Can she tell if I smell?
January 25, 2011 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Can I trust my spouse's sense of smell to tell me I have B.O.?

I am currently trying an personal experiment of living without deodorant. I am hoping that bathing daily will keep me from stinking. So far, I've gone two weeks without wearing deodorant.

Of course, I'm worried about smelling badly and not realizing it, since I might be used to or immune to my own body's odor. Right now, I'm asking my wife to do occasional sniff tests and to tell me if I stink. So far, I haven't had a day where I smell badly according to her.

What worries me is that she might be used to my body's odor as well. Is it possible that I might be stinkier to other people than I would be to her? There's not really anyone else in my life I would trust with this. I would ask a co-worker to tell me if I smell badly, but I'm afraid that would be too weird (for them, not me).
posted by Ortho to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
Is it possible that I might be stinkier to other people than I would be to her?


You need a disinterested 3rd party. I'd ask the co-worker. (Personally, I wouldn't find it too weird (amusing, yes), but the "polite" thing to do would be to ask while apologizing profusely.)
posted by phunniemee at 2:43 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

You've only been doing this for two weeks—she wouldn't have had time to get used to it that quickly.

If that doesn't assuage your worry, do you have any non-coworker close friends?
posted by ocherdraco at 2:45 PM on January 25, 2011

I have two dear friends, a married couple, and the husband does not use deodorant. He often smells of BO. His wife will occasionally espouse the "deodorant-free lifestyle" using her husband's lack of smelliness despite not using deodorant. None of our friends has the gumption to tell either of them that he's smelly. If they asked, I would (gently) inform them. They haven't.

That said, I have another (female) friend who insists that she frequently goes days without bathing, and she never smells of BO. It does depend person-to-person. Do you not have a non-work friend who you could inform of your little experiment, and tell them, "Hey - would you let me know if it doesn't seem to be working? [Wife's name] might think I smell great even when I don't."
posted by pammeke at 2:47 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who is convinced that he has passed over a threshold in abstaining from using deodorant and his body now produces odor-free sweat, as nature intended.

He is mistaken. He smells like a monkey house.

I'm also friends with a couple whose house smells terribly of dog. They think the house smells of springtime meadows, despite the fact that they spend their working hours elsewhere, so they must get a good doggy whiff when they come home.

The olfactory system is able to adapt to stimulus and fade it to the background. You may well smell (but you might not)--and your wife might not realize it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:05 PM on January 25, 2011 [17 favorites]

There's two things to overcome: first, her familiarity with your smell, including the 'frog in boiling water'-type gradual changes she may not be able to detect. Second, there's genetic variability in the ability to smell sweat (and other odors). She may or may not be a good choice based on both perspectives. Is it possible to do something - excessive exercise? - and see at what point she can start detecting it?
posted by cobaltnine at 3:07 PM on January 25, 2011

Scientists have discovered that there are about half a dozen "smell types", and depending on your type, you'll be attracted to someone with one specific type. Say, you're a #3 and your wife is #1 and for her, type #3 smells good no matter what--sweaty, no deodorant, no problem. For your wife all the others are stinky.
(I am not a scientist, nor a science writer).

It's possible that your wife simply likes your smell and most others are terribly offended by it. And of course, you'll be mostly immune to your own B.O.

Is it winter where you are? If it's cold, if I forget deodorant a day or two it's usually no big deal, but if it's hot, I'm pretty offensive even with deodorant.
posted by zardoz at 3:08 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think several months after we started dating, my boyfriend mentioned that he doesn't ever use deodorant. He just makes sure to wash his armpits really well in the shower, so there's as little bacteria as possible to get smelly.

This is a hugely variable issue from person to person, but take from this data point what you will. I never would have known if he hadn't told me.
posted by pluot at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2011

Your wife is unfairly biased in your favour. She chose to become your wife for many reasons, one of which is that she is genetically predisposed to like your smells, even those musky sweaty smells which may offend all others. Let me tell you a story.

I had a roommate who stank up the joint- holy crap that woman stunk. She stunk so badly that friends who visited our home later raised their voices and actually yelled at me for being too cowardly to talk to her about it. She stunk so badly that my ex-boyfriend once called me, laughing hysterically, to say that while he was in the video store, he had identified her, sight unseen, while she was browsing several aisles away, because he smelled her. She stunk so badly that she was fired from a retail job for absolutely bogus reasons, which I interpreted to mean that she stunk too hard even for the job of working at Lush, of all places, which is probably the most odour-cloaking environment that has ever existed.

The learning moment here comes from the fact that once I found a love poem from her boyfriend, which included a line about how her skin "smelled morning fresh". Let me assure you that this could only be true in the "morning fresh hot garbage" sense of the word, but to him, it was sweet perfume.

You probably smell. Don't trust your wife. Don't ask your coworkers. Please, that's weird for them, and plus, they are socially obligated to lie and say you don't, so it's even harmful to your data set.

If you don't have at least 3 friends-you've-never-slept-with* whom you can ask, you should probably keep using deodorant, make some new friends while you know you smell OK, and then maybe try asking them for smell feedback when your friendship goes deeper than politeness.

* (because people who have slept with you did it because they liked your smell, which does not mean you smell ok.)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:41 PM on January 25, 2011 [10 favorites]

I'm pretty sure you can't rely on her. I would give serious thought to giving up this experiment. BO is one of those things that tests the politeness of others and often has social consequences which will definitely occur but which you may only notice as time passes because most people act as if it's more kind to avoid you than to warn you.
posted by Hylas at 3:42 PM on January 25, 2011

I've.... had the misfortune of dating three men who didn't wear deodorant. Well, one used the natural crystal rock one. They all smelled. I think for one of the men, it was a cultural thing. But the other two didn't want chemicals applied to their skin. I never said anything to any of 'em.

So, where do you fit in? Why "risk" offending co-workers, people in the elevator, family, friends and your wife? If you're trying to avoid the chemicals, there are lots of alternatives that may or may not work for you.

Does your wife know about your lack of deodorant? Tell her and have her "sniff" you.
Do you have a friend you can ask?

I do know when I have forgotten to put deodorant on in the past, I could smell my B.O. by teh end of the day. I never knew if anyone else could, but I steered clear just in case. Also, like people have mentioned, some people may be able to go without deodorant, others may not.
posted by KogeLiz at 3:55 PM on January 25, 2011

I wouldn't rely on her. My girlfriend is telling me all the time that she loves the way I smell, even at times when I can tell I'm a bit ripe. Your girlfriend is biased.

One thing you could do is trim your armpit hair. Though I bathe and use deoderant daily, there was a noticeable difference in the rate and degree of my stinkiness when I started doing this (once a month or so).
posted by hootenatty at 4:02 PM on January 25, 2011

I'd think that your wife might be able to smell the difference between what you smelled like before, and what you might smell like now, but that whether she'd be able to say it's bad wouldn't help so much. She might like your smell, or might not want to tell you. Beyond that, though, I'd think it would depend on her sense of smell to begin with. I've lived with my husband for 5 years now, and I definitely can tell when there's b/o and I'm not a fan of it. I can tell when the catbox needs to be changed when I walk in our door, too, even though the husband is kind of oblivious to it. Given all the different variables, I think you just need multiple people to ask for the sake of reliability.
posted by bizzyb at 4:17 PM on January 25, 2011

Find a disinterested 3rd party or ask your mother. I worked with a man who would tell anyone who would listen about how he did not use deodorant and how he did not smell. He stunk badly. We told him he smelled (but he did not believe us), finally his students told him he smelled and he started using deodorant. He now acknowledges that he must have stunk.
posted by fifilaru at 4:39 PM on January 25, 2011

My ex refused to wear deodorant and most of the time I couldn't tell the difference, but our friends and relatives could tell, and begged me to intercede. He insisted that they were mistaken and that we were all interfering with his natural body processes. You should probably just wear deodorant, man.
posted by milk white peacock at 4:40 PM on January 25, 2011

One thing I learned by joining 23andme is that there is a genetic marker which determines whether people have normal or reduced sensitivity to isovaleric acid, which is the substance that is responsible for the "body odor" smell (the marker is rs1953558 if you're interested). Therefore, you can't really rely on the opinion of just one person to determine if you smell bad, as they may just have reduced sensitivity to BO in general.
posted by helios at 5:00 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to be the voice of opposing reason: I can smell myself when I have BO. Hell, I can smell myself when I AM wearing deodorant and it just for some reason didn't "take" that day. I could smell various family members when they have BO, and we lived under the same roof. I do have one family member who could go days without showering and never smell. They just didn't have that ingredient.

So, you might really not smell. The chances are fairly small though.

One thing that works for me when I have a spell of the deodorant not quite working: after showering, dowse the pits with some rubbing alcohol. Work it in, dry it off, and dowse again, letting it air dry. Loosens up any dead skin hiding out, and kills the excess bacteria.
posted by gjc at 5:09 PM on January 25, 2011

It is far from axiomatic that everyone who's ever slept with you thinks your natural aroma is beautiful despite how rank/sweaty/dirty you may be.

I have slept with a number of people who at some point came in from the gym and definitely smelled bad.

There is also someone in my life (being vague because I'm not anonymous here) who should smell good to me with regard to the above hypothesis, but who sometimes doesn't bathe/wash his hair/do laundry enough and definitely has a smell. I generally think his personal smell is wonderful, but yeah, when there's a deeper level of funk I'll notice it. I have strongly considered letting him know about this, but I don't have the heart. If he told me he wasn't using deodorant and asked if he stunk, I would be honest with him.

I think that your wife might be OK, but if she doesn't smell anything I would get a reliable third party who is not a coworker to let you know. I don't think it matters if you've "had relations" with said person in the past.
posted by Sara C. at 5:25 PM on January 25, 2011

You have likely already gathered that this is a bad idea. Re-thinking your non-deodorant plan is probably best.

My co-worker/casual friend asked me to tell her if her new deodorant had failed, but I could not find the words to tell her when it did so, though I am an honest person who generally keeps her word. It is just too personal a thing to address, particularly at work. Don't make your co-worker do this.

I suggest Tom's of Maine.
posted by Riverine at 5:57 PM on January 25, 2011

I occasionally catch my wife sniffing my dirty laundry because she so loves my smell. She would probably rather I didn't use deodorant. And that would be a terrible idea because the rest of the world would find me stinky.

In other words, don't trust her on this subject.
posted by Forktine at 6:10 PM on January 25, 2011

I had an ex who didn't wear deodorant. I spent many a night curled up on his shoulder. I loved the way he smelled, but at the same time, I can look back and know that he kinda stunk. Pheremones are funny like that.

Nthing that your wife isn't a good judge of this.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:51 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband often tells me he thinks I smell lovely when I know damn well that I am utterly disgusting. As far as I can tell, he very rarely gets stinky. I have known other people who didn't either. But yeah, I would mistrust it. I am a fan of deodorant.
posted by Because at 7:47 PM on January 25, 2011

Hmm. I had no idea so many people wanted to experiment with the no deodorant concept. Just never occurred to me to be an option. Having said that, I still think there is a good chance your wife can be a good judge of your smell. I am not sure why you want to try this experiment, but on the rare occasion I have run out of deodorant or forget to bring it on a trip, I have used baby powder and that seemed to do the trick. Finally, I think when you say bathing daily, the time of daily makes a difference. I think in the morning would be much better than in the evening before bed.
posted by AugustWest at 9:00 PM on January 25, 2011

I occasionally catch my wife sniffing my dirty laundry because she so loves my smell. She would probably rather I didn't use deodorant. And that would be a terrible idea because the rest of the world would find me stinky.

But you do use deodorant, though, that's probably why she likes it. In general if I'm liking the smell of a dude's shirt, its the smell of sweat that's mixed with deodorant smell. In other words, its there, but not in an overwhelming quantity and mixed with something that smells good. Unadulterated BO is a way different thing. People who don't use it are rough to be around. I know it's your body and stuff, but deodorant is more for the benefit of those around you.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 10:20 PM on January 25, 2011

I wouldn't trust your partner on whether you smell or not. If you need a happy medium between deodorant/not, Dr. Mist is amazing (I know the website looks a little weird, but trust me, this stuff is good - it somehow works magic). I stopped wearing anti-perspirant quite a long time ago, and though it took a little while for my sweat production to chill out, I'm happier without anti-perspirant and using Dr. Mist instead - no white marks and less perspiration. No one has complained or backed away from me thus far.
posted by analog at 5:31 AM on January 26, 2011

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