How to Tell Someone They Have Body Odor

It’s never easy telling someone they smell – but it’s also not easy to work or eat next to them and inhale! If you’re in this scenario, check out Modern Manners Guy’s 3 tips for properly and politely telling someone about their body odor.

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #251

Late last year, I unknowingly walked into a Starbucks after cutting myself shaving and had a piece of bloody tissue prominently stuck to my chin. I didn’t realize this until I came to work two hours later. By that time I had walked past a ton of people. I was mortified!  Why didn’t anyone tell me? So I wrote an episode about this experience called “There’s Something On Your Face…” I received a lot of email from readers and listeners all of whom had been in the same unfortunate boat. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone.

The sister issue to “not having someone tell you there’s something on your face,” is if someone doesn’t tell you that you smell.

I know, I know, everyone smells like roses, right? You’ve never smelled bad. Not you!... Yeah right. We’ve all smelt rather unflattering at one point or another, so let’s get off the high horse. But how many times have you found yourself standing next to someone and thought that your nose was going to run off your face because their odor was so torturous? This isn’t limited to bad odors either. Sometimes people overdue the ol’ “smell good sauce” which can have the opposite of its intended effect. In any situation, you wish someone would have told you (or you could tell the odorous offender), that the smell is just too much.

See also: Job Interview Etiquette – The Art of Smell Good

So before you get stuck in an elevator with someone who smells like they slept in the zoo overnight, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for how to properly tell someone about their body odor.

Tip #1: You’re Wearing Too Much Cologne

As I said in my episode Job Interview Etiquette (What to Wear), one of the biggest turn offs in a job interview is when the interviewee overdoes the cologne or perfume. And this is not just an issue in office settings; it happens in everyday interactions as well. You see someone approach you, arms open for a hug, and as they get closer you sense a wave of pine fresh hit you in the face. After you embrace them, you end up smelling like a jug of Old Spice. 

I have a family friend who has worn the same perfume for as long as I’ve known her and every time I see her, it makes me dry heave. It’s a popular perfume, so people must like it, but to me it smells like death! In fact, I’d take a rotting body over that smell.

This is a clear case of too much of a good thing (true for anything except pizza, birthday cake, or money). So how do you tell someone their good smell, is really not so good? Don’t worry, you can handle it.

As a person with lifelong allergies, I’ve missed out on many sweet smelling things come allergy season. And sometimes if I’m putting on cologne, I may not think it smells strong enough. So in this aspect, I can sympathize with the odorific person. So if you encounter a person who seems to have bathed in a tub of cologne or perfume, try to deflect the situation onto yourself. For example, say “I’m sorry but what type of perfume are you wearing?...Oh, that kind, yeah, I’m allergic to most perfumes which makes me really sensitive to scents. Does it smell strong to you?” 

Bear with me – you’re still easing into the subject. You’ve stated that they “may have” put too much scent on. You have couched your opinion in a purely medical reason (your allergies), so it’s not a judgment call. Now their brain is saying, “Maybe I did overdo it?” And since you know this is going on inside their mind, you should follow up with, “It’s funny, but because of my allergies I can only use a little cologne. Two quick sprays and that’s it. Sometimes even that makes me sneeze! Ha, ha!”

Here you are bringing up the issue, but being sympathetic – even putting the blame on yourself. You are also planting a seed in their mind that maybe they should rethink (or at least double check) how much they put on in the future.