What can I do about my friend's bad breath and body odor?
November 6, 2004 11:02 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend who stinks. He has horrible breath (he's a chain-smoker), and his clothes and body reek. I'm not sure what to do. It's so bad that many people have commented that it's hard to be around him. But other than the smell, he's a great guy. He's also lonely, and can't get a date. His life would be so much better if he had better hygiene. So what do I do about this? Tell him face-to-face? Send an anonymous email? Do nothing? If I do bring it up, how do I do it sensitively? Added to the problems, he's very poor. He can't even afford a phone. My guess is that part of the problem is that he's trying to save money on laundry. Still, soap is cheap. I'm trying to obey the Golden Rule, but it's hard. If I was the smelly one, I would want to be told, I guess. But I would be SO humiliated! He's in his early 40s. Really smart and literate.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total)
no anonymous stuff, it'd be demeaning for both of you guys. talk to him frankly, and politely. if he's as smart as you say, he'll be thankful

if he quits smoking (smoking is taxed in many US States, right?) he'll have more money for soap and deodorant.
posted by matteo at 11:29 AM on November 6, 2004

If he's looking for a date, then this is the time to say "Hey, you know, around us we're cool with the tobacco, but you aren't going to impress the ladies like that. If you don't want to give it up, you might want to cover it up."
posted by shepd at 11:57 AM on November 6, 2004

Tell him. I had a friend who was severely aromatic. He's an immigrant from another culture where the hygiene standards are different. He wasn't aware how Americans feel about body odor. He was grateful to be told. Also, people get enured to their own odors and just might not know how they smell. Now that I've quit smoking I realize how stinky smokers can be.

matteo: Yup. The cost of just one pack of cigs buys enough detergent for two months or a six-month's supply of deodorant or a year's soap. A few packs and you're in the realm of men's cologne. He'd smell sweeter than angel farts.
posted by TimeFactor at 11:59 AM on November 6, 2004

I agree with matteo. Don't preface it with a lot of apologies or anything; make it as straightforward and as much of a non-deal as possible. Just be straightforward and kind. Yes, he will be embarrassed, but grateful.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 12:05 PM on November 6, 2004

The cost of just one pack of cigs buys enough detergent for two months or a six-month's supply of deodorant or a year's soap.

You must use some cheap-ass soap.
posted by bingo at 12:06 PM on November 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

You'll be doing him a favour by telling him straight, but I wouldn't expect him to appreciate it, not at first anyway. He may even break off the friendship, which I would think that you'd already considered.

A slight detour: I once managed a wine merchants, and had a young employee with a serious BO problem. For weeks, I wrestled with how I was gonna deal with it (no indications of this problem were present at interview, of course). I had little choice: the commercial effect on customers was akin to his social effect on women. They were driven away.

On the day I decided to speak to him, I waited for a quiet time, called him into the office and said: "I have something important to say to you, and we both probably only want it brought up this time only. You have to take some action on it, and if you do, you will soon get the benefit.

Your feet stink, and it's not acceptable. I am uncomfortable with it, with this chat and that others close to you don't say anything. Please do something about it today."

I know you cannot take the exact same attitude, but some courageous and discreet input from you will be powerful, true feedback. I picked on one aspect of his BO, which I hoped he'd see as a surrogate for the whole thing. He did - he never filled my shop with his noxious aroma again. I'll bet he gets dates, too. He was a nice guy.

Afterwards, don't take credit in company for his turnaround - your reward will come at a later date, for 'what goes around, comes around'.

You know it's the right thing to do (as do all of his acquaintances) - I hope you are able to do it.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:11 PM on November 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

You must use some cheap-ass soap.

Pack of name brand cigs in Massachusetts: roughly $5.00 last time I checked.

3 bars of Ivory Soap: $1.29

So $5.00 buys you about 12 bars, or one bar a month. Which I'll bet is plenty for anyone unless you're eating it or something.
posted by TimeFactor at 12:41 PM on November 6, 2004

on a side note, I have personally tried the soap manufactured by a fellow Mefite and I can testify it's very, very high-quality soap. awesome, really.
posted by matteo at 12:47 PM on November 6, 2004

a buddy of mine is horribly overweight, and as a result smelled pretty badly.

another friend of ours (and we're talking 20 years of friendship, here) was his boss a few years ago, and it fell to him to let stinky know about his problem, because co-workers were complaining.

he wrote him an email. tactless? yes. but he didn't do it anonymously, and it allowed the stinker to take it in stride, and not have to be face to face with everybody when he found out about it.

now, while that might not be an option, perhaps you can slip a note under his door, or tell him at the end of an evening, or get a few beers in ya first.
posted by taumeson at 12:59 PM on November 6, 2004

Is there some sort of a disease or condition that can cause an otherwise healthy- and normal-seeming individual to smell terrible? I've had several stinky friends/acquaintances, and I've never dared say anything, out of fear that they'd say "Christ, yes, don't you think I know? It's my odoritis acting up. It's bad enough that I stink -- don't remind me of it."
posted by waldo at 1:01 PM on November 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

I don't remember how the subject was brought to the conversation, but one evening I told two of my friends the I hated showers (granted, I was young and rebelious, woohoo. Also, I'm French. There goes the saying), and barely took two showers a week.
One of them was very surprised, "I thought you smelled because you had some kind of skin problem, but no I know it's your hygiene! Man, you stink, do something about it! Use your shower!", more or less.
Sure I felt embarassed hearing that. But ever since then I take daily showers. And feel better about it.

Just tell him, it's a service your giving him.
Or make a girl friend tell him, that might be even more effective...
posted by XiBe at 1:14 PM on November 6, 2004

One of my friends is dealing with this problem too. His best friend is a girl who is quite large, rather furry (she has hair growing on her chest), and unfortunately smelly. I've met her several times and she's smart and very nice. She works the front desk of an upscale salon. Her manager finally called her in a few weeks ago and talked to her about the problem. She told him to fuck off and quit on the spot. She was very offended. So now my friend can't figure out how to talk to her about it. Any ideas how to talk to a woman about this problem?
posted by Juicylicious at 1:26 PM on November 6, 2004

So $5.00 buys you about 12 bars, or one bar a month. Which I'll bet is plenty for anyone unless you're eating it or something.

Wow! A bar of soap barely lasts me a week, and that's being generous. That being said, I like glycerine soap. Feels sooooooooo gooooood on my skin...

You must buy some HARD-ass soap. Maybe you are washing with Lava brand soap? :-D
posted by shepd at 1:33 PM on November 6, 2004

Juicylicious' friend's friend knows about the problem. There's no point in telling her about it, she knows. I suspect that if it was as simple as using more deodorant or bathing more often, she wouldn't have the problem, or she doesn't care. Either way, even if she didn't know beforehand (unlikely), her ex-manager told her.

And yes, there are medical reasons for BO.
posted by biscotti at 1:42 PM on November 6, 2004

One bar of soap a week? I didn't know that was possible.

Anyway, I use liquid soap with a lufa (I think that's what they're called). But back when I used bars of soap they definitely lasted longer than a week...
posted by swank6 at 2:41 PM on November 6, 2004

She told him to fuck off and quit on the spot.

Problem resolved, from the employer's perspective.

I'd disagree with many above and say try to find an anonymous way of letting them know, to reduce the sense of confrontation for both of you and shame for them. But by all means, let them know.
posted by rushmc at 5:20 PM on November 6, 2004

As an ex-smoker; (and btw, it's fucking hard to do!) he needs to either chew a gum that helps eliminate the oral odor (I recommend cinnamon flavored gum) or use a breath freshner, often.
Even though you may be enured to the stench of the smoke, others around you are not; unless they're heavy smokers themselves.
This past week (before the election fiasco) my sister and her husband were both at home for a few days. They smoke more than I ever thought about and we're still airing out the house from it. And it's THEIR house!
As for body odor, some people actually have a chemical imbalance so that, no matter what they do, they still have BO so bad others can't stand to be around them. This is sometimes caused by diet, sometimes stress, regardless, it is usually treatable in one way or another.
posted by kamylyon at 11:57 PM on November 6, 2004

I definitely use more than one bar of soap per month. Probably more than one per week, too, if you factor in the soap that gets used just for washing my hands.

a buddy of mine is horribly overweight, and as a result smelled pretty badly.

Sorry, it might be related, but it isn't merely 'as a result.'
posted by bingo at 7:54 AM on November 7, 2004

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