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

Tip #2: The Cover-Up

In baseball, there is a tradition of shoving a pie into a teammate’s face after a great game. Usually, while one player is giving an interview, a teammate will bombard him from behind with a fluffy pie of whipped cream, to everyone’s delight.

This next tip has a similar approach. To be sure, I’m not telling you to shove a pie into someone’s face to make them smell better (even though the smell of sugar is much better than their BO). That would be rather unmannerly…and very messy. What I am saying is that you could offer an odorous offender something else that smells good and not shove it in their face, but make sure they absolutely know it’s there.

For starters, having spare cologne or perfume around you at all times is key. I have a small sample in my office, one in my gym bag, and one in my car. Too much? Maybe, but here’s my point: if I have to walk a few blocks to a meeting in the August heat, I’m going to sweat. A lot! Luckily I pack properly, and if I can help out a friend with my reinforcements, by all means, I’m going to.  For this extreme situation, I refuse to take “No” for an answer either. But I try to be slick with my tactics.

Try approaching the smelly person and offer them to test out some of your own supply, whether it’s a bottle or just a sample in a magazine (a great back-up!). Say, “You have got to try this cologne! It’s the best I’ve ever smelt. Here just try some on your arm.” Then spray (or dab) the cologne on them (after they give you the Okay). Follow up with a reassuring smile and, “Am I right, or am I right? It’s awesome! Here rub it on your shirt. If you need more, just let me know, I have plenty.”

Always ask someone if they are allergic and for their permission before dousing them with perfume, but be casually persistent. After they say they are not allergic, then hit them with it. Don’t cover their body (like my pie-throwing friends) but absolutely make sure they get the hint. Even if just a dab is all you get, it’s a heck of a lot better than what they had before.

Tip #3: The Honest Approach

In Tips #2 and #3, I offered ideas that allowed you to beat around the bush. In this tip, however, I’m telling you to be downright blunt with the person whose body odor is somehow offensive. Let me say that in order to take this approach, the person must, and I mean must, be a close friend or family member with whom you can speak openly. As well, you have to keep this between the two of you (remember Bro Code Etiquette? Same goes for the ladies). If you see – or smell – someone close to you that is off the grid with their odor, it’s your duty to tell them.  Same goes for if they have something in their teeth, if their fly is down, if they have a spill or stain on their shirt. Whatever the case may be, proper friends let each other know the truth and odor is one of them.

If you choose to go this route, you have to be honest but discreet. Don’t point it out around others and don’t do it very loudly so someone else will hear. Pull them aside, and say something like, “Listen, I’m going to be completely honest with you – you reek!” Okay, okay, maybe not that harsh. But tell your good friend that “something” on them is making them smell. Maybe it’s a musty shirt, somewhere they came from that smelled, something they ate, whatever it may be. Offer them some cologne or perfume and if you don’t have any, at least let them know so they can take the next steps. It’s not your job to make them smell better, but it is your job to let them know something is “up in the air.”

Do you have a great story about how you handled telling someone they smell? Post all the details in the comment section of the Modern Manners Guy web site or on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Woman Covering Her Nose and Man with Cologne images from Shutterstock