unless you've specifically been told it's waterproof. Avoid strenuous exercise and sports to prevent sweating under the cast. If you do sweat or participate in sports, try using a hairdryer under the edge of the cast to dry it out.

For minor odor issues, you can try using baking soda, perfume, or fabric softener on your cast. Products to prevent cast smells are also available for purchase.

If the smell is particularly bothersome, you may need to check with your doctor. They can replace your cast if needed and evaluate your skin for any signs of infection.

A Word From Verywell

Treatment of a broken bone with a cast is rarely a pleasant experience. Even for young children who may be excited to get a cast, the fun wears off quickly. One of the most problematic aspects of caring for a cast is keeping things from getting too pungent.

There are steps you can take to control the odor coming from a cast. Keeping the cast clean and dry, as best as possible, will help keep the smell from getting too bad.

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  1. American Academy of Family Physicians. Cast Care.