How to Get a Friend to Smell Better

Three Parts:Preparing for the TalkStarting the ConversationOffering Sympathy

Body odor can be very offensive, and can even make it hard for people to concentrate. The problem is, people don’t always realize when they smell bad, and it can be a very sensitive topic to bring up. This is especially true if your friend is the source of the odor. If you are honest, direct, and kind, however, you can mention the problem to your friend and be supportive about it.

Part 1
Preparing for the Talk

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    Practice what you will say ahead of time.[1] Telling a friend that that he or she smells bad without hurting feelings can be awkward, and you will need to be very tactful. Think about what you want to say to your friend, and then practice saying it to yourself or, better yet, to a trusted friend. Have the friend then tell you how your comments sounded, and if you should rephrase anything.
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    Be sensitive. Sometimes, body odors can stem from personal or medical issues. Certain diseases or medications, for instance, can cause a person to smell in particular ways. Likewise, depression might cause a person to skip showers or washing his or her clothes. Since a cause such as one of these might be behind your friend’s odor, don’t phrase the problem as his or her fault.[2] Instead, just focus on being honest and helpful.
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    Understand that body odors are individual and often culturally determined.[3][4] Each person has a unique smell, which others may find agreeable or disagreeable. A person’s smell comes from a combination of biological and environmental factors, and different cultures may not react the same way to the same smell. Keep in mind that a person’s odor that you find offensive might seem perfectly fine to others.
    • If you talk to your friend and he or she doesn’t understand why your or others find his or her odor offensive, respect your friend's feelings and don’t get angry. Just explain things so that your friend can understand.
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    Decide when to talk to your friend. Since letting a friend know that he or she smells bad may be a difficult talk, you won’t just want to spring it on him or her at any old time. Choose the right moment carefully:
    • It might be best to talk to your friend at the end of the day.[5] That way, he or she will have time to go home and be more prepared for the next day.
    • On the other hand, you might talk to your friend at the beginning of the day, so that the problem is taken care of early. This can work especially if you can offer a quick solution to help your friend, like deodorant or body spray.

Part 2
Starting the Conversation

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    Talk to your friend in private.[6][7] This helps make it less embarrassing, and your friend should appreciate that you weren’t trying to call him or her out in front of others.
    • If you can’t talk to your friend in complete privacy, at least pull him or her aside where others can’t hear, and don’t draw attention to yourselves.
    • You might consider sending an anonymous email to your friend about the problem, if you really aren’t able to talk to him or her. However, this might not work well; your friend might think the email is a prank, for instance, or he or she might feel anxious about who sent it. The best option is usually just to talk face-to-face with your friend.
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    Address the awkwardness.[8] This will not be an easy conversation to have, and breaking the ice can be the hardest part. Try starting with something like: “This is going to be awkward, but I’m your friend and I’ve got to tell you something…” Stress that you’re trying to help your friend without embarrassing him or her. You should also let your friend know that you won’t tell others about the problem, and keep your word.
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    Try offering some praise first.[9] You can make the news a little easier to take by saying something nice to your friend before telling him or her about the odor problem.
    • Try something like: “Your hair looks great today! But you know, there’s something else I’ve noticed. I wonder if your deodorant’s not working right….”
    • You can also try the “positive sandwich” method, where you say something nice first, then break the bad news, then end by saying something encouraging again. After telling your friend about the odor problem, say something like “it should be really easy to take care of,” or offer another compliment.
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    Be honest, direct, and kind.[10] Subtle hints like saying “Wow, something smells bad!” around your friend, or leaving deodorant on his or her desk might occasionally work, but more than likely they will be overlooked.[11] Just get to the point and be kind about it, without making jokes or seeming like you’re picking on your friend.
    • Sometimes saying less is more. You don’t have to give a long explanation or beat around the bush. Just be clear to your friend about the problem and he or she should get it.

Part 3
Offering Sympathy

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    Offer a possible cause. If you can suggest a possible cause of your friend’s odor—even if it’s a white lie—it might help him or her feel like you’re being helpful rather than just critical. Some possibilities include:
    • Bad breath could be caused by certain foods, such as garlic.[12] Food odors might also linger on clothing. Try saying something like: “Wow, that pizza must have been heavy on the garlic, because I can kind of smell it on you. When that happens to me, I make sure to wear X kind of deodorant.”
    • Synthetic fabrics like nylon can retain moisture and odor more than natural fibers like cotton and wool.[13][14] If your friend is wearing synthetic fabrics, mention the odor problem and say that it happens to you when you wear fabrics like that unless you wash them frequently, wear plenty of deodorant, etc.
    • Many people are susceptible to body odor after hard physical labor, playing sports, or exercising.[15]
    • Heat can cause people to sweat, which can contribute to body odor. Say the problem might be caused by the weather, if it is really hot and/or humid.
    • Some people sweat more when they're nervous. Suggest that maybe your friend is stressed about something, and that is causing sweating and an odor problem.
    • Remember that certain illnesses and medications can cause body odor. Since health can be another sensitive issue, you might not want to discuss these causes as a possibility unless your friend brings it up first.
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    Tell your friend you know he or she might not be aware of the problem.[16] People are very often unaware of their own smell, whether it is good or bad. Mentioning to your friend that it’s not his or her fault if he or she wasn’t aware of the odor problem shows sympathy and can make the talk easier.
    • You can mention again that it has happened to you, too.
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    Don’t tell your friend if others have complained.[17][18] If a person thinks that everyone has noticed the odor and has been talking about it, things can become very awkward. If you are direct and kind with your friend, there may be no need to tell him or her whether or not others have noticed the smell.
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    Offer a solution. In some cases, you can give your friend direct help with his or her odor problem. For instance, you can offer personal care items—just make sure to do it in private so that others don’t see and make your friend feel embarrassed. You can also offer social support.
    • If the problem is caused by bad breath, you can offer mints or gum.[19]
    • If the problem is caused by body odor, you can offer deodorant, by saying something like: “Hey, I’ve got some stuff with me that will help.”[20] Alternatively, you can just mention a good type or brand for your friend to try, if you think that he or she wouldn’t react well to actually being handed deodorant or similar items.
    • Offer to check how your friend smells in the future, since it can be hard to tell on one’s own.
    • Let your friend know again that you won’t tell others, and stick to your word.
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    End the discussion on a positive note. Let your friend know you’re glad he or she let you talk to him or her, and ask that your friend does the same for you if you ever need it.

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Categories: Handling Friendship Problems | Sweating and Body Odor Hygiene