Stinky coworker
November 13, 2012 7:01 AM   Subscribe

How can I de-stink my immediate surroundings when I have no control over the source of the stink? Or, how can I learn to get used to the smell?

At my office I work in a pod of 4 people and the guy who sits beside me has a BO problem. It's sort of a sweet, rank smell. It bothers me a whole lot. Everyone else notices it, but I sit downwind of him as it were so I get the worst of it and it's not really a problem for the others. I don't know the guy at all - he's a newish member of staff and doesn't talk much. We don't work closely together.

What can I do in this situation? I'm waiting for olfactory fatigue to kick in but it's been months and the smell is still there and still bugs me.

Things I can't do:
- move desks (the other people in my pod are my direct team-members - it makes no sense for me to move to a different pod)
- talk to him - I have no idea how to bring this up without hurting his feelings and I don't want to make him uncomfortable.
- open the windows - it's winter.

What can I do? All I can think of is buy an air freshener spray but this would be so obnoxious, wouldn't it? I don't want to create any drama, I just want to not be bugged by the smell. If I can't neutralise the odour, is there any way I can just force myself not to smell it? I do tend to be quite sensitive to smells anyway, which just makes it worse.
posted by Ziggy500 to Grab Bag (27 answers total)
Have you brought this up with your boss?
posted by HuronBob at 7:02 AM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

You can wear really fruity chapstick and hope the fruity scent wafts up into your nose. Otherwise, vicks vapo rub right below your nostrils.

This is the kind of thing you should be able to discuss with HR, though.
posted by elizardbits at 7:04 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is basically your manager's job to deal with. You need to tell your manager, who will have the awkward talk with the guy about his hygiene.
posted by Joh at 7:05 AM on November 13, 2012 [19 favorites]

Do you have HR? It's really their place to speak to someone if body odor is a problem.

Perhaps one of those oil stick diffusers? Some of them are pretty decorative, so they could double as office decorations.
posted by needlegrrl at 7:06 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, go to HR. I have a friend who works in HR and she has had to have conversations with people like this.
posted by something something at 7:08 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh man, you have my sympathies. For me at least, people who smell are worse to work around than people who click their pens or tap their feet or make other annoying noises.

Talk to your boss or HR. You shouldn't talk to your filthy coworker, because it's not your job to enforce hygiene standards. I wouldn't go with air fresheners in a shared space, you never know who is sensitive to scent, or will claim to be so they can raise a stink (heh). Just go to his boos/your boss/HR and tell them that Larry who sits beside you really, really smells bad, always has, and it's a problem for your work environment.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:10 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agree re: the above.

My sister had a horribly smelly college roommate. What worked for her was a couple of dabs of something strong smelling on her wrists/upper lip- like a peppermint spray or something strong but pleasant smelling that deadened other smells.
posted by murfed13 at 7:16 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing talking to management/HR. In the meantime, or if the problem isn't solved, get this Citrus Magic disk. It's not overpowering and it really works. I can find them at Target, Wal-Mart, drugstores, grocery stores, etc. (I'm assuming you're in the US, apologies if you're not).
posted by cooker girl at 7:24 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A small desk fan on low blowing air away from you might help. A woman I used to work with told me about putting small bowls of white vinegar around her house to kill the smell of cigarette smoke during a big party. I tried this for a party we had and it worked. I placed coffee mugs filled halfway on shelves, behind things, under a table where it couldn't be seen, etc (and I only noticed the vinegar smell while I was pouring them into the mugs). I definitely made a difference.
posted by marimeko at 7:37 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is definitely something you get to kick up to management.
posted by radioamy at 7:43 AM on November 13, 2012

That's, *It* definitely made a difference.
posted by marimeko at 7:47 AM on November 13, 2012

Until your boss addresses the problem, you can bring a strong smelling candle, the kind they sell in jars, and place it, unlit, in your work space near the dividing wall. That helped me with strong odors in the past (I had a coworker who smoked a lot and she smelled of cigarettes... oy!). Anyway, I used vanilla as that seems to be the least "offensive" odor, after that is cinnamon. If anyone asks why you suddenly have a candle in your work space, you can say you're feeling festive.

Also, if you can't bring a candle in, I used scented hand lotion, cocoa butter or vanilla work well there too.
posted by patheral at 7:47 AM on November 13, 2012

Yeah, this is management's problem. But unfortunately, nothing may ever come of it.

This was a question of mine over three years ago. Management did everything they could, but she still stinks.

And I still sit near her.

When she's particularly bad, I rub solid perfume on the back of my hand. Sometimes under my nose. I find it's subtle enough to cover her reek, but doesn't have enough throw to bother anyone with a strong aversion to smells. People with chemical sensitivities may think otherwise though!
posted by elsietheeel at 7:56 AM on November 13, 2012

Baking soda freezer boxes. Stick them somewhere in your space, between you and the source. You might start with two, go up to three or four of necessary.

(The company I worked for had an issue about a woman being confronted over BO and it turned out she had a medical condition. So I wouldn't personally assume this can be readily resolved by the coworker in question or even necessarily by HR.)
posted by Michele in California at 9:02 AM on November 13, 2012

Agree with all the "talk to your manager" suggestions, but just in case, a back-up plan would be some sort of local room freshener (not a spray) -- there are oils with sticks in them that give off a scent that can carry pretty far, or a solid air freshener (that would make me equally sick, but it might be preferable to you), or a strong candle that you don't even have to burn, or anything that will make a wall of smell and/or give you occasional strong sniffs that overwhelm the background.

Good luck, bummer for all.
posted by acm at 9:25 AM on November 13, 2012

sigh. HR. This is definitely not my favorite conversation but I've had it, more than once.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:25 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Scarves are sexy air filters. In France, men wear them as often as women do (I do not know if you are a man).
posted by whatzit at 9:27 AM on November 13, 2012

Try Smells Be Gone Odor Neutralizing Gel if you can find it. Maybe place a few under the desk. Ace Hardware sells it if you're in the US.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:29 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A fan, definitely. if he's on the right, put it on your left pointed toward him, maybe with some sort of solid air freshener behind it, to blow the good smell across you as it pushes his smell away.
posted by lemniskate at 9:33 AM on November 13, 2012

Ionizers work well (but can be expensive). I'd bring it up with your HR.
posted by n1c35h07 at 9:47 AM on November 13, 2012

Air purifiers and/or ionizers can work. We have this $50 one and it actually works well for pet smells. You could try a cheaper option first - this filter with this little plug-in. Ultimately you'll have to solve the problem at the source - other things just kinda mask it.
posted by barnone at 10:40 AM on November 13, 2012

Nurses say good things about Vicks Vapor Rub, when it comes to dealing with bad smells in their workplace. Just a touch on the upper lip seems to help them deal.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:48 AM on November 13, 2012

I once worked at a very small company that had to institute dress & grooming policies to deal with the disruption of a single employee, and as you know it can be highly disruptive.

Let management know, let them handle it.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:56 PM on November 13, 2012

It. Might. Not. Be. BO.

I've known a few people who wore cologne/perfume that REALLY didn't agree with them. Actually, one was a guy and one was a girl, and in both cases, NOTHING smelled good on them, but if they wore no cologne or perfume, they didn't smell bad at all.

"It's sort of a sweet, rank smell." That really reminds me of both of those people. It's funny too, since one is a man and the other is a woman, which means his cologne smelled nothing like her perfume.

This is yet another reason why you should talk to your manager about it and let it be that person's job of dealing with it.

Best of luck.
posted by 2oh1 at 6:57 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also have a sensitive nose (totally sympathize with you), but I'd skip the candles and colognes and Citrus Magic stuff. Those just seems to make it worse, imo, because you can still smell the undercurrent of stank mixed in with the "pleasant" scent, and then you'll start to hate that smell too. However, those little desk-sized HEPA filters that barnone linked to above actually work pretty well to combat a variety of smells and as a bonus, can help if you have mold allergies like a lot of people do around this time of year. I'd try that first and go to the boss or HR as a last resort. As Michele in California points out, sometimes it's not the person's fault; s/he may have a medical issue. Just make sure the unit is he correct size for your space and has a genuine HEPA filter and not one of those bogus "HEPA type" filters. Good luck.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:32 PM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

A while back a neighbor of ours passed away in his home. When the police came to investigate, they asked us for some coffee grounds. They put the grounds in a pan on the stove and allowed them to scorch. Apparently your nose will hone in on the burnt coffee smell and will not register the offensive odor. So... strong coffee. And a small fan blowing air back in his direction.

And then HR.
posted by vignettist at 10:36 PM on November 13, 2012

Thanks, guys. Would you believe I didn't actually know that this was something I could bring up with my boss... So I'll do that. I appreciated the tips for unobtrusive deodorization of my work space too.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:39 AM on November 19, 2012

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