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How Do You Tell Someone They Have a Body Odor / Odour / Smell Without Offending Them?


One of the hardest problems to bring up with a friend or work colleague is their body odour problem. No-one wants to be the one to have to tell them, yet at the same time it is nauseating to be around them, and someone is going to have to point it out sooner or later.

Over the years I have encountered this problem a number of times, and it isn't pleasant. One of these occasions I actually employed the woman concerned, and the problem was truly very bad. At the time she had an infected toenail, and was walking about in open toed sandals with a grubby looking bandage on the offending toe. She was employed by me as a petrol station cashier, but this same petrol station had a bakery within it that she had to assist in, and something truly needed to be done.

The odour she was giving off was not just from her toe, but also from her other orifices etc, and it had become so unbearable that when she came into the office to cash up her shift, I could feel myself heaving at the smell.

I have to confess I was a total coward over this problem, especially as I was over 20 years her junior, so I asked another member of senior staff who knew she had previously had this problem, (before I came along), to have a quiet word with her. Even they took an easier way out, as they phoned her adult Son, and asked him to have a chat with her. As this wasn't the first time the problem had been raised, I was surprised she had let her personal hygiene slip again, but she did sort it out after her son spoke with her. Okay, so she failed to turn up at work for a few days, but when she did return she didn't 'offend the senses' any more.

Another occasion I was working for a local Facilities Management Company, and one of the 'out-and-about' employees had a really bad BO problem. It got so bad that whenever he came in the office I would have to leave the reception area to avoid literally 'heaving my guts up' . What was worse was that my fellow receptionist seemed to notice nothing wrong, (I found out why a few weeks later).

Fortunately, I knew I wasn't going mad as the other girls in the office had noticed his 'problem' too, and found it quite funny that I was dashing to the toilets every time he arrived in reception.

It was a few weeks later, once he seemed to have dealt with the problem, I found out why. The girl I worked with on reception had been having an affair with him, (no wonder she couldn't smell the problem), and must have told him about my comments. Okay, I admit, I felt really bad and embarrassed, but mentioning it had indirectly caused him to deal with it. I never could understand what this rather attractive girl saw in him, and I guess I was right as they split up about a year later.

I also found out the reason I may have found the smell particularly offensive was that unknown to me, I was pregnant, which apparently increases your sense of smell dramatically.

So what is the best way to deal with this problem when it confronts you? It really isn't easy to tell the person, and they certainly can't smell it on themselves. Their family no doubt won't notice it as they are around the person a lot of the time, and who truly wants to be the person stuck with the job of breaking the news?

The short answer is that there isn't an 'easy' way to do this without being cruel. The best bet is probably to get the person they are closest to, (although they may not relish the idea), to be the one to have a word with them, be it a work colleague or a family member.

There is no point in buying them nice soaps and bubble baths as presents, (my sister tried that one and the girl gave her back her own gift the following year).

Try to be diplomatic, avoid all the rest of the friends or staff members from knowing today is the day the 'talk' is taking place, and try to be kind and not hurtful when it happens. No doubt the person is going to feel very embarrassed, and deep down will know why they have the problem, especially if they aren't washing regularly, (in which case of course they will know why the accusation has arisen).

What is usually a 'Dead Cert' is that the problem will go away once it has been brought to their attention. Either they will start washing regularly, or they will either leave the circle of friends, or the company, to avoid further embarrassment.


Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on February 23, 2012:

Hi Sydney,

This is one of the most difficult things to tell anyone, but as you are now intimate with him you are left with three choices,

1) You leave him and don't tell him why,

2)You learn to live with it... or

3)You find a nice way to tell him.

Scroll to Continue

I am assuming you like him enough to probably choose option 3, in which case your next option is how to go about this kindly. I would be inclined to take him to one side and say something along the lines of:

"Look, you know I think the world of you don't you, and you know I would never deliberately do anything to hurt your feelings? Well there is something I need to tell you that is really difficult for me to find the right words to get across. Please don't be embarrassed at what I am about to say, but it is because I am your friend that it is better coming from me rather than someone else. You see the thing is that since we became closer I have noticed you have a bit of a personal problem. It may well be medical, in which case you might want to get it checked out, but if not I think possibly a daily shower would solve it, and perhaps a trip to the dentist as I have also noticed an odour on your breath that could indicate a tooth infection. Again I feel awful mentioning this, but better it came from me rather than someone else"

This is just a rough guide as to what you might want to say and how to say it, but if you can't bring yourself to do this face to face you could try putting it in a short letter instead. I am betting the next time you see him he will have showered and cleaned his act up. Most people with BO know deep down why they have it, i.e. they know they have not been washing or they know they have not been cleaning their teeth regularly.

I hope this helps :)

Sydney on February 23, 2012:

I hav dis friend of a year and, we jst became intimate but i notice he has body an mouth odour. Hw do i handle dis? Pls help!

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on February 04, 2012:

That is very true Rory, and it isn't always caused by people being dirty. Sensitivity is always the best way to handle it, although I think no matter how carefully it is handled it is hard for the person with the odour problem to feel anything other than huge embarrassment that it has been pointed out to them. That said, a lady who goes into our local bar has a really really bad problem and the whole room wreaks of BO when she is in it. Someone did have a quiet word with her the other day, and all she did was leave the room for two minutes, before walking back in grinning from ear to ear, announcing loudly "Don't worry, I have sprayed some perfume on now", as if that would solve the problem!

I do believe there is a difference in the smell of someone who hasn't washed for weeks, or changed their clothes, and the smell of someone with a medical problem causing the smell. 'Medical problem' odour is not 'stale' sweat that has been sitting around for weeks. Stale sweat has bacteria feeding on it that have built up and that cause the odour, and that is why it is so distinctive. Both smell bad, but in different ways.

Rory on February 04, 2012:

In high school, I was the 'stinky kid'. I only had a vague concept that I had an odor, which I might catch a whiff of if I was stationary too long. Being someone who showered and scrubbed down every morning in the shower didn't help.

I remember moving to leave the auditorium and was walking behind someone who did not know I was there, listening to them talk about how badly I smelled. It damaged my self-confidence for years, and I almost dropped out of school in embarrassment over the issue.

Please, if you're going to tell someone they have an odor issue, handle it carefully. People are people, no matter what they smell like. Turns out mine was cause by a hormone imbalance that righted itself over the summer. It's not always caused by being dirty.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on February 01, 2012:

@ Chris Green, I have no idea why you posted your last comment here, it had no relevance to this article at all, and appeared to be personal in nature referring to people by names etc that would mean nothing to anyone else here. I have deleted the comment therefore. Please try to stick on topic if you do wish to comment.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on December 06, 2011:

LOL. That is the funniest thing I have read on this subject ever L.R. I love the way you handled it, but swear I will never eat chicken noodle soup again for the rest of my life now.

Lone Ranger on December 05, 2011:

I remember years ago, when I was a young man, my wife did not like to wear deodorant. So, when we set off to visit some friends or family and the smell of chicken noodle soup drifted my way via her arm-pits, I had to do something about it because I didn't want someone else to hurt her feelings or offend her...when I should be the one to do it! :0)

I told her as delicately as possible that chicken noodle soup was a satisfying snack, however, it did not go over well as a perfume. She caught my drift, and God knows I caught enough of hers, but I felt something needed to be said.

Being a contentious sort, she got all self-righteous and indignant and informed me that "women don't sweat like men do". I shot back "I don't know about other women, but I know you do!" An uneasy silence filled the car.......along with the unmistakable smell of chicken noodle soup.

I didn't get anywhere with her, but I did start carrying deodorant in the glove compartment of the car. Whenever the smell began to offend my olfactory sensors, I just leaned over and took out the Speedstick and politely handed it to her.

We divorced 3 years later, but, hey, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. - L.R.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on November 28, 2011:

Hi Idk, most people who have a body odour problem don't smell it on themselves. It is a bit like wearing perfume or aftershave, after the first few moments you stop smelling it on yourself. Most friends and co-workers will find it incredibly hard to tell you if there is a problem, even if confronted face to face. The question you have to ask yourself is 'do you have any reason to believe it could be possible you have a problem'? In other words can you honestly say you shower regularly, do you use deodorants daily (as well as showering), have you any kind of profuse sweating problems, have you had your teeth checked recently, do you wash your clothes frequently etc? If the answer to any of these questions is no (except for the profuse sweating one), then you probably have your answer and you know what you need to do. Even things like fungal infections, (especially on feet) can stink, wearing mouldy old trainers adds to this problem too. Diet is another issue, (think garlic on breath, onions etc)

If you can rule out all the above, then I would talk to a senior manager, or a close friend, and make it clear you won't be offended, but you need to know why people are doing this and if there is a problem you should be made aware of.

Idk on November 28, 2011:

Im not sure if I smell. I dont smell anything but I hear comments and when ppl touch their nose I think its cause I stink or have bad breath. I ask do I smell and even confront a co worker that I heard talking about it...they all say no....i feel crazy.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on October 12, 2011:

Hi Ramesh, well bad breath is usually a sign of either a food you have eaten (garlic, onions etc) or if it is an ongoing smell then it is probably a sign you need to see your dentist as you may well have an abscess or an infection in your teeth, (this is the most likely reason). If neither of these prove to be the cause you should see your Doctor in case you have a problem deeper into the oesophagus or the trachea that might be causing the odour to escape via your mouth.

ramesh on October 12, 2011:

hi my name is ramesh my mouth was very bad smell what about think you

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on October 11, 2011:

This is unfortunate Dog Lady and clearly not the same as BO. It sounds like where you reside is the cause of your problem and I would suggest you try to move somewhere less mouldy that will take pets.

Dog lady on October 11, 2011:

I have 2 dogs and live in a basement apt that is very moldy. I shower throughly and wash my clothes in gain and tide sport and time it so I leave just after washing myself and clothes yet I still have a friend who complains I smell bad

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on September 28, 2011:

Hi Arlene, well you have hopefully done her a favour and stopped her long distance bf from being put off her the moment he meets her. I just hope you were sensitive in your wording of the problem in your letter to avoid hurting her feelings. I actually like the idea of doing it in a letter because it saves embarrassment for both you and the person with the BO.

Arlene on September 28, 2011:

My cousin has a bad odour too and I've told her that she has it, through letter. I've also told her that what if her long distance bf ( their just about to meet in person ) smells her bad odour? Offcourse the guy wouldn't like it. Hehe!

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on May 25, 2011:

Glad you enjoyed this Sun-Girl, thanks for the comment too :)

Sun-Girl from Nigeria on May 25, 2011:

Nice and lovely hub with funny and crazy pic of a guy liking a girl's armpit.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on December 26, 2010:

Thanks Madurai :)

Madurai from Online on December 24, 2010:

really the subject you have taken is the most required in the present day scenario and people wont bother how others feel the bad smell.. great tips to everybody..

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on November 12, 2010:

Strange comment abidirahman!!!

abdirahman on November 12, 2010:

i like kiss of body odour blease give me one man odour kiss

avinicole from united kingdom on May 20, 2009:

thanks for sharing the story! i don't think i would have the guts to tell someone too... i'd probably take the easy way out. : ) hehe

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on December 13, 2008:

LOL Princessa, yes that could be awkward, but would certainly get the message across, albeit not very subtly :)

Wendy Iturrizaga from France on December 13, 2008:

I am afraid I cannot be polite about it. It is beyond myself. I do not need to say anything if the smell is overpowering, my body does not give me time to react as I just start vomiting -which is extremely embarrasing !

It was especially bad when I was pregnant -so bad that I ended up loosing too much weigth!

The best I can do is run away quick for a breath of fresh air, otherwise if I can not evacuate the area (as in a bus or train or plane) I just "boak my barley"

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on December 13, 2008:

Hi foxymoma, that idea may work, but when my Sister tried that with a friend of hers, the girl never used the stuff, and gave the same stuff back to my Sister the following Christmas (obviously forgetting it was my Sister who had bought it for her in the first place.) Thanks for popping in and commenting :)

foxymoma on December 12, 2008:

Your mum your very silly it it just someones comment towards this page, stop acting silly.

But as christmas is approaching you should buy them bath stuff like scented shower gels or soaps, buy them deodrant that comes with shampoos or perfume or anythink that you think that would help them smell better :)

your mum on December 09, 2008:

Brothers are like that silly !

Writer Rider on December 08, 2008:

Mention that they have a sale on soap at your nearby grocery store.

countrywomen from Washington, USA on December 08, 2008:

Cindy- I work in a company with a huge diverse work force hence such a request about food in the Microwave would be considered as racial. Btw one of my office colleagues (a guy) says he would present her with gum & mouth spray for Christmas (I am not sure how she will take it).

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on December 08, 2008:

LOL Sandra, golly that last idea was so gross, and thankfully not a smell I have been on the receiving end of, especially in a supermarket of all places :)

sandra rinck on December 08, 2008:

OMG, my brother had a body odour problem. Of course I just told him he smells and to get some deoderant. He said no! I guess he was on a mission to offend people.

I also know this girl who has really, really bad breath. Though I couldn't bring it up but I did offer gum to her when around her. She ended up dating a good friend of mine, and how on Earth he could put up with the halitosis is beyond me, maybe he said something to her or slipped her some mints, I dunno.

The worste and probably the grossest is the smell of a women who has not changed her "feminine" product. When walking through a grocery store or anywhere for that matter and getting a whiff of that really does make me gag.

I don't know how you tell a stranger your rag stinks. gross, I am sorry, If you don't want to allow this comment, I understand.

Great hub!

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on December 08, 2008:

Thanks Goldentoad, the pics are fairly horrible I agree.

Hi CW, sounds like your colleague either has an infected tooth, or a dodgy diet if her breath smells that bad. Perhaps the best answer would be to send her a diplomatic letter, or ask a senior staff member to have a quiet word with her about it.

countrywomen from Washington, USA on December 08, 2008:

I have a chinese office colleague who has a very bad smell from her mouth and also after she heats her food we don't use the same microwave (we have two in our office kitchen). She is a nice person but who is going to tell her about it (she is also very sensitive and takes things way too personally).

goldentoad from Free and running.... on December 08, 2008:

Oh my goodness gracious, I could barely read with those pics you have, I wanted to gag. The horrors we experience! A very, very informative hub. Good for a laugh too.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on December 08, 2008:

Seems a bit cruel though tour;RUS, although it might well have solved the problem. Thanks for commenting.

tour;RUS on December 08, 2008:

You shoulde of jus wrote youe smell in a note then put dat note where dey workd so wen they came dere dey would of opened daa note smelt themselves to see if this was aimed at them and done somethink bout the hygiene

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on October 14, 2008:

Hi Sara, thanks for commenting LOL, I love your suggestion, but that just seems so cruel :)

HARRIS from Phoenix, Ariz on October 14, 2008:

A Great Hub! Morally and Ethicaly I agree with you.

But there is a faster way, Say it on face and loud :) and then RUn

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