Stacy Robertson
Stacy Robertson
August 24, 2023 ·  3 min read

Sniffing Your Partner’s Shirt Helps Reduce Stress, Study says

Quite a number of people wear their partner’s clothes or sniff them for a wide range of reasons. For some, especially those in long-distance relationships, it brings a level of comfort, makes the bed seem a little less empty, and reminds one partner of the other. While it is certainly endearing, science has taken it a notch higher: the smell of your partner’s cloth is an excellent anti-stress tool that can help you feel relaxed. [1]


In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) found that smelling a loved one’s clothing was linked with lower levels of cortisol in women’s blood. [2]

Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviors. Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress,” lead study author Marlise Hofer, a graduate student in the UBC Department of Psychology, said in a statement.


Basically, the study consisted of 96 couples. The men wore T-shirts for 24 hours, without wearing any scented body products. They were asked not to smoke or eat foods that could alter their body scents. After the shirts had been worn for 24 hours, they were frozen to preserve the scents. The women, because women possess a better sense of smell, were given their partner’s t-shirt and one with either no scent or the smell of a stranger. In both groups, the women weren’t told whether either shirt was worn, or who wore the shirt. [3]

After smelling the shirts, the women participated in activities that raised their stress levels. Firstly, they were given a mock job interview and subsequently a mental math task. To measure stress, saliva samples were collected and measured to determine cortisol levels. Additionally, the women were asked about how much stress they felt during and after the stress tests. 


The result was a decreased level of stress in women who sniffed their partner’s shirt both before and after the test. The women who received a T-shirt worn by their partners, rather than strangers, had lower cortisol levels. They also said they felt less stress during and after the interview. 

The effect was shown to be greater in women who knew that the scents belonged to their partners. This strongly suggests that the benefits of sniffing a loved one’s scent are stronger when women are aware of what they are smelling.

Smelling a stranger’s scent, on the other hand, had the opposite effect. The research showed that women who sniffed a stranger’s t-shirt, rather than an unworn one had higher cortisol levels throughout the test. This was explained in a statement:

“From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males, so it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response that leads to elevated cortisol,” the researchers said. “This could happen without us being fully aware of it.” 

Surprisingly, despite the increased cortisol in those who sniffed the stranger’s shirt, the women themselves didn’t say that they felt stressed.

‘A coping mechanism’

The researchers add that these findings could be used to help people cope with stressful situations in the event of separation from their loved ones. Wearing a scarf or an article of clothing worn by your loved ones can help you cope better with their absence. In a statement, senior study author Frances Chen, an assistant professor in the UBC Department of Psychology said:

“With globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities. Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels when you’re far from home.” [4]


  1. Why Sniffing Your Partner’s Shirt Helps Reduce Stress.” Live Science. Samantha Matthewson. Retrieved from January 7, 2018.
  2. Stressed out? Try smelling your partner’s shirt.Science Daily. University of British Columbia. Retrieved from January 4, 2018.
  3. Need to calm down? Science says sniff your partner’s shirt.New Atlas. Rich Haridy. January 8, 2018.
  4. Can the Smell of a Loved One Relieve Stress?Psychology Today. Romeo Vitelli Ph.D. March 18, 2018.