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No Horsing Around When It Comes To Smell

I love this site and have spent many a free hour enjoying (and cringing at!) the many stories.

I don’t have a story to share today, but I do have a question that’s been bothering me for a while.

How do I tell my friend that she smells really bad?

I’m 25 and she’s 18. I’ve known her since she was 13, when through a mutual riding instructor friend, we made arrangements for her to come ride my horse after school and at weekends as my time was taken up by studying and work and my horse’s fitness was suffering for it. She’s an excellent rider and she needed a more challenging horse than the ones at her riding school.

Over the years we became good friends. She’s a brilliant, funny and intelligent girl with a heart of gold. I only started noticing how bad she smelled over the past year, as we’ve started meeting each other socially away from the equestrian center – to go out shopping, to the cinema, out for drinks (she’s of legal age to drink in the UK, I promise I’m not giving alcohol to a minor), etc. I don’t know if she’s always had an odor problem and I’ve just never noticed before, since we were usually around horses and farm animals, which don’t exactly smell pretty themselves, or if it’s something that’s just started happening to her (perhaps hormone changes due to adolescence?), but it’s a very pungent, sickening smell of stale sweat and dirt that is only becoming worse.

I find it difficult to eat when she’s around, and I try to avoid being in closed spaces with her. Other friends and a few family members that have met her have noticed her smell too, and the general consensus is that she needs to know she has a problem. I’ve even had to wash my cushion covers and spray down my sofa with cleaner after she’s visited my house, because the smell has clung to the fabric. I know that sounds quite mean and picky, but the smell is THAT bad. Friends have refused to go out with us once they learn she is coming along too, but I really like my friend and I refuse to stop being around for her or inviting her to social occasions just because she has a problem that she’s not aware of. The smell doesn’t effect her wonderful personality, and that’s all I really care about, though the smell is becoming very difficult to ignore.

I’ve tried different tactics to get her to perhaps use deodorants and bathe more, like buying her fancy perfume gift sets and bubble baths and soaps from nice boutiques for her birthday and Christmas, and offering her use of my body sprays, deodorants and perfumes when we’re getting ready to go out (which she usually declines).

She’s at college now and she’s mentioned to me that a few other girls are bullying her, though she didn’t say why (not that bullies need a reason!) I hope it’s not because of her smell, and I’d much rather she was told gently and kindly by a friend, than by a cruel bully who’d do it to humiliate her.

How can I tell her and spare her feelings? Is it my place to tell her at all? I know it’s not really any of my business how someone smells, and I’m not even sure that I’d want to be told if I had the same problem, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want people to think I was dirty or talk about me behind my back. I think that if I had the same problem and had to be told about it, I’d much rather hear it kindly from someone who I know cares for me, than by a group mean girls or a stranger. Please, please, please help. What is the etiquette around this problem? Any and all advice welcome! 0415-16

You just tell her in as straightforward manner as possible.   I had a dear friend who developed the worst halitosis ever.  Being within 3 feet of her when she talked was excruciating because it smelled like something had crawled into her throat and died weeks earlier.   I finally was the one who told her and it was as simple as,  “Donna,  I’m not sure you are aware of this but you’ve developed horridly bad breath.  Are you having a problem with post nasal drip?”   She hadn’t noticed and asked me how bad.   “Really, really bad…like you ate a rotting carcass.”  I don’t recall what she did but within 2 weeks the bad breath was gone and hasn’t returned.

Good friendship can withstand the truth, particularly when the relationship has a foundation of each other looking out for the other person.    My best friend whom I have known for over 40 years is someone I can hear the truth from because I know she has my back always.   You should trust the friendship and tell her that she needs to address the issue of her sweaty smell.

I own driving ponies, btw, and I happen to like the smell of pony poop and sweat but after messing with the ponies for a few hours, it’s time to shower and wash the “eau de barn” scent down the drain because most people don’t appreciate the smell out of context.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • E.H. April 18, 2016, 7:30 am

    She could also have an undiagnosed medical condition that should be checked out. Some people with kidney disease develop a very strong urine-scented odor. It’s unpleasant but there’s nothing to be done about it.

  • JWH April 18, 2016, 8:20 am

    When somebody has an odor issue, friends tend to pass it around. “Someone should tell them. Someone should tell them.” Nobody wants to say it because, quite frankly, “You smell to high Heaven” is really, really rude to say. But if nobody steps up and takes responsibility, then the person will never be aware of the problem.

    • JWH April 18, 2016, 8:21 am

      (I should amend to add: “No matter how you try to camouflage it with polite words, ‘You smell to high heaven’ seems really really rude.”

  • LadyXaviara April 18, 2016, 8:23 am

    My co-worker had a similar body odor problem. We worked in cargo holds of planes, so a small, enclosed area. No one would work with him and he felt very ostracized. I was always friendly with everyone, so he would always work with me. It was so bad. One day I told him, “look, the reason no one wants to work with you or sit near you isn’t because they just don’t like you. You don’t smell awesome. It’s overbearing and difficult to be around.”

    He hadn’t even known. He couldn’t smell himself and was unaware there was a problem. He left the job shortly after (he was embarrassed that he was the smelly guy). I ran into him a few weeks ago and the odor was gone. Apparently he had some kind of medical problem that made him stink. He got treatment and is much better for it.

    • Eva April 18, 2016, 9:12 am

      Agreed. Please tell her.

      I have a plumbing problem and occasionally smell myself late in the day. Not much of a problem, if I am the only one around, but if gets worse, I would like a heads up, since my own sense of smell isn’t that good and I really don’t want to stink during the day at work.

  • Lerah99 April 18, 2016, 9:30 am

    Tell her. You are her friend, she should hear it from you.

    I have a really poor sense of smell. It’s so bad that I don’t notice if someone burns popcorn in the microwave at work.

    Someone once threw some rotting chicken away in the garbage can at work, and I didn’t notice until people started making gagging noises and talking about how bad it was.

    So when I picked up a shelter cat, I had no idea it still had its scent glands and could spray until a dear friend who visited my house told me.

    It turns out, I’d been walking around smelling like cat pee for a month and no one knew what to say. And I hadn’t noticed that my house and all my clothes has been permeated with the smell because my sense of smell is so dead.

    I was embarrassed, but REALLY grateful my friend let me know.
    I found a no kill animal shelter with big outdoor enclosures to take my cat.

    I rented a carpet cleaner and steam cleaner to clean my upholstery and carpet.
    I washed the drapes, table cloths, clothes, bed linens, etc… 4 times: first with detergent, then with vinegar, then with baking soda, then with detergent again.

    I sprinkled good smelling stuff on my carpet and then vacuumed it up.
    I Fabreezed the heck out of all my furniture.
    Then I opened all the windows and blinds to let fresh air flow through my house for a couple of days.

    Then I invited my friend back over to make sure my house was ok.

    Was it embarrassing to find out I had walked around reeking for a month? Sure.
    But I’m glad my friend told me rather than a year, two years, three years down the road some poor schmuck in HR having to pull me aside to let me know my coworkers were refusing to sit near me because I smelled so bad.

    Also, you talking with your friend may uncover some sort of deeper issue.

    Maybe she’s depressed and just can’t find the energy to force herself to shower.
    Or when she is in the shower she can’t bring herself to go though the whole shampoo, soap, rigamarole. So she just stands under the water until it turns cold. That’s actually a fairly common symptom of depression.

    Maybe she’s having a hard time financially and the power or gas has been turned off. So she doesn’t have hot water and has been making due with sponge baths/baby wipes.

    Maybe she’s broke and can’t afford to take her clothes to the laundry mat so they just keep getting dirtier and smellier.

    This may be an opportunity for you to find out some sort of underlying struggle where as a friend you could help.

    Or maybe she’s like me and just has no sense of smell. So she has no idea that she is in desperate need of a shower and clean clothes. She doesn’t realize that after working in the barn all day, others are going to be put off by how she smells.

    Or she may have some skin infections.
    Especially in creases of the skin (under breasts, between fat rolls, around the groin, between toes) yeast can build up on the skin and cause an infection. Like jock itch or athletes foot. If it isn’t taken care of, the yeast will put off a really sour rotten cheese smell. It will cause the outer layer of skin to slough off making the area red, itchy, and even more moist so the yeast continues to multiply and the infection gets worse. These infections require attention. She can buy anti-fungal powder at the drug store. Washing the area, patting dry, and applying the powder twice a day can clear that up. Since this tends to crop up in sensitive areas, she may be too embarrassed to ask anyone about it. And being in college she may be too broke to go see a doctor.

  • Kim April 18, 2016, 9:40 am

    To all the people who will immediately bring up a possible medical issue in the LW’s story, it doesn’t seem that’s the problem:

    “it’s a very pungent, sickening smell of stale sweat and dirt that is only becoming worse.”

    That doesn’t fit the profile of a medical problem and some people just don’t shower, so with all due respect can we not discuss a medical problem? Just the etiquette part.

    • Lerah99 April 18, 2016, 4:14 pm

      Depression is a medical problem and can lead to people not showering, not washing clothes, and being stinky.

      In general – no one WANTS to smell bad.

      Usually it is depression, poverty, being totally clueless, a health issue, or some combo of the 4.

      Sometimes it’s cultural. I knew a guy from Pakistan who smelled really bad. When a friend brought it up to him, he replied that he smelled “like a man!” The area he was from in Pakistan, having a pungent cloud of body odor told everyone you were a grown man who worked hard. So he found it really disturbing that people wanted him to bathe.

      I guess it could be some sort of weird sociological experiment, “How bad can I smell and for how long until someone mentions it?”

      But really, a very bad smelling person is usually a symptom of an underlying cause.
      Poverty – too poor to wash clothes. Doesn’t have reliable access to a shower.
      Depression – Can’t force themselves to wash clothes or shower.
      Clueless – No idea they smell bad. They are nose blind to themselves so they don’t realize that those jeans they’ve worn 10 times really are NOT ok for an 11th round.
      Health – Kidney issues, skin issues, hormone imbalances can all lead to a pungent body odor.

      Also, people so seem to be addressing the etiquette. “Yes, tell them.” “Be as polite as possible but straightforward.” “Say something as her friend.” etc…

      • Rose April 19, 2016, 5:53 am

        Thank you for saying this. I’ve suffered from depression most of my life, and when it’s bad, the first thing to suffer is hygiene. I can force myself to go to work, run errands, take care of my family, but when the day is done, I often feel too exhausted to shower. It’s also something I simply forget to do, when my mind is fogged over. I wish more people could understand that depression isn’t just feeling blue, it is a serious and often deadly medical condition, and it affects the body as much as the mind.

      • Kim April 19, 2016, 9:22 am

        Yes, mental health is a medical issue. I wanted to head off the comments about Aspberger’s: many times when there is an etiquette issue, people cry Aspberger’s. 🙂

        • Lerah99 April 19, 2016, 2:46 pm

          Kim, I can understand wanting to head off the “Maybe it’s Aspberger’s” comments.

          I feel the same way whenever a letter writer is describing someone acting like a jerk.
          It sticks in my craw when people start standing up for the person who has clearly acted like a jerk by saying “Maybe he/she doesn’t know they are being a jerk. Maybe they have Aspberger’s!”

          Mostly because there was a guy who used to come to a local board game night.
          He started hitting on the teenage girls and rubbing up against them in the aisles while acting like it was an “accident” that he bumped against them as he passed.
          When called out for being a creep and told he was banned from the store, he started crying and saying “I didn’t know I was making them uncomfortable. I have Aspberger’s!”
          And the store owner let him stay and keep coming back.
          And when girls would complain that he rubbed against them and said inappropriate things to them, the owner would reply “He’s mentally handicapped. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Have some compassion.”

          It made me so angry that this guy was allowed to keep being inappropriate with under aged girls all under that guise of “I have Aspbergers, so it’s impossible for me to realize I’m being inappropriate.”

          • cdubz April 20, 2016, 8:34 am

            Wow. I guess he missed the part where aspergers does not equal stupid. I have a couple of close relatives who are aspies, and if you tell them that something they did was inappropriate they immediately stop the behavior and offer an apology.

          • Michelleprieur April 21, 2016, 11:05 am

            Thanks for this. Not to change the subject, but I detest the armchair psychology and the Asbergers excuse. My cousin’s son is genuinely autistic and it burns her up when people use it as an excuse. I also don’t like it when people say “But he’s really a nice guy!!” No. He isn’t.

            OP, you sound like a good friend and lovely person.

          • Kai Lowell April 21, 2016, 5:06 pm

            That’s not autism – that’s utter disrespect for the rules of society. I personally have Asperger’s and I’ve found it makes me think MORE about if what I’m doing is inappropriate!

  • Cami April 18, 2016, 10:00 am

    I have had to deal with some work colleagues with this problem. I think it’s important to be aware that she will most likely be very self-conscious and embarrassed, so you want to be gentle and avoid hurtful descriptive phrases. Therefore, I went to them in private and said, “I have to talk to you about an embarrassing situation. You seem unaware of it, but you have a strong body odor. I don’t know if it’s a medical problem or if you need to shower more often or use a stronger deodorant. But it would be best if you tried to find a solution.”

    All but one person was embarrassed, but ended up being grateful for the heads-up. The one exception was a young man who lectured me on how we were all victims of the “Western cultural brainwashing that makes us hate natural bodily functions and their resulting odors.” (Yes, I remember it distinctly.) He ended up needing to find a new job, hopefully one where the staff was less “brainwashed.”

  • AnaMaria April 18, 2016, 10:04 am

    Can you approach it in a way that communicates that it’s not her FAULT that she smells? As mentioned in previous comments, it could be a medical condition or some other weird-science phenomenon. I, for one, have very thick, fine hair that soaks up whatever smells are around me. After meeting a friend for coffee, my hair will smell like coffee (even though I always order tea or a cold drink!) until I wash it again- which may be a few days as my hair also dries out easily! If I exchange a hug with someone who is wearing perfume or cologne, my hair instantly soaks it up!

    Unfortunately, it also soaks up the bad smells. Cigarette smoke, barn smells, garbage- if I’m around it, I smell like it. Could you explain to this gal that her hair or skin are just more prone to soaking up barn smells or other smells? (Maybe that’s not the exact case, but it would be far less hurtful to blame genetics-beyond her control- than to criticize her hygiene habits!)

    • Phitius April 19, 2016, 10:26 am

      OMG…I have the hair thing too! My skin is the same way. I pick up odors and they stick to me like they’re my own.

      Thankfully I have a pretty sensitive nose and notice it immediately. Often a certain stuck-on odor will make it impossible for me to sleep until I shower. Cigarette smoke, the scent of meat cooking, subway odors…all tend to keep me awake.

      It’s a curse!

      • AnaMaria April 20, 2016, 10:11 pm

        Right?! The worst of it is that my hair is also very dry, so if I over-wash or style it too much, it gets fried really fast. So, either live with the smell, take an hour to deep-condition it, or look like a McDonald’s French Fry Kid (remember those guys??) are my options!

  • Cat April 18, 2016, 10:07 am

    I worked with a man who had this same problem. I asked my principal to talk to him, man to man, so to speak. I just couldn’t.
    The gentle way to approach it is to suggest that she see a doctor. You are concerned because you have noticed a change in her when she gets warm and it may be a sign of an impending illness. The doctor, if there is no medical problem, can suggest changes in her hygiene.

  • Dyan April 18, 2016, 10:07 am

    I think if you are friends with her I would help her out and just tell her, just say ….you know you are my friend and I am not doing this to hurt you in any way…

  • JS April 18, 2016, 10:18 am

    Friend, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but you’ve developed very strong body odor recently. I think you should get it checked out by a doctor.

  • Ashley April 18, 2016, 10:32 am

    I actually think about this particular issue a lot. It’s unfortunate but I have a lot of customers where I work who just smell bad, and I don’t feel it’s my place to bring it up. I’ve got some that smell so bad that I dread seeing them on the schedule because I know I’m going to have to prop open the door to let fresh air in from outside, and turn on all my wax warmers to get the smell out after they leave.

    The worst was when one of the smelly customers left and then I didn’t have time to do anything about it before another customer came in and even SHE complained.

    And I work in an office, not even a place where weird smells SHOULD happen, so it’s extra noticeable when the office smells.

    In OP’s case, someone just HAS to say something to her. She obviously hasn’t taken the hints of bubble bath and whatever else, so it’s time to be direct.

  • Lisa H. April 18, 2016, 10:47 am

    Don’t think of this as a socially awkward situation, but more of a lifesaving event. Of course, it may not be as drastic as that, but then again it could. Once said, it’s out there and done with, and the recipient now has the awareness to fix the problem.
    PS: I absolutely love barn smell….

  • Wild Irish Rose April 18, 2016, 10:49 am

    If I were plagued with an offensive odor, I would certainly want someone I knew cared about me to let me know.

  • barb April 18, 2016, 10:51 am

    Maybe phrase it that you are concerned for her, because it might be a medical condition? Really tough situation.

  • Becca April 18, 2016, 10:58 am

    Hints like buying perfume and body washes rarely work. You never know, they may very well be bathing regularly but due to medical conditions or other situations, those won’t even help much. Just think of if your clothes aren’t washed after a day at the stables, you just sprints on body spray? It’s like the stinky-stink with a hint of lavender over top 🙁

    We had a guy at an old job that had bad body odor, they tried similar tactics and it never sunk in.

    Since there are bullies involved, it’s also hard to know if they’re “just being mean” or if it’s rooted in the truth. So if they’re like “Ewwwww, Betsy you stink so bad.” she’s like “These girls are just so mean, I don’t stink at all, none of my friends or family have ever said anything!” >_<

    Admin's advice is sound. Especially since bathing is not always the actual answer, there could be an infection that needs treated that she's not aware of since she's just used to her own scent.

  • padua April 18, 2016, 11:10 am

    recognize too that sometimes people smell differently and they may know it but not be able to do anything about it. i think if this is handled with genuince caring and sensitivity, it can be addressed. but don’t completely assume that this is something 100% in her control.

  • nannerdoman April 18, 2016, 11:17 am

    I do think she needs to be told, if for no other reason than to uncover an underlying medical problem that may be responsible for the smell. She may bathe, but does she wash her clothes or change her undergarments regularly?

    Better to hear it kindly, from a friend, than meanly from a bully.

  • JD April 18, 2016, 11:22 am

    My first thought is hormonal or other medical condition, and it might be a real service to this girl to let her know there is a smell, because she might be headed down a health issue road otherwise. The hard part will be telling her. I would have a terrible time doing that!

  • Cerys April 18, 2016, 12:31 pm

    I’m with Admin on this one. Just be as straightforward as possible about it with her. Maybe you could begin by talking about her bullies and asking her what they say to her. If her smell is any part of it, agree that she is a bit pongy, but that there are things she can do about it. Be her friend – her *honest* friend who doesn’t let embarrassment come between you and helping her solve the problem.

    My husband is anosmic. When he has odour problems he tends to rely on me to tell him about them. When he was growing up he had to deal with a lot of nastiness from people who didn’t understand that he had literally no way of knowing how he smelled if no-one was prepared to tell him nicely. Whether or not your friend has the same condition, you are in a position to be the person who helps her beat the bullies.

  • Kat April 18, 2016, 1:17 pm

    Here’s a thought — she mentioned being bullied. Is she depressed? Depression symptoms don’t always manifest they way we expect them to, so while she may seem of an okay mood in public, it’s possible she’s been too depressed to shower. Especially since both the bullying and the smell seem to have come about in the last year.

    That question might be a way to start, anyway. If she is, she’d need to deal with the underlying issue before she could make consistent headway on the hygiene anyway.

  • Annie April 18, 2016, 2:48 pm

    OP, you sound like a lovely person. If anyone was going to tell me I smelled bad, I would want it to be you.

  • cdubz April 18, 2016, 3:06 pm

    Just sit her down and be nice about. “You are my friend and I love you dearly. But I have noticed that there is always a very pungent smell coming from you when we hang out.” It could be she was never taught and doesn’t know proper hygiene habits. It could also be something medical that could be cleared up with a trip to the doctor. Either way, this will stunt her both socially and professionally and she needs to know. If someone tells her in a nasty way she smells she will be upset that her friends didn’t say anything before it got to that point.

  • Lindsay April 18, 2016, 3:31 pm

    OP, I don’t envy you! I think it’s clear that this talk is necessary, if the odor is bad enough that your friends refuse to go out if she’s with you, and I should note that it’s admirable that you are not giving in to their pressure.
    My best suggestions are to do this in person but in private, and to preface the whole thing with something along the lines of “I love you dearly and am so pleased to see you doing well at university. I really value our friendship and have been debating for some time how to bring this up. I’ve noticed that as you’ve grown up, a body odor problem has developed, and I wondered if I could help you find a solution for it, so that you can best enjoy university and beyond?” She may cry, be mortified, or walk out of the room. If so, perhaps have a quick parting comment like “I care for you very much and am here if you decide you need help.” Another tack could be to fib that an older friend helped you with a similar problem (wardrobe, acne, whatever) when you were younger and it was hard to hear but you appreciated the favor.
    Good luck and please update us!

  • Powers April 18, 2016, 3:37 pm

    I think it needs to be said that if she might be getting bullied because of this, who knows how else it’s affecting her? And she probably has NO CLUE. You /have/ to tell her. She needs to know this information.

  • Margo April 18, 2016, 3:40 pm

    A bad, stale smell is often as much about not washing clothes as it is about not washing herself. I wonder whether she was a late developer and didn’t ever get told, by her family, about washing regularly.

    I think it would be kind to tell her, but to recognise that you may lose her friendship in the short term, as she may be offended, or upset.

    I think if you do speak to her, I would try to be clear – hints obviously are not working, so I would be direct. Maybe something like “I really like you, and I enjoy spending time with you. But I don’t think you can have realised that you’ve developed a problem with body odour, which has got really noticeable. Can I help you to address the issue, as I think it’s starting to put people off spending time with you”

    Perhaps (if you are on those terms with her) you could offer her the opportunity to come to your home, to have a bath or shower and use the washing machine.

    If she was receptive, it might be helpful to her if you explained specifically how often you wash yourself and your clothes, and suggest that she follow your example.

    In my professional capacity I have worked with people who smell, and it seemed almost always to be about not washing clothes enough, much more than not washing themselves enough, and was often down (at least in part) to issues with money and living arrangements which meant that washing clothes (and getting them dry) was a problem. Given her age – has she recently left home or gone to college ? if so, could she be struggling with getting clothes washed or dry? Offering her use of your washing machine or tumble dryer, (if you have one) or a lift to the laundrette (if she doesn’t drive) might be practical things you could offer to help with.

  • Gabriele April 18, 2016, 4:53 pm

    One of the problems with odors is that if they develop slowly, we become accustomed to them so
    we don’t really notice they’re there…until it becomes a problem for others.
    So perhaps she doesn’t notice.
    With her age I wonder if perhaps it’s a yeast infection? My mother was of the generation that her
    talk to me about ‘coming of age’ was “take this and use it and dispose of it”. That was it. Fortunately
    I had an older sister but even then it wasn’t until I was older on my own that I learned that ‘down there’ had its own set of cleanliness issues and a quick shower wasn’t enough.
    Tub baths can exacerbate problems. When I discovered hand shower units (even the stick on kind)
    I became a devotee. Now at 60+ I know I, too, may not always be aware of odors but since I use the
    hand shower (the toilet is next to the bath/shower) after every toilet use, I don’t have to worry about
    stained underwear OR offending with BO.
    And if it is a yeast infection or such, all sorts of topical scents and odor removers can just make that area more sensitive and create more problems.
    I have also found that certain synthetic fabrics make me smell…my underwear is cotton but I had several pair of polyester fabric (not knit) pants and it took only a half day for me to notice myself…
    I washed them and gave them away.
    Myself, I would take the approach of being concerned about the bullying. The OP could tell the young woman that being concerned about why someone would bully her, you asked someone else who brought up several reasons why a person is shunned…and body odor was one of them. And take it from there…that she (the OP) hadn’t noticed it that much but having had attention called to it,
    thought it might be worth discussing.

  • Kimmy April 18, 2016, 5:07 pm

    Hi everyone, OP here

    Thank you all for such great advice. It seems to be unanimous that I have to tell her about the smell, and I’m going to combine what you’ve all said to do it in a gentle, kind way, in person but in private. Her home is close to her college, so she still lives with her parents and has access to hot water and laundry facilities, so I think it might just be a case of overactive teenage hormones causing poor hygiene. I know when I was her age, I showered two or three times a day because I would sweat constantly, even in the coldest of temperatures whilst being completely inactive! My clothes would be soaking after a few hours of wear. I’ll let you all know how telling her goes, but hopefully with everyone’s advice rolled into one, it won’t be too painful for either me or her, and we’ll still have a friendship at the end.

    @ AnaMaria – now that you mention it, she has gorgeous, thick curly hair that could probably absorb a lot of smells. I remember her mentioning that she didn’t wash her hair often because it took hours to dry. Maybe the smell of horses and livestock (her dad is a farmer) clings to her hair?

    @ Kat – I believe she is depressed, which is yet another reason I want to be very delicate with this subject. She won’t want to feel her friend is attacking her on top of everything else. I’ve suffered from quite bad depression too in the past, and the lower I felt, the less I cared about washing or getting dressed or even getting out of bed some days, so if that is how she’s feeling, at least I can relate.

    @ Annie – awwww, shucks, thank you 🙂

    • penguin tummy April 18, 2016, 10:58 pm

      She is lucky to have such a loyal friend in you. Hopefully she takes it well!

    • athersgeo April 19, 2016, 3:49 am

      Just want to say good luck to you, OP – I hope it goes well. I’ve had that conversation (with my mother – talk about awkward!) and it’s never fun, but I second what Annie said; you’re clearly a very lovely person and you understand the issues.

    • Michelle Young April 19, 2016, 4:40 am

      If she’s depressed, try pointing out the soothing effects of a warm (not too hot) bath at the end of the day. It helps to relax you for bed, and gives you a chance to soothe your soul and mind. Sure, it helps you get clean, but a bath is WAY more relaxing than a shower, and when you’re depressed, relaxing and soothing are good things.

      Showers are all business, and can be off-putting for someone who’s struggling just to get up in the morning.

      Good luck to both of you!

      • Stephbwfern April 19, 2016, 7:34 am

        That is completely subjective – I hate baths! Showers, especially when I was depressed, were far more refreshing and uplifting. Baths just made me think about drowning myself.
        Plus, if a yeast infection is a possible contributor to this girl’s problem, baths are going to make it worse.

      • Livvy17 April 19, 2016, 9:12 am

        You’re a good friend, OP. I think a couple of others have mentioned it too, but she might avoid synthetic fiber clothes as well – they do seem to retain those kinds of smells, even after washing.

        She may be depressed because people are avoiding her and bullying her over the smell! Hopefully her life will be a lot better when she knows, and can take actions that will allow people to get close enough to enjoy her personality.

    • Phitius April 19, 2016, 10:38 am

      You are a wonderful person!

  • AppleEye April 18, 2016, 5:26 pm

    Just tell her. Will it be awkward? Yes. Will she be embarrassed? Probably. But weigh 5-15 minutes of awkward conversation, over an entire, possibly many-years-long friendship dealing with the odor. Maybe she already is aware and has an explanation, in which case at least it’s all out in the air (forgive the pun) and you can stop squirming about it. If she is not aware, you have really done her a favor.

  • kingsrings April 18, 2016, 6:59 pm

    My family used to host exchange students when I was growing up. Because they came from countries where bathing wasn’t done as often as it is here in the U.S., some of them would develop bad body odor, and we’d have to politely let them know that they might want to think about bathing more often.
    I’ve also run into people who smelled but couldn’t care less because they consider body odor to be perfectly okay because it’s natural. They say that society has taught us that it’s something bad and that’s why we don’t like it. So they don’t bathe that often and refuse to wear deodorant.

  • mark April 18, 2016, 7:17 pm

    You don’t want to be too subtle, just be forthright but gentle, and tell her, and I wouldn’t try and come up with any reasons to explain the odor, unless you truly know what the smell is.

  • starstruck April 18, 2016, 7:45 pm

    Step one. Invite ur friend over for a drink.
    Step two. Drink a good bit of wine together.
    Step three . Gently tell her the truth.
    Step four. Repeat step two.

  • Wendy B April 18, 2016, 9:15 pm

    I wonder…do you know her family at all? If you do, it begs the question to wonder what they’re like? I’ve known people whose parents never actually taught them the importance of good hygiene, especially when it comes to puberty etc. She may actually never have had someone explain to her why it’s important to shower regularly (even more than once a day, depending on what she’s doing), use deodorant, etc.

    When I was in college I had a history class that met in a room immediately after a high level math class. The professor looked like a young Albert Einstein and all but one of the five or six students were international students.

    The room STANK after they left…mostly body odor/sweat. We hated to go in, especially as there were no windows, so we couldn’t air it out before class began. A couple of us began bringing air fresheners with us to spray around before class began.

    We wondered if they were the type of people who were just so smart they had absolutely no common sense, or if it was cultural…we never knew.

  • Princess Buttercup April 18, 2016, 9:47 pm

    Just tell her.
    I took a couple teens on a weekend trip recently. One showers often and uses deodorant. One clearly doesn’t keep up with personal hygiene as much. He often smells a bit like b.o. but I haven’t said anything because he is a young teen and those years can be rough on the body and mind. But it was seeming like something probably needed to be said. His mom isn’t all present and his dad is out of the picture. So when I picked him up for the weekend I told him it was going to get hot and did he remember to pack his toothbrush and deodorant (I could share shampoo if he needed that). Then through the weekend I would ask each morning if he had put on deodorant, had his stuff for the day, etc.
    Before the weekend was over I reminded him at one point to put on deodorant and used it to launch the conversation about how if he ever wants a girl to pay him any attention then he needs to shower at least every other day, more if it’s been hot or he’s been very active and deodorant should be worn on the skin of your underarms every day. Cologne is nice but it is not a replacement for a shower and a little goes a long way.

    If you don’t act awkward it won’t be as awkward. One day say to her, “you smell like you’ve been to the barn recently. Would you like to use my shower before we go so the waitress doesn’t seat us far away from everyone else that doesn’t want to think about their meal coming from a farm?”

  • Kira April 19, 2016, 4:52 am

    Ask if something has changed “Have you changed deodorant or has something changed in the past few months as I have started to notice that there has been a change in how you smell”. You do mention that previously that this was not an issue (or at least you didn’t notice). Also, mentioning a change vs you smell bad. She may have tried a new deodorant, medication etc. That way it doesn’t imply she is doing something wrong or feel like she has done something. But does highlight that there is something she needs to investigate. Maybe during that conversation having another gift pack or things to try (that way if she is having trouble purchasing hygiene items that is taken care of), maybe even something like the Mane and Tail stuff they do for humans and horses (it’s on topic!).

    I too am a person with a nose that isn’t too sensitive and live with animals so I never notice much. Though I do notice body odour in others when it is quite bad, so I am glad I could at least catch myself before that. Though honestly some things just don’t work well. I tried a brand of shampoo that just sucked and left my hair all greasy. At least that was easy to tell, some other changes aren’t as easy.

  • Just4Kicks April 19, 2016, 5:31 am

    This reminds me of the Adam Sandler movie, “Big Daddy”.
    He takes care of a little boy, and let’s him do whatever he wants, ketchup for supper, no baths if he doesn’t want to ect.
    He is called into the boys school for a meeting with the boys teacher about his misbehaving, and oh, yes HE STINKS.
    The teacher says “I’ve had some smelly ones before, but your son is by far the smelliest”!!!
    Adam Sandler says, “The STINKY KID?!? Oh my God…..I’ve let my kid become the STINKY KID!”

  • Shalamar April 19, 2016, 11:02 am

    My daughter used to have a body odor problem when she was in high school. She’s a vegan who uses animal-friendly body washes and antiperspirants – unfortunately, the brands she chose were not all that effective. Therefore, whenever it was a warm day, she would smell sweaty. Alas, her friends chose a less-than-kind way to let her know – they sent her anonymous “you need to know that you stink”) messages via Tumblr, then they teased her on Facebook (“Hi, smelly! Ha ha ha!”). Granted, they were only teenagers, but boy, I wish they’d chosen a nicer method. My daughter was crushed and cried for hours.

    (You’re probably wondering why *I* didn’t say anything to her. To be honest, I didn’t realize it was as bad as all that – I’d notice that she’d smell a bit ripe on a hot day, but so did I.)

    • Just4Kicks April 20, 2016, 4:33 am

      Oh no! Your poor daughter, I feel so awful for her.
      Even if they were only teenagers, they had to know how hurtful that would be to her.
      I’m so sorry that happened to her.
      What a bunch of brats!!

      • Just4Kicks April 20, 2016, 4:36 am

        …And, also one of my son’s went through that when he went through puberty.
        The deodorant he had been using didn’t work anymore, and we switched brands.
        Now we make sure we buy him a deodorant/anti persperant mix, instead of just of just the deodorant one he had been using.
        I was afraid what happened to your daughter would happen to him at school.

        • AnaMaria April 21, 2016, 2:55 pm

          Glad you were on top of things- my first two years of middle school, my mom wouldn’t let me use antiperspirant because she was convinced it would give me alzheimer’s (although she used antiperspirant herself!).

          She also would stand outside the bathroom door and yell at me when I was in the shower because I was using the hot water- no matter what time of day it was, the minute I turned the shower on, apparently she had been planning to take a shower right then and I would use all the hot water in ten minutes and it would never come back (my dad built our house when I was 7, btw, so it’s not like we had an old, faulty plumbing system). It was a control thing for her.

          • Just4Kicks April 22, 2016, 5:17 am

            I didn’t want to hurt my son’s feelings, but I know how mean kids can be.
            He once took a shower, and ten minutes later, I asked if he used deodorant.
            Yes, of course mom, why?
            His older brother happened to be packing his lunch and went over to his brother and sniffed him and said “yeah, dude, go use my deodorant!”
            I told him, “welcome to the wonderful world of hormones!”

            There is a brand I can’t use since I went through menopause, does NOTHING for me.
            I’ve used this brand all my life, and it just stopped being effective.

    • Just4Kicks April 22, 2016, 6:29 am

      Oh, and @Shalamar: if you think it would make your dear daughter feel a little better, I just remembered a story that happened to me at work a few years ago, you may share with her if you’d like to.
      I have IBS, and bladder issues (interstitial cystitis) that although I do take extra care sometimes a little leakage happens.
      I was working a job where I unloaded boxes off trucks and then unloaded them to shelves.
      Heavy lifting plus bladder issues….Well, you get the idea.
      Anyway, one morning, I hear the store gossip the next aisle over talking to a new hire telling her about all the other employees.
      I hear my name mentioned, and this new hire says “Oh, I don’t think I’ve met her yet, which one is she?”
      This crab apple of a gal says “Oh! She is the one who works the early shift and you can’t miss her! She always smells like piss and cheap perfume!”
      Oh my God. I was horrified and so embarrassed.
      I ran to the ladies room and was having a good (and ugly) cry when one of my friends who saw me run off and came to check on me, thinking I was sick.
      I told her what I overheard “Sue” say, and asked her to please be a friend and tell me the truth, do I REALLY smell?
      She said, “NO! Of course not! And yes, I would you tell you the truth if you did, but you don’t! What a BITCH!!!”
      She wanted to go after “Sue”, and lay into her but I asked her please don’t, I’m embarrassed enough, people are going to want to know why you’re yelling at her.

      • WMK April 24, 2016, 12:56 pm


        My sixth grade year of school was so horrible and full of bullying that I’ve managed to block out most of it. But the one experience I will never forget was when I was told in a very rambling and not-too-nice way, from someone that I thought was a friend, that I smelled bad.

        I was crushed and horribly embarrassed and did everything that I could possibly think of after that to prevent anyone from having an excuse to say something like that to me again.

        I found out while the two of us were on a retreat a few years after that incident, when something reminded me of that and I confronted her about what and how she had relaying that information to me that day that she was being bullied by someone during that time period. Turns out, I didn’t have BO at all. She just chose to take out her feelings about being bullied by bullying me. I forgave her but I will never forget it and, unfortunately, because the experience was handled badly, has made me hyper-vigilant about smelling appropriate at all time.

        • Just4Kicks April 28, 2016, 5:07 am

          WMK: Good Lord, how awful for you, I’m sorry that happened to you.
          It’s nice your friend came clean (pun intended) about what happened, but you’re so right in that those sort of things STAY with you for a long, long time.
          After my incident at work, I too, was hyper vigilant about being “sweet smelling” also.
          I’m 40 something, and can still hear “the one who smells like cheap perfume and piss” comment.
          While I’d certainly rather wear my favorite Chanel scent, it’s super expensive, but the scents I use certainly aren’t from the dollar store either.
          Nothing wrong with the dollar store btw, I LOVE it and get my body wash and shampoo from there when they have the brand name stuff I like in stock.
          One more quick embarrassing moment, when I was in high school I tried out for cheerleading.
          The night they announced the squad, there was a basketball game they were setting up for after the announcement.
          They had all 13 girls sitting in the middle of the court while they announced the names over the pa system.
          Well…..12 girls made the squad….guess who was sitting by herself in the middle of the floor as the other girls jumped and squealed on the sidelines.
          I can still remember being laughed at by all the students (from two schools, no less) and the pitying looks from all the adults.
          Even now, I still feel my face get red and and a lump in my throat, my worst moment ever.
          One of my four kids will once in awhile say “wow, something happened to me today that was SO embarrassing!!!” followed up, of course, by “well….NOT AS embarrassing as Mom sitting in the middle of the gym when she didn’t make the cheerleading squad!!!”
          Yeah….Thanks a LOT, you guys…… 🙂

  • Oh Joy April 19, 2016, 1:11 pm

    OP, I do wish you the best in helping this young lady.

    As I read the additional posts about hair, and yours saying she has quite a bit to manage, that could certainly be part of the problem. Like others have mentioned, just meeting friends at Starbucks to drink tea means my hair is going to reek like coffee until my next full shower.

    However, wearing my hair in a bun makes a big difference. If I put clean hair in a bun (sock buns are crazy easy and comfortable) for the day, when I let it down at night it smells like it’s freshly washed no matter where I’ve been. My husband loves smelling my conditioner at night even though I haven’t done anything.

    It’s probably only a small piece of what’s going on with her, but may be a helpful tool if she lets you be a part of her troubleshooting.

    Best wishes.

  • Pam April 21, 2016, 4:03 pm

    If she lives with her parents, can you talk to them? Do they have the same issues?