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How to tell a friend or co-worker they smell bad

Updated on July 9, 2013

Telling a Friend they stink isn't easy

Have you ever had a friend or co-worker that you can smell coming from a mile away? Their body odor smells worse than toxic waste and the flowers wilt when they walk by your cubicle? How do you politely tell them that they stink more than Bambie's adorable little skunk pal Flower? Just like Bambie's friend Thumper, you've been taught that "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin at all..." So does that mean you have to choke back your bile or run in the other direction when they try to approach you?

Try the subtle approach

Maybe you don't have the nerve to come right out and say it to your co-worker's face. Try telling them in a subtle way.

Keep air freshener spray at the ready, along with a gas mask or nose plugs. When the offending smell enters your cubicle, subtly slip the gas mask or nose plugs on. You can surround your work area with scented candles and tell everyone that your shrink told you to try aroma therapy when you are stressed out, instead of carrying your concealed weapon.Or try following about 3 feet behind them spraying your can of air freshener. They probably won't even notice! If you get trapped on an elevator with the olfactory offender, try holding your breath until you reach your floor. If they ask why you are turning bright red or passing out, tell them it is elevator etiquette not to hog all the "fresh air". Nothing suspicious about that...

Another subtle approach might be "showering them with gifts." Try giving them gifts like soap, deodorant or perfume. Cash bonuses are so impersonal, at least you'll come across as thoughtful! Or, tell them that in these hard times, it might be difficult for people to afford proper hygiene products. You are just practicing random acts of kindness. Who can argue with that?

Be frank

Sometimes, subtly does not work. Some people just can't take a hint. If your hints don't seem to be working, it's time to find Frank. Ask him to tell the person that they stink!

If you are unfortunate enough to not have any friends or co-workers named Frank, then you might have to tell the person they smell yourself. Just come right out and tell them. Explain that you have an extremely sensitive gag reflex that goes off every time they approach you. If they don't want you to throw up on their very expensive shoes, they have to do something about that rancid odor emanating from their person. Remember you are doing them a kindness! Dry cleaning is expensive these days...

Anonymous but to the point

Okay, some of us just don't have it in us to say such nasty things, even when they are true. Don't think of yourself as spineless or wimpy, you are just too kind-hearted to look someone in the eyes and beg them to take a shower before everyone in the office catches swine flu. Just because you don't have the guts to say it to their face, doesn't mean you can't try a much more passive-aggressive method!

SEND A DEODORGRAM: Until they come up with an app, and no doubt there will eventually be an app for everything, there is another way. An enterprising company, G.B. Proudfoots Natural Body Care Products, creates a full line of natural deodorants called "For Pit's Sake". They are offering to send an anonymous gift with a pre printed message that will definitely get the point across! For around $10, you can send a "deodorgram", a gift-wrapped stick of deodorant with a not-so-subtle note attached.

You can select from 3 different messages:

  • Message A: "You've always been such a cute little stinker, now you can just be cute and little! Please enjoy this hard working natural deodorant sent to you from a caring friend."
  • Message B: "For Pits Sake! Throw out your current deodorant and give this one a try. You deserve a natural deodorant that works!"
  • Message C: "There''s no need to sweat it, but if you do, try this natural deodorant that works!"

The best part is that it is completely anonymous! This is a passive-aggressive personality's dream solution. So, if you are Minnesota nice---it might be worth the investment!

Now, if only you could find someone to tell your co-worker that polyester pantsuits aren't really flattering for anyone...maybe there's an app for that?


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    • manatita44 profile image


      5 years ago from london

      I was told by a friend once. I sought of knew it already, somehow. He told me in a matter of fact way and left it at that.

      I was hurt but grateful. I spent a lot of time on buying different solutions - some which made me sick - ordering products, doing detox and having regular brushes.

      In my case, I was poorly, and the internal system was not doing too well. Bad odour can be a combination of so many different things. Let me say to readers here that I took digestive enzymes, used chlorophyll and other supplements for bowel and digestive health. Regular checks and deep cleaning as well as lots of water is also useful.

      Here I am talking about bad breath. Body odour is even more unpleasant and sometimes it can be a simple change in hygiene that's needed. Sometimes. To return to the breath, one can tell by licking the back of the hand and smelling it. I have found this a useful guide to detect breath smells.

      If one is stressed, and here I mean really drained, sleeping little and fatigued a.m, then a vacation is in order for a couple of months or so. Useful article, although one's approach - whatever it may be - should always be guided by Love.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I consider myself as one who can say what they feel and get somewhat to the point, but we had someone work with us who had terrible body odor and I couldn't bring myself to say anything. I just couldn't get the words out! This is a cute hub- and I'm glad I don't have to use it now (as our coworker has quit), but will remember it if ever needed for the future!

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      Well, you gave it a try anyway! I guess honesty might be the best policy, but sending the deodorgram would have been a good back up plan! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, much appreciated.

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      CloudExplorer, I agree that high school and teenagers is another whole bad smell altogether! An app would most certainly have been appreciated back then!

      Your Cousins, it is a sensitive subject! I know people who drowned themselves in perfume, so it is definitely possible to smell TOO good!

      Barbara Kay, I'm sorry your husband had to go through that! I understand that there are several health problems that cause bad body odor and I would feel horrible if I actually had to tell someone.

      Thank you all for your comments! They are greatly appreciated.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 

      6 years ago from USA

      My husband is a supervisor and employees that were working for him complained about a certain lady's odor. He was told by Human Resources that he had to talk to this women about it. It turned out that she had a health problem that caused the smell and there was nothing she could do. When he talked to her, she started crying and told him about it. You need to tread lightly with people. It caused embarassament for her and she already felt bad about her situation and it upset my husband that he had to speak to her. The company made her get a doctor's note.

    • Your Cousins profile image

      Your Cousins 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      We've all been there, mpropp. It is such a sensitive subject and if you tell them face-to-face, they may never speak to you again. But a deodorgram seems to provide the perfect solution. Now what do we do about the co-worker who smells t-o-o-o-o sweet ? LOL

    • CloudExplorer profile image

      Mike Pugh 

      6 years ago from New York City

      To funny Melissa, wow I met me some skunks myself in my working days, and in high school was the worst time of all, I wish them had apps back then and smart phones to send them cool deodorgram's. Nice hub!

      Getting shared across the board.

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Thank you holygenas30, I really appreciate your compliments! You are making my day! I think I had a science teacher in high school that had that exact same bad breath combo, so I understand! Can you imagine if we could have said something?! That would be been fun....

    • holyjeans30 profile image

      Amy D. 

      7 years ago from Mostly in My Own Little World

      This is so funny. I think everyone has at one point had either a smelly friend, or co worker. I remember when I was in junior high, my computer teacher smoked and drank coffee every day, and if you don't know, let me tell you, that is one foul breath causing combination. He would lean next to our heads to show us things on the computer and we really had to hold our breath while he talked. Nobody ever said anything that I know of, but we thought about it. Great Hub, and welcome to Hubpages.

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Veronica, I'd have to say I'm more passive-aggressive most of the time (or chicken), so the deodorgram would be my go-to also! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it!

    • VeronicaFarkas profile image

      Veronica Roberts 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      This is fabulous! You must have some really stinky co-workers! hehe :)

      I love the deodorgram idea. I am sometimes assertive and straight-forward, and sometimes not. That'd be perfect for those times that I chicken out. :)

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Hi Linda, thanks for the nice comments. I'm sorry the dirty deed fell on you, but I'm sure you did it with class! Yeah, that deodorgram would come in handy sometimes....Thanks again for stopping by!

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 

      7 years ago from Central Virginia

      Melissa, having been in the position of having to do this, I just couldn't ignore this title. It is a hard thing to do for sure but sometimes, it just has to be done. I sure wish there had been a Deodororam when it was my turn to tell. :-) Great hub!

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Thanks for your comments FolliedVetro. Sometimes honesty is the best policy...but its so hard to be blunt! Serious, strong and with great authority? I'm so relieved! I was afraid it meant "depressed" or something, and I didn't want to give off the wrong impression! It just happens to be slimming and versatile! :)

    • FolliediVetro profile image


      7 years ago from Malta

      It happened to me...many years ago,a colleague was studying with bad smell,he asked me if he was smell and I told him ""but my eyes told him another thing,be true,is better,with a sweet approach but true.To wear totally black means that you are a serious person, strong and with a great authority.

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      ImKarn23, yes- I definitely meant this to be sarcastic, but some have really taken it very first comment (which I decided not to accept) pretty much said I wasn't being a good Christian and I'd probably rot in hell for being so mean...Glad you get my humor! We Libras have to stick together!

      lovedoctor926, I could do a whole separate hub on halitosis! That is one area of hygiene that is sadly overlooked by a lot of people. Maybe someone would take a subtle hint when you offer them a breath mint or piece of gum every time they talk to you! Thanks so much for your nice comments, I appreciate you stopping by.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub! Funny too! This is a very sensitive issue. I knew this woman who had terrible bad breath. She used to work with me several years ago. I think she suffered from halitosis. I remember holding my breath whenever she would come around my cubicle area. I wouldn't dare to tell anyone they smell, but I know what you mean. Personal hygiene should be carried daily and part of your routine. Even if you can't smell it, your body odor can be offensive to those around you.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 

      7 years ago

      Let's be 'Frank' - this was freaking hilarious! I know there's some serious comments up there, but me? I just giggled the entire trip! and i do mean trip!

      As soon as you told me you were a libra - i wanted to..know more..

      don't know bout you, dear, but - i feel my libra to the bone..

      justice for all - since i was born..

      since being diagnosed with anxiety disorders a few years back - i try to pick my fights now..

      You probably can guess what my current fight is? LOL..

      my sense of humor is my savior, no doubt - i just can't think of any situation where a little humor doesn't help..

      we tend to take ourselves too seriously sometimes, eh?

      ps. kindheart is so much better than 'spineless and wimpy'..OMG..


    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Thanks alocsin, I imagine this is the type of situation when it is good to be a freelancer or work-at-home individual! Luckily, I also haven't had to tackle this touchy subject....Being totally non-confrontational, I probably would opt for the boss or the anonymous gift.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      You offer some useful approaches to a sensitive subject. Fortunately, this has never happened to me, though I suppose my first instinct would be to tell the boss to do something about it. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      DDE, I agree with you completely. Its much easier to be a bit more direct or blunt with someone if you don't have to work with them or hang out with them on the weekends! Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I had encounters with people like this but they were not co-workers or friends so it is easier to get away from them

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Thank you Thelma for your kind words. Practice tough love and come right out and tell her she smells! Or, send her an anonymous smelly gift---that might be easier. Thanks again for your nice comment.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      7 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      Yep, it´s very difficult to tell a friend that she stinks. She might get angry and you´ll lose her. Anyway, I find your hub funny but true. I might use your advice. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Thanks ChristyWrites for your comments. I hope my co-workers aren't reading this! Just kidding, this hub was not based off a true story, thank goodness....

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hehe your hub makes me laugh. It's true though that sometimes co-workers smell a little less than fresh. I like the deodorgram you mention!

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      macteacher, thank you so much for your comments. Fortunately for myself, I have NOT had to actually address someone about their body odor. That's probably why I can make light of it! I commend you for being able to be so direct...

      I'm a newbie here at hubpages myself and I look forward to following your hubs. The first hub is the hardest, but I'm sure you'll be great. Thanks again for commenting.

    • macteacher profile image

      Wendy Golden 

      7 years ago from New York

      Years ago I had the unpleasant task of telling one of the young women in my social group that she was killing me and everyone else with the body odor. It was not fun to do - but it had to be done. She admitted that she had been depressed and not showering as often as she should. She was mad for awhile, but got over it because I was right.

      My sister works the next cubicle over from one of the smelliest women on the planet. So you are addressing a very common and delicate problem.

      I loved the passive-aggressive approach, but I have to say that the direct approach is, unfortunately, the one that works. Smelly people really don't get it unless you confront them directly.

      Great hub - funny, and eye-catching. I hope to start publishing my hubs soon and I hope they're as good as yours. Thanks!

    • dwachira profile image

      Danson Wachira 

      7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Hi mpropp,

      I approached this hub very cautiously, this was a tricky topic but you did it very well. I like the tip of being frank and truthful, though it can hurt many will appreciate that you told them the truth. Voted up and useful.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      7 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      This hub is sooo funny, even though having people around you that insult your sense of smell, is not funny at all. Isn't this the most sensitive issue you can think of? I worked with a guy who had a serious problem with B.O......and I don't mean Barack Obama!

      Everyone had something to say about it behind his back (including yours truly) but no one knew how to tell him.

      Well, in every crowd, there's always that ONE person who will bite the bullet........and yes, it's usually me. I finally had a chat with him.

      Bottom line? He not only had B.O...he must have also been deaf.

    • abithewriter profile image

      abijith sasikumar 

      7 years ago from india

      the hub is really funny

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I have had two co-workers in the past who really had bad body odor. One was a male teacher from the Cameroons and the other a white teacher from England. In both instances subtle approaches were tried. With the Cameroons teacher, we had another African teacher tell the fellow that his B.O. was really reeking. This approach worked because the next day the B.O. was gone. Subtle approaches didn't work for the Brit. One teacher sprayed perfume near his desk, and on one occasion I casually hinted that on some days I don't wear enough underarm deodorant. The guy got the hint but didn't change because he claimed that his skin was really allergic to deodorant. Voteup and sharing.

    • VioletSun profile image


      7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      This hub gave me quite a few chuckles. Loved your wit and creativity. The Frank and elevator tips were my favorite. LOL. You are off to a good start in Hubpages. Welcome! :)

    • Horatio Plot profile image

      Horatio Plot 

      7 years ago from Bedfordshire, England.

      She returned wetter, fresher and never smelt again! Well, I little fishy I guess, but it was a Friday, so that was cool.

      Seriously though, it was simply her way of dealing with the problem, which she obviously recognised. She was a large lady with a large personality and when confronted by it she came up with a large solution that totally defused what could have been an awkward confrontation.

      It became a major talking point all around the building. For years after the Chairman would threaten to, "do a Doris", when he felt things weren't going his way.

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      NMLady, I think your description of "overly manly" was genius! That is the perfect thing to say--unless you are speaking to a woman....she might not take it quite as well...

      joanveronica, thank you so much for the kind comments and encouragement. I'm a newbie at hubpages and this was one of my first attempts at humor, so I really appreciate the positive feedback.

      Horatio Plot, you should write a hub about your catering manager experiences-especially the one you just described! I can't believe that she actually jumped into a lake in her uniform....Did she report back to work later? Wetter but fresher? Thanks for sharing your real life experience!

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Peggy, thanks for the comment! I listen to a talk radio show and they had received a "press release" from the company. I didn't think it could possibly be true till I looked up the company myself. So that inspired me to create a hub. Thankfully, I haven't been in that uncomfortable position personally--which is probably why I can make light of it!

    • Horatio Plot profile image

      Horatio Plot 

      7 years ago from Bedfordshire, England.

      What a fun Hub! Reminded me of when I was a young and green catering manager and had to tell a rather large and somewhat smelly member of staff that they had a body odor problem. I was quaking in my shoes. But her reaction was a classic.

      "Well if that's the case, I'd better go have a bath." She said, before walking out of the restaurant, across the car park and jumping in the lake at the front of the building in her uniform!

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 

      7 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      I loved this, really loved it, and the comments are just right too. A good Hub will produce good comments, so congratulations on all counts. Welcome to Hubpages, and please write more of these!

      Voted up, funny, awesome and interesting. Also shared!

    • NMLady profile image


      7 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      had that problem with a friend. I finally had to pull him aside and quietly tell him. He was not happy but got over it.... it was a combo of his nose not working very well and wearing clothes many times before he washed them. He was well enough off to take care of the problem...... BTW I told him he smelled 'overly manly' rather than 'you stink'

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This is really funny!!! I Googled G.B. Proudfoots Natural Body Care Products company and it really DOES exist! I can think of one time in my life that it really would have come in handy! Will keep it in mind if ever needed in the future. However did you find out about the company? Have you experienced the gag reflex, worn the gas masks, etc. around people you know? Haha! Up votes and sharing. There IS HELP for such occasions. Nice to know!

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota


      Thanks for stopping by and welcoming me. I really appreciate it!


      Is that the real reason you left teaching to work at home? Hmmm....maybe that's what gave you the final "nudge". Thanks for the kind words!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I was laughing already, but then I got to the deodorgam and I was howling. Oh, you are a funny lady! Yes, I have worked with Frank, and Lisa, and Tom and Brenda, and their stink invades every pore of my being. Love this hub! LOL

    • CrisSp profile image


      7 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Geez, this is a very sensitive topic you have touched here. Lol! Good tips though and hopefully they work. I like your wit in writing . Keep it up.

      Welcome to HubPages!

    • mpropp profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa Propp 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Thanks Epi, I really appreciate your comments. My goal is to eventually do some more creative writing (although I will admit I've never shared my writing on such a public forum, so I would be a bit nervous). It's been so long since I've done any writing....that I'm just getting warmed up! But, you are so encouraging--you have no idea how much that means to me!

    • epigramman profile image


      7 years ago

      ....this could be the makings of a Dr. Seuss book and series: (lol)

      How to tell someone they smell - it has such a catchy frank and candid air about it (pardon the pun)

      love your sly wit here and good natured humor but also communicating and telling it the way it is (the truth) - you are a great writer yourself in a most natural and effortless way and I would like to see you do some more creative writing at the Hub if you are so inclined and thank you so much for your support - coming from a special person and writer like you - really means a lot.

      sending you warm wishes and good energy from lake erie time ontario canada 11:54am


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