Housemate has B.O. and we are unsure as how to approach this subject with him.
September 10, 2012 11:06 PM   Subscribe

How to approach housemate with pungent B.O?

We live in a condo with another couple and one of them has rather pungent B.O. We like both of them and recently signed leases, so moving out is not an option, nor is it something we want to do. The B.O. has gotten worse as of recently to the point of infecting the couch and seeping out from under their doorway into the hall.

We have considered talking to the other half of the couple and going through them as a liaison, as they have made a negative comment about their partner's odor while the four of us were hanging out, but are worried that this may seem somewhat passive aggressive and do not want to make it seem that we cannot talk to them about important house matters. We have seen these posts but they deal mostly with non-living situations and involve other liaisons with no emotional connection to the odor offender.
posted by ruhroh to Human Relations (18 answers total)
Personally, I would hold my breath and buy some Febreeze because that conversation seems way too humiliating for everyone. But if I were to say something, it would be to the partner, especially if I sensed an ally. I might say, "I am so embarrassed, but I have noticed X has this smell about them. It bothers me a bit, but I am not sure it's ok to bring it up. What do you think?"
posted by amodelcitizen at 11:30 PM on September 10, 2012

Be direct and address it to him privately. Don't go to the wife. Don't hint. Don't passive-aggressively Febreeze. Don't buy him deodorant. Find a time when it's just the two of you and spit it out.

This is your home. It's possible he doesn't know how aromatic he is. Be respectful and be specific about the problem.
posted by 26.2 at 11:36 PM on September 10, 2012 [13 favorites]

If I smelled that bad, I'd want to know, even though obviously it wouldn't be a pleasant exchange. I think it's ok to talk to the partner first. Be sure to preface the convo with a lot of, "we really like living with you both", etc. Then maybe say something that does not sound directly accusatory, like, "we've noticed somewhat of a strong odor from your partner.We hope we're not out of place in mentioning it, but it's something we notice on a daily basis and it's a bit strong."
posted by bearette at 11:53 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite] mentioned that it's affecting the couch and creeping into other general spaces.

maybe you can mention to the partner that 'have you noticed there's this smell that's clinging to the furniture and stuff?' and then see what they say. chances are, they know it's their partner, and the ball's now in their court to bring it up. then you could ask if maybe they would talk to their partner.

if they don't bring up their partner, then this intermediary step served its purpose of trying to be diplomatic. now you can be more direct and follow 26.2 or bearette's advice.
posted by saraindc at 12:39 AM on September 11, 2012

I have a family member with a persistent stench. He knows about it. He takes like three showers a day, at the least. There are some things he hasn't tried, including shaving his underarms (I have a theory that were I to not shave my pits, I would be similarly stinky, but neither of us are willing to test this hypothesis), or having that laser surgery thing, or drastically altering his diet. But as he gets older he's told me he's thinking about it. There are some people who just need that final push to go to a doctor and treat it as an actual problem to be solved, rather than a gross fact of life.

I would speak to him about it frankly. Chances are he already knows. Tell him that obviously you don't care at all what his own rooms are like, but in the shared areas you would really appreciate that you all do something about it together. That might mean asking him to pay for professional cleaning of the upholstery, or maybe buying a steam cleaner? Or it might mean keeping the windows open and enabling lots of cross-breeze whenever you can, or maybe he's leaving sweaty gym clothes on the couch when nobody else is home and he can just stop that. There are options. Come into the conversation with a variety of them, so it can end up productive. Be absolutely certain to ask if there's anything you do that annoys him that you could change in the shared areas. Maybe you leave dishes in the sink or something? Frame it like any other shared living situation issue, to be worked out together.
posted by Mizu at 12:46 AM on September 11, 2012

I'm not suggesting anyone "passively aggressively Febreeze" anything. I am pointing out there may be a way to eliminate the odor in the couch (which seems to be the most enduring problem), without having to subject multiple parties to an awkward conversation.
posted by amodelcitizen at 4:16 AM on September 11, 2012

Some fabrics hold bacteria/B.O. more than others, especially if they are not thoroughly cleaned in the laundry. I have thrown away otherwise perfectly good tops because they come out of the wash with a lingering odor, or I put them on and soon smell that smell. So if this guy is not on top of his laundry, towels, bedsheets, etc. then it could be that. And to me the old baked-in smell is much worse than the current armpit smell some people get.

So if it were me I'd probably say something while straightening up the living room. "Jeez the couch smells like B.O., do you guys smell it?" And then everyone can smell their own armpits and together you can zero in on the culprit's current shirt. "Yeah, it smells like your shirt. Dude you need to wash that shirt. Want to use some of my oxi-clean? It helps with the B.O. smell on my clothes." And then febreze the couch and say "that helps some, but man, that's powerful!"

And then you can come back to it again, because it's in the open, and like anything else, once you are aware of it, you're hyper-aware of it.
posted by headnsouth at 5:03 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

as they have made a negative comment about their partner's odor while the four of us were hanging out

I think that if their significant other's comment didn't immediately rectify the problem, anything you say will fall on similarly deaf ears. That leaves you with a sudden love for trying out all the different Febreeze smells, and an intense urge to spray everything down at least once a day.
posted by Houstonian at 5:04 AM on September 11, 2012

I would sit them down alone, explain that you are talking to them privately about a difficult matter, then just tell them. Everything else is avoiding the problem and also kind of rude. Talk to them!
posted by devnull at 7:08 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree. You have to talk to them. They're clearly aware - from the mention of their partner saying something. Maybe it's acceptable to them, which is fine, but it's not acceptable when it affects shared spaces/possessions. If they won't/can't change the behavior to fix the B.O., come up with other solutions - have a throw on the couch and any other upholstered furniture that they agree to use as a barrier? And to tolerate being around them - a fan, scented candles, etc?
posted by lemniskate at 7:38 AM on September 11, 2012

What a noisome problem.

Nthing setting down with the person alone and talking to that person and that person alone. You can mention health, as certain diseases are associated with body odors. People do this with overweight friends/spouses and often it goes over like a lead balloon, but perhaps, just perhaps, this person is embarrassed and thinks it is merely a cosmetic problem. I don't know.

You can mention, and act, incredibly embarrassed as well as person just won't think you are a jerk. Being a bit embarrassed in the "ahem, gee, ahem, I hate to bring this up," is underrated. Since this will be embarrassing for them you are sort of joining in the misery.

Finally mention total discretion as you won't mention this to anyone but spouse and only if spouse brings it up. Very important that.

(PS, irrelevant to the problem, I know, but, why assume the offender is a man? Unless I am subconsciously skipping over that part. For that matter why assume couple is xx + xy? Sorry for the derail.)
posted by xetere at 7:52 AM on September 11, 2012

Stinky is not okay.

There are some folks out there who just don't believe in hygiene. Take a Lufthansa flight if you don't believe me. There was one guy who damn near singed out my nose hairs.

If your roommate played music too loud, ate up your food or did similarly uncool stuff, you'd have no problem saying something.

Most B.O. can be solved, and if it can't then you all need to strategize to make this a workable situation.

I rather like headensouth's answer to be honest. But you can be nicer, "Hey Pat, I hate to bring it up, but you're smelling kind of rank. If it wasn't so heinous, I wouldn't say anything, but it's starting to smell like a gym around here. Is this a medical thing, or more of a personal choice." If it's a medical thing, then you'll need some strategies. If it's a personal choice, well the freedom ends where the nose begins.

There's body B.O. and then there's not doing laundry B.O. Be sure that Pat takes care of both.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:36 AM on September 11, 2012

I would be even more humiliated if my husband came to me and said "Bob and Jane pulled me aside yesterday and wanted me to talk to you about your B.O." In addition to my odor, I have the humiliation of people talking behind my back and my own spouse being reminded of my grossness. You or your partner should talk to the person (not both of you, that seems like ganging up) - I recommend whichever of you is the same gender, or if you're all the same gender, whoever is more buddy-buddy with the offender.
posted by desjardins at 10:11 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was told by a co-worker a number of years ago that she had noticed I sometimes smelled strongly of BO. She did it by emailing and asking if I could come talk to her about a private matter -- non-urgent -- then closing her office door when I showed up and giving it to me point blank.

It was pretty humiliating -- went home early that day and washed EVERYTHING machine-washable I owned, drycleaned the rest, spent $50 on a ton of different deodorants to find which one worked best. Even just remembering it now makes me blush.

But I'm *so* glad she said something, and knowing that this woman would tell me an unpleasant truth made me trust her more and like her more. As awful as it was to know that I smelled bad, it would have been worse to find out that I had smelled bad for years and nobody had given me information that would have allowed me to address the situation.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:46 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not a living situation, but...

A co-worker began showing up every day looking hungover and disheveled. Then he started to stink. I was the assistant manager, and the manager was too wimpy to deal with the issue, so he delegated it to me.

I had to sit him down in a private room and say it straight out: "We work in a service position and you aren't taking care of yourself. We love working with you, but you've got to pay better attention to your hygiene. You can either go home now and come back tomorrow refreshed, or you can take a shower in the showers here and get back to work."

It was awkward, but not the worst thing I've ever had to do. It was just ... necessary.
posted by tacodave at 4:00 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I had to sit him down in a private room and say it straight out: "We work in a service position and you aren't taking care of yourself. We love working with you, but you've got to pay better attention to your hygiene. You can either go home now and come back tomorrow refreshed, or you can take a shower in the showers here and get back to work."

I know the OP didn't post about a work situation, but it addresses the problem effectively for two reasons: 1.) it's a private conversation, and 2.) it leaves no room for negotiation.

Other posters responding to this thread emphasized the importance of maintaining confidentiality and dignity in addressing the problem with the person, and I agree. They're more likely to change the behavior if they're not defensive and feeling like they've been ganged up on (even if that wasn't the intention).

I think it's important to give two choices that you want as the outcome. Both choices address the problem and lead to a solution. Disinfecting the house, cleaning the upholstery, and talking to the other partner without addressing the problem with the offender aren't as likely to be effective because they don't directly address the problem. I agree with the other posters that it's easy to insult and be offensive which is counterproductive, but I also think that passive aggressiveness isn't a long-term solution.

Saying something like.....

"We live in the same house with shared living spaces and it's clear that you aren't taking care of yourself. We love living and spending time with you, but you've got to pay better attention to your hygiene. We really need you to wash all of your clean and dirty clothes and take a shower (now, today, ASAP) or at least before (the weekend, the week/day is up). I'm sorry to have to bring this up, but I thought talking about it alone was better than in front of others. I hope you understand and I hope it doesn't affect our friendship."

.....leaves no room for negotiation and makes the problem clear without being insulting or dismissive of the other person's feelings.

Good luck! I'm sure it's not easy : /
posted by luciddream928 at 5:15 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

We live in the same house with shared living spaces and it's clear that you aren't taking care of yourself. W

What if the person has a medical issue that is causing the BO? There are some people who can wash and wash and still have issues. You cannot assume the person isn't washing, unless you are actually there.
posted by SuzySmith at 12:49 AM on September 12, 2012

There are medical issues that cause BO. It's really sad actually, those people can shower all day and will still e.g. smell like rotten fish. One such disease is Trimethylaminuria.

If the person has a medical condition, you won't be able to be away from it unless you move. Do you notice whether the person showers regularly, changes clothes regularly, does laundry and eats a normal diet? If not, that could be something to mention. If he does all these things, you could be out of luck.
posted by kellybird at 8:01 AM on September 12, 2012

« Older My Baby Just Cares For Me   |   From which U.S. companies can an international... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.