I’m the smelly coworker

A reader writes:

You’ve had several letters about how to tell a coworker or subordinate that they have noticeable odor. Well, yesterday I was on the receiving end of that conversation. My manager told me that multiple people have mentioned it to her, and she has noticed it as well.

I’m mortified. I shower every day, wear deodorant and clean clothes every day, and I don’t think I sweat more than the average person. But obviously, that’s not enough. I immediately went home and bought new clinical strength antiperspirant/deodorant, new scented body wash (I’d been using unscented), and those scented beads you put in your washing machine. I have a doctor’s appointment coming up, and will ask about possible medical conditions then.

While I’m working on fixing the issue, I have no idea how to behave at work. I don’t know which of my coworkers noticed the smell, or which ones talked to my manager about it. I feel so embarassed and ashamed, and I can’t stop thinking about how grossed out my coworkers must be by me. I have multiple standing meetings with my team and others each week, plus a lot of impromptu meetings; my coworkers and I often are in each others’ offices to problem-solve. But how am I supposed to face them all now, knowing that they think I smell? Knowing that I inflicted this on them for months? I want to just hide in my office and only interact through email from now on.

I also don’t know how to deal with this with my manager. If it were any other work issue, I’d check in with her in a few weeks to address the steps I’d taken to resolve it, and ask if she still had concerns. But with this, I’m not sure — do I ask her in a few weeks if I still smell bad? How do I know if I’ve fixed the problem? If it turns out the smell is caused by a medical issue, do I tell her that? Do I tell my coworkers? I’m stuck in this shame spiral and can’t think clearly; please, I need advice from you and the readers.

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this!

Here’s what I would want if I were your manager: an indication that you were taking the conversation seriously and taking steps to fix the problem, and an indication that you weren’t paralyzed by embarrassment.

If your manager is at all a decent person, she probably felt terrible having to have the conversation, and she’s worried about how you’re feeling now. She would probably be tremendously relieved if you checked in with her and told her that you were on it. (Not that you need to manage her emotions for her — you don’t. This is more about relaying that you heard the message, are dealing with it, and are not flipping out with mortification/awkwardness.)

You could say something like this: “I wanted to follow up on our conversation from the other day and let you know that I’m taking every step I can to fix it. I’ve purchased a clinical strength deodorant and other products that I hope will help, and I’ve made an appointment with a doctor to rule out any medical issue. I know that must have been an awkward conversation to initiate, and I appreciate you doing it.”

If you want to, you could ask her if the smell is more like body odor or if it’s something else — because there’s a chance that it’s not body odor and is actually something else, in which case you’d be targeting the wrong problem. For example, it could be something like using not-fresh-enough towels after you shower (which could transfer a mildew-y smell to you), or a dryer that’s not fully drying your clothes (again, mildew), or … I don’t know, your roommate’s terribly scented incense clinging to your clothes or that container of fermenting kimchi you once stored in your tote bag. So if she didn’t specify body odor, it could be worth finding out.

Which I know is just inviting further embarrassing conversation! But, counterintuitively, this might be easier to deal with if you just try to own it and are matter-of-fact about it — “Something on me stinks! I’m trying to figure out what it is.”

If it does turn out it’s caused by a medical issue, you don’t need to share that with your boss unless you want to (although it will make sense to if it’s something that won’t be easily or quickly fixed). It’s also fine to say something like, “I think I’ve taken steps to fix this. Please let me know if you continue to notice it, since it can be hard to judge about yourself.”

As for your coworkers … When people encounter a coworker who smells, I don’t think most people think, “Ugh, what a disgusting person!” They usually think, “Oh, she doesn’t realize she needs to do laundry more often” or “Oh, she doesn’t realize her deodorant isn’t working well.” Some particularly self-aware people think, “There but for the grace of god go I” … because honestly, we all stink some point or another. I get that it’s different when it’s happened enough that people are talking to your manager about it … but this really isn’t “you are a terrible stinky person and no one else is”; it’s “whoops, the defenses we all have in place against our own odors aren’t working and you’re going to figure out what adjustments to make.”

You aren’t a gross person or unclean. (Evidence, if you need it: You shower every day!) You haven’t done anything shameful. Something just isn’t working the way you wanted it to, and you’re taking the right steps to find out what it is.

{ 665 comments… read them below }

  1. Mbarr*

    Alison has provided all the same suggestions I would. I’d definitely ask to clarify if it’s a body odor issue or not. The main smell issues I have with coworkers are:
    – Mildew/musty smell from unclean clothes
    – Deodorants (or other scents) that don’t work with your body chemistry – sometimes when you apply deodorant, it smells good to start, but then the chemicals react with your body and you can smell like a dying skunk :(
    – Food smells – maybe you cook with pungent spices that others aren’t used to and the smell clings to your wardrobe.

    I hope you get it solved!

      1. McWhadden*

        I went to a hot yoga class the morning after cooking a meal heavy with onions and garlic. Can confirm.

        1. Stephanie*

          Oh yeah, been there. I’ve also just gone to sleep and maybe sweated at night and wake up smelling a little garlicky.

          1. Mimi Me*

            My husband once ate a jar of pickled garlic over the course of a weekend. He smelled so strongly of garlic that I literally couldn’t sleep next to him for about a week. Our kids were still babies and cried any time he picked them up. It was bad! He now knows that a jar of pickled garlic, while tasty, is not meant to be consumed all at once!

            1. samiratou*

              My husband & I have learned that large amounts of garlic must be consumed by both of us or none of us, or I literally can’t spend a full night in the same room with him (I have no doubt I stink just as much, but he’s less sensitive to smell than I am, and I have less surface area through which to extrude odor).

              1. Dorothy Lawyer*

                I have had the same experience — even if my husband has just a little garlic powder in a dish, I have to have the same or I can’t stand him that night, the stink just oozes out of his pores! And he can’t smell it – I’m much more sensitive to smells.

              2. CristinaMariaCalabrese (do the mambo like-a crazy)*

                Haha, my husband and I have exactly the same rule! Thank god I found a man who loves garlic as much as I do.

              1. been there, there done that, got the t-shirt*

                the best kimchi I ever had made me smell like garlic for a week.

            2. Julia*

              Oh God, my husband loves garlic. (Almost more than he loves me.) I just banned it from our apartment because everything smelled like garlic, from my cutting board to the air to our clothes. And he puts it in every single dish, too. When he says, “should I make pasta?”, I have to be prepared for the garlic.
              I also had to train him out of eating kimchi right before bed.

        2. AnnaBananna*

          And anything related to curry paste.

          Also, I find that I only get stinky sweat when I’m in super high-stress situations (like my body is trying to excrete leftover adrenalin). So it’s something to consider that this may be an emotional/mental thing leading to a physical thing.

        1. Doggies Everywhere*

          At my last job, I had a coworker who sometimes had a bad odor. It turned out what I was smelling was a mixture of black coffee and cigarette smoke from her breath.

          1. Anjou*

            There was a teacher in high school that earned the lovely moniker of “Shit Breath” for that very reason.

            1. Julia*

              I was wondering whether coffee smelled like something else to other people as well, because for years I kept looking everywhere for, um, brown stains on the train in the morning, but it may have been coffee I was smelling?

              1. Casual Fribsday*

                I can’t smell the difference between coffee and dog poop. I’m not under the illusion that they objectively smell the same, but I just can’t parse it out. So it’s not just you.

        2. Bunny Girl*

          Lactose intolerance can also cause bad breath. And other food intolerance I would imagine, but I know that I had a problem with thinking my mouth always tasted gross and my breath didn’t smell fresh even though I went to the dentist to confirm my mouth was in good health and brushed/flossed/mouth-washed at the normal rate. It ended up that I was severely lactose intolerant. I’ve since almost entirely stopped eating dairy products and I’ve noticed a huge difference.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            And actually, I noticed that I started to smell worse when I gained a lot of weight. Once I hit X pounds, it’s like my hormone cocktail changed and I had a funk that required extra showering and deodorant. I lost weight and it stopped.

            1. GreenDoor*

              I also noticed my body odors changed after I had my pregnancies. And I know women who have had to change a lot about their hygiene routines after going through menopause. OP didn’t state if they’re a woman, but, male or femeale, aging sometimes causes our hormones to shift and we need to change up the hygiene maintenace.

              1. many bells down*

                I went through some hormonal shift in my mid-20’s that just made my feet STINK. ALL the TIME. I had to wash them several times a day and change my socks each time to mitigate it. After a year or so it stopped. It was bad enough that I could smell it and it’s hard to smell yourself.

                1. wittyrepartee*

                  This is a weird thing to say- but if it comes back, consider soaking your feet and shoes in tea?

                  Tea is the magic foot destinkifier. I have no idea why. but I have vibrams, and it’s the only thing that works on them.

          1. Maolin*

            Fruity – the acetone is byproduct of ketoacidosis. But that is usually when blood sugar is sky-high, warranting an all-expens[ive] trip to the hospital. Not sure if that’s the same thing that goes on in a ketogenic diet.

            1. clunker*

              I don’t think it should happen on a ketogenic diet, essentially. The “sweet” smell from DKA breath is the sugar in your system, the acetone is from the ketoACIDosis, not ketosis. Some small acetone smell could maybe happen, but I would imagine it’d be much less strong if at all. If you do ketone tests at home, DKA tends to have you in the moderate-severe amount of ketones present, while ketogenic diets seem to tend to want you in the “light” category.

              Buuut I imagine it’s very possible for someone following a ketogenic diet to have any number of dietary deficiencies if they aren’t careful. Scurvy is one possibility, and given that one of the symptoms of that is bleeding gums I would not be surprised if it caused a breath odor.

        1. Rainy*

          I hate raw onions, especially red onions, and am extremely sensitive to the odour, which makes me feel ill, and my fiancé, who LOVES raw onions, has had to give them up entirely except when we’re away from each other for more than a day, because I can smell them on his breath the second he comes in the door.

          I expect his bachelor party will feature many meals liberally decorated with raw onion, since I’m unlikely to smell it from the next state.

    1. Tardigrade*

      I was thinking it could be bad breath. Not that I doubt OP’s oral hygiene, but sometimes it smells no matter what you do, and it’s good they’re going to the doctor.

      1. JokeyJules*

        this too! dairy can leave an awful smell, as well as just having your mouth open for a while without realizing it. very normal things that happen

        1. Doggies Everywhere*

          I sometimes suffer from constant tonsil stones, which have a very bad odor. People with a lot of tonsil stones tend to have bad breath.

          1. Anon for this*

            I know this is off-topic, but how do you deal with yours? I’m too old to have my tonsils removed, but the tonsil stones are such a pain.

            1. Amber T*

              Tonsil stones sucked. I had small ones on front that you could sort of see, but two large caverns on the back that would randomly fall out while talking, making me joke on that crap. Grossest thing ever. Had my tonsils out two years ago as an adult and it was the best decision (not just for the stones, but I definitely don’t miss them!).

              I would –
              – brush my teeth and gargle after meals, including lunch at work (a lot of people in my office brush their teeth at work so this wasn’t a big deal, though I tried to wait until our bathroom was empty to gargle in case stuff fell out).
              – while at home, gently poke with a q-tip, flat/rounded end of a tooth pick, or a clean finger to coax them out
              – tried to avoid dairy, or at least gargled after. No idea if this helped but I definitely get phlemy after dairy, which made it seem like the stones came back quicker? Again, idk if they’re actually related, but it made me feel better.

              1. AnnaBananna*

                I’ve heard that the recovery for adult tonsilectomy is really difficult. What was your experience? I was considering it a couple of years ago but then chickened out. The doctor said that a child would recover in a few days but adults a few weeks, and I was like ‘nope!’.

                My tonsils are just magnets now – I guess its the consequence of getting strep/tonsillitis as a kid so often.

                1. nonegiven*

                  My husband had to sleep sitting up for 2 weeks and it was a year before most foods tasted right.

                2. Maggie*

                  Tonsil stones were beyond humiliating for me, and resulted in a similar experience to this OP. I still shudder to think about it. Having my awful tonsils surgically removed was the best thing I ever did at 23, when I was “too old.” My mother stayed with me and was hypervigilant. She set timers and forced me to drink every 60-90 minutes even while sleeping and I sincerely found recovery easy. Never a scab. If you’re diligent about following the post-op directions, I found recovery infinitely easier than when I would get walking pneumonia for 8 weeks at a time every. f’ing. year. Cut them out!! No regrets!

                3. Topcat*

                  I had it done at 21, so adult rather than child, albeit young adult.

                  The recovery was relatively quick. There were a couple of awful days when I ran out of the coproxamol I had been prescribed (and we were away from home at the time, with pharmacies shut due to a holiday) but once I got back and got some more painkillers, it was fine. And I didn’t need to take that many more.

                  The main issue is that anything slightly acidic tastes like razor blades in your throat – *after* the first day. The first day the area is all cauterised and you feel nothing, only stiffness. It’s when the dead, cauterised skin wears away (which it needs to as part of the healing) that the acid-agony begins. Just do not drink fruit juice!

            2. Adele*

              I had my tonsils out as an adult because of tonsil stones. Recovery was wicked, painful, and long, but on the plus side I no longer get streph throat every few months or have constant colds that last for weeks.

              1. Aitch Arr*

                “I had my tonsils out as an adult because of tonsil stones. Recovery was wicked, painful, and long, but on the plus side I no longer get streph throat every few months or have constant colds that last for weeks.”

                Ditto. I had them out at age 40.

              2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

                Same. Can confirm recovery was terrible. But definitely solved the tonsil stone/bad breath issue, as well as the recurrent sickness!

              3. What’s with Today, today?*

                Same. I had tonsil stones and accessed tonsils. They were removed when I was 25. I have crohn’s disease, have had a knee replacement and had a baby…and nothing compared to the pain of having my tonsils out as an adult. Worst experience ever.

                1. AnnaBananna*

                  Well, shit. Very good to know. I have fibro and if you’re saying it’s that bad – I wonder if it’s even possible for me to handle that kind of recovery.

            3. Staphylococcus Anonymous*

              I’m sorry if this is too off topic, but, you can be too old to have your tonsils removed? What if you have chronic strep and throat infections??

              1. AMPG*

                It’s just way more painful to have them out as an adult, so most doctors have a higher medical threshold for it.

                1. Miso*

                  I had my tonsils out as an adult and was so scared of the pain – but it really wasn’t bad at all. Wasn’t really worse than the worst tonsillitis I’d had. And trust me, I do not have a high pain threshold!
                  But apparently I also recovered really quickly in general, so I guess my throat is my super power!

              2. hr girl*

                I had tonsil stones all the time and strep throat on an annual basis(if not more often). Got my tonsils out at 21 and I am so glad I did! Terrible recovery but worth it not to have stinky breath almost constantly.

              3. Rainy*

                As I understand it, the major problem is that the longer you have your tonsils, the larger the blood vessels supplying them become, to the point that the main danger (leaving aside anaesthesia) of adult tonsillectomy is uncontrollable bleeding. It can happen during surgery of course, but also can happen during recovery or even some time later if the scab falls off before the vessels have knit. Sometimes the post-surgical bleeding requires a second surgery to do more extensive repair.

                There’s a definite point where the pros outweigh the cons, and usually it’s repeated strep throat and tonsillitis (like multiple times over the course of a year) or else a prolonged throat infection that you just can’t get on top of.

                1. greenlily*

                  I had my tonsils out when I was 26 because one of them was enlarged and the doc opted to yank them both and do a biopsy. Scary, but everything was fine and now I don’t get strep multiple times every winter.

                  What they told me was that in addition to the risk of dangerously heavy bleeding, adult tonsillectomies also have a really high rate of infection and risk of scar tissue. This made me a VERY compliant patient, because on top of all the usual reasons you don’t want infections/scar tissue in your throat, I’m a serious amateur classical singer and was petrified of permanently damaging my voice. Their approach was to basically sedate me: they prescribed painkillers at a dosage that made me sleep ~19 hours a day for about three weeks and fuzzed my brain when I was awake. I hated it and will never take that painkiller again, but it was vastly preferable to the alternative.

            4. VictorianCowgirl*

              I take a flushing syringe and insert it into the crypts everyday and flush with warm water to keep them from forming in the first place.

            5. Bowserkitty*

              I can only speak for myself but mine tend to be really stubborn and “gently” trying to dislodge with a wet Q-tip doesn’t do jack so I just try my best to yank them out. It causes some blood but I always gargle with listerine after and I have yet to see lasting problems, but again, this is just me and YMMV as usual.

              I had no idea what they were the first time and REALLY freaked out seeing a white lump peeking out from the back of my throat!! This was the one time Googling my symptoms calmed me down!

              1. thepinkleprechaun*

                I wouldn’t be able to get mine out until they got really large if I used a q-tip or similar. I actually found this thing at target that is supposed to be for popping zits, and it works really well to get them out! If you google “tweezerman skin care tool” you’ll see what I’m talking about.

                1. Bowserkitty*

                  Oh thank you!!! I did have a friend recommend something similar that I never got around to buying, and this looks perfect!!! It has a nice hook for pulling them out.

          2. Don'tSendYourKidstoHudsonUniversity*

            I can get recurring tonsil stones too! They smell something awful, but I find routinely gargling with warm salt water helps to flush them out. That combined with generally good oral hygiene keep the bad breathe demons at bay… I hope.

          3. EmilytheLibrarian*

            Yes! I came to the comments to see if anyone had mentioned it. I used to have chronic bad breath that I couldn’t find the cause of. Until I started noticing the tonsil stones. They kept growing and growing and I kept getting tonsillitis over and over until my doctor removed them. I was 30. Recovery was hell but now I’m not sick all the time so it was worth it. 30 is on the old side but older people getting them removed is going to be a trend for a while because getting them out was not encouraged when I was a kid like it had been in the past (or now for that matter). Basically my ENT said “we might as well do it because it’s never going to get any better.”

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is the really hard part. The steps the LW is taking might do the trick… or they might not. Without knowing the type of smell, it’s hard to fix it.

      If it’s food, though, and cooking odors are getting on her clothes or hair, then that makes things really tricky because no one should tell you what you can and cannot cook at home. I honestly don’t know what I would say or do in that case. I usually change my clothes before I cook at home, and I’m lucky to have a kitchen that’s not super close to where I keep my clothes, but I can imagine some of the things I make lingering on what I wear.

      1. chocoholic*

        I have had this problem, and I close my bedroom door when I’m cooking certain foods. That has helped a lot.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        Use the exhaust fan if you have one.
        Mine has made a big difference in my allergies. If mold starts in the air from steam, or around the sink or in the garbage, the fan helps!

      3. GreenDoor*

        Not cooking….but I lived with my grandmother who smoked the world’s cheapest, smelliest cigarettes. I kept my clothes in the basement and kept anything I couldn’t wash in a washing machine (my wool coat for example) in a garment bag. Granted, this was temporary until I graduated from school and moved out, but if house odors are the issue, storing work clothes in an area not exposed to the food/animal/smoke odors could help.

      4. Dorothy Lawyer*

        Something that I have found helps with cooking odors – after cooking a smelly meal (this could be something like curry, it could even just be the smell of fried foods that permeates EVERYTHING): fill a crockpot (a small one works great for this) with water and a generous handful of baking soda and leave it on low overnight. It absorbs the odors overnight and my house doesn’t smell like an Indian restaurant 12 hours after cooking curry!

    3. strangebuttrue*

      Definitely the scents. Male friend and I (female) went out shopping once and tried different colognes/perfumes. The one I liked the best on me was actually a men’s cologne.

      1. many bells down*

        There was a hair product that a lot of people recommended to me, and they specifically mentioned the “light pleasant scent.” On my hair it smelled like rotting fruit. I don’t buy anything from that brand now it was so unpleasant.

        1. Julia*

          I take people’s descriptions of scents with a very big grain of salt. (Can grains actually vary in size? With a spoonful of salt?) I bought a hair product by Revlon that according to everyone online smelled “heavenly”, and to me, without even putting it on my hair, it was just heavy cologne meets wet dog. But there are people out there who like to douse themselves in really heavy stuff, so the reviews might have been truthful?

          1. londonedit*

            In Britain the phrase is ‘with a pinch of salt’, so you can indeed take things with a bigger pinch if you want to!

          2. TardyTardis*

            My mother came home from the beauty parlor one time with a new hair rinse, and we ended up calling it Eau De Catnip–our cats thought it was the most wonderful smell in the world, and they’d wake her up when she was asleep to roll in it.

    4. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Cat litter is one I’ve noticed before. When you have a litter box in a main area of the home, which is sometimes necessary, the scent can stick on everything. And people become nose-blind to it so easily.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yes, this sums up the way my coworker smells. She often wears strong smelling lotions, which somehow make it worse.

      2. Hills to Die on*

        Or animal smells in general, even if they haven’t gone to the bathroom in your home. We have had a ton of animals and it is a lot of work keeping everything clean and fresh so that it doesn’t smell like a kennel in the house. That can transfer to your clothes.

      3. Autumnheart*

        Yeah. I have four cats and I’m paranoid about odor. I have an ironclad rule about scooping daily (twice daily, ideally) so I don’t become nose-blind.

        1. Zip Silver*

          It’s not necessarily the waste, cat litter itself doesn’t really smell pleasant, but that’s also something you pretty quickly go boseblind to.

          I grew up my whole life with a cat, but when I would visit my parents after going off to college, the smell was kind of overwhelming.

    5. Alli525*

      Seconding your point about scents vs body chemistry — I discovered in high school that my favorite perfume smelled great on the test strips, but smelled like rotting vegetables on my skin.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Yes. Nearly every perfume smells musty and expired on me. I found a couple that are okay, and use scented lotions or essential oils as well. (But not all at once).

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Natural scents are much easier, and they don’t have that clingy quality that comes from chemicals.

      2. aebhel*

        Yep. I use men’s deodorant because most women’s deodorant (even the unscented ones!) smell awful on me–worse than if I wasn’t wearing any at all.

        1. New Job So Much Better*

          There’s a chlorophyll tablet you can take called Body Mint, and it really helps with any odors.

        2. Quoth the Raven*

          About a few months ago I found out that unscented deodorant sticks, rather than roll-ons and sprays, are what work for me. Anything else I end up smelling like sweat, which then transfers to my clothes.

    6. sparty07*

      If you have a front load washer, check to see if it has grown any mold/mildew in the flaps on bottom of the door frame. That place is notorious for holding water and letting mold/milder grow in it. Every time you wash your clothes the stink transfers right to it.

      1. Debbie*

        Yes! I use Smelly Washer once a month in our front loader. It helps!
        (You can find it on Amazon. This is not a plug for this product. It is just what I use. )

          1. Stuff*

            Oops that went under the wrong one :) but for washer smells leave it open or cracked open when not in use. Less mold growth that way .

            1. Girl Alex PR*

              But not if you have kids! I had to switch to a top loader after I had children because leaving our front loader open between loads was a hazard with littles and it was starting to smell.

            2. Emily*

              I do that with my washer and with the coffee maker, too, but I really struggle with getting guests to remember to do it. I don’t have central air and I live in a humid climate so it’s pretty important that I’m doing everything I can to prevent mold!

              Opposite problem I have with trying to get guests to close the toilet lid after they use the bathroom. It’s like these routine activities people just do on auto-pilot and they’ve not learned the best way to do it and in the moment they never remember. (I’ve even put signs directly above the toilet when I host parties reminding people to close the lid after using the toilet and still walked in mid-party to find the lid up!)

              1. Jojo*

                Seat down, lid up. Make sure you flush. Males, put the seat down. Lid open because when you need to go, you need to go.

      2. Peachkins*

        Absolutely! When we had one, we left the door open pretty much any time it wasn’t in use, and we did have to constantly clean out the plastic around the door frame. Occasionally we would run an empty machine with a mix of vinegar and baking soda. After we moved to a house with a top-load washer and my mom visited, we realized our towels especially still smelled of mildew (we had apparently gotten so used to it we didn’t notice before then). We ended up getting a laundry sanitizer (we tried Lysol brand) that you can add to your wash. Worked great.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          Citric acid is what we use to clean out the washing machine. You wash an empty load on the hottest setting, using 100 grams of citric acid (available in pharmacies and probably even larger supermarkets) as “washing powder”.

          It prevents both build up of hard water goo and that awful moldy smell.

          And of course keeping both the door and the little drawer where you put the washing powder open when not using the machine. We have small children, but they’re never in the bathroom unsupervised, and I check the frontloader for possible “hidden toys” or whatever anyway before I use it.

          1. Kat in VA*

            My cleaning routine when the top loader starts to smell is an empty load (or whatever white towels I have lying around), hot water, and bleach. I don’t do it often – maybe once a quarter – because bleach is hard on a septic system. It seems to keep the funk at bay.

            1. Laoise*

              How’s lysol for a septic system? I use it instead of bleach in my laundry, because it kills germs without fading colours, and our front loader hasn’t gotten smelly once since I started using lysol for all our loads of towels and bedding.

              Before that, I was doing the citric acid cleaner weekly and still having my work clothes smell musty all the time. It was starting to be a serious problem

              1. not really a lurker anymore*

                Check your dryer hose. Mine had standing water in it so the funk was coming from the dryer not the washer.

      3. Professor*

        I was coming in to suggest this might be it. Doing laundry but not actually getting your clothes clean can be part of the problem.

    7. Cat Fan*

      There’s also a cigarette smoke, but I would think that the manager would state that specifically because it is a pretty unique smell. Even if OP does not smoke, if anyone in her home does it will make her clothes smell.

      1. Sad Astros Fan*

        Vaping, too. If the OP vapes or lives with someone who vapes, some of those “sweeter” smells linger awfully. I’m allergic to any kind of smoke/vape and just had to tell a coworker that she smelled of vape. She doesn’t vape, but now thinks her teenager who drives her car does.

        1. the cat's meow*

          Me too! I thought I was the only one! I’m thinking of becoming a consultant to parents to sniff out if their kids are up to no good…

    8. Dr. Pepper*

      Another potential source is animal smells. Dog or cat smells can linger on your clothes and hair in ways that you will never notice but others might. If you’re around livestock, you WILL smell like them and for some people, this is a particularly unpleasant type of odor.

    9. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I would add, even clean clothes can smell musty! I just moved to a new apartment where the dryer apparently wasn’t doing its job, so when I pulled clean clothes out of the dresser I noticed a faint mustiness. I have a pretty sensitive nose so I could totally see someone not noticing the smell when they got dressed, or not realizing what it was, or thinking it would go away. I also live in the PNW which is notorious for mildew problems due to the wet air, which can definitely make clothes go musty faster. Some good ways to combat this are making sure your clothes are very super dry before you fold and put away, running the heater to keep the house above 60F, investing in a dehumidifier, and cleaning your dresser drawers.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Also if the dresser is old, the drawers might be crooked and letting dust in. I have a chest of drawers I bought used in the 80’s, and I recently had to stop using one of the drawers because it’s so crooked, the clothes got very musty.

      2. Allison*

        I’ve found that if I leave an item of clothing in a drawer, storage bin, space bag, or any other enclosed container for too long, it can end up smelling musty. Front-loading washers can also make your clothes smell funky if you don’t clean them, or allow them to air out. Vinegar and/or baking soda can really help combat stubborn, musty odors.

      3. church lady*

        Musty, mildewy clothing smells can be off-putting. There’s an older gentleman who volunteers where I work who swims daily in chlorinated water and showers, but he reeks of must and mildew (he smells like a gym locker) which I attribute to his clothing, not his person. Once I figured out what the aroma was, I really notice it when he’s in the office. Sometimes my washcloths get that nasty smell that clings even after laundering, and I have to add white vinegar to the rinse water or bleach them.

        1. Ron McDon*

          My parents have a classic car which was in storage for about 30 years before my Dad restored it.

          They stink of mildew, particularly when they’ve just ridden in that car (they have a different car for everyday use). So much so, that after I’ve seen them/been to their house my husband or children will say ‘you’ve seen Nanny and Grandad today, haven’t you?’.

          Needless to say, they can’t smell it. My dad was even talking about hiring his car as a wedding car for brides – luckily it’s not a ‘nice’ classic car so he hasn’t had any demand for that service…

      4. MCL*

        Yeah, my husband doesn’t put his jeans in the dryer to prolong the life, but you have to be really careful when line drying indoors so that they get good airflow and dry quickly. Otherwise they’re super musty smelling. I met a guy at an event last week who had a nice outfit on and looked well groomed, but the musty smell came off him in waves. I think it’s really easy to do. I also recommend washing towels in hot water and white vinegar, no softener. Perfumed soaps and softener make them smell bad quickly.

    10. Eligible for Promotional Rate*

      My in-law had a medical condition which led to an inability to smell certain odors. They also had cats, and one of the cats peed on their shoes/tote bag that they had left by the door and they didn’t realize. Everyone else did though.

      Check your shoes.

    11. Allison*

      “Deodorants (or other scents) that don’t work with your body chemistry – sometimes when you apply deodorant, it smells good to start, but then the chemicals react with your body and you can smell like a dying skunk :(”

      This happened to me a few years ago! I’m super into Bath and Body Works, and one year they released a holiday fragrance – I think it was called Be Joyful – and the lotion smelled fine in the bottle, but when I put it on, I smelled like a couch that’s been sitting in a damp basement for like 20 years. I can’t really explain how that happened, but I’m glad I caught on before being the smelly person at the movies.

    12. AKchic*

      It could even be something like shoes or coat causing the issue. I’ve had some fun odor-related issues over the years (thanks, teenage boys!), and the most common lingering odors happen due to sneakers (really, I always recommend using inserts so you can get better mileage on your shoes, but so you can also toss out the smells faster), coats that should be washed (oh the funk we let sit on our coats!), and our bags.

      Also, how old is your perfume? I noticed that my favorite fragrance would turn a funky scent after a few hours, and realized that the fragrance itself had been discontinued over 3 years ago. Whoops. Guess it had an expiration date.
      Also, fragrances can mix unpleasantly. My 16 year old’s shampoo did not smell nice when mixed with a deodorant he had for a while. Granted, he didn’t smell pleasant to begin with (oh, teenage boy hormones, how we loathe thee), but that combination really made it fun for a few days while we tried to guess what the new smell was.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Honestly, I think that expired perfume is the genesis of the “old lady perfume” cliche! I grew up with grandmothers who lived through the Depression and WWII and threw *nothing* away. Including 20-year-old perfume. It does have alcohol in it, which means it won’t go bad as fast as something without preservatives, but it DOES GO BAD eventually.

        1. Kathy*

          Here’s a tip for perfume that doesn’t smell as nice as when you purchased it. I take my old perfumes and spray them on my wet hair. Once your clean hair dries, it smells wonderful.

          1. Cardamom*

            That’s interesting. I have a perfume that is great on my skin, but when I sprayed it in my hair, it was awful. So I guess things can flip in either direction.

    13. Mediamaven*

      I had a coworker that had an unclean smell frequently. I couldn’t figure out what it was and she would wear fragrance that made it worse. Turns out it was her dry shampoo. It’s just really smelly and smells like she is trying to cover up a dirty smell. Just something for the OP to consider – maybe it’s a product she is using.

      1. MAK*

        Yes! Dry shampoo on dirty hair can be an unpleasant smell…as can dirty hair, itself. My roommate in my college dorm room used to wash her hair about once a week (or a bit longer) and it was a problem for our small, shared space. She had no idea. Her hair didn’t look bad, grease-wise, but she started washing it more frequently after that and everything improved.

    14. GreyjoyGardens*

      I once worked with someone who had a very strong “musty” odor from mildewy clothes. And my climate isn’t known for damp, so even if you are hang-drying your clothes they should dry thoroughly unless you’re hanging them in the bathroom – which might have been the case.

      Sometimes the person bathes/showers often enough but their clothes don’t get clean, or they “air” their clothes instead of cleaning them, or they don’t use cold-water detergent.

    15. Smarty Boots*

      Check with your dentist as well.

      Could be something you’re eating, could be a scent you’re picking up from a pet or the seat of a car or bus.

    16. Working with professionals*

      My Mom, who is diabetic, would sometimes have an odor of over ripe or slightly rotten fruit when her blood sugars were too high. Once she got them under control, the odor went away.

    17. LargeHippo*

      oh i have a co-worker that smells like mildew! We think she leaves her wet clothes in the washer for too long. Luckily my time where I’m right next to her is limited.

    18. CatMom*

      Was going to say just this! For years I thought a dear friend was just a little stinky – not awful, just something I noticed when we hugged or something. One day I switched deodorants and BAM – I had the same distinctive, unpleasant odor! Two days later I noticed the same brand in her bag. Body chemistry is weird!

    19. Chinookwind*

      I want to repeat that it isn’t just deodorants that can sour with body chemistry. My body chemistry is such that most perfumes smell like horse p!$$ on me to the point that a clerk at a perfume counter and my friend spent an hour trying to find one that didn’t immediately turn sour upon contact with my skin (there was only one).

    20. the elephant in the room*

      To anyone who has had to work with me within 3 days after eating a leek: I’m sorry. They just taste so good.

      But yes, clarifying is a good idea! There’s a guy we work with who smells like pot and terrible cologne all the time and it sends people reeling. It’s nice of your manager to talk to you about it. Mine prefers to just talk behind his back about it…. (I just want him to stop wearing that terrible cologne! And maybe stop smoking at work.)

    21. Artemesia*

      If you are showering and wearing clean clothes then it probably is not BO but something trickier. One of the most common and awful bad odors is caused by bacteria on the back of the tongue; brushing the tongue and using a tongue scraper can reduce this greatly. It is an odor that permeates a room and smells like crap literally. And of course when any of us has this killer breath from hell they personally don’t notice it; we are all nose blind to our own stink especially bad breath. This would get my vote as most likely smell likely to get this much attention. And luckily, sort of easy to deal if you are aware. But it is the sort of thing that can clear a room.

      Another is various dental issues, so a dental cleaning and check up is in order.

      I once sat on a plane next to someone who smelled like mold and mildew; it is pretty pervasive stuff in clothing and again if you have musty towels and clothes you might be used to the scent. And some cooking odors cling to clothing. Having an air filter in the bedroom and making sure the closet is closed to the cooking areas of the house might help.

      Hope it turns out to be easy; it must be awful to have to deal with. Definitely get a little more data so you can figure it out.

    22. hate being late*

      I also wanted to add that even clean clothes can retain some stink if you’ve had them a while. And I’ve noticed some fabrics are worse than others. I’m looking at you, polyester.

    23. Jojo*

      I have had 2 fellow employees with BO in the past 20 years. It was a mediCal condition. The first one knew it. When it was caught it was too far gone to treat. The second, I told him because nobody else would. He was glad to be told so his doctor could treat it. It toOK 3 months of prescription stuff, then it was gone. He got married a year and a half latter.

  2. Rey*

    I would not want to ask my manager for feedback on the exact unpleasant smell (what Alison mentions about distinguishing between body odor or something else), so I feel like I would ask my sister or a close friend outside of work to smell me and tell me what’s going on.

    1. princess paperwork*

      Cosign. I regularly ask family or friends to smell me because my allergies mess with my sense of smell. Let them know what happened at work and they can help you pinpoint the source.

      1. Tavie*

        Same, I have a very poor sense of smell and regular ask my boyfriend to tell me honestly if I stink. I ask him to put his nose right up in my armpit. I know that sounds gross but people who love you will help you out.

        I’ve been paranoid about being the OP for many years so I totally feel you, OP, I hope it gets better soon, sorry this is happening to you.

      2. Long Time Lurker*

        Do Not ask your romantic partner if you have one. Most people are attracted to someone who smells good to them. My partner loves the way I smell after I exercise or when I wake up before I shower when I smell strong but not bad (to them).

    2. Orphan Brown*

      If OP stinks this bad I’m surprised a good friend hasn’t brought it up before! I would definitely check it out with someone I trust rather than bringing it up with coworkers again.

      1. Nita*

        It might only be an issue at work! If the OP has a very physical job by any chance, they may be coming into the office sweaty, but not walking around like that at home and around friends. I was totally on the receiving end of this conversation when my work was transitioning from being mostly physical work outside, to mostly office work. There weren’t enough people to cover both, so I’d regularly come into the office after a morning of running around carrying heavy stuff, and extra bonus points if the weather changed from almost-freezing at 7 AM to make-omelette-on-pavement at 11 AM. Deodorant and a change of clothes could only do so much for that…

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I live alone and in addition to being at work for most of each week day and out for most of the weekend days, I worry that my apartments would be musty/food stinky. Any friend/family member who visited was asked, when they entered, “is it stinky?”
      I’m in a house now and my brother came over on Saturday, through the garage and basement. “Is it stinky?”
      “kind of musty down here.”
      I need to know!

    4. Jerry*

      Crass comment ahead:

      Only problem is that it can be an, um… family issue. When I first started managing (before I discovered this blog) I had to have this conversation. I didn’t know how to manage it, so I asked a friend who is a gym-teacher/track coach who advised that every year he had to tell at least one kid specifically that he had to wash his ass (yes, the body part) and that the conversation tended to run in families. This actually turned out to be the issue with my employee.

      Yes, the conversation was mortifying.

      1. Laurelma01*

        Jerry, This was an issue when I was in the military. Every year it is an issue in the barracks or in the office. Washing the rump was a huge issue. Had a coworker that had to teach one of the women the proper way to bath. She was washing from the breasts up, nothing from the stomach below. I knew who she was talking about; it was nasty. Sometimes women have a hormonal issue that affects the area below. I went through a horrible stage while premenopausal. Vinegar and water baths, and body spray at work on a regular basis for a couple of years.

        1. Jennifer*

          Now I am getting paranoid. I just use a washcloth under my breasts and upwards. My stomach, shoulders and back if I feel sweaty. Shower every 2-3 days and use shower gel; wash my hair; soap in my feet. That should be enough when I don’t do manual labour?

          1. Young coworker*

            It’s probably just not bad policy to give everything onyour body a quick swipe. Also I think generally 3 days would be pushing it – although in the winter I can become a every 2 day shower person

          2. pinky*

            I don’t generally use a consumable product to clean my genitals or bottom or the underside of my fat tummy, but I do wipe all those folds with a washcloth or my hand until they feel clean.

            And that includes every morning when I get up and don’t shower – the washcloth wash includes face, neck, armpits, under breasts, and the above.

          3. Autumnheart*

            Gotta wash the buttcrack. For genitals, you don’t have to (shouldn’t, really) use soap, but rinsing with water isn’t a terrible idea.

          4. Cactus*

            Personally I would use the washcloth on everything and shower every day or every other. I don’t use shampoo often because I have curly hair but I do use conditioner every time.

          5. Indigo a la mode*

            Stepping in for support – I shower every 2-3 days, almost never use soap or body wash (though I do use it to shave once a week), and when I do use soap it’s much the same way you do. I’ve only ever gotten compliments on how I smell. If nobody’s told you about a problem, you’re probably fine!

            1. Jerry*

              I’m not trying to attack or be unkind, but I have to give you push back here. It’s been demonstrated both in this post and others how uncomfortable it is to give someone unsolicited feedback on their body odor. Personally as a manager, hygiene conversations give me about 70% as much anxiety as termination conversations, (which are AWFUL) so I wouldn’t just assume that no one commenting automatically means that you’re good to go.

              1. Indigo a la mode*

                Fair enough–I mostly wanted to push back against the idea that Jennifer’s described hygiene methods are inherently inadequate. Everyone is different and plenty of people can get away with less frequent washing.

              2. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

                I think this is an “everybody is different” kind of thing. I also don’t shower every day and have checked in with people about how I smell and I’ve gotten the all clear. Since Indigo a la mode is getting compliments, I think it’s safe to assume they are okay as well! To be honest, I think a lot of people really overestimate how bad someone is going to smell after a day of sitting in an office.

            2. Sylvan*

              I really don’t want to embarrass or hurt anyone, but people not bringing it up doesn’t mean that it isn’t noticeable.

              I can’t smell much of anything, so “I can’t smell X but other people can” is something I learn over and over again… I have thought that I could “get away” with things and only learned otherwise by reading up online. It doesn’t seem that most people can go without soap in general or without bathing for more than ~48 hours without this being noticeable (but of course there are exceptions to everything, as well as cultural differences in hygiene habits).

          6. Tired*

            I am a woman and I use a washcloth between my legs and a different one for my butt and butt crack. Yes, I’m picky but I don’t do body odor. Two-three days between showers is pushing it to me, but I enjoy the sensation of water pouring on me and the feeling of cleanliness after a shower so it’s every day for me. Clean underwear on an unwashed ass just won’t do. I’m also heavyset and we tend to perspire more. Not taking any chances.

          7. PJM*

            I am going to give you a totally honest answer to this question. I don’t understand some of the answers you got to this, but manual labor or not, you should be using hot, soapy water, thoroughly cleaning ALL areas of your body including your private areas, front and back.

              1. AMPG*

                Some people really don’t need to shower every day, and daily bathing can exacerbate some skin conditions. I’m in the “needs a daily shower” group, but I’ve had firsthand experience with enough people who aren’t to know it’s legit. But washing anyplace where skin comes together is a must whenever bathing happens.

                1. Chinookwind*

                  Also, for those of us who live in a drier climate (especially when it is a dry cold), showering every day dries out your skin even worse (which says a lot when we already suffer from skin cracking). A “bird bath” in between does a lot of the work that a shower does without the toll on the skin.

              2. wittyrepartee*

                I live in the northeast. I’m an every other day kind of bather. My boyfriend is grossed out in theory, but tells me that I don’t smell. If I shower too much my skin can get really dry, and I have to buy loads and loads of moisturizer.

              3. thepinkleprechaun*

                Most people don’t need to shower every day, if I did my hair would be a ginormous frizz ball, and in the winter my skin would be cracking and bleeding! I have an extremely sensitive nose and honest friends and I can assure you I don’t smell even though I don’t shower every day. I get that some people might, but don’t just assume that those who don’t are smelly and/or gross because of it.

                I also have several female friends who I know for a fact do not shower every day and have never noticed a smell for them either.

            1. Salamander*

              Yup. I’m a wash-daily-everywhere-with-soap-and-water person, regardless of whether I’ve been working out or not. Human beings can notoriously not smell themselves.

            2. Julia*

              No soap on your private parts, ladies!
              Also, I know people who just don’t smell sweaty (husband only stinks around his feet), and if it’s winter and he’s just hanging around inside doing nothing, why should he dry out his skin further?

              1. It's fine, everything's fine*

                Have to agree here! You really shouldn’t use soap on your female private parts (several OBGYNs have told me this), but you can rinse them with water and/or a cloth, which will clean them. Feel free to use soap on your rear, but you don’t want soap upsetting the balance of bacterial flora in your ladybits.

          8. Ron McDon*

            I think this depends on your body type too – if you are slim with taut, toned stomach and upper thighs you may sweat less than someone like me – overweight with flabby skin on my stomach/upper thighs from weight loss. Because I have ‘folds’ of skin and my upper thighs rubs together there is less airflow around there, and it can get quite sweaty, particularly in warm weather.

            So I wash in the shower each morning and wash with a cloth in the evening, just to keep it all fresh. I can smell sweat on *myself* when I get home from work on a warm day. Sometimes I’ll also freshen up with a wet wipe at lunchtime if needed.

            I could not go 2-3 days without washing down there – there would be a very strong smell.

            But if you are not noticing any sweatiness or smell in between showers, maybe your body doesn’t sweat as much as other people’s? Perhaps rub your hand around the crease between your groin and thigh a day after showering and do a sniff test? That’s what I do when I’m not sure!

            1. For real*

              Perhaps rub your hand around the crease between your groin and thigh a day after showering and do a sniff test? That’s what I do when I’m not sure!

              I dunno…if you’re even at the point where you need to do weird things to see if you smell like unwashed genitalia, maybe do everyone a favor and just wash yourself. If you don’t want to shower because of your rare skin condition that causes bleeding if you’re in the same room as soap, use a frigging baby wipe (they make unscented) and wipe the funk away.

          9. IndoorCat*

            Woman to woman, it’s important to wash your butt crack, under butt cheeks, and the place your thighs touch. Honestly even if you have a thigh gap I’d advise a quick wipe with a soapy cloth along your inner thighs. That’s just where the sweat is! Also, if you notice a smell from your crotch area, you can shampoo and condition your map of tasmania just like the hair on your head. In my experience (sorry if it’s TMI), a bad crotch smell comes from sweaty “down there” hair, rather than the genitals themselves.

            You don’t need to wash your vulva / vagina for the same reason you don’t need to wash the inside of your nose: it’s a mucus membrane that cleans itself. If your vulva / vagina starts to smell, it’s a sign you have an infection, like a UTI or candida, in which case you need to get antibiotics or antifungals. But, that usually involves other symptoms.

          10. Artemesia*

            You can stay freshish by a daily sink bath but you need to be washing the nether regions with soap and water daily; it is much more likely to be offensive than the arm pits for most people.

          11. SS Express*

            Honestly, this sounds like you’re showering considerably less often and less thoroughly than the average person. Everyone’s body is different so it’s possible this is enough for the hygiene needs of yours, but it’s less than what most people consider enough for their own bodies. In a society where most people are showering daily I think even the normal scent of skin that isn’t dirty or sweaty but hasn’t been cleaned in a couple of days is likely to smell…not gross like BO, but just kind of un-fresh, because we aren’t simply aren’t used to it. I do often notice people have a kind of stale smell when they haven’t showered since the previous day – not horrible, but not especially pleasant either.

            I think a minimum requirement for hygiene is probably to wash your buttcrack with some kind of shower gel, your genital area with water, and possibly your external genital area and inner thighs with shower gel if it’s a hot day and you’ve been sweating.

          12. Party Parrot*

            I shower every 2-3 days or after exercise. I wash my hair, run a bar of soap under my armpits, and generally I’ll be shaving so my legs will get soaped up for that and not to be super tmi but… due to the way I’m kind of contorting myself and bending over while shaving, water gets everywhere. Then I stand under the hot water like a zombie for twenty minutes. I’ve asked people if I smell (people who have been honest with me about embarrassing personal things before) and gotten a definitive no.

            But I’m young, thin, and sedentary. I’ve also never been someone who sweats heavily.

          13. Traffic_Spiral*

            As has been stated, you need to wash your crotch. Not necessarily with soap, but all the folds and crevasses down there should be getting a wash.

          14. JulieCanCan*

            I’m a woman and I like to feel and smell clean and fresh, always. I do one all-over (toes to shoulders) with a moisturizing coconut body wash when i first get into the shower, then while I’m letting conditioner soak into my hair I lather from my knees and above with Dove (original) soap bar with emphasis on privates (front and back), underarms and neck/behind ears. I don’t do physical labor of any kind, ever, but I ALWAYS think that if I happen to break a limb and have to be hospitalized or need to be out of my apartment due to a fire or something, I’m hopefully clean for 24 hours.

            I’m not judging, but I do believe women need to thoroughly wash themselves daily in order to avoid odor – it’s just how our bodies were made. I once supervised a young woman who smelled pretty bad for a few days each month; no one complained about it but it was noticeable to me. It made me even more vigilant about smelling fresh and clean. I don’t wear perfume or sprays but people usually tell me how good I smell after they hug me.

            I also buy Gain pods, Gain scent beads, and gain dryer sheets because I need my laundry to smell delicious- it’s another obsession of mine (one of about 100 obsessions, sadly).

            Smelling bad is one of those things I’m always worried about – I never had an experience where I was told I smelled, but it’s a “nightmare scenario” that I don’t know if I could handle. I’ve been this way for as l can remember and as I read Op’s letter my heart broke for her and I couldn’t help but gasp as I read it. I’m so sorry OP. But this SHOULD be an easy fix if you make sure to do what you can – wash all oh your clothing after a single wear (maybe jeans and work slacks get 2 wears), shower daily and wash all-over, make sure apartment mold isn’t an issue, try not to eat a lot of foods that cause body odors for days…..if you do all of those things and the smell continues I would imagine it’s something out of your control.

            Good luck! I’m sure this can get better. I’m sorry you’re going through this.

            1. JulieCanCan*

              Need to add: I have had male acquaintances (one at school, one at work) who I would occasionally carpool with who smelled, well……dirty. Like, you could tell their clothes had not been cleaned recently and they clearly had not showered that day, maybe for a couple days. It wasn’t necessarily a body odor/BO smell, but like a “Pig Pen from Charlie brown cartoon” smell. This kind of thing almost makes me mad – all it takes is a shower and doing laundry. My car would fill with this PigPen smell and I’d need to roll the windows down for fresh air.

              I also need to disagree with some commenters who stated that they don’t feel it’s necessary to wash their privates with soap. It absolutely IS necessary; anyone over 10 years old needs to do this. I’m a nurse and can promise you it will not cause your body harm. I’m talking the surfaces, not soaping inside any holes. I don’t care if they don’t think they smell. Usually you cannot smell your own odor (which brings me back to my obsession with making sure I wash hyper vigilantly).

              Please, take it from someone who deals with strangers’ smells daily. Everyone needs to bathe every day. More if you workout during the day. Please.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Laurelma01, great point. A little while ago, I learned that some people cannot reach where they need to wipe. The example given, still causes me to shudder. It could be injury or illness that prevents them from reaching. They need to get a plan of how they will handle that. I know I have had back injuries that caused me to take an extra couple minutes to figure this out. It can happen to any of us, OP, and that is how I would phase it if I had to have this conversation.

          “You know, Employee, my friend’s mother injured herself and she had a problem in the bathroom. She could not reach to clean herself and after a bit her family noticed. This type of thing can happen to any of us at any time.”

          1. TardyTardis*

            There is a special stick that is supposed to hold toilet paper for people with disabilities who can’t reach (it’s on Amazon)–it could also hold a hot, soapy washcloth. It’s not that expensive.

      2. Staphylococcus anonymous*

        Too many – TOO MANY – people think it’s acceptable to just stand under the spray of water in the shower, and the water will “get” their butt. It is never the case. For my entire youth I took for granted that my mother had taught me to wash well, especially my nether regions, pits, and feet. She also taught me to wash my tuchus after a BM; apparently that is not the norm in this country. The American way is to just wipe with toilet paper until it is “clean enough”. This is *still* shocking to me, 20+ years on!

        I do not envy a single manager who has to have this conversation with adults. It’s one thing when you’re dealing with kids. It’s embarrassing, sure, but there’s an expectation that kids and young teens don’t quite feel comfortable with their bodies and expectations of hygiene thereof, yet. But with grown, professional adults, it comes off as a value judgment no matter how delicately you approach it.

        1. Rater Z*

          I had to help wipe my wife at times because she had trouble reaching back there. Never fun, but, since I was also the one doing the laundry, that wouldn’t be fun at times either. She had a lot of health problems.

          She also had trouble controlling her bladder for the last year or so and we went thru a lot of pads and towels on her recliner where she slept. She would slept for hours, then wake up and her bladder would let loose. I was washing up to ten bath towels twice a week. After she died, I finally discovered she might have been having silent strokes. My sister told me that, after she read the article from the Cleveland Medical Clinic, a lot of what I told her suddenly made sense.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Yeah, I work in the middle east now, and that toilet hose they have is a great thing. Bidet after every toilet break – a definite must in this weather.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        This makes me glad we always were explicit with our kids about what to wash / brush: “Brush the front and back of every single tooth”; “Wash every single bit of your body including your butt crack and all the folds of your privates” ; etc. We still have to tell our teenage son sometimes that he has to do laundry and can’t pick up clothes out of the floor and put them on again. If he has been lazy about getting his laundry done over the weekend, he’ll try to re-wear things on Monday morning. I think hygienic behaviors have to be explicitly communicated and constantly reinforced against procrastination or the mistaken belief that no one notices.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          Regarding laundry, if you take it off when you get home and hang it up, it often airs out and is fine to wear again before washing :) Better for your clothes and for the environment to only wash them when truly needed! (That said, I understand that for teenage boys, one wearing may well make laundering truly needed.)

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            If he would hang them up, that would be fine. He throws them all over the floor, and then tries to wear them from there!

          2. Jojo*

            I don’t mind wearing my pants 2 or 3 times if they not really dirty, but need clean shirt and under thing each day.

          1. Kal*

            I would have loved it if I was told specifically what to do. It took me until I was in my 20s to learn how to actually properly use mouthwash. And trying to figure out how to use shampoo purely by the marketing blurbs on the back led to serious overuse. That avoidance of a little bit of awkwardness on my parents part led to a lot of awkwardness and anxiety for me.

      4. GreyjoyGardens*

        Hoo boy, that’s got to be one of the most difficult, embarrassing conversations ever! But kudos to you. Smelling bad is not good for the ol’ career or social life.

      5. Ellex*

        Yeast infections can smell pretty bad. And it’s not just women, men can get them too! And it’s not just in the genitals, you can get a yeast infection in your throat (aka thrush) as well.

        My brother started smelling odd, and a quick google search led me to tell him to talk to his doctor about a possible yeast infection. Well, my brother insisted that only women got yeast infections, but when he went for his last checkup, the doctor noticed the smell and insisted on testing – sure enough, he had a candida infection.

        The doctor also confirmed that what my brother claimed was a bunion was, in fact, a wart – exactly as I told him.

      6. EddieSherbert*

        Yeah, I had several similar conversations when I worked in an infant room at a daycare about cleaning various body parts with new parents. They didn’t know how to properly wash themselves and then weren’t properly washing their new babies – most common was washing behind the ears or cleaning out their ears and cleaning their feet.

        1. Tired*

          My pediatrician showed me how to use damp cotton balls to thoroughly clean my daughters diaper area, she had fat thighs and lots of folds.

    5. Ann O'Nemity*

      Great idea! I’d be much more comfortable asked a friend or family member than my boss or coworker.

  3. Anonymops*

    Co-sign on the moldy towels! We have a very crappy drier and it’s very hard to get them smelling fresh. I always wonder how much it’s affecting my own personal aroma.

    Do you smoke or drink a ton of coffee? In addition to the steps you are taking (and well done for handling it so well, I also would have been mortified*), consider dental/stomach issues. It could be bad breath stemming from a variety of issues or gut flora problems that are causing bad breath.

    Good luck to you and I hope you feel better soon.

    *I remember so keenly being told I stink in 6th grade and that I needed deodorant after my gym teacher told me that kids complained. I won’t say I was scarred for life but I am highly conscious of my BO.

      1. JulieCanCan*

        OMG long ago I worked as an assistant in an office and my desk was next to the desk of the assistant to the company president/owner. This poor assistant, who was in her late 50’s, had a mouth full of rotten teeth. Whenever she turned in my direction I’d smell garbage – or decomposing flesh, or SOMETHING horrible, but I had no idea what it was. I’d say out loud “What’s that smell?!?!” and no one would say anything. It got really bad. Finally when I became friendly with another assistant, she told me about my desk neighbor’s rotting teeth, and then I realized every time she’d face me or talk to me, I’d smell the horrible smell (but I stopped asking what the smell was of course). It eventually made me dread going to work and despite the job itself being great, I hated it. The stench was truly mind blowing. I developed all sorts of internal nose-plugging tricks so I didn’t have to smell it. It was horrible.

        A few months later she had all of her teeth pulled and got new teeth and it was like a new world – I never smelled the rotten smell again. I guess she didn’t take care of her teeth during any part of her life. I never knew bad teeth could smell like that.

    1. Me Again*

      Yes! Some people don’t smell this kind of thing either and others are more sensitive to it. I can smell everything. Everything! My husband smells nothing. I often have to tell him that he’s used a towel too long or it sat too long before being dried or that his clothes are starting to smell. Hr showers every day too and is not an unclean person. But he sweats like crazy and has some medical issues and I think from time to time he smells different depending whats going on with his body. I can literally tell he needs to go see his endo when he gets a certain smell about him. But he doesn’t notice any of that at all.

      1. Mimi Me*

        I have a very keen sense of smell. My husband does not. (see comment above about pickled garlic!) I have noticed smells around people I am usually in contact with can change depending on health issues. I can literally tell when the people around me are getting sick by their smells. If my kid “smells sick” but doesn’t have symptoms I’ll keep them home from school and sure enough by the end of that day my kid will have a fever or stomach issue. My husband says it’s a super power – that I’m an X-Men. LOL!

          1. Mary Connell*

            Google “smelling sickness.” Some fascinating stuff. There are people who can smell things like Parkinson’s. I used to be able to smell sicknesses better when I was a child. Some might smell kinda sweet, others sour.

          2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            It smells… sick. I can also smell some infections in my family and I’m not sure how to categorize it better. It’s definitely unpleasant and clearly separate from food issues. Close to a rotten food smell, I guess.

          3. Me Again*

            I can only determine it with people I’m around a lot because I know their smells. It has to be things I’m familiar with. But I bet if I were trained I could identify certain sicknesses, like parkinson’s, after being exposed to the smell a few times. I can identify miscellaneous smells and tastes that most people struggle with remembering.

            It’s very interesting to know my husband or daughter isn’t feeling well based on their smell. A few times I didn’t know what exact,y was wrong but his smell was off so I sent him to the doctors. He had thyroid cancer the first time and found out he had diabetes the next time. Now I can smell when his sugars are off and things like that.

            1. justsomeone*

              I can smell when my diabetic husband’s sugars are off too. I can usually tell him if he’s high or low.

        1. your favorite person*

          That is actually pretty amazing. I can smell myself when I’m getting sick but I can’t smell anyone else. But good lord, can I smell whiskey from my husband the next day- even after a shower. That stuff is potent!

        2. Joyce Pugh*

          I’m can smell when someone is coming down with a virus too! It’s distinctive, but hard for me to describe. I’m right every time.

          I can also smell when my husband eats garlic, onions, curry or lamb. There is something about how he metabolizes them combined with my super sniffer, and I can’t get the smell out of my nose. It’s not his breath, but emanates from
          his pours. I do give him a heads up so he is careful around people at work

          On the plus side, I can also pick up wifs if bacon, maple syrup, dryer sheets, lilacs, and a whole bunch of other wonderful smells too.

      2. Salamander*

        Can confirm. Diabetes and kidney disease are two serious conditions that can present with breath odor. I mean, if I smell ketones on a loved one, that can mean the person needs to go to the ER for diabetic ketoacidosis. Kudos to the OP for going to the doctor to get checked out!

        1. Girl Alex PR*

          I have a severe kidney disease and used to work with a nurse at my job. One day she pulled me aside and told me I “smelled like I needed to get my kidneys checked. Now.” I took her advice and boy was she right. I am still amazed to this day.

      3. the gold digger*

        I am convinced that one friend needs to see a dentist for a rotting tooth, but – we are not close enough for me to say that to her. I know what rotting teeth smell like. :( I sat next to a seven year old on a bus in Chile whose teeth were rotting out of her head and I never want to smell that again.

      4. pony tailed wonder*

        My sweetheart had surgery recently and had to slowly wean himself off of certain meds before he had it. His body odor definitely changed with each med withdrawal and subsequent re-addition.

        1. Rainy*

          My late husband took a med for a while that made him smell like burning tires, and I could barely stand to be in the same room with him, which hurt his feelings, but come on, have you ever smelled burning tires? I was glad when it turned out that particular med didn’t work for him, because I would have gone out of my gourd if he’d smelled like that long-term.

      1. Storie*

        It took me a long time to figure out that using dryer sheets (bounce etc) on my towels was preventing them from getting fresh and clean. Dryer sheets coat clothes and towels in oil, creating a cycle where when you wash them they aren’t getting all the way clean. You think they smell, so you use a dryer sheet which creates the issue. Now I wash them on hot, non scented liquid detergent, and no dryer sheets and they smell amazing and are super soft. Sorry, I’m way too into this since I sleuthed it out! #laundrynerd

          1. Madame Dakar*

            +1 to this

            Also, using *too much* detergent can leave clothes smelling mildewy, as not all the detergent will be rinsed off, and mildew likes soap and moisture. I have seen other people in the comments reference Jolie Kerr from the NY Times and Gizmodo media,; she has great tips on laundry and odor removal.

            – signed, someone who smells better these days thanks to Jolie

          2. Armchair Analyst*

            I have switched to vinegar fabric softener rinse and it gets rid of every smell and I have 2 preschoolers, 1 of whom is currently somewhat potty-trained.

            1. GreyjoyGardens*

              Vinegar is great! I use it for a lot of household stuff and buy it by the gallon. It especially will get soap gunk out of the washer if you run an empty load with a cup of vinegar. I also use it to clean the cats’ water fountain as it cuts the “cat spit” and won’t leave any poisonous residue (cats are so sensitive).

              1. kittycritter*

                I do the exact same thing (cleaning the cats’ water fountain with white vinegar!) – their saliva leaves this gross slimy residue and the vinegar just zaps it away, it’s amazing! I also use it in place of fabric softener because I read that it was good for loosening cat hairs up out of your clothes and I can really tell a difference!

        1. I'll say it*

          TOTALLY!! Not only do they not get clean, but that oil/buildup attracts mold. I’ve had issues where I’ve literally brought my own towel (on the DL) to others’ houses when I notice they haven’t learned about the fabric softener issue. It’s a legit issue! That stuff gets on EVERYTHING then!

        2. Allison*

          I can’t recommend wool balls enough, they do the job of dryer sheets, plus they help stuff dry faster! A bag of 6 is pretty cheap on amazon.

        3. Traveling Teacher*

          YES! +1000

          Jolie Kerr has some fabulous articles and podcasts on how to get this smell out of clothes–both too much fabric softener/dryer sheets mildew and regular my-clothes-didn’t-dry-right mildew. Essentially, it boils down to: doing a rinse cycle with–no lie–1 to 2 C of white vinegar, possibly rewashing til the vinegar smell is gone. Then, maintenance with just a little bit every load or from time to time. I can confirm it is both cheap and magical, as I’m the grateful recipient of many used baby clothes and accoutrements, some of which have taken on smells, and it’s never failed me yet!

    2. mark132*

      Second on the smoking. Sometimes even after showering/brushing teath etc. It can still be apparent. (though not for all smokers).

        1. mark132*

          I know this is why a lot of smokers drive with their window cracked open, to minimize the smoke smell. I personally don’t smoke, but I used to work on a construction crew, and my coworkers would smoke in the work van to job sites. So I sometimes I smelt of it as well. Of course every smell got overwhelmed by the smell of Diesel fuel/fumes among other odors. (A lot of them smoked to cover the smell of the pot they also smoked).

    3. Notapirate*

      My bathroom is not vented and i used a damp towel to dry off with the other day in a rush and yes that definately was a scent.

      Other thought, if you drive to work check what your car smells like. It may be transferring scents to you. Vaccuum it out, ride around with the windows down for a day or two, make sure trash isnt building up in it. Amazon has some great cheap car trash cans. If it still smells funky after that try one of those clip on air vent freshness those worked a miracle on my friends used car.

    4. LurkieLoo*

      Also sinus issues can emit a very distinct and varying degree of terrible smell. If you can narrow down where the smell is coming from, it will help when you talk to the doctor.

      1. VAkid*

        Or colds, bronchial issues. It’s literally like a mucuous smell coming out. Gross, but not the person’s fault!

    5. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I feel like this is a very common thing for teachers to address in middle school if parents don’t step up. Taking care of your body as a child is very different from what you need to do as a tween and teachers in middle school probably have this conversation memorized. Maybe parents are just trying to pretend that their children aren’t growing up? You are not doing your kids a service parents! You need to teach them how to use deodorant and shave their legs. Trust me – you do not want them learning to shave from their friends. It will end badly.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I took it not as “you must teach them to shave (because unshaven legs are disgusting)” but “YOU (rather than their friends) should be the one to teach them.”

          1. Mimi Me*

            That’s how I took it too. And it’s true. Friends should not teach their friends to shave any body part at that age. It’s dangerous.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              I will always be incredibly thankful that my grandma sat me down at one point and taught me how to shave my legs, how to exfoliate skin, how to pluck my eyebrows, and how to choose a face cleanser and moisturizer. My friends were full of goofy, maybe not harmful but not really good either, crackpot ideas. I have some old middle school pictures from when it first became a Thing to pluck your eyebrows, and Oh Boy, some of those brows!

          2. Salamander*

            Yup. I decided as a kid to shave my legs because I wanted to be more “grown up.” I yanked my mom’s razor out of the bathroom closet and went to it. But because I didn’t ask and nobody told me, I failed to use soap and just applied the razor to dry skin. That was not pretty.

            1. Hobbert*

              Yep, I did that as well. Then we went to the pool. Holy moly, I can feel the pain 25 years later. And now I don’t shave my legs at all. Ha.

            2. Artemesia*

              I did the same thing. My Dad used an electric shaver so I didn’t really focus on the fact that men use shaving cream to shave and raked away with the raw naked blade. Not a happy thing.

          3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            Pretty much. I’m not saying girls need to shave their legs, but more they should all be gifted the knowledge of how to shave their legs, so they don’t decide one day with their friends – to pick a totally random example that has nothing to do with me or any idiot ideas I had in middle school – that waxing will be easier and last longer and then end up with hot wax and bits of paper stuck all over themselves. Not that I would know that.

      1. OyHiOh*

        I started my kids on deoderant (and training bras for the girls) in about 4th-ish grade to establish the habit before a problem could develop. Middle school gym teachers absolutely have the care of your body/hygiene speech memorized because some kids frankly don’t care, some parents are in denial, and socio-economic factors or neglect can be in play as well. But I could forearm my kids with books, knowledge, and habits and I could keep a kindly eye on their friends too. Hopefully, the hygiene speech went over a little easier coming from a friend’s mother than from a teacher.

        1. Me Again*

          My daughter is 6 and she has the stinkiest pits. She’s already. Using deodorant. I fear the teenage years.

      2. Mimi Me*

        As the parent to two middle school kids I can assure you that the hygiene reminders are constant in my home and others like mine. The issue isn’t so much the parents – we really don’t want stinky kids roaming the halls of the middle school! – it’s the kids. My daughter read a magazine article a while back and for a while argued with me that washing her hair every day wasn’t necessary as long as she “brushed it to distribute the oils evenly”. Mmmm, okay maybe that’s true for women who aren’t in the throes of puberty but greasy hair is a look, I guess. She did that for about three weeks before one of her friends commented and now she washes her hair again. My son thinks that because he’s not yet hit puberty officially (read: no body hair, no voice change, still kind of short) that sweat doesn’t stink on him. He’s oh so wrong, but nothing short of me wrestling him to the ground every morning and dragging that deodorant over his armpits is going to make him put it on. I don’t have that kind of energy or time. I make sure they do shower and have clean teeth, but the other stuff? I know their peers will help them realize the errors of their ways. If they don’t? Well, I’ll have to work up the energy…but first let’s see if that peers thing works. :)

        1. Anon From Here*

          Dear lord, but having to tell a nearly grown-ass human being that they need — no, you really, really need — I wouldn’t be saying this if there weren’t an issue, I love you, hon, but seriously, you need to scrub under your armpits for reals now

          So painful. At the end of the day you can only hope that if your messaging isn’t getting through to them, some peer pressure, the good kind, will.

        2. shep*

          I also read articles like that when I was a kid (i.e., distributing your hair oils will make your hair look clean again). Yes, perhaps if your hair is brittle and bone-dry, but otherwise that’s UTTER LIES. My hair was (and still is) prone to producing TONS of oils. However, as an adult, I’ll go several days without washing it because I’ve found dry shampoo, and it works really well for me. I also have my stylist’s approval for this method, as it preserves hair shaft strength.

          I only WISH I’d found dry shampoo in middle school. Would’ve saved me a ton of heartache and anxiety!

            1. Jadelyn*

              I need this on a bumper sticker or embroidered on a pillow or something. Minus the spanx, as I can’t stand that stuff, but still.

            2. Just Employed Here*

              Yeah, dry shampoo, caffeine (just not too much of it…or I’ll be the OP for a similar letter to this), nonalcoholic beer, and my smartphone.

          1. Emily of New Moon*

            I’m another one of those people who needs to wash her hair every day. If I go even one day without shampooing my hair, it gets all greasy and gross.

            1. kittycritter*

              Me too. I tried the no-poo method one summer a few years ago when I was unemployed. I thought after a month or so my hair would “magically change” like the Internet said it would. Surprise ending: it did not.

              Some people (like me) have a scalp that produces mass quantities of oil, and if I don’t wash my hair every day, my hair will literally look wet with oil on day 2. Even dry shampoo doesn’t make a huge difference – I do use some dry shampoo, but I use it more of a styling spray after I’ve blow-dried than for actual oil-removal in lieu of shampooing purposes.

              1. JulieCanCan*

                Try a small amount of baking soda on your scalp and hold your head upside down and use your fingers to distribute. I have Oily hair/face/scalp and need to shampoo daily also, but if I’m waiting til afternoon to shower (like on a Saturday) I’ll use a little baking soda to get me through the morning. Dry shampoo doesn’t work as well for me. I love my baking soda – it’s great to add to cleanser for face washing too, if you have oily skin. It also has 1,000 other terrific uses!

        3. VAkid*

          Hormone smells are a thing even when kids are clean though. It’s like acne. Kids with acne are not unclean, it’s just crazy hormones. Why are hormones so weird? (I had this thought all the time when pregnant)

          1. wittyrepartee*

            In fact, a lot of times they’re washing their skin way too much to be rid of the acne, and it’s angering the skin gods.

        4. Environmental Compliance*

          My sister did that with her hair! She was convinced and no one could tell her otherwise, hair stylist or no. Took until one of her friends flat out told her that her hair looks gross. Teenagers are weird.

        5. Emily of New Moon*

          When I was in fifth grade, I remember that several of the boys in my class suddenly started to smell. We had square dancing in gym class, and none of us girls wanted to dance with the boys because they smelled bad. By the time we hit middle school, the boys didn’t smell anymore, presumably because they had started using deodorant. It’s very common for boys to smell a few years before they actually hit puberty.

    6. Collarbone High*

      Anonymops, have you tried wool dryer balls? My towels never used to get dry in one cycle, but the balls force the towels to spread out instead of staying in a big damp lump, and now they dry completely in much less time.

          1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            There are ones on amazon that look like tiny penguins! Because that is a major selling point for me.

    7. I'll say it*

      On the moldy towel tip, if it hasn’t been said before: buildup of fabric softener can be the culprit, believe it or not. The buildup attracts mold. So the more you wash your towels and put extra softener (either the liquid or the sheets) on them to help, you could totally be making it worse. Isn’t that a hoot?

      You can wash them in hot water several times to get the buildup taken care of, or just buy new towels. Then, use dryer balls (plastic ones) to keep them fluffy.

      [insert The More You Know gif here]

      1. AES*

        A good vinegar soak helps enormously with this too. Do a load with a cup of vinegar in and the hottest possible water setting, then re-wash with normal laundry soap. The vinegar smell will be gone and so will the mildew smells.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          You can also dry directly, I use vinegar in place of fabric softener for all my laundry and even when they come out of the wash smelling (pleasantly to me) of vinegar, by the time they come out of the dryer its gone.

      2. Hills to Die on*

        I cannot wait to go home and wash everything in hot water and vinegar. And we don’t even have a mildew issue. I’ve just been a dryer sheet junkie.

    8. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I remember our sixth grade teachers making a general announcement that, now that we were in sixth grade, every single one of us needed to wear deodorant because we were to the age when people start to stink! We thought it was awkward and funny at the time, but I know I went home and told my parents that they had to buy deodorant for me. I think sometimes parents are sometimes slower than, say, a sixth-grade teacher with 25 kids in an enclosed classroom, to realize that their kid is beginning to smell.

      1. Rainy*

        My parents for some reason wanted me to be the smelly kid. I had to beg and plead for antiperspirant, and they were adamantly against me showering daily for some weird reason. Junior high and high school were hard. :/

        1. shep*

          My mom was sort of weird about shaving. She explains it now as wanting to spare me the burden of shaving my legs for as long as possible. She thought she was doing me a favor, but whereas her leg hair has always been blonde, mine with thick and dark (I take after my dad), and one day after several months of feeling self conscious, some boy teased me mercilessly on the bus. I came home crying, hugged my dog (who was very distraught over my crying), and as soon as my mom came home from work, I told her she had to get me a razor, NO EXCEPTIONS.

          To her credit, she did, but every now and again I like to tease her with, “Remember when you wouldn’t let me shave WAY LONGER THAN ANY OTHER MOM??”

          I kid, of course, and in retrospect prefer her more relaxed attitude toward body hair (even though I wish to this day she’d let me shave when I asked her the first time). I had a friend whose mom was the exact opposite, and at the first sign of any undesirable body hair, she marched my friend to a salon and had her eyebrows waxed. If my memory serves me, she started getting her eyebrows waxed when she was about nine. In contrast, I was about sixteen when I first had mine done–ironically by the woman she recommended, who waxed them into a terrifyingly thin line.

      2. Traveling Teacher*

        Yup. I wrote about this downthread, too. Also: sometimes, the kids just don’t care. We don’t have A/C here. It’s hot as hell in June, and nothing can be done when it’s 40C, nearing the end of the school day, and you have 25-30 hormonal teens in one room…

        A male colleague of mine used to imbibe a handkerchief with listerine and smell it to keep from passing out during the worst heatwaves. Smart man. I actually had my eyes tear up occasionally from the odors and would have to go splash my face and eyes with water!

  4. JokeyJules*

    OP, have you checked your washing machine for smells? you might want to clean the washing machine, i’ve also found adding a little bit of vinegar to your detergent can help get rid of some smells on clothes and towels, only like 1/4 or 1/3 cup per load, though.
    Other things to consider are pets, if your car has a smell you don’t notice anymore, and washing outerwear (i admit, i often forget to do this, even though i wear it daily for almost 6 months of the year!)
    so far as working with your coworkers, remember that their comments likely aren’t malicious, just a bit of concern. Good luck!

    1. GT*

      White vinegar is really good at getting smells out of clothes, I usually put it in during the rinse cycle, sometimes in the pre-wash.

      1. JokeyJules*

        i love it! works better than most other products i’ve tried. it does backfire if you add too much, then all of your clothes smell faintly of salad dressing, my SO says it remind him of buffalo wings

        1. Traveling Teacher*

          And, if you have a front-loader, check the gasket…you might have mold and slime lurking…

      2. Granny K*

        This tight here! You might also want to run the washer empty with vinegar to clean out the drum and the water lines.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        I actually just saved a comforter with white vinegar. This was my 21-y.o. son’s comforter, which he sleeps with without a sheet, and apparently without a shower after baseball practice, lifting weights, etc. It didn’t have an armpit “b.o.” smell, but just a nasty, oily, sweaty human smell. I used a combination of white vinegar and oxyclean and a pre-treat cycle with the “sanitary wash” cycle (which electrically heats the water even more instead of just the hot water from your water heater). I was surprised it worked.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Good to know. My teenage son came to me the other day asking if he could have some Febreze for his room. I stuck my head in there and the whole room smelled like a dirty sock. I was like, “You can have some Febreze AFTER you change your sheets, do your laundry, dust the furniture, and vacuum the carpet.” He has been using the same full-size comforter since he was a toddler; it was (and, I suspect, still is) his security blanket. He might hate it if it was washed like that, though, because he always talks about he loves the smell of it. Lol.

        2. Just Employed Here*

          I’m feeling slightly sick from reading the comforter without a sheet thing… I have two boys, who are still little enough to love showering and to generally have to do as we tell them.

          Now I’m anxious about the future…

          1. Ron McDon*

            Yup, when boys get to about 12/13 their bedroom takes on a very unique smell – just awful! Hormones, sweat and ‘boy’. It stinks.

            And they usually don’t want to shower as frequently as they should and ‘don’t care’ if they smell…

            I was so glad when my 17 yo got a girlfriend and suddenly started tidying and hoovering his room, and changing his bed before the sheets could walk to the machine themselves!

          2. Merula*

            I married a man who grew up with the comforter-without-a-sheet thing, and he is, to this day, really really amazingly bad at how top sheets work.

            He can never make the bed with the right side of the sheet down. You’d think he’d have a 50/50 shot from a random guess, but nope. Always upside down. Then, half the time, he doesn’t remember to actually get under the top sheet when getting into bed. And to top it all off, while he sleeps he kicks the sheet down to his feet, so he’s basically sleeping under the comforter, again.

            Do your future daughters- and sons-in-law a favor. Teach your children to sleep with sheets.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I tried and tried to make both my kids sleep with a top sheet, and they just kept not doing it! I would make up their beds with a top sheet and insist that they sleep under it, and they would wad it up and sleep under the comforter. I finally just gave up. I still don’t understand why they want to sleep like that, but it’s a battle I lost a long time ago.

    2. mark132*

      I use small amount of oxyclean in every clothes wash cycle and then make sure to leave the door of the washer propped open to allow oxygen into the drum when not in use as well as so it can dry out.. This minimizes the anaerobic bacteria that can cause so much smell.

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        We have a grate we put on top of the washer to keep the cats out, and we leave ours open between washes. It’s a high efficiency washer and I guess those are generally more prone to smells, but we haven’t had many issues. The only time is if there’s a miscommunication and the wash sits for overnight, because then there is a definite mildew smell…but vinegar (or, if it is diapers/whites, a mild bleach solution) gets it back to rights.

    3. OhGee*

      Agreed. For some reason, my washing machine was making things smell mildewy – especially towels. I cleaned the machine and ran loads with color-safe bleach for a week or two, and that did the trick.

    4. SarahKay*

      I just recently moved, and had a smelly washing machine, which cleaning didn’t seem to help. A co-worker told me about the sump, usually at the bottom front of the machine, that will trap hair, fibres, etc. He recommended Googling “Clean sump for *insert model and brand of washing machine*.
      I tried it and found step-by-step instructions which I successfully followed. I think all I needed was a sturdy screwdriver, some old cloths, and a bucket – no specialist tools required. When I opened it up I pulled out a stinky greyish clot, mostly I think of the previous tenant(s) hair, along with a few pennies and a couple of buttons.
      I then ran another hot wash, and that had done the trick totally – washing machine (and thus, clothes washed in it) was no longer smelly. The thing is, I can see how the clot of stuff, and the associated smell, would just build up so slowly you might never notice it on yourself.
      Good luck!

    5. CRM*

      Second all of this! I lived in a house once with a old cat who had bladder issues. His owner (my roommate) would wash anything he peed on in our shared laundry unit, and anything I washed in there afterwards would smell of cat urine. Running a cycle through with vinegar and/or lavender oil definitely helped.

  5. tallteapot*

    Another possibility may be halitosis, which can definitely be medical in nature. GL, OP, do your best and I’m sure it’ll be an issue no more!

    1. Knitty Gritty*

      That’s a very good thought, tallteapot! My SO will occasionally go through a bad spell of halitosis that can make an entire room smell. I’m trying to get him to the dentist…

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        My bff had halitosis for years; truly foul, curdle your stomach. She knew, she brushed, she tried to take care of it but nothing helped. Turned out she had a rare kind of tumor in her gastrointestinal tract; once she had surgery for that and it was gone, then the bad breath smell has gone away also.

  6. ExcelJedi*

    I’m in the “there but for the grace of…whatever” camp, and I really feel for you, OP.

    I recently had a week-long stint where I was putting on clothes only to take them off and throw them right into the wash almost daily, because they all smelled weird. It cleared up quickly after we cleaned the washing machine and dryer, but it drove me nuts for a week there. I can only hope I actually dealt with the problem and didn’t wind up going into work smelling of mildew any of those days.

    1. Adele*

      Front load washers, in particular, have this problem. Mold grows around the gasket. If it is really bad, the gasket may need to be replaced. When the gasket is clean, don’t close the door completely, but leave it slightly ajar to ventilate.

      1. lost academic*

        Yup, this. We never ever close the washer door now. Once the mold set into the last gasket, I could never get it out. I could solve odor issues but the existence of the mold really bothered me to the point I argued vociferously against ever buying one again.

        Dryers though, those really seem to be the worst.

        1. New Job So Much Better*

          Yep, leave the door open all the time. We also pull out the soap/softener basket and let it dry. Also helps to run a hot water load with bleach for towels once in a while.

        1. Det. Charles Boyle*

          I feel the same way. Although front loaders are water savers, the mold problems are just terrible. I’ll never buy one again.

          1. Boppity*

            They’re standard in a lot of the world, where they live under kitchen counters. I’ve never had any problems – just wipe the gasket occasionally and don’t latch the door shut.

      1. Mockingjay*

        I pull the dispenser on my front loader completely out to allow more air to circulate. Also most washers, front or top, have a cleaning cycle. Run that periodically.

        I recommend washing towels and clothing in the hottest water possible (per fabric/color). We once had a wash machine with only a cold water hookup available (rental home). It wasn’t until I laundered clothing for my mother-in-law that I realized that our clothes just weren’t getting clean and had an ‘off’ odor. Yikes. (She was really sweet about it and we replaced the washer for one with a heating unit.)

        1. all the candycorn*

          My mom’s washer is set up to “energy save” so it won’t use hot water, at all, period. It’ll fill so the “hot” wash is only lukewarm, which is problematic for anyone who needs to be sanitizing their laundry (sheets when someone’s been ill, dirty work clothes for medical workers, people who have or have been exposed to parasites, dust mites, etc.)

          If you need to do a sanitizing-hot load, you have to put the clothes in and either run a hose from your faucet to get full-strength hot water, or fill it partway and dump several large pots of near boiling water into the drum.

        2. Just Employed Here*

          European washing machines (at least in the countries I’ve lived in) only take in cold water, and then heat it. My Canadian colleague was shocked by how long a laundry cycle takes (it depends, but typically about 1.5 hours for normal wash and maybe longer for hotter, and that’s without drying, just spinning).

          But of course all the washing machines sold here are built to suit this system.

    2. Katelyn*

      Fully agreed! Like all machines, washers and dryers need regular maintenance, and so few people actually do any of it. It’s worth looking up your owners manual online and seeing if there are any steps you can take to clear things up. (e.g. front-load washers generally have somewhere that lets you drain out any water that is remaining in the tub after shut-off, emptying that occasionally really helps keep everything clean and working as expected).

      I try to clean the machine the week before I do my spring cleaning and put the drapes, winter bedding, etc. through the wash.

    3. Salamander*

      Yeah. I have learned the hard way to leave the washing machine door open when not in use and not to let clothes sit in it overnight. Serious funk can accumulate on clothes that is not mitigated by the dryer.

    4. Name Here*

      Jealous of all the people in this thread who have their own washer/dryer! I live in a building that has a shared laundry room in the basement and therefore have no control over whether the doors are left open or closed and would not want to pay to run a cycle with just vinegar. I also don’t have the option of adding an extra rinse cycle or anything fancy like that. I mostly hope that the other people who live in my building only ever put soap in the washers and not anything that could ruin my clothes if it didn’t get completely washed out and contact building management if the machines aren’t working.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Yeah, I share washers/dryers with the rest of the building, and it’s upwards of $3.50 for each load, so doing things to rinse out or clean the machines isn’t really an option, nor is changing filters/making sure the doors are left open!

        1. Traveling Teacher*

          Wow, that stinks–pun not intended! Something you could do to mitigate things while not blowing your laundry budget would be to first do a load of towels or sheets on the hottest setting possible (that would do a lot to clean out smells and bacteria, both for the towels and the machine!), and then use that machine directly afterward for your load of clothes.

          Could you also check with the owner or building manager to see with what frequency the machines are getting cleaned and maintained?

          Another option, if you are able: you could do a white vinegar prerinse/soak in your bathtub with your clothes (probably around 2 C white vinegar per load of clothes, but afterwards you just need to add a couple of tablespoons to each wash to maintain their fresh and de-musted state!), then wash as normal in the washer. A pain to do in a bathtub, but also a nice workout for the day and no extra cost for loads of laundry. Good luck!

        2. Miss H*

          I go to a laundromat, and I’ve found that throwing in a cup of white vinegar (purchased cheaply in a gallon jug) into every wash load with the detergent really works to get rid of the almost-mildewy smells of bath towels that didn’t dry properly and clothes that were sweated into. Also, I avoid certain washers that just don’t seem to work as well as the rest. If things come out of the wash smelling less than ideal or with dry parts, I make a note never to use that washer again.

      2. thepinkleprechaun*

        FWIW I use vinegar in a regular cycle with detergent if my kid pees the bed or I have musty towels, you can’t still smell the vinegar when the load is done washing.

  7. Adele*

    I am soooo sorry you are dealing with this. I would be mortified, too.

    Do you eat garlic regularly, by any chance? I love garlic but when I moved to a country where it is eaten more often and in greater quantities than by most Americans, I thought I would pass out from the smell of people around me! It was revolting. People looked clean enough but the smell just came out of their skin. I don’t know if I eventually got used to it or if I just started smelling, too, as I ate the same (very delicious) food as everyone else.

    1. anon24*

      I love garlic! Whenever I eat large quantities (my immune system loves large amounts of it) I drink tons of water, go for a walk/run and work up as much sweat as possible. It flushes the garlic scent out and then I can shower and rehydrate and the smell is gone. I smell so bad when I finish my workout but the shower washes it all away!

  8. MuseumChick*

    Hi OP,

    I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. Hopefully the steps you are taking will fix the issue. A couple of questions:

    Do you eat foods that have a strong smell? Anything heavy in garlic, fish, etc? That might be the cause of some of this.

    Do you have any co-workers you are particularly close with you could ask about this?

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I would not ask a coworker only because it is such a personal conversation to have and I can almost bet that a lot of folks will be like me: I have the best intentions but there is no way I would be comfortable answering this question and would just weasel out of it.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I was thinking of a letter on here from a while ago. The LW was having issues with bad breath associated with a medication she was taking. One of the suggestion was to causally ask some co-workers she was close with to tell her if they noticed anything.

        You would definitely need it to be a co-worker you felt comfortable with and who you were sure would be honest with you.

  9. Cat*

    OP, please don’t think you should add a bunch of scents to your routine. They don’t help address whatever the underlying problem is — they only attempt to mask it with artificial fragrance, which IMHO is even worse.

    It may be that a love of super spicy foods or, as others have mentioned, mildewy towels, are the culprit.

    1. Observer*

      Sometimes masking it is the only useful solution though. It’s not always so easy to find the cause of a problem like this. And sometimes even when you find the cause, there’s just not much you can do about it. In those case, and in case like this where the OP doesn’t know yet what, if anything, they can do about the underlying cause masking can make sense.

    2. sarah*

      agreed! heavy use of scented products to cover up a smell is a great way to trigger allergic reactions in other people. even if everyone in your workplace is fine, the person next to you on the train or in line behind you at the grocery store might not be.

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        Amen! And preach!

        I would be one of those people who aren’t fine, as chemical scents trigger migraines.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        Also the scents are made with harmful chemicals that have been linked to the development of allergies. It’s unhealthy for OP as well as the people around her.

      3. Mollie*

        I’ve been scrolling through the comments hoping someone had said this already. I’d rather smell someone’s natural funk than have to breathe in all the perfume/cologne/artificial scents and have migraine headaches every day.

      4. Michaela Westen*

        Don’t be discouraged about scents OP! If you want healthy scents there are many natural products. :)
        Whole Foods cosmetic section is a good place to start. Check the price before you look at something. Their prices range from ~$10 to unaffordable.
        After I’ve found and used something I like, I can usually buy it for a little less at my favorite online health food store.

    3. submerged tenths*

      +1000 I would much rather smell someone stinky than someone (still) stinky AND added masking scents!

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      Often trying to cover up a smell results in the smell plus the scent, which is usually far worse than just the smell by itself. If you’re going down the “must clean more” path, may I suggest odor removing products, like white vinegar, baking soda, and activated charcoal. They absorb bad odors and don’t leave their own scent behind. Clean your washer with vinegar. Sprinkle baking soda on your carpets and then vacuum it up. Put sachets of activated charcoal in your shoes. Small bowls of vinegar and/or bowls of baking soda can be placed around your home to absorb cooking and pet odors. A bit of borax in the wash can cut through rank odors, and some vinegar in the rinse cycle leaves laundry wonderfully fresh. If you sweat in the night, consider putting a fresh towel down on your pillow each night. Air out bedding (if possible) in the sunlight. As another poster commented, make sure you are thoroughly washing your bits each day. Brush your tongue too when you brush your teeth. Consider your personal sweat levels. You may want to wear slightly looser clothes, as tight fitting clothing tends to build up and trap sweat, which then smells. Natural fabrics such as linen and wool don’t marinate you in your own sweat as much as some synthetics and they breathe better.

      These are all merely suggestions. I have various stinky people and animals in my life and I am abnormally sensitive to smells, so scented products are right out. The above have all worked well for me.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I absolutely second the suggestions above as opposed to using more scented products.

        I also like tongue scrapers as an addition to brushing your tongue, and I also open the windows frequently no matter what the temperature is. And I live in Wyoming. Don’t care is it’s 20 degrees outside, sometimes you just need to air out the house.

      2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        Re Airing out bedding — we don’t make the beds at my house. I know my grandmothers are spinning in their graves but my hubs is a big guy who sweats A LOT in his sleep (I mean, I wash the sheets regularly, but to really keep up with it I’d have to wash every day). We have a mattress cover that I put baking soda on and vacuum periodically. The best way I have found to not smell like his armpits when I wake up is to just not make the beds. Laziness wins!

    5. char*

      Yes, I have a coworker who seems to do this, with the result that he just always smells of cologne AND sweat at the same time.

  10. saby*

    OP I feel you — I recently realized that one of my favourite pairs of shoes give off a wet-dog smell when they get damp. I’m mortified that I’ve been unintentionally inflicting this smell on coworkers whenever it rains, and also that I’ve never noticed!! My experience has been that my coworkers haven’t been judge-y, so much as slightly relieved that I’ve fixed the problem.

    1. Dance-y Reagan*

      Shoes are a common culprit. A lot of young women in my company wear pumps on bare feet, since they consider hosiery to be “old lady” clothing. Shoes worn barefoot without enough care and time taken to air them out between wears can get ripe quickly.

      Speaking of not rotating shoes enough: some departments here require steel toes, and most people only have one pair that they wear every day. Those are often eye-watering.

      1. Stephanie*

        Oh yeah, I’ve had that problem with bare feet. I just had to wear hosiery or rotate shoes. My friend would wear flats with bare feet and her feet would just smell wretched occasionally.

        1. ElspethGC*

          There are some great shoe sprays that really do seem to eliminate the smell, especially if the inner is fabric rather than impermeable like leather (or pleather).

          I was at my parents’ the other month and my mum was telling me about a Scholl spray that you put in your shoes after you’re done wearing them for the day. She works in a pre-school, on her feet all day, and generally finds a comfortable grippy pair of shoes and wears them to death. This was at the height of the heatwave, she’d been wearing these shoes several hours a day every day for months, and honestly? After I (reluctantly) smelt them, I honestly couldn’t detect any BO from them. It’s kind of incredible.

          I bought it a couple of weeks ago since it’s going into autumn and I know that I’m going to be wearing my good boots most days until spring now, and I can already tell the difference when I take my boots off in the evening. I tried it in my flats but the inner is faux leather and it doesn’t seem to work as well.

          1. JustaCPA (with smelly feet)*

            OMG I NEED this!

            Can you tell me which one it is?

            Dr Scholl’s Odor-X Odor Fighting Spray Powder
            Dr. Scholl’s Odor-X Foot & Sneaker Spray Powder
            Dr Scholl Fresh Step Deo Feet Deodorant & Antiperspirant

            1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

              Weirdly the best one I ever used was an Avon stinky spray. Not sure if they sell it anymore but it worked really well and didn’t have a lingering smell.

              Otherwise I’ve used a spray of straight up rubbing alcohol and Lysol if I’m in a pinch. The trick is to spray right away to kill the bacteria then get them to a place where they will dry completely.

              I’m not one of those people who can wear shoes without some kind of sock or liner. I have had unreasonably sweaty feet since I was a little kid.

              Oh, and wool or a high wool blend is better than cotton any day of the week as it breathes better and wicks the moisture away.

            2. ElspethGC*

              I use Fresh Step, the others possibly work as well. It’s supposed to keep the odour away for 24 hours and it seems to do that on fabric inners (I use it on my slippers) but not the full 24 on leather-type inners, probably because it can’t penetrate the fabric. It’s not very expensive, so it’s worth a try.

              1. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                THANK TOU! No matter how many times I wash my fuzzy lining crocs, or with what, I can’t get the foot odor out. As I generally only wear them as house slippers, they are not nearly worn enough to replace yet, so I’m going to try this soon!

            3. Ron McDon*

              Kiwi deo fresh is also good – you spray inside your shoes after wearing and it freshens them so they don’t smell.

        2. twig*

          I’ve purchased some washable terry cloth insoles to wear with my flats/heels/shoes that just don’t work with socks (those stupid “no show” socks for wearing with flats just don’t work with my feet and always end up bunched up under my arch)

          Those insoles have made a HUUUGE difference in terms of foot sweat/odor.

          1. Jennifer*

            I use those too! I’ve found some at Target in the shoe section. I ordered mine off of a kickstarter but now I can’t find it. I just got these and they’re also good. Note: With these you sometimes have to go 1/2 a size larger than normal. I wear them in my looser shoes like my Sperry’s. But they don’t really fit too well in flats/heels.


            For flats & heels, I do like these – Gekks:

            But if you’re ever in a pinch – here’s my cheap-o tip for foot odor. Take a bounce fabric softener sheet (scented) and cut in half. Put half at the bottom of one shoe, half in the bottom of the other. You can manage to get the whole sheet into the shoe so you can’t see it. As you sweat, it releases the fabric softener odor. It also takes up very little room in the shoe so it works with tighter shoes.

            And then when you take the shoes off at the end of the night, put sneaker balls or charcoal foot thingies in there. That will help them in storage so your whole closet doesn’t smell like feet.

            I buy cheap shoes and I wear them without pantyhose so I have a lot of foot odor solutions.

          2. Madame Dakar*

            These are great. I am frequently too lazy to go upstairs and get my socks, but the terry cloth insoles are there as a backup. They are also comfy. These cut down on how often I have to clean my shoes and slippers, and I think add extra life to my shoes.

        3. Michaela Westen*

          There are nice light nylon stockings that are just as cool as not wearing any. I recently bought some Hanes brand at CVS. I have to wear them because I have a lot of spider veins.
          When I was a child I couldn’t wait to wear stockings – it would mean I’m a grown up! Haha, that was a while ago.

      2. airportbookseller*

        There’s a woman in my company who wears sandals that really make her feet stink. It’s pretty awful and I’m pretty certain it is caused by the actual shoes.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Synthetic sandals are the worst. I love birkenstocks for casual wear in the summer, and I didn’t realize they came out with a synthetic sole on some of their styles. Oh they are bad I had to throw them away after a few months. The ‘normal’ birks I also bought at the same time were fine and I’ve not had a problem with them.

          1. Ron McDon*

            You can get the Birkenstock inner liners replaced with new ones, see their website – although sometimes it costs nearly as much as a new pair!

        2. The Other Dawn*

          Yes, synthetic shoes make my feet smell awful! I’ve finally come to terms with fact that I can’t buy Payless shoes anymore. I need to buy leather if I don’t want my feet to sweat really bad and smell.

      3. Name Here*

        I came to the comment thread to point out shoes as well! My boss’s boss often has very smelly shoes and I’m not in a position where I feel like I can say anything. At least it doesn’t impact me daily.

        1. Name Here*

          And in the interest of leaving solution-orientated comments, will add that for my own shoes I use a combination of things to keep the smell away.
          1. Always wear socks.
          2. I have a deodorizing spray that I got from a sporting good’s store that I use occasionally.
          3. Leaving baking soda in shoes overnight works well. I only do this for my running shoes otherwise little bits of baking soda get everywhere.
          4. Change shoes when possible to give my daily shoes a chance to air out.
          5. Change shoes when I get to work in cases of rain/snow. Similarly, don’t wear heavy socks all day if your feet sweat easily.
          6. They also sell charcoal bags and other deodorizing products to leave in shoes when you’re not wearing them.
          7. And sometimes shoes do just get to a point where they smell so bad the only solution is to throw them out.

      4. Salamander*

        That totally brings me back to the days of wearing steel-toed shoes. I used to dump baking soda in them on my days off and dump it out when I was ready to go to work. Sigh.

        A lot of foot odor can be mitigated by washing washable shoes, like sneakers, on the regular. And cutting toenails as short as one can stand ’em makes a huge difference. There is an impressive amount of smelly bacteria that can accumulate under toenails that most people do not realize is there.

      5. annejumps*

        I had been wearing loafers or other flats without socks for most of the summer until I overheard a comment at work and then found that Carpe foot lotion-antiperspirant. I went with that rather than a lot of powders or sprays, to reduce the sweat to begin with, and it’s worked really well for me.

      6. uranus wars*

        YES! and I have also noticed that the smell drifted out of shoes and into my clothing because, well, shoes in closet. I wear hose with dresses, but not with pants or flats so now I keep cornstarch baby powder in my office as well as in the closet at home to sprinkle in before and after.

    2. AnonMinion*

      I came here to say the same thing. I have a coworker (that I adore) that is always walking around without shoes on and her feet smell SO MUCH. It is nauseating. I want to say something but I am not brave enough and I know it would really hurt her feelings. I am hoping that now that the weather is getting colder she will keep her shoes on!

    3. TootsNYC*

      for shoes, may I suggest?

      The Peet shoe dryer. There’s a folding kind that’s intended for traveling with boots, and it’s been useful to have because it works with sneakers and with boots.

      And it folds up and goes on a shelf.

    4. peachie*

      I had this issue with my keep-at-work shoes, especially since I wear most of those without socks. I recommend getting a big pack of those odor-eater shoe liners and putting them in before you ever wear the shoes–makes a big difference!

    5. Young coworker*

      same :( I put tea bags in my work shoes overnight, it’s supposed to absorb odor.

      I haven’t tried this but I did see a life hack once of using the thinnest sanitary pads in your flats. I find even with socks my feet sweat!

    6. char*

      I had this problem when I lived in the Pacific Northwest. During the winter, it rained so much that my shoes never had time to get fully dry, so they always had a smell to them during the rainy season.

    7. Marion Ravenwood*

      In my old job, I got an email from a colleague who sat on the same bank of desks as me, telling me that the trainers I wore on my commute and kept under my desk were starting to smell. I know she meant well by telling me, but I was mortified. I went home that day and bought a pack of Odor-Eaters trainer liners, then ran the shoes through the washing machine when I got home. I’m still paranoid about something similar happening again though, so the tips on this thread are super-useful!

    8. Tachy IT Lady*

      I had this problem too- until I started using tea tree oil and lavender essential oils. Essential oils are amazing for eliminating odors!

  11. Amber Rose*

    I have a friend who has gone through this conversation with a couple of bosses. And he does have a weird smell! I lived with him, it was pervasive. But there’s no noticeable cause of it, and he can do literally nothing about it. I can’t even describe what it smells like to you, because it’s not like he smells like BO or mildew. It’s just an odd smell unique to him.

    So it’s possible that you just have a unique and somewhat strong personal smell that’s bugging people. Doesn’t mean you’re sick or doing anything wrong. I know that for my friend, he switched to showering in the morning in order to reduce the strength of it during the day and that seemed to pacify people somewhat, but there were always complainers.

    And complainers will complain. Do what you can to rule out the obvious but don’t let it destroy your self esteem. Everyone is different.

    1. Kay*

      I’ve known people like that, and it’s so hard to be around them because my body is just shouting “AVOID THE SMELL!!” somewhere in the back of my brain the entire time. But I also cannot imagine complaining because I can clearly tell it’s not BO or mildew, like you said, and so there’s nothing to be done. I just wouldn’t date them or probably be friends! I just assume it’s a body chemistry thing and move on.

      1. Amber Rose*

        It did make me flinch at first because somewhere in the back of my mind, unfamiliar weird smell = BAD. But it’s not actually bad, and I got used to it eventually. Body chemistry is weird sometimes.

        I also would not have dated him. He’s had plenty of girlfriends though, so it’s not like everyone feels that way.

    2. Super Anon for Smell*

      I also have this problem … I don’t really know what it smells like, obviously, and the kicker is that I am extremely sensitive to smells myself, but I have never complained about someone’s deodorant giving up on them every time they eat a Caesar salad for lunch.

      And I also firmly believe there are some people who think anything that doesn’t smell perfumed smells “bad” so they are offended by any natural scent, because my closest friends and family have told me repeatedly there is nothing bad about the way I smell – I have them check every time I go through this. So I get to have these awkward conversations every so often, but it doesn’t embarrass me anymore. It’s always way worse for the person delivering the message. I shower in the morning and use a scented body wash, use deodorant, all the stuff you need to do, but that’s about all I can do and I’m not going to completely rearrange my life because a handful of people don’t like my, er, robust personal scent.

    3. ACDC*

      I had a roommate like this in college! I shared a bathroom with her so I obviously knew it wasn’t her hygiene practices. I was baffled for weeks! With her though, the cause of the smell was how much curry she made. She would eat curry at least once a day, most days twice. So she infinitely smelled like curry, sweat smelled like curry, etc. It was intense.

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      I knew a guy like that. He had this odd slightly earthy, slightly musky smell and it lingered after him where ever he went. I gave him a ride in my car one time and for two days the car smelled faintly like him. He had tried every laundry detergent and deodorant and nothing made a difference. It was just his own unique biochemistry. Nothing to be done but own it.

      1. VAkid*

        I was a competitive swimmer. When I would sweat, or even when I got in a steamy shower, I smelled strongly of chlorine. Always. It took a long time to leave my body after I finally retired from swimming. It’s a bit concerning now that I think about it considering the chemicals. But I actually like that smell!

        1. Kendra*

          I also really like the smell of chlorine! When I was taking swimming lessons sometimes I’d put off showering just because I liked smelling the chlorine on myself.

      2. Erin W*

        I had a college roommate who was the same–she just exuded an earthy smell. She bathed and washed her clothes regularly, she just had this natural odor. I figured out early on that it wasn’t anything she could change, and anyway it wasn’t offensive or anything, just noticeable, so I never brought it up to her. Maybe no one ever did! I’d have to ask her husband. (She has two kids now–I wonder if they also have this smell????)

      3. Allison*

        I have a coworker who has a noticable Earthy smell to him, and I assumed there was something at home causing him to smell like that, but maybe it’s just how he smells. Either way, never really occurred to me to complain, it’s not bad, just odd.

    5. ket*

      Yes. If you do social dance you may notice that some people have unique smells. One guy smelled like dill, and another like peanut butter. Always the same. It was just how they were.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        This is a bit weird, but I always find that when I work out I have a kind of vanilla-y smell (at least I’m pretty sure it’s me because it happens whether I work out at home or at the gym, so it’s not specific to a particular place). I can only smell it when I’ve been exercising though, so I’m not sure how strong it is, but I really hope it’s not offending anyone who comes near me after a particularly intense session…

  12. SignalLost*

    I’m going to be the jerk who points out that adding scented stuff to your regimen may cause problems in another direction (I am trying to figure out how to tell my new boss that if one employee continues to use Mountain Breeze Tide on his clothes I cannot be in a closed room with him and would prefer not to be around him at all.)

    OP, aside from that, I agree with Alison’s points, and I’m sorry you’re feeling embarrassed. Does it help to try reframing it as “these are people who care enough about me to have an embarrassing conversation rather than not telling me about an issue?” And I would also add if you have a close work friend (it can’t be someone you live with; they’ll be nose-blind to you, most likely) that you can ask to sniff you, that might help. (But as a scent allergy sufferer, layering a chemical scent over an unpleasant one really doesn’t help.)

      1. SignalLost*

        I can’t imagine there’s a context where anyone would be comfortable saying someone else smells, at least as a proactive measure rather than an insult. I mean, sure, it would be great if I told my best friend years ago that her laundry regimen was insufficient but, knowing how THAT would go over, I told her girlfriend. It doesn’t really get easier. And it may turn out that this complaint is from one person who doesn’t like the smell of garlic rather than that the OP is suffering halitosis, ketoacidosis, moldy towels, mildewed clothing, BO, sweaty shoes, insufficient washing, spicy cooking, and lives with a smoker, so no one at all can stand to be around her. It could literally just be one person who was talking to her on a day she forgot to brush her teeth. So a close coworker may not notice.

    1. Old Cynic*

      Lol. I can walk behind people on the sidewalk and tell if they use Downy, Bounce, Snuggle, Kirkland, Suave…I can’t stand the smells. If I were to work in a closed room with someone there wouldn’t be a happy outcome.

    2. Jess*

      I’ve actually had this conversation with a couple of coworkers that I share an office with – I always pose it as my problem, being hypersensitive to scents, and they have been more than willing to immediately stop wearing whatever body gel/spray/stuff they were wearing (for which I’ve been incredibly grateful). I work in a hospital and we’re supposed to be scent free in the first place, but it still occurs.

    3. Sunflower*

      I mean, you do you, but I’d hate to be known as the coworker who cried to my boss about my colleague’s laundry soap. If I did that in my office, my scent problem would be solved because no one would even talk to me anymore.

      Scents can be an issue, yes, but I think policing someone’s laundry soap is taking it way too far. Are you going to buy him new soap from now on?

      1. SignalLost*

        Are you going to have my allergic response? That would be great; I’d love to be around perfume and scented detergents without feeling like I’m chewing on metal and glass, developing watery eyes, and having trouble breathing. But hey, at least it’s not as bad as someone I know who gets insta-migraines.

        1. For real*

          I still think you could just grow a backbone and talk to the person directly rather than involving your boss.

      2. Anonym*

        Policing is a bit strong. Most people would like to know if there was something minor they could do to prevent a colleague from feeling ill. Changing detergent is a very minor ask.

        I *wish* I could track down the person who puts on perfume in the bathroom at work. I’m sure she’d be mortified by the amount of painkillers my colleague and I end up taking in a given month for the headaches it causes.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Try wearing a surgical mask while you’re in the bathroom. This works well for my cigarette and dust allergies.
          If anyone asks, tell them the truth in a nice way, and maybe word will get back to the perfume wearer. Maybe mention natural scented products. If only all these people who like scents knew and had access to them!

    4. Quietpls*

      Yes, and often they dibtvf en solve the original problem.

      I had a workplace where someone would spray purfume in the bathroom after using it. No, I can still smell the biological smell and now the perfume too. Most things even like freebreeze and those that claim to remove the original don’t work either, most people just can’t tell but now I get a double headache!

      And the chemical smell often affects me worse that the natural one.

      1. SignalLost*

        I would rather smell poop than poop with Febreeze on it, any day of the week. Organic scents don’t bother me (or they do, but in a mental way rather than an I cannot breathe way.)

      2. Anonym*

        OMG. Is this why… I just commented above about the person who sprays (I had assumed “puts on”) large amounts of perfume in our bathroom. Whoa.

        Yes, please don’t! Smells don’t cover up other smells!!!

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Yikes, is that a thing? I itch just thinking about it. OMG, the irritation, the infections…

        2. jenkins*

          Urrrgh I hate those things. Like a combination florist and butcher’s shop. Ridiculous, and much more noticeable than unscented ones.

    5. Michaela Westen*

      “Mountain Breeze Tide” – blech. So unhealthy! I live in an apartment with shared laundry and I always smell-check the washers before using them. :p

  13. Goya de la Mancha*

    It is REALLY hard to let go of the “worry” after something like this! I think you’re doing what you can and Allison’s advice is spot on.

    I switched from an anti-antiperspirant to just a plain deodorant over two years ago because I was still sweating through all my clothes – and the AP was just ruining them anyway. Might as well sweat and not ruin as many clothes! The AP didn’t help all that much with smell either. Well the switch completely CHANGED my sweat patterns! However, I’m STILL nervous about the possible sweat and smell, over two years later, even though I think I’ve only sweat through 3 shirts in two years (other then workouts)! And while I smell occasionally, it isn’t any worse then it was on the AP.

        1. Eeyore's missing tail*

          I’ll have to check if there’s an unscented Old Spice. I’m female and Old Spice can be pretty strong, if it’s like what I remember in high school. But I’m glad your husband found something that works!

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        I actually use Old Spice or an Arm & Hammer one, whichever I can find in the store when I need it. Old Spice has a scent called Wolfthorn which is more of a citrus-y smell so I don’t smell so “guy like”. I think that it’s just more important that it’s deodorant only instead of the Anti-antiperspirant/Deodorant mix? No science was involved in this, it was just a personal experiment that ended up working out for the best for me!

      2. Owler*

        Eyesore, what have you tried? I finally have success with Secret solid, but not with any of the fancier “invisible” or newer formulas. It’s still an anti-perspirant, however.

      3. thepinkleprechaun*

        I started making my own deoderant after realizing that the extra-strength anti-perspirants I was using were just making me sweat MORE, in addition to being unhealthy with aluminum and all that in the ingredients.

        Anyways, the recipe I use is *approximately* 1/3 cup starch (most people use corn starch which I am allergic to so I use arrowroot instead), 1/3 cup baking soda, 1/3 cup virgin coconut oil, and a few drops of tea tree oil. It makes a thick paste, you can adjust the ratio as much as you need to. The only thing to really watch out for is not putting too much starch because then you might irritate your skin. The tea tree oil isn’t necessary, but it is a natural anti-bacterial that I think does help quite a bit.
        So yeah, I just keep it in a small tupperware thing in my bathroom, and take a dab with my finger for each armpit, my excessive sweating was gone within days! Like one of the other posters said, I still sweat when a human being would naturally sweat, but it’s not all the time, and I don’t smell bad either.

    1. Anancy*

      My spouse switched to just deodorant a few years back and is much more pleased with his sweat/smell than he was on anti-perspirant. He uses the Old Spice variety. And my newly smelly, but not terribly sweaty daughter uses the crystal deodorant and that stuff really works on her, and I am impressively surprised.
      I also find that the use of just deodorant has made my spouse’s clothes a lot less stinky too.

      1. Rockity42*

        I was coming here to say that, as a pretty sweaty person, I have found that antiperspirant makes body odor worse and more likely to stain/cling to clothes. And if you are going to sweat and your armpits are blocked – you’ll sweat elsewhere (back, forehead, etc)!

        1. Goya de la Mancha*

          The staining/clinging to clothes was the worst part! I might not have smelled, but the armpits of my clothes NEVER came clean!

            1. Sarah*

              YES! Okay, it’s a complicated process BUT here you go:

              For old clothes with stains: Soak in oxiclean, then wash. If they’re whites, do an oxiclean soak and regular wash and then wash with bleach.

              Whatever you do, do NOT bleach white shirts without washing them first. The bleach bonds with the protein in your sweat and causes the yellowing. If you’re going to bleach your clothes, you need to wash them first. (Same with white sheets, which is how I learned all this.)

              If you have done all this and there is still some yellowing on your whites, run a load with bluing in it to counter the yellowing and you should have bright whites again.

            2. Nikki T*

              I used Dawn dish detergent. Just put some in a spray bottle with water. Worked every time, I also used it as a stain remover or whatever.

              I use gel A/P or the roll-on is what I’m trying now.

            3. Minta*

              I have a few polyester shirts that really hold onto antiperspirant residue and bad smells. I collect the blouses near the sink, make an OxiClean paste, wet the armpits of each shirt, and massage the paste into them. Throw them in a regular wash, and it takes care of it. I do the same to the area closest to the armpits on my bras. Makes a huge difference.

    2. Traveling Teacher*

      Same. Antipersperant/deodorant sticks and gels were totally ruining my clothes and were somewhat ineffective. I finally switched to a roll-on antiperspirant, and that helped a ton. No more ruined clothes, and it’s much more effective for me. (I use Nivea roll-on, and it lasts forever.)

      Also, OP, if you’re a man, you might look into some manscaping–either underarm or down under. For context: on my floor, I had the only windows that opened to the outside, rather than skylights, and certain teachers would pop by my room to literally get a breath of fresh air–teen boys are stinky! I had to have a come-to-Jesus deodorant/cleansing talk with certain teenage boys every year I was teaching. Every. single. year. They were always either fascinated or appalled that the amount of hair they had would amplify their natural odor (to attract/repel a mate). And also that spray deodorant was unlikely to be effective if they were just spraying the hair and missing the pits… Axe, how I loathe thee…

      Anyway! If this might be you, it could be worth a shot if you’re trying to discover/tame the source!

  14. BRR*

    Maybe it would help to bring deodorant with you to work and reapply in the bathroom during the day if that’s part of the issue. I know there are some days where mid afternoon it starts wearing off.

    1. Kay*

      I started applying my deodorant at night (technically what you’re supposed to be doing with it, btw!) and it actually did make a huge difference in how well it kept away BO. Lesson learned!

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        I do every PM and every AM! I shower at night generally, so that’s why PM started, but I heard many moons ago that it gives more time to sink/start working if you put it on at night . I have no clue if that is scientifically true or not, but it seems to work for me!

  15. Ann Perkins*

    Another brainstorming idea… I’m not sure if this OP is female, but if you are and you’re either pregnant or postpartum, that could be the culprit. Postpartum body odor is one of those things you don’t know about until you go through it the first time. Clinic strength deoderant is a must as even showering a couple times per day won’t fully keep it at bay.

    1. Jenn*

      If OP is female also, maybe check into pantiliners or switching underwear. Some discharge combined with certain underwear choices can lead to odor.

      1. anon for this*

        Postpartum + IUD + different discharge really made a big (and not good) difference for me. Not something I knew about as a side effect. Besides showers and cotton underwear, sleeping without underwear/pj bottoms helped.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Nightgowns, if you’re concerned about anyone seeing you before you’re dressed. :)
          And to expand, cotton underwear absorbs and breathes.

  16. Midwest writer*

    A few years ago, I started noticing that my shirts were holding on to body odor. I never really had anyone complain to me about it, but I don’t generally work in close proximity to others and do a lot by phone or email. I feel like my husband would have said something if it was super noticeable to him, but then again maybe not. Anyway, I’d smell a clean shirt before I wore it and it was fine. I’d wear it for a bit and suddenly be overwhelmed by a BO smell. I tried half a dozen different stain removers before finding some articles about deodorant buildup on shirts. For me, it was deodorants with aluminum — somehow my sweat reacted with those deodorants and built up on the armpits. I switched to an aluminum free one, suffered through excessively sweaty armpits for a few weeks while my body adjusted to the different deodorant and have since found that my shirts get much cleaner and don’t smell as soon as my body temp warms up the armpits.
    I’m sorry you’re going through this and I hope it resolves quickly!

    1. Stephanie*

      These aren’t work clothes, but I usually just have to toss sweat-wicking clothes past a certain point. They just retained odor I could not get out.

    2. Dance-y Reagan*

      Tip for you and OP: Nature’s Miracle, the enzyme cleaner for pet stains, works MIRACLES on ghost armpit smells that keep coming back (especially on synthetic fabrics). Splash it on the underarms and let it soak like a pre-treater, then wash as usual.

      1. Anancy*

        Thanks for the Nature’s Miracle tip! We have a cat with issues, so use it with her but it never occurred to me to use it on our other laundry.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          You can use it on any natural stain, such as blood stains or grass stains. I used to pretreat stuff with Nature’s Miracle and fold it over so air could not dry out the Nature’s Miracle too fast. (Key part, fold it over on the stain because the NM will dry out quickly and you’ll be disappointed in the results.) Then when I was ready to launder them, I just rinsed the stain out and threw the garment in the washer.
          Ground in stains like the knees on jeans took more effort, I used a brush to scrub the knees after letting them set folded up for a while.
          Nature’s Miracle is also great on those coffee stains that happen on rugs. Matter of fact, I found it got out most food stains on my rugs.

    3. Kiki*

      Certain fabrics also have a tendency to hold odors while dry, then release them when they get damp again. I have that issue with polyester– it smells neutral around the armpits when I put it on, but as soon as I sweat a little bit, all the pent-up odor comes roaring back. Soaking these garments in diluted white vinegar has solved the problem for me.

      1. Midwest writer*

        Yes! I have noticed that, too. I tried vinegar and it didn’t do much for my old shirts, sadly.

      2. Anonyish*

        + 1 If you are doing a lovely cool ecowash on polyester or older garments, then they may simply not be being cleaned adequately.

        1. Kiki*

          It’s especially frustrating because a lot of polyester garments’ wash instructions say “hand wash cold,” but that isn’t enough to actually get them clean. I’ve found solutions that work for clothing I already have, but I’ve resolved to stay away from most synthetic fibers.

      3. Eenie*

        Polyester makes me sweaty and stinky, and I know I’m not the only one:

        Forgive yourself, OP! There is no need to beat yourself up. Your coworkers don’t want to cause you mental anguish. If your coworkers are nice, I like the idea of talking with them and letting them know that you are working on it and WANT to be alerted if they notice anything. I think that talking about it directly will help you to feel less ashamed.

      4. the_scientist*

        oh man, I thought I was the only one! Something about my body chemistry and polyester is NO BUENO. I do the vinegar soak and use a special anti-stink detergent every once in a while (it also works really well on stinky gym clothes) but I’ve had a few shirts that were just so far gone they had to be tossed.

        1. Morte*

          I was just looking through the comments to see if anyone mentioned this!

          Some fabrics and some people just don’t work well together. I have a few pieces of clothing that if I get at all warm in begin to stink. My partner has strong BO and has problems with more fabrics than I do.

          It’s always synthetics and it isn’t consistent so we suspect dyes play a part in this.

        2. Birch*

          Same. Synthetic fabrics are horrible and the combo of aluminum antiperspirant and polyester is just a recipe for smelling like a dumpster. It’s terrible.

    4. sourdoughman*

      For all readers wondering about how to remove lingering odors from sweat wicking clothes, I have a solution! Especially for the odor where it is not stinky immediately, but as soon as you sweat or sprinkle a little water, the odor comes back.

      Do a sodium percarbonate soak (Oxiclean). Adding it to the wash cycle is not enough. The Oxiclean package will have instructions for doing a pre-soak (typically 1-6 hours).

      In addition, if you have crusty armpits from deodorant residue (ew I know), use a paste of lime-a-way, water, a bit of detergent, and scrub with a brush or toothbrush. then wash.

  17. Not Australian*

    A word of caution; this happened to me once, years ago, and I was mortified. I did everything Alison’s suggested, and scrubbed my skin until it almost fell off into the bargain. It turned out to be a nasty passive-aggressive move by my manager who was trying to trick me into resigning because the (tiny) company of which she was co-owner was in financial trouble and she wanted leaving to be my idea rather than hers. (In the end it was, but that’s another story.)

    I’m just saying, there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that you trust your manager’s word on this, OP; in addition to everything you’re already doing, you may want to consider getting a second opinion, too, just in case this is some kind of unpleasant ploy.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      This was, unfortunately, my first thought. I’ve seen been used as a passive-aggressive attack and a way to undermine a person. It happened to me and some co-workers. We were the few minorities working in an all-white environment. The client complained that the non-white people smelled, even though everyone was doing physical work in a very hot area.

      I’m sorry that happened to you, it’s sadly very effective. So glad you’re away from that manager.

      1. Nita*

        Yeah… I hope that’s not what happened, but a family member has run into that. He was a new immigrant and his manager kept getting on his case about body odor and how “we use deodorant here in the US,” and conveniently forgetting that he was the one doing all the heavy lifting in the department. There were a lot of heavy boxes to carry up and down stairs, and he was the only guy, so everyone including the manager was asking him to haul the boxes around. He ended up escalating the thing to HR, which shut it down, but left soon afterwards since it was clear this wasn’t the place to look for a promotion.

    2. all the candycorn*

      Yes, or it could be another form of bullying, ex: racial (because of the odor of foods/beauty products that aren’t “stinky” but are used predominantly by non-white people) petty (most of us “smell” at some point or another, this does not mean you’re a stinky person, ex: it takes several days to get the smell of campfire out of hair), or the problem is with the reporter (they’re pregnant and can smell what you ate last year.)

    3. Letter Writer*

      I’m 99.99% sure that this is not the case. My manager is generally great, and I have every reason to trust her.

  18. Rezia*

    OP, so sorry you are going through this!
    Just wanted to address this part of your letter more directly: ” I have no idea how to behave at work. I don’t know which of my coworkers noticed the smell, or which ones talked to my manager about it. I feel so embarrassed and ashamed, and I can’t stop thinking about how grossed out my coworkers must be by me.”

    If I were to notice an odor from a coworker, and be bothered enough to mention it to my manager, I would simply be happy if the odor went away. Hopefully you’ll find the source of the odor, whatever it is, and your coworkers will either notice it’s gone and be happy, or not notice because it’s just a non-issue to them.
    Continue to behave normally and focus on what you’re at work for — w0rk! With time, this, too, shall pass, and you can continue to be known as the hard-worker, pleasant, friendly colleague I’m sure you are.

    Good luck!

    1. Blue Eagle*

      +1 to this comment. One of my past co-workers had an odor that was unpleasant if you were unfortunate enough to be near that co-worker. The co-worker was informed of the issue and thankfully took steps to remedy the issue. Once the issue was remedied, I never thought about it again with respect to that co-worker and was fine working with them.
      To the LW (assuming you are able to remedy the issue and I sincerely hope that you will be able to), please don’t continue to worry about your co-workers or be embarrassed. Most of your co-workers will be like me – glad the issue is remedied and will not mention it or bring it up again.

    2. Green*

      Just chiming in that if I had a smelly coworker, I would be glad the smell went away. If the issue resolved, I certainly wouldn’t hold it against them. (I wouldn’t hold it against them in the first place with respect to work, unless it was unconscious, but I may make myself scarce or do more Skype pinging instead of in-person meetings!)

      I think for Shame Wizard purposes, you should just assume you work with decent human beings until they demonstrate otherwise. If your coworkers are decent human beings, once you get feedback from close others (friends/family?) you can put it out of your mind other than maybe checking-in with the friend/family person with decreasing regularity to ensure it’s resolved. And if coworkers are mean to you because of something you didn’t know about and have tried to fix, then they’re the ones who should feel ashamed. I’d rather smell bad than be a bad person every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

    3. PetticoatsandPincushions*

      I want to second this- I had to mention a coworker’s odor to a manager once because customers were noticing, and I myself was mortified. I did not want her to feel embarrassed, or to think that any of her coworkers disliked her. I simply needed someone to give her a heads up so she could take care of it.

      1. Green*

        Yes, many people who speak up are not doing so to ostracize the person or make them feel bad, but as a kindness to help them. And that’s part of the reason people often want to do it anonymously — because they want you to act exactly the same around them as you always have instead of things being weird and awkward! And they actively *don’t* want you to think they don’t like you.

    4. EddieSherbert*

      +10 to this comment. Your coworkers will either appreciate the genuine effort or never have noticed in the first place. No need to feel awkward or ashamed!

      It’s seriously so easy to get used to a scent – I never realized how much my parents’ house and everything in it, including them, smelled like wet dog until I moved out (and didn’t visit for a month or two). It was mortifying! I’m positive I also smelled before I moved out. I’ve seen the same thing for smokers, less-than-clean cat boxes, and other things. It happens. Thanks for caring enough to do something about it!

    5. Jasnah*

      Agreed. I think it will be like noticing when your cold has gone away. Rarely do I think to myself, “Oh, today my cold has gone away,” it’s much more common that I’m going about my day and live-in partner comments that I sound a lot better, or if I live alone, a week goes by and I think, oh yeah, I guess my cold is gone now. I don’t think anyone will notice if the smell goes away because that’s the “normal” baseline, and if they do, it probably won’t be a big deal!

  19. L*

    Hi OP – sorry to hear you’re dealing with this. I know that for myself, for a long time I didn’t realize how bad my breath could be at times (despite brushing/mints) due to tonsil stones. Periodically “fishing” these out with a qtip can really help. It’s kinda gross, but doesn’t hurt at least.

    1. YM*

      I’m prone to tonsilliths too, and have found that using TheraBreath mouthwash consistently (rinse for 60 seconds, spit, gargle for 30 seconds) really helps get rid of extant ones and can help keep them from coming back.

      1. LM*

        I have really deep tonsil crypts and get tonsilliths a lot. It’s very hard to get them out (I usually end up gagging or making my tonsils bleed), and gargling doesn’t seem to help. I’m always petrified that my mouth smells, though I brush, floss, use mouthwash, and chew gum throughout the day just in case. I’ll have to try that TheraBreath stuff.

  20. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP, you may also want to consider that something in your closet is musty and is spreading that to all your clean clothes. I’ve noticed when pulling a tshirt over my head that it didn’t smell nice, and the next weekend went through my closet & chests to really clear out old stuff I wasn’t wearing any more, didn’t fit, was frayed or stained. Just getting rid of old stuff made a difference, plus it gave more room for air to circulate.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I ran into this in an apartment I lived in – the issue was the closet wall itself. We took everything out and realized there was a large patch of mold on the drywall, which took hold due to water leaking in between the drywall and the exterior brick.

      We moved out shortly thereafter (unrelated!), and I strongly suspect that the landlord simply painted over it before renting the place again.

    2. Celeste*

      We had a roof leak over the coat closet in our first house, and it made everything in there have a terrible musty odor. Another time we had an issue with cat urine and that odor permeated the air and got into clothes. It’s remarkable how clothing makes such a good air filter.

    3. Green*

      My cat peed in the back of my walk-in closet one time and I probably wore 2-3 things before I started notice that the cat pee smell was following me around…

  21. Doug Judy*

    Diet could be a reason too. I started eating low carb a year ago and bad breath and BO followed. I take two chlorophyll tablets a day to help reduce the odor from occurring.

  22. new razor*

    Another suggestion if the letter writer shaves their armpits….

    I went through a phase when I developed arm pit body odor and I could not figure out what was causing it. I washed my bras (which can be a culprit) and all of my clothes. Nothing. I shower every day. Not helping! It turned out that the razor that I was using to shave my arm pits was old and probably had bacteria in it. When I changed the razor, the smell went away immediately! Now I change my razor much more often and I have had no more problems.

    1. Dino*

      I was going to ask if shaving itself could be the culprit. I used to have awful BO from my armpits that disappeared once I stopped shaving them regularly. I think something about the bare skin was trapping bacteria or something. It’s pretty funny that a lot of people shave because they’re afraid armpit hair will cause BO when for me it’s completely removed my BO issues. Bodies are weird, man.

      1. thepinkleprechaun*

        Me too! My mom always told me I HAD to shave my armpits because otherwise I would smell, and deodorant wouldn’t work. I’m 31 and I stopped shaving about a year ago, have not had ANY issues at all. I actually think I sweat less now too. Now, with that said I have the luxury of being a blonde woman who is not very hairy as it is, so it’s not very obvious or uncomfortable that I don’t shave. I know other women who have dark/thick hair sometimes feel differently.

        1. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          I’m a blonde too, but my armpit hair was pretty thick/long until I hit peri-menopause.

          I am 51 and and haven’t shaved for more than 30 years. Never had an issue with odor (until peri menopause, which was temporary.) And it’s much more comfortable too!

  23. Independent George*

    My first thought was that diet could cause a distinct body odor as others have mentioned. OP, are you from a different country or different culture than most of your coworkers? Or do you have a distinctly different diet than most others in your office? If so, you may have even noticed your coworkers have a distinct smell, but may have gotten used to it by now. If your company is somewhat homogenous, it’s possible your coworkers are just a bit insensitive or naive. You should not have to change who you are to fit into their culture, so if this is the case, I’m not sure Alison’s response would fit.

  24. LadyPhoenix*

    I hear in Japan, they ARE doing a study regarding body odors—particular to ones enitted during nerves. They are dping these stufies by having women doing job interviews and measuring the odor emitted.

  25. Stephanie*

    I agree re the mildew smell. I had a roommate who would dry all his clothes on a drying rack…except we lived somewhere that wasn’t arid. so the clothes would mildew.

    If you feel comfortable, can you ask what the body odor is? I’d also go see a doctor–some medications (like Mucinex) can cause body odor as a side effect.

  26. Mimi Me*

    I used to have a physical therapist come to my home when my son was younger. She always smelled slightly of mildew. I never commented on it. Her kids babysat for me. They smelled slightly of mildew. I became close friends with her and visited her home for dinner. The house smelled of mildew. After years of living there, they were nose blind to it, but it was very strong. Turns out there was a moisture issue that gave the whole house a basement smell. Short of moving or expensive home repairs, I don’t think there was much they were able to do to not have that smell follow them.

    1. Brihanne LeMarre*


      I dated a guy who always smelled of mildew. I thought maybe it was just their washer/dryer, but no, when I’d stay the night, I’d immediately have to throw all my clothes in the washer when I got home because the smell transferred to my belongings even after just one night. Heck, even just spending the evening there hanging out on the couch was enough to transfer the smell to my person. It was icky.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Yes to this! Some homes get that way unfortunately. Usually it’s due to a leak somewhere or a damp basement. But same goes with pets. My friend’s place always has the dog smell. It’s not entirely unpleasant (if you like dogs) but I pick up on it instantly as being weird.

  27. fposte*

    On the larger shame picture: OP, I worked for a while with a guy who’d developed anosmia–inability to smell–after an illness. Since he didn’t detect scent cues, we’d operate as first defense for him sometimes, and it was NBD.

    As Alison says, we all smell to people sometimes. Part of the American office rule is that we try to curb that to some extent, but we’re never 100% successful. It’s okay.

  28. HH*

    I just wanted to add some emphasis to what Allison said about your coworkers NOT thinking bad things about you. I used to work with a colleague who had a “lack of deoderant” problem and none of us thought she was a bad, horrible, or inept person. We knew needed she needed a adjustment in her routine, especially during the summer months, which she accomplished, and no one’s relationship with her faltered or skipped a beat. It’s definately an awkward situation but it’s not a character flaw.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Seconded! I had a coworker with a perpetual smell of mildew. I don’t actually know if it had ever been addressed–it wouldn’t have been my place to bring it up. But it just sort of became a small quirk that we wished was different–it wasn’t enough to lower our opinion of them.

      There are so many things like that, and I’m sure I posses several of them. Someone has a really loud laugh, bad table manners, clears their throat a lot, has long hair that sheds a bunch…we’re all off from perfection in our own annoying ways.

  29. drpuma*

    I’ve noticed that the water temperature I use when I wash my clothes can affect how well certain kinds of dirt get washed out of them. Switching up your water temperature may be smething else to try, OP, as you tinker with your clothing care (who knew washing machines can be so persnickety?!).

    Best of luck to you, OP! It sounds like you are handling this as gracefully as possible.

    1. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

      Yes! I know there are good environmental reasons to wash in cold water, but I did that for about a week before I noticed that my clothes weren’t coming out clean enough. I just need to wash in warm water, it’s a reality of my life.

  30. gmg22*

    The point about people thinking “What is the source of the issue here” as opposed to “Ew, gross” is important and I hope the LW feels put at ease by that. This issue came up with a colleague at my first job, and another colleague approached me to pick my brain about how to give the person in question a discreet heads-up about it. I distinctly remember that the other colleague was definitely not a jerk about it, and also that we quietly speculated that the problem was laundry-based (the person in question lived in a tiny NYC walkup apartment, the kind of place where there is no washer and dryer and you have to lug laundry down five flights of stairs and three blocks to the laundromat, etc).

    I also remember my colleague asking if they thought we should leave an anonymous note in the person’s mailbox, and I am relieved that even in those early career days I knew just enough to say NOOOOO DON’T DO THAT, talk to our manager about it instead.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I am SO thankful that it wasn’t an anonymous note; the conversation with my manager was incredibly awkward, but at least she’s a good manager and was gentle and kind about it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Any time a boss speaks to us the unspoken message is, “I believe you can fix this. And you as an employee are worth working through this difficult conversation because you are of value to us.” Please hold on to this.

        If you want to test drive my thought here tell her, “You had this difficult conversation with me because you think I can fix this and you think I am worth the effort as an employee.” Then watch the look of relief cover her face.

  31. Polymer Phil*

    I know of a situation where a manager received a complaint like this one, and had an extremely awkward conversation with the wrong employee! Apparently, two people in the office had the same first name.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Unfortunately, that’s definitely not the case — I’m the only person with my name I’ve ever met!

    2. AnonMinion*

      OMG nightmare!!!! That poor manager would have to have that chat twice and the innocent party was probably horrified.

      1. Polymer Phil*

        That’s pretty much exactly what happened! The specific issue in this case was foot odor. The manager had suggested a bunch of products like Odor Eaters insoles to the innocent person, who was indeed mortified.

  32. Micromanagered*

    I had to send someone home for their odor once and it turned out to be that his roommate’s cat was urinating in his clothing hamper. So the cat was peeing then he was washing the clothes. The litterbox was in the laundry room, so he blamed the cat smell on the nearby box of cat pee/poop. The odor on the clean clothes was very noticeable to his coworkers, but evidently faint enough that he missed it.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      Oh, and cat pee is so terribly persistent. It’s one of those things where you wash the item and REALLY REALLY sniff it you think you’re good and then you wear it and your body heat brings the smell right back out.

      (I had a cat with a litterbox problem, once upon a time. I should’ve bought stock in Nature’s Miracle.)

    2. Anon101*

      Absolutely second this. I knew someone who had become nose-blind to their cat’s urine. Kitty was also peeing in the clean clothes hamper (it must be the popular spot).

    3. Phoenix Programmer*

      Yes on cats. My FIL has poor smell sense but his house is very strong smelling of cat toilet and it permeates his clothes to the point that it lingers on him. You must be diligent about scooping when you have multiple indoor cats.

  33. Recovering journalist*

    Do you have pets? I have worked with people in the past who have horrible pet smells in their home, but they grew used to it and don’t notice the smell. Even though they showered and wore clean clothes, the smell persisted. If you do have pets (especially cats!) it is worth looking into.

    1. Anne Elliot*

      This is what I came here to say. I have a very dear friend who is very much a “dog person” to the extent of having multiple dogs sleeping on her bed, sharing her furniture, laying on the laundry, etc. Although she is herself a very clean person, like a lot of pet owners (including myself) she doesn’t wash the dogs as often as she probably should, they are in and out of the house and yard, and the result is that she can smell pretty “doggy.” Her house is doggy as hell. I think it’s mostly her clothes, and I’m certain she’s gone nose-blind to it. I know she has know idea — she would be mortified — and I can’t think of a kind way to raise it so between us, it just is what it is. People with cats can be similar, as can smokers. Nose-blindness is a real thing; we get so habituated to our own aroma (and that of our environment) that we honestly can’t even smell it. So I recommend a conversation with a close friend and a plea that he or she be honest with you. If it’s an environmental issue (dog, cat, smoke), all the deodorant and bath gel in the world will not fix it.

    2. katrinka*

      Yes, this. I have a coworker who often smells like dog, and I’ve been mustering up the courage to say something to her. I know she’s got a slobbery guy at home, and I wonder if it’s something like her coat or sitting on the couch that transfers the smell to her clean clothes.

    3. kcat*

      Came here to say this as well. I’ve known cat (litter) and dog (musty) smelling people, and as an owner of multiple of each I am always terrified I smell and don’t know. I’ve asked a couple of friends to tell me if they ever notice anything (one at work and one outside work). Sometimes one makes a show of sniffing me but so far I’ve been told I don’t smell overly like pets. I also have a completely separate wardrobe for going outside the house, whenever I leave I change. Annoying, but worth it for pet hair management.

  34. Jenn*

    I would also examine if OP has any pets. Sometimes you can go nose blind or not place a smell. I had a mortifying day when I realized my cat had peed on my laptop bag…. after I had already made it to work. Yuck.

    1. LaSalleUGirl*

      Ooooh, I’m having flashbacks to being in high school and realizing in my second or third period class that my uniform blouse reeked of cat pee because one of our cats had peed in my clean laundry basket. It was winter, so my body temperature didn’t really warm up the shirt until it was much, much too late to fix the problem. Such a bad day….

  35. HannahS*

    Oh, poor you! What an awful feeling. I can confirm that when there’s a person who smells around, my reaction is to go “OH G-D IS IT ME? IS THIS MY FAULT?” and frantically trying to discreetly smell my breath, clothes, and armpits, or if I’m on my period or ovulating…you know. And if it’s not me, my reaction is one of profound relief. I literally have no thought at all about the person who does smell. If I know exactly who it is, I just think, “Huh. They worked out recently” or “Huh, I guess they haven’t done laundry in a while” or “Huh, this person smokes.”
    I can offer a few things that have made me smell, in the past:
    Drying my clothes outside in the humid summer: Clothes got a mildewy smell
    Wearing polyester: It makes me stink, like I’ve sweated and not showered for days. Other artificial fibres don’t do that for me, so I don’t get it, but there it is.
    Using an unscented deoderant in the summer: Didn’t cut it.
    Re-wearing clothes too many times: Self-explanatory.
    Working up a sweat in cold weather: The smell of cold, sweaty skin is appalling to me, but it dissipates.
    Forgetting to put on deoderant: If your armpits or feet smell, a quick mid-day rub with hand sanitizer takes care of it.
    Being hungry: makes my breath smell bad.
    Some things I do that keep me not smelling bad:
    All my clothes are natural fibres, except for some sweaters. They breathe better and get less smelly.
    All my underwear, socks, sheets, and towels get washed in hot water and dried in the dryer.
    I carry around gum and Purell, and I stay well-hydrated.
    I stay on top of my dental hygiene (flossing helps with bad breath)

    1. Blue Eagle*

      Just to second the comment about rewearing clothes. Sometime you may pick up a shirt to rewear it and have a quick sniff and it is fine. But unfortunately after you wear it awhile, your body heat warms up the bacteria that are on it from the prior wearing and all of a sudden it is smelly. Glad a friend made me aware of this phenomena.

      1. Letter Writer*

        If there’s not a medical issue, I bet that this is at least part of it. I work a desk job, so unless I’ve walked home on a hot day, I don’t sweat much and figure most tops/pants are good for 2-3 wears between laundry. It’s possible I’m not as good at tracking how many times an item has been worn as I think I am, so I’m going to try putting things back on the hanger differently if they’ve been worn and washing religiously after 2 wears.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Not to get too personal, but do you wear layers under your tops? I’m in the camp that thinks an average person can get away with multiple wearings of clothing as long as they are aired out (usually). Though I always wear a layer underneath (like a t-shirt under a sweater). The layer next to my skin doesn’t get rewarn.

          You might be pushing it with pants and the amount of times you are rewearing clothing.

        2. Sabina*

          I was never able to get away with wearing the same blouse or dress twice when I worked an office job. Yes, I wasn’t doing physical labor, but “stress sweat” happens and in my experience smells worse than “work-out sweat”.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Oh yeah, stress sweat is the worst. Different chemicals in it, so it smells differently than other kinds of sweat do.

            1. Letter Writer*

              That’s an interesting point — I have an anxiety disorder, so if I sweat at work it’s usually Panic!sweat as opposed to a reaction to heat. Thank you, I’ll bring that up with the doctor!

              1. Nita*

                That could be the problem! When I break out in stress sweat, it’s obvious even to me right away. It’s such a different and noticeable smell, and probably meant to be by nature. Luckily our office bathrooms are single-occupancy, so I can dash into one and wash, but I think that’s an uncommon setup so that may not be an option for you. I do hope the doctor has some advice if you tend to get that!

              2. Not So NewReader*

                Yep, I was wondering if it was stress related.
                As you are waiting for your doctor appointment, you can start using affirmations to go up against your concerns.
                Worry is an invasive weed. It just comes marching in and if we don’t take steps to ward it off it just comes on harder. Watch your self-talk, be nice to you, reassure yourself.
                You may find it helpful to take walks at night. It’s amazing what a stress reliever that can be. Bring your dog or SO or friend sometimes to help keep yourself committed to walking. Even 15 minutes can make a difference in how our minds process life.

                If you think it’s stress related it might be good to talk to your boss about how you are doing at your job. Maybe make a list of the top three things that worry you the most and go over them with her.
                Others had suggested talking to your cohorts about the BO problem but I suggest you cut to the heart of the matter and ask them questions that will help you feel confident in doing your work.
                I’d also recommend getting a drink with electrolytes in it to support a tired brain. Worry tires the mind right out and takes out much needed minerals. Perhaps an electrolyte drink mid-day would be a very supportive thing for you.
                If you take meds, check the side effects on your meds, too.
                I am thinking that you have not had this complaint before, judging from what you have said here. I might be wrong. However, if you have never had this complaint before then my first thought is what have you changed recently? Have you gotten a new med? Have you changed your diet? Did you recently replace your washer with a used washer you found some where? What has changed recently?

                This can be a needle in a haystack type of search that is why I am thinking to start with your more recent changes such as within the last 12 months.

              3. valentine*

                Try wearing tops only once between washes and ask your doctor if it might help to use Hibiclens to wash your armpits daily/weekly.

        3. BookishMiss*

          I also re-wear tops and dresses, so I hang them right side out when they’re freshly washed, and in-side out after I wear them once. Makes it loads easier to keep track.

        4. Anancy*

          I am not able to wear tops more than once without washing, even when I’m not active. If you can, I’d try washing after every wearing, no matter how short, and see if that solves the problem.

        5. Guacamole Bob*

          Hi LW! I also don’t sweat a ton and re-wear pants a couple of times. The big smell issues in my clothes tend to come from blazers and cardigans. My blazers do better dry cleaned so I have a greater tendency to put it off, and intuitively since I’m wearing them over a shirt it feels like it shouldn’t be a problem. But, I often wear them with sleeveless shirts and the armpits get gross, so I’ve had to step up my game a bit on keeping them clean (and carrying them to work instead of wearing them on the commute on even moderately warm days).

          Just wanted to throw that out there to encourage you to think more broadly about your clothes: blazers, sweaters, outerwear, etc. If you have an “office sweater”, take it home and run it through the laundry a couple of times.

        6. Jennifer Thneed*

          A lot of my jobs I can do decent jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt (ahem, “knit top”), but when I have the jobs where I need to wear slacks and button-up shirts, I do the hanger thing. A clean shirt gets the top 2 buttons buttoned. A worn-once shirt gets the top button only buttoned. After that, it gets washed.

        7. Sylvan*

          It’s different for some people and may be different for you, but I can’t get more than one wear out of a shirt. Try washing after each wear for a little while and see if that makes a difference.

        8. m00nstar*

          I work at a desk job, and while I can wear pants twice, I can’t wear shirts more than once, unless it’s cardigan or something.

          Maybe for now, to get the issue under control, try wearing your shirts only once.

          (I too am a panic sweat-er, and tend to really be hard on shirts in that way. Even blazers I have to be careful with – but just normal wearing days 2-3 wears would really make me smell)

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      > All my clothes are natural fibres, except for some sweaters. They breathe better and get less smelly.

      This. A *lot* of women’s office wear is polyester or microfiber (=nylon) and artificial fibers react differently to bodies and detergents than natural fibers do. And then sometimes they actually have chemical reactions and just have odors of their own. Check the labels in your shirts to see what they’re made of, and maybe try all- or mostly-cotton shirts for a week?

  36. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    This sounds rough, sorry you’re dealing with it! I think it’s tempting to ask people whether they notice a difference or apologise for the problem. I know I’d be literally biting my tongue to stop myself from blurting something out. The truth is you don’t owe anyone an explanation. You weren’t being malicious. This was something you genuinely didn’t know. You’ve been made aware of the problem, you’re dealing with it, and if the coworker still has an issue, they can raise it with your manager. I’d say act the same as always: hold your meetings, chat with people and go into their offices. If you start adjusting your behaviour over something that isn’t a behavioural issue, you’re going to be miserable. And people are going to notice that more than anything else.

    Good luck, hope this is resolved soon!

  37. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

    So, maybe a year ago, I started feeling like I noticed a slight BO smell on myself. Armpit-wise. Just *sometimes*, even though I’d worn good quality deo every day, showered daily, etc.

    Then, one day, I stepped out of the shower, lifted my arms, and noticed the smell right then, right after getting out! I was so mad! But, at least I knew it wasn’t due to not showering enough or anything. I switched to a legit glycerin soap; I’d been using various bodywashes for some time. I wash my pits directly and vigorously with this soap, including a (very light!) scratching with my fingernails once-over, to dislodge anything caked or clinging (something I learned from my hair stylist, who does a light scratch-over when washing hair to break up buildup), and the smell has been gone ever since.

  38. Letter Writer*

    Thank you to Alison and for the comments. To clarify a couple things that have been brought up:
    I did ask my manager if it was body odor or something else; she said it’s BO. I told her during that conversation that I’d be going to the doctor and taking other steps.
    I don’t eat spicy food, I do like garlic but don’t eat a lot of it, most of my foods are seasoned with Italian type herbs (rosemary, oregano, etc.), and I’m a one-cup-of-coffee-a-day kind of person.
    I was previously using a deodorant that doesn’t also have antiperspirant, and the new antiperspirant is both that and a deodorant.
    I also moved my laundry hamper across the room from the closet, so that should end any smells migrating from my husband’s sweaty gym clothes to my work clothes.

    1. MuseumChick*

      Hi LW,

      Thank you for the additional details. This is such a frustrating situation since it could be cause by any of 1 million things. Hopefully when you see your doctor you will get answers to what is going on. Sending you Jedi hugs.

    2. sourdoughman*

      OP, I’m sure that you will find a good solution soon!

      In addition to moving your laundry hamper, is there somewhere you can hang your clothes up for a few hours after wearing before you toss in the hamper? Ensuring that your clothes are 100% dry can help with assuring that they don’t retain smells or grow any organisms that can cause an unpleasant smell.

      I also have a spare antiperspirant at work just in case. I bought a Secret Freshie product (it’s a mini antiperspirant ball) and sometimes I use that to touch up.

      1. OyHiOh*

        Love the discreet ball shape of Freshies. Have one for each of my bags and an extra extra one in a desk drawer at work.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      Regarding gym clothes – those and other sweated-in clothing can trap odors, especially if they go through the dryer after washing. They make “sports” or “performance” laundry detergents that can kill those sneaky sweaty odors that sink into gym/work0ut clothing.

      Clinical-strength deodorant/antiperspirant is amazing stuff. I didn’t have scent issues but had underarm wetness and the usual major brands of clinical-strength antiperspirant improved my quality of life tremendously. (Just note that the compounds in the deodorant can stain light-colored clothing, google “Jolie Kerr” (aka “Ask a Clean Person” podcast) and deodorant stains for tips on dealing with that.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Oh, and she also had a podcast episode about washing your workout clothing, including tips like not closing them up in a plastic bag (accelerates the mildew process), etc.

    4. Boredatwork*

      OP, I think you are trying your best and handling this like an adult. I think all of the steps you’re taking should solve the problem. Definitely take the advice to do some white vinegar in the laundry – it’s the best – and if your budget allows buy some new towels.

      good luck!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yes, I applaud your concern and your candor here, OP. Openness solves 50% of the problem. I am sure you will find your solution because of your genuine concern and genuine willingness to search.

    5. Vinegarforever*

      I have a feeling it might really be your husband’s gym clothes! Washing and keeping those away from your clothes and using a little white vinegar might help a lot.

    6. CaliCali*

      I think the last thing may be crucial. Also, your husband should probably let his gym clothes air dry prior to tossing them in the hamper — I tend to not throw in my gym clothes right away, so the hamper doesn’t get real funky. But especially since you said you may rewear clothes a couple of times, I think that could be the culprit.

      Additionally, I think you may want to try just washing all clothes after each wear for a bit. Sometimes we don’t think we get smelly, but with the exception of bras, outerwear, and some of my pants, I need to wash almost everything after one wear. I’m not super sweaty, but I find even a little bit of sweat can make things a bit funky (particularly if it dries but then your body kind of “reheats” it)

      1. Salamander*

        Yeah. I’m one of those people who has to wash everything except outerwear after one wear. Even bras and jeans. One of my friends wears jeans like four times before washing and I am in awe of her. That would totally not work for me. If it’s against my skin, it needs to be washed after every wearing. It’s just how my body is made.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        I experimented with wearing clothes more than once and concluded I can only do that if I’m staying home alone. For work clothes I don’t take any chances.
        If you have smallish wash loads and decent dryers, maybe combine two loads in the dryer to save money?

    7. Episkey*

      I definitely think the deodorant without antiperspirant could have been a main culprit. I was using all-natural deodorant for awhile — and it was fine in the winter and for just laying around the house. As soon as it started getting warm and/or I went to work out — NOPE. *I* could smell myself. I wound up searching for the “cleanest” regular deodorant, which if you are wondering — is Secret Clinical Strength Completely Clean clear gel — and haven’t had any other issues.

      1. Salamander*

        That’s an amazing deodorant. It does a great job. I use that whenever I have to do public speaking.

        I had an acquaintance who was doing the natural deodorant thing. She could literally clear a room, and you could smell her after she left. Someone finally said something, and she completely lost it…and didn’t change her habits. She got angry and doubled down. It turned into one of those things were the rest of the world was wrong for being able to smell her twenty feet away and didn’t appreciate natural human body smells, etc. It became a hill to die on, and I was just glad that I wasn’t the one who brought it up.

      2. Autumnheart*

        I have minor but unstoppable sweating issues that even Certain Dri and Sweatblock couldn’t stop, I basically pit out my shirts no matter what. I gave up a few years ago and switched to regular deodorant (Old Spice), but several months ago I tried Secret Clinical Strength at night and regular deodorant in the morning. Whaddayaknow, it works great. I still get some moisture during the day, but not enough to be unsightly.

      3. Baby Fishmouth*

        Yeah, I tried the natural stuff for about 3 months last year – and it was too much for me. I’ve switched to a Secret unscented antiperspirant and I’m much less smelly! I wish natural deodorant worked for me but some of us are not so lucky.

        1. Mbarr*

          Ditto! I tried about 7 different “natural” brands of deodorants and all of them failed me miserably. I went back to my aluminum/chemical deodorants and now I’m no longer repulsing even myself. (The worst was when my deodorant kicked out RIGHT before I started a high exertion bollywood dance class!)

    8. ASweatyMess*

      I know your question was more about how to deal with this professionally, but as someone who sweats a LOT, I’d suggest also checking that your clothes themselves don’t smell of BO in the armpit, even after washing. Mine were retaining a smell something chronic before I started using white vinegar, and I didn’t realise until my mother pointed it out. Only suggesting it because adding to or changing your personal hygiene routines may not get you the results you want if the smell is in your clothes! And as mentioned by someone else above, I re-apply deodorant during the day (usually breath mint and deodorant after lunch).

      One of my colleagues had to have a discussion about BO with a new hire, and he made it really clear that he wasn’t trying to suggest he had poor hygiene or anything. It was a more strenuous job than the guy was used to, with a lot of lifting of the arms. His concern – and the concern of the coworkers that mentioned it – was that the new hire would be terribly embarrassed, but no-one was judging him (especially because it can be really hard to smell yourself!) and the manager didn’t want it to be something that ever held the new hire back, or something everyone else was in on. And no-one ever thinks of him now as That Guy Who Smelled. No-one was grossed out by him, or thought he wasn’t showering/washing his clothes. I know it’s so much easier said than done, but please don’t be too hard on yourself about this. You know basically what the smell is, you’re taking steps to correct it. I think you’re doing just fine.

    9. CatCat*

      We spray sweaty clothes with a spray bottle full of white vinegar before they go in the hamper (there is a spray bottle next to the hamper for this purpose). That has definitely helped us with Hamper Stank.

      Just an idea if the sweaty gym clothes might be a source of the issue.

    10. Dr. Pepper*

      Add borax to the wash cycle and white vinegar to the rinse cycle. I used to work at a cattle feedlot and that was the magic laundry combo to get the smell of cow out of my clothes. Also works very well for gym clothes and anything else that comes out of the wash less than fresh.

    11. anon24*

      Do you drink a lot of water? I can handle my BO much better if I stay super hydrated with water (aka 100+ oz a day). If I’m not drinking enough water then I start to smell, but my mom has commented before that I can be drenched in sweat and still smell good. My younger brother never used to drink water and got all his fluids through milk and a little bit of juice. He smelled SO BAD all the time and he was still only elementary school aged! As an experiment he was banned from drinking more than a glass of milk a day and the smell went away.

    12. Ali G*

      If the new deodorant doesn’t help, you can ask your doctor for an RX deodorant. I went through a period in my 20’s where I sweat so much, I could pit a shirt in 5 minutes, after applying antiperspirant. I didn’t smell worse, but all my shirts had armpit stains – it was gross! I used the stuff my doc gave me (I put it on at night), showered in the morning, reapplied, repeat and in a few months the issue went away. I still have occasional issues, but nothing like that ever again. I think it’s a hormone thing, as now I am 40 and starting to have more sweaty days than before.

    13. Shalla*

      I ran across this article on Racked last spring about using BHAs or AHAs to combat odor and it’s worked amazingly well for me. I pair it with an antiperspirant/deodorant but it’s really help those last all day. I use a glycolic acid toner on my underarms after I shower and put the deodorant on about 5 minutes or so after using the toner. Really helped me over the summer.

      Article if you’re interested: https://www.racked.com/2018/2/20/17021612/natural-deodorant-acid

    14. Abby Gayle*

      It sounds like you are handling this as maturely as possible, LW, and my heart goes out to you and a sometimes stinky person myself. I had a couple of thoughts: what does your husband say? Does he thinking you’re stinky, too? Also, in addition to the steps you’ve taken, I once had a colleague whose vaginal odor was overpowering and awful. Our manager had to talk to her, but dreamed it as “BO.” Is it possible this is an issue for you? Bacterial vaginosis or trichomonosis could cause a strong odor. I don’t mean to embarrass you, just to double check and to say I think it’s great you’re checking with your doctor. Good luck! And keep your head up! We’ve all been there!

      1. Letter Writer*

        I actually asked my husband about this after the conversation with my manager, and he said he’s occasionally noticed a stronger body smell from me when we get home from work, but he hadn’t mentioned it because he figured it was the end of the day and and lots of people get a little funky after 12 hours in clothing. So he never noticed anything in the mornings, and not all the time. Makes me think it’s more of a sweat/lingering odor in clothes thing, something that would become noticeable after a few hours rather than right out of the shower.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          If you have a cloth chair maybe you can give it a spritz of vinegar before you leave at night and let it set over night.

        2. jenkins*

          I think that washing tops after 1 wear would probably help a lot in itself. I used to rewear stuff too often as a student because I lived in a block with about 5 machines for hundreds of people and it was a pain getting my washing done. (I also smoked. Imagine my stank.) I thought I was getting away with it until someone went in for a hug, backed off again and said, ‘Whoa, you smell like you ran all the way here.’

          Now that I don’t smoke and I actually have a sense of smell again, I know I can get away with trousers/jeans for 2 or 3 days but not tops. Or rather, sometimes I can rewear tops but it’s the exception rather than the rule, so for work I just don’t risk it at all.

        3. Boppity*

          I’m normally a very non smelly person (partners have remarked on this!), even if I reuse clothes a couple times, or in the period of time between working out and getting home to shower. But if I get the stress-sweats in a top, that top is DONE for. If I forget and re-wear it, I can always smell it on me. It’s very distinctive and piercing.

          I’d definitely recommend only using clothes once between washes – or at least, wash the layer that’s against your skin in between every wear, and let woolen sweaters or similar thoroughly air out on a hanger somewhere with airflow in between uses.

          Good luck, you’re handling this so well! And I’m glad your partner can help you keep an eye (nose) on this.

        4. Your Mother*

          Super late to this, but in case you come back to this thread: I discovered a few years ago that some of the 100% synthetic shirts I have S T A N K in the pits if I got even a little bit sweaty in them running around at work. So even though they were totally clean out the wash when I put them on and smelled fine then, at some point in the afternoon if I smelled under the arms it was pungent.

          It took me forever to figure out that it was the shirts specifically. Since it only happened sometimes, I was at a loss for what the cause was. It wasn’t until I started watching for a pattern that I realized it was the same couple of plastic-y feeling synthetics every time.

    15. SS Express*

      One thought. I hate the smell of our laundry hamper and could never put it in my bedroom or any other room where I spend a lot of time, even though it doesn’t typically contain sweaty workout clothes – just the smell of regular old laundry is pretty unpleasant to me. If you’re able to keep a hamper with sweaty gym clothes in your bedroom, I’m wondering if either you don’t have a very strong sense of smell or you’ve become “nose-blind” and don’t notice the sweaty BO smell anymore.

      Okay, two thoughts: are you showering in the mornings or at night? I don’t think I’m sweaty or smelly when I wake up, but if I ever skip my morning shower I find that I seem to get more sweaty and smelly throughout the day than I usually would (even though I showered the previous night).

    16. Oh, Nan*

      It sounds like it could potentially be the husband’s damp sweaty gym gear contaminating the rest of the laundry in the dirty basket? Mine had very stinky tshirts one summer, and we only had cold on our home machine, so they all went to the laundromat and into a hot wash with vinegar separate to my clothes. This solved it for us, but you can also try soaking everything in some sort of colour-safe oxy clean stuff with warm water for 12 hours before you wash. After that, separate gym clothes to their own basket, and initially hang to dry/air rather than bundling them up damp if you can. Also, I have found anything made of polyester, even sleeveless, makes me smell dreadful, and one top I was never able to get the smell out – it started to stink as soon as it warmed up, even when clean. So I’ve cut polyester tops out of my wardrobe and, just to be sure, when it gets really hot in summer I switch out my natural hippy deodorant to something stronger.

  39. Brace Face*

    I am 44 and I have braces. Sometimes when I use my WaterPik, I can literally smell their funk. I’m now super sensitive to others’ breath smells.

    I cannot *wait* to get rid of my braces and the halitosis they create!

    1. Dance-y Reagan*

      Oh, do I remember this pain well (had braces in my late thirties). The elastic chains marinate in your mouth and hold every odor. I paid cash for an extra dental cleaning immediately after their removal, and instructed the hygenist to “get aggressive”.

  40. Mark A*

    OP. Sorry you are going through this.
    Medication might be that cause.
    As could be coffee, or feet as others have said. and digestion issues.

    It could be hyperhidrosis or more likely bromhidrosis that can be difficult to detect on yourself.
    Good luck, I hope you sorry it.

  41. Anon From Here*

    Best of luck with the doctor’s appointment. They may find a food intolerance or two — or several — that you didn’t have when you were younger so maybe you don’t realize you actually have. Dairy was one for a former partner of mine; his perspiration was out-of-this-world objectionable until he cut out dairy from his diet completely.

  42. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    Sorry you’re facing this. I’m guessing that there might be a few contributors to your problem here. I agree with other posters on permastink in clothes. It’s a definite thing. Along with the other suggestions such as vinegar and oxy clean. You can try a vinegar/baking soda paste in the armpit area followed by a wash. Also there’s a product called 20 Mule Team Borax that is a laundry boost that does wonders for stinky clothes.

    Shoes as others have said can be a culprit along with outer clothes that don’t get washed enough.

    Now to add something new to what others have said. Really take a look around your environment at home. Where do you store your clothes? Do they get dried in a dryer or hung somewhere? Pets? How’s the ventilation when you cook? How often do you wear clothes between washing?

    An interesting story I heard from someone who had gotten the ‘stinky talk’ from one of her professors in college. After being pulled aside she went on the attack same as what you are describing. A few weeks later the same professor pulled her aside again to say that things hadn’t improved. The poor thing broke down and described all that she had done. This wonderful professor asked if she wouldn’t mind if she came to her dorm room to see if she could help figure out what was happening. The student agreed and they walked over to her dorm room together. The professor found the problem right away, the student was storing their dirty clothes in a bin in a closed closet with her clean clothes. So basically the smell from the dirty stuff was permeating the clean stuff. (and like a lot of college students, she waited a long while in between laundry trips.). More frequent washing trips and keeping the dirty clothes separate from the clean ones solved the problem.

    So this shows that nose blindness is a thing and often it’s not a super obvious problem that is causing the smell. Most people will be just fine with a daily shower, clean clothes, and an antiperspirant/deodorant. If you’ve got those things covered then the source is likely something else.

    1. Anon for this*

      I cringe when I think back to my twenties, living in a small apartment with two cats, I kept a litter box inside a closet where I hung work clothes. Eventually I started to notice the lingering stink on my clothes, and fixed the issue but I’m horrified to think about subjecting my poor coworkers to months of lingering litter stink.

  43. Nessy*

    A suggestion to consider since OP isn’t aware of what the odor may be, perhaps it’s vaginal odor. I’ve noticed it with myself at times in the past and I’ve noticed it with a co-worker, it’s just something that can happen especially as one gets older. So I’ve been more conscious of washing my “bits” thoroughly and carefully and rinsing well (frankly I think not rinsing the soap well enough once was a cause of my odors).
    Neither I nor my co-worker are “unclean” by any stretch, but sometimes age can bring on unexpected challenges.

    1. Cat Fan*

      This is a definite possibility. One thing to keep in mind is to not use fragrant soap in that area. Use Cetaphil or Cera Ve, or something else mild and fragrance free. There are also probiotics that help with this.

    2. raktajino*

      Another vagina possibility could be menstruation related. If that is potentially relevant to you OP, maybe ask if the smell is every day or comes and goes, especially on a monthly/your-length-here basis.

    3. Anancy*

      I thought of this too. Another suggestion is to make sure your underwear is made from a breathable fabric that won’t trap odors, change it frequently, and retire when they don’t get fresh in the wash.

      1. anon right now*

        I ended up with a Down There regimen for summer given that I have a longish walk from the train station to work that was leaving me sweaty first thing in the morning when I got to work. I found that Dear Kate underwear, antibacterial and intended for light periods and tampon backup, works well to absorb sweat (whereas cotton just stayed damp and quickly got smelly), but I also sprinkled on LUSH’s Silky Underwear powder in that whole hip and torso area (particularly right at the top of my pubes which got really sweaty), and when I got to work I would basically mop up the sweat with toilet paper as soon as I could. But the combo of the powder, underwear, and mopping up the sweat made a big difference.

      2. Rainy*

        I like the Gap Breathe collection–they’re lightweight and wicking, and they don’t tend to just get sweaty and then stay that way like cotton.

    4. Entirely Anon*

      This is probably TMI, but one of my friends who went to the gym shaved his armpits because he said that “hair traps odor.” I got to thinking about it and did some trimming downstairs. Nothing aggressive, like waxing or shaving. It really made a big difference for me. Also, cotton underwear is a must for me, too.

    5. Tired*

      A clean, healthy vagina has no stinky odor. Age hasn’t done anything to the smell of my vag. i just wash and rinse well using a hand shower wand. Cotton undies. No problems at all.

      1. SS Express*

        Just because it hasn’t been an issue for you, doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen to anyone. Hormonal changes can have an effect on vaginal scent – it may not cause a stinky odor but perhaps just a more noticeable scent, especially if combined with a bit of crotch sweat.

        1. Your Mother*

          The regular scent that your genitals have isn’t stinky, though, it’s not something that should register to anyone as BO.

          What can register as BO, as Nessy alluded to with the soap rinsing, is throwing off your flora by getting soap into really delicate areas. If your under carriage stinks or has a sudden change in smell, you should 1) keep body products like soaps as far away from the area as possible and 2) potentially check in with your doctor to make sure it’s not something like BV.

    6. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore*

      God that just made me *cringe*. Soap is terrible for your lady bits! Plain water is all you need (unless advised to use something else by a reputable gynecologist of course.)
      Please google it if you don’t believe me, I’m too ill to do much myself right now lol.

  44. Jessica*

    If you don’t use a clean towel every time you take a shower/bath, start doing so. I know many people reuse towels, but that might be contributing to your problem.

  45. Cat Fan*

    I hate even saying this, but I know someone who occasionally smells a bit because I don’t think he cleans himself very well after using the bathroom. There are personal wipes for this. One may be surprised, sometimes we think we are clean, but we’re not. Wipes can be found in the baby aisle or the toilet paper aisle. I hope I OP and others may find this helpful.

  46. Kara*

    As a mother of three teenage girls, I have found that using ammonia every few washes greatly helps to de-stink towels, athletic wear, and everything else that isn’t wool or silk (or being bleached, because bleach and ammonia DO NOT MIX). A half cup of ammonia added to a soak cycle really gets rid of leftover sweat smells and knocks out that musty smell towels can get. It’s way cheaper than that expensive “sport wash” for laundry. Also great on sheets, which may not be getting changed as often as they should.

    As the mother of a mouth breathing child, I can tell you, I am constantly telling her to drink water and eat mints, because oof, that dry mouth breath can pack a punch.

    1. YoungTen*

      I love your suggestions. My girl too can knock over an army with her breath. I’ll Try the ammonia trick.

    2. Cheesecake 2.0*

      Just to ask, have you taken her to the ENT? I mouth-breathed as a child and it turned out it was because my adenoids blocked 95% of my sinus airflow. Also, due to years and years of mouth breathing before getting that fixed, the shape of my jaw developed differently and I now have sleep apnea and have to use a CPAP every night. (long-face syndrome)

    3. EH*

      Sheets not being changed enough can definitely cause weird smells. I grew up with sheets changed weekly, and as an adult I change every other week.

  47. PleaseDontHurtMe*

    I know this sounds kooky, but for people who have strong body odor despite good hygiene, sometimes going vegan helps. I live in the tropics and when I ate meat and dairy, I would have to wash and apply deodorant\antiperspirant twice a day. When I went vegan, I noticed that I sweat much less, and even when I do sweat, there’s no strong odor. Now, half the time I forget to use deodorant at all, and I don’t smell. (And, TMI, my flatulence doesn’t smell at all, and my feces smells much less.) I’ve heard the same from other vegans.

  48. anon for obv reasons*

    Hey OP, I have been the stinky person (I hope I am not anymore). I am so sorry you are having to deal with this. It sucks. No one told me I was stinky, but I am certain they were thinking it. One day I was walking around the office and I could smell my underarm odor, and I realized that I needed to make some changes ASAP.
    First, I switched deodorants (from a formula marketed to women [Dove] to a formula marked to men [Right Guard gel]) and it helped with underarm odor. (Note that I bought Right Guard non-gel stick formulation recently, and found it does not work as well).
    Then I realized the underarm odor was so bad that regular laundering in cold water was not getting rid of it for certain clothing pieces, so I took steps to either specially treat those items, or get rid of them. Also, I was using a gentle/sensitive laundry detergent, and switched to something with more smell, stain/odor removal, etc.
    Also, dogs — we have three big dogs in our house and I realized I was not bathing them often enough. So that helped. And I bought an Ikea sofa with removable, washable slipcovers.
    Food – I love spicy food, Indian food, Thai food, seafood, garlic, onions, etc. I make extra effort to only enjoy these foods on weekends, since some people find the smells offensive.
    Just when you thought this post would not get any more disgusting…I also realized I have tonsil stones and that was causing bad breath. So I researched how to deal with those…and use Altoids during the work day.
    Best of luck to you!!

    1. Cat Fan*

      Tonsil stones are the worst! I suddenly started getting them just a few years ago and found that cutting out certain foods such as mashed potatoes, white bread, anything soft/mushy has greatly reduced it. Now I rarely get them. Incidentally, it seems to happen if I eat something that’s mostly carbs as opposed to a soft vegetable, like butternut squash.

      1. anon for obv reasons*

        They are so disgusting…and they just started out of nowhere for me, about 4 years ago. Good suggestion on cutting out mushy carbs…I will try this! I check every few days to make sure I’m removing whatever accumulation is present, but it’s just gross!

        1. Cat Fan*

          It happened to me the same way, years of nothing and then suddenly yuck. An example of a difference I see is a baked white potato results in tonsil stones, but a baked sweet potato does not. When I switched over to a paleo-ish diet, that’s when the tonsil stones pretty much stopped. It’s when I stray that I get them.

  49. Akgal*

    My husband had the same issue. We tackled it by changing when he showered. Before he always had a shower in the morning but then he changed his shower to after work.
    The other thing he did was very counter intuitive. He stopped showering everyday. He doesn’t sweat a lot so showering everyday just allowed the oder causing bacteria to get the moisture it needed to thrive.
    Changing when he showered and the frequency of the showers really solved the issue. I don’t know if that will work for you but that is what he did.

  50. High Score!*

    A conversation I had with my child when she was little might be enlightening.
    Me: your friend smells bad, would she like to use our bath?
    Child: no, Mommy, that’s just her family stench.
    Me: family stench?
    Child: yes, every family has their own stench.
    We live in an extremely diverse neighborhood and my child had a highly attuned sense of smell. Everyone in our neighborhood cooks different things causing everyone to smell differently. What I thought was a bad smell was considered quite pleasant by the other child’s family. So your close friends who eat like you probably think you smell fine. I explained there difference between scent and stench to my young daughter. If it’s cuisine / culture related, it may be tougher to deal with than a medical or dental issue.

      1. Imtheone*

        I noticed this when I was a child. Different households had a different smell – even those whose residents were from the same backgrounds and ate the same type of cuisine!a

  51. YoungTen*

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this, I really could happen to anyone. Is there a close friend or family member that you just who could help you figure out what it may be? Could the smell be more on the pungent side? Maybe its an unusual smell that most people arent used to? I think with enough attention, you will be fine. I know its hard but I think Allison is right about dealing with it in a matter-of-fact kind of way. When you overcome this, and maintain a professional persona, you’ll actually gain a lot of respect from your managers and coworkers. I think you will be ok.

  52. Dzhymm*

    I notice that everyone is concentrating on the issue of aroma and how to fix it, but there may be other forces at work as well.

    I’m going to preface this by saying that this may not be the situation for the LW, but it’s worth considering if this issue comes up for others: sometimes the issue of “smell” (or some other irritant) is a pretext for people simply not liking you for whatever reason. In other words, if people take a disliking to you then they’ll find a reason to latch onto. Fixing the issue will not fix their opinion of you. If they hate you then *anything* you do, say, or be can have a high irritant value for them. It’s like my downstairs neighbors who were constantly complaining about the noise we made no matter how delicately we’d tiptoe around the apartment…

    I had a friend who was, shall we say, of a different ethnicity from the rest of the office. Her relationship with the rest of the staff was prickly at best, and at some point they started complaining that she “smelled funny”. Nothing she did seemed to solve the problem; no matter how she bathed or washed or laundered or changed up her regime, she was always and forever tainted in their minds as “the one who smells funny”. She ended up having to leave that job because there was Just No Fixing The Situation.

    1. Jan*

      Yes, the vague “body odour” accusation can be a convenient stick to beat someone with if they just don’t fit in for any reason. You’ve got no way of confirming or denying it, and the office bullies can label you as being “rude” or “inconsiderate” when you can’t resolve the “problem”!

      Your neighbour complaining about the noise rings true for me. I busk (sing and play guitar) for a living and for the most part don’t get complaints. But in the UK, there has been mixed publicity about buskers – mostly positive but part negative – and you always get someone who will disapprove just because. Someone called the council on me once despite the fact that I only use an acoustic guitar with no mic, no amps, nothing; and never spend more than two hours in one spot. There was no way I was causing a noise nuisance – in that situation, all you can say to the council/your boss is “I already do what I can to be respectful and considerate of those around me. I do xyz and I believe the complaint is malicious rather than genuine.”

      That said, OP, you’ve told us your boss is reasonable. Giving her and your colleagues the benefit of the doubt, how do you travel to work? I ask this because at the job I had a couple of years ago, I used to walk an hour to work and back every day. Great for overall fitness but it didn’t half make me sweat! I read somewhere it’s not actual sweat that gives off odour from clothes, the smell comes from the bacteria caused by sweat. So I did my walk to work in trainers, tracksuit bottoms and an old T-shirt; and changed into my work clothes when I arrived. Bring a bottle of water and tissues so you can dab yourself in the privacy of your cubicle.

      Good luck with sorting this out, you seem like a very nice, considerate person who wants to do her best, and you don’t deserve to be complained about. I hope this gets resolved soon.

    2. Rainy*

      …this would explain something that happened quite early on in my work life. An older lady coworker (who literally made my life hell for 3 hrs a day over the 3.5 years I worked there) complained to our boss that I smelled. I was, at the time, going through a rough time finding a deodorant that didn’t turn my underarms into giant puffy, cracked, bleeding rashes so I was relying rather heavily on frequent washing and scrupulously clean clothing while I was buying and using every deo on the market. No one else had noticed including my boss, but this coworker apparently couldn’t bear it. Given the later more aggressive bullying she engaged in, I wonder if this was her first salvo and just happened to be a lucky hit.

  53. 30 Years in the Biz*

    In regard to smelly clothes: For a front-loading washer I recommend “Charlie’s Soap”-available on Amazon. I found this several years ago when I was hunting around on the Internet trying to find a solution to the smelly washer smell that can develop with front loaders. I was also trying to get my towels really clean. I put white vinegar in the softener cup too. This has worked for me. I don’t use the soap with dark loads because some say it can slightly fade your darks.
    I’m hopeful there will be a positive follow up letter from the OP. Work is tough enough without having to question yourself during every personal interaction.

    1. Anancy*

      I use the Charlie’s Soap too, and I also use their brand of booster which helps keep the darks from looking faded. (In my experience at least.)
      And another vote for vinegar.

  54. nnn*

    If asking your manager for details of the smell is unworkable, you could also have that discussion with your doctor at your appointment. Even if they can’t fix it, they might be able to smell it themselves and therefore tell you if it’s mildewish or footish or crotchish or whatever.

  55. Bazinga*

    Weighing in on the washer recommendation.
    I have family who smell. They shower. They’ve showered at my house and then put clothes on and smelled. My guess is they have an older washer/dryer that isn’t getting their clothes clean. Especially since their house is not the cleanest-they are all kind of slobs plus multiple dogs/cats.
    It’s the only thing I can think of, unless they aren’t washing clothes at all. But I think they are. I’m blaming the washer and dryer on this one since they all have the same smell.
    Which is a question-OP, do you live with someone? Do they smell? It would help differentiate between body odor and something else.

  56. Dr. Pepper*

    I have a relative who smells. His BO is strong and pervasive and there is literally nothing he can do about it. He just…. smells. Scented products make him smell worse, because then he smells like BO + scent. Daily showers, clean laundry, regular tooth brushing and flossing, all the things suggested here don’t make a dent. He doesn’t bother to wear deodorant because it does nothing. The only thing that mitigates it is not eating pungent foods, but that only kicks it down a notch or two, it doesn’t ever go away completely. Fortunately he’s not the self conscious type and when told he smells (which is a lot), he just shrugs and says “yeah, I do”.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. It sucks.

  57. HappensToTheBest*

    I can say I’m in the “there but for the most part grace of God” camp, also. I 100% know my horomones during pregnancy and while postpartum made me smell all kinds of ways. I was hot, sweaty, horomonal. I showered, I used deodorant, and I know sometimes I probably just smelled anyway by the end of the day. This sorted itself out over time. Luckily I have my own office.

  58. Matt*

    I have vert sensitive skin. I have to use specific brands of soap, and I cannot wear any deodorant whatsoever, (makes my skin crack open and bleed), and I can’t shower every day for the same reasons, but it must be genetics and diet that don’t create a strong body odor as I’ve never had anyone complain about it, thankfully.

    I am wondering if some sort of mildew is responsible. The worst is if you wash your clothes and let them sit wet in the washer for any length of time past a few hours. I definitely can smell that on people sometimes.

  59. Xarcady*

    One of my brothers just has really, really bad BO. He showers daily, showers after working out, but the smell can linger. He’d be smell-free, and then he’d go down to the basement to jump rope for half an hour, and the smell would come wafting up the basement stairs. The smell clung to his clothes and was impossible to wash out.

    At one point, he was getting a prescription deodorant from his doctor. But now he gets Botox treatments for his sweat glands and that has really helped.

    He also keeps his workout clothes completely separate from his work clothes. You can get the smell out, but he does’t feel like doing all the soaking/using special detergents that are required, so he washes the workout gear by itself and just accepts the smell that lingers. (He is single and works out by running/biking, so he isn’t interacting with others.)

    So if the OP’s issue is just bad-smelling sweat, there are various treatments that can help. Finding a doctor who knows about them might be an issue, though.

  60. Frinkfrink*

    A few months ago I noticed that our closet was starting to smell like unwashed laundry, and tracked it down to a shirt I hadn’t worn in weeks that I’d apparently worn, put somewhere, forgot that it wasn’t washed, and hung it back up. Over the time since, bacteria had been working their magic and managed to perfume almost everything in that area of the closet. I ended up washing everything.

    Given that you usually can’t smell yourself because you’re used to the odor, I have to wonder if I’d been stinky to my coworkers for a while before I figured it out.

  61. Michaela Westen*

    I’d like to recommend against using scented soaps, perfumes etc. Unless they’re from a natural products company, scented products contain chemicals that make the scents. They’re unhealthy, have been linked to the development of allergies, and many people are allergic to them. If you actually do have body odor, the scents might not cover it up anyway.
    If you’re showering after work, maybe try showering before instead. If I showered after work I would have to shower again in the morning to be sure because I often sweat while sleeping.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      P.S. – You can usually take products back for a refund to the corporate drugstores, so you can return the scented stuff. :)

  62. Arielle*

    In addition to all the helpful suggestions above, my other thought is that it could be a weird combination of things. My husband uses a conditioner on his beard that’s kind of patchouli-smelling, and when his towel gets musty the two odors together really smell like BO. It took me a long time to figure out why he smelled so stinky fresh out of the shower!

  63. CaptainMouse*

    I had a friend in college with terrible body odor about 80% of the time. It was not your typical BO but a sharp pungent smell a bit like strong cheese. We knew he showered every day, but it was awful. Finally another friend and I got up the courage and told him. Turns out he could not smell it at all. He immediately made an appointment to see a doctor at the college health services. That was one of the days he didn’t smell, so the doctor thought the whole thing was odd.

    My friend changed detergent, used stronger deodorant, etc. Nothing helped. Finally he changed soaps. Turns out, there was some strange interaction between his particular body chemistry and the soap he’d been using. Any other soap was fine. And the days he didn’t smell, were the days he didn’t shower. So this one took quite a while to solve. Because if you smell you take even more showers!

  64. LiveandLetLove!*

    We had this problem in our office as well and I had to tell a direct report. It was awkward – and I did feel bad and truly wanted to help my employee and save her embarrassment.

    Her issue was not body odor, it was her breath. She clearly had gum disease and she was so used to the smell that she didn’t realize how bad it was. I’m with Allison that the LW needs to clarify what the odor is so she’s not trying to remedy the wrong thing.

    :( This is sad for you LW. I hope you get it figured out.

  65. Shay*

    I caution you about all the scented products you are adding to yourself. Trying to mask odor with MORE odor is likely to backfire on you.

  66. Cat wrangler*

    It might sound crazy but does the water you bathe in have any kind of aroma? You might not notice it if it’s a trace but cummulated washing and laundry from the same supply could build up to be more noticeable to others. I’m thinking really when I took a trip to Iceland where the water has a definite aroma of sulphur which then gets transferred to your skin as you wash. Might be worth having a good sniff as you run a bath or shower?

  67. twig*

    A story to make LW feel a little better.

    One day, I apparently forgot my deoderant — then I had a stressful day and got sweaty — as in, I learned what performers mean when they talk about “flop sweat” — it was literally a response to “oh, crap, I’m screwing up” .

    A coworker walked into my office, sniffed the air, and asked if someone had just heated up their lunch.

    No one had — it was me — I smelled like some kind of spicy italian-seasoned re-heated food.

    And that is how I came to put together a ” just in case I’m smelly” pack to keep in my desk drawer:
    Hand Sanitizer (Hand sanitizer kills the bacteria that make your pits smelly — it’s a good temporary solution.)
    Toothbrush & Toothpaste

    1. Meredith Brooks*

      I forgot to put on deoderant once. That was enough. I have deoderant, mouth wash, dental floss and even room sanitizer in my desk drawer

    2. Michaela Westen*

      Natural baby wipes are in my kit too.
      Is the room sanitizer a spray with chemical components? If so, there’s a good chance of it making someone sick. Maybe a natural air freshener like citrus instead?

      1. Sylvan*

        Everything, labelled “natural” or not, is made of chemicals, and products that contain non-artificial scents can still aggravate allergies. Just an FYI from a person with a poor sense of smell who’s been trying to problem-solve!

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Well, it’s a matter of degree. It’s true that some products labeled “natural” have chemicals – marketers will do anything – it’s good to check the ingredient label.
          It’s also true that people can be allergic to natural ingredients.
          However, the natural products I use don’t have the toxic chemicals found in the non-natural products and are less likely to cause problems. I’m thinking of an letter in Annals of Allergy last year. A 50-year-old man presented with a severe rash in his posterior region. After a very thorough and detailed workup, it turned out he had been using regular baby wipes after using the restroom for his whole adult life… and developed an allergy to one of the chemicals in the wipes. His problems resolved after he stopped using them.
          This would have been less likely to happen with chemical-free wipes.
          Non-natural products have phthalates which have been linked to the development of allergies – they often have a chemical called MCI that’s very toxic, many are sensitive to it, I had a rash on my hands for a whole summer until I figured out it was my hand lotion – They put this MCI in skin care and dermatology creams. You just can’t trust these manufacturers to not use toxic ingredients, and it’s better avoided.

  68. Magda*

    OP, after your update I’d recommend only wearing your tops once before washing them again, and ditching non natural fibers (especially polyester) if there are any in your wardrobe.

  69. JS*

    OP I would look into foods you eat. Some people, although tends more for people who are overweight I hear, sweat out food through their pores. Also medication can cause you to be more likely to do so. I have to watch when I take my adderall and if I have a glass of wine or drink that day because I learned the hard way I sweat it all out of my pores and its rank.

  70. Observer*

    OP you’ve gotten a ton of good advice on some of the possible underlying causes for this problem. I know it seems overwhelming, but keep trying stuff till you find something that sticks. Until you find a solution, though I’m going to disagree with the people who say not to use scents. You can usually use enough scent to mask the problem without chocking everyone around you. This won’t work 100% of the time, but it works very, very frequently in my experience.

    Some things to keep in mind as you do this:
    Scent triggered allergy is a real thing, so if your particular choice of scent triggers someone’s allergy, you probably need to choose something else.
    Don’t use too much. The idea is to mask the problematic smell not choke people with perfume. Even people who don’t have allergies or sensitivities are going to have a problem if you are doused in the stuff.
    Mixes of scents can create pretty unpleasant smells. For instance, if you are using perfume, scented deodorant, and a scented detergent, the combination can interact and create a really unpleasant effect.
    Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes you can’t mask the odor with an amount of scent that doesn’t present its own problems.

    Also, please do NOT let your doctor blow you off. This absolutely IS a real and significant problem and is affecting your life. And if your doctor can’t find the cause, be willing to see other medical professionals. I don’t know if your problem is medical or not, but you’ll never know unless you really check into it, or ou find another cause.

    Lots of luck! This is NOT easy.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      As I mentioned above, there are good natural scented products without the harmful chemicals. :)

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I’m sorry to hear that! Maybe non-natural unscented works? Then you won’t have scents making the people around you sick?

  71. YetAnotherNerd42*

    I’m going to take a completely different, and somewhat dark, tack on this.

    You’re the *alleged* smelly coworker.

    I think it’s odd that your coworkers have noticed an abnormal odor and yet friends, family, and other acquaintances haven’t. Presumably, this is a condition that exists outside work as well, alongside non-work people with whom you come in contact. Also presumably, you have at least one person in your life who would have said something. It leads me to wonder whether you do, in fact, possess any sort of unusual odor and whether perhaps you’re not the victim of workplace mobbing or bullying. “You smell” can be a legitimate complaint, but it is also often a playground taunt, and some people just never progress mentally beyond the sixth grade. If those people find like-minded friends and allies, it can result in sixth-grade playground games being played among putative “adults” at work.

    One question I can think of offhand: Are you a different race or ethnicity than many of your coworkers? Because “They smell weird/bad” or “They don’t bathe/are dirty” is one frequent form of ethnic stereotyping, and racial and ethnic differences are one of the more frequent motivators for workplace harassment and bullying.

    Workplace mobbing is a real thing. I know a person who was a victim like this in real life. I knew them well and I would have noticed if they had had any unusual body odor, and they did not.

    1. Letter Writer*

      My coworkers are all great, I get along with them all just fine, and we’re all white women. I also completely trust my manager, so it’s not a bullying thing.

  72. 1.5 years til Retirement*

    If this is just a recent situation, is there any chance you are pregnant?

    I noticed my deodorant was not working when I was pregnant and I could actually smell myself. Not before and not since.

    1. Kara*

      I smelled like maple syrup when I was breastfeeding. To the point where people in my office would start looking to see who was eating pancakes. The supplements I was taking to up my supply were the culprit.

  73. Ruth*

    I’m so sorry, this must be hard for you.

    One thing that sprang to mind was Trimethylaminuria


    It’s exacerbated by certain foods:

    egg yolks, legumes, red meats, fish, beans and other foods that contain choline, carnitine, nitrogen, sulfur and lecithin

    I admit though, I watch too much forensic/medical mystery shows.

  74. Ann Nonymous*

    I have 5 easy, practical suggestions that will likely eliminate odor: 1) For 1 week, wash your body with antiseptic cleanser/body wash – you can get this from a pharmacy and it’s the stuff that you are supposed to use prior to surgery. Leave it on your body for a couple of minutes before rinsing. After the week, use it once every week or two. 2) Use SmartMouth mouthwash. This is a miracle product! It’s got kind of an odd taste/aftertaste, but it works like nobody’s business. 3) Spray your clothes with cheap vodka, particularly the pits. It removes odor without damaging the fabric and you do *not* smell like alcohol. 4) Spray your shoes with shoe deodorizer. 5) Take parsley pills or any other internal breath-freshening table. Doing these things will very likely get rid of any smell.

    1. Ann Nonymous*

      I thought of something this morning that I once read. Someone had others complaining about hizzer smell and went to the doctor to figure it out. The doctor sniffed this person all over and determined that the odor came from an intricate ring they wore that had filled with debris (food?) and was emanating a stench. Problem went away when the ring was cleaned! So maybe – I know, unlikely, the LW’s bad smell could be coming from a watch, ring, bracelet or other source you wouldn’t normally think of.

  75. KK*

    I haven’t seen this mentioned by the OP, but maybe it’s her feet? I’ve worn some shoes to work that have seen better days on the inside & I realized once I got to work that they smelled SO BAD. The smell wafted up from the floor & seemed to fill my cubical. And it travels with you as you walk, even standing at the copier or waiting for the elevator. I tried SO many things (foot deodorant, powders, creams, scrubs) and the real culprit was MY SHOES.

    I tossed the offending shoes (prob 2-3 pair) and made sure to give my other shoes a 2 day rest between wearings. I also wipe down the inner soles with a 50/50 combo of vinegar & alcohol after I get home and sprinkle in Lady Anti Monkey Butt Powder every morning.

    When I shower, I use a Tea Tree Oil foot wash. if you do this consistently, the smell will eventually be gone.

    Good luck LW!

  76. Meredith Brooks*

    I feel for you OP. I’ve had particularly sweaty, smelly feet since I was a teenager. My shoes rarely last beyond a 6 months of wear and that’s pushing it. I’ve learned that if I wear them past a certain expiration date, they will start to become noticably smelly to the point where if I so much as shift a foot, a pungent whiff can be smelled. I’ve been in meetings where I can smell my shoes and do my utmost to sit still for the rest of the meeting, trying to keep my feet as far away from others as possible.

    The best solution for me was to keep a constantly rotating series of black shoes so they have time to air out and dry. (I don’t have enough $$$ to be creative). I hope you find a solution to your problem. But rest assured, you are not alone, my friend.

    1. Ann Nonymous*

      Have you tried the spraying-them-with-vodka trick? I’m a non-drinker, but always have a spray bottle of Trader Joe’s super cheap vodka next to my hamper. I spray the armpits of my clothes before I toss them in the hamper. I don’t have foot odor problems, but I’d definitely try the vodka misting if I did.

      1. Meredith Brooks*

        I’d never heard about it before, but I’m happy to give it a shot! Though, my feet are industrial strength sweat-ers, they may be beyond home remedy.

        1. Technical_Kitty*

          If it’s bacterial the vodka should kill the little smelly things.

          I also use cat litter in socks to assist with smelly shoes. Usually do this daily if I am wearing the same shoes a lot, it pulls out the smell and dries everything right out.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      My husband’s shoes are like dead skunks! Ugh! It can be really nasty. He sprays the insides of his shoes with rubbing alcohol every evening and it does help kill the bacteria. Also rotating them and socks.
      I’ve had one or two pairs of shoes myself that were problematic for stink. I have no idea why, but they just were horrible and it wasn’t something you noticed when purchased. I got rid of them.

  77. been there, there done that, got the t-shirt*

    I have a medical issue that the medication I’m on gives me a really funky body odor & causes me to sweat more than usual & the odor gets worse when I sweat.

    this is how I deal with it: I never wear any clothes more than once without washing them. I bathe everyday & I use the super strength vagasil as a body wash (that stuff knocks out all kinds of odors). I don’t wear the same shoes two days in a row & I have a stocking filled with crystal kitty litter that I put down inside my shoes to absorb odor & moisture. I use the clinical strength deodorant.

    when I wash my clothes, I wash on warm or hot water (cold just does not get rid of the odor). I use a hypoallergenic detergent, those downy unstoppables beads, & I put white distilled vinegar in both the bleach & fabric softener dispensers in the washer. I wash on the heavy soiled cycle with an extra rinse.

    this helps greatly with the odor but there are still occasions when I have odor issues. as the medication has been stepping down, a lot of the issues I’ve been having on it have begun decreasing. I will be so glad when I’m off this medication, unfortunately, I will be on it for a while. choices right now are to take the medication & stink or stop taking it & go blind. (there is another medication but it’s side effect is cancer, I think I’ll stink)

    I’ve also been very open with my manager & the coworkers I have to work closely with. it’s embarrassing but I wanted to let them know that I’m aware of the situation & working on it & they’ve been very understanding & even helpful & discrete in making suggestions (one of them suggested the vagasil, her husband was using it to wash his feet to deal with foot odor)

    good luck working out your issue out & I hope I was able to help.

  78. Kelsi*

    Just want to add a voice of support to Allison’s “your coworkers don’t hate you” comment. We had a smelly coworker in our office, and most of my thoughts about her were “I hope she gets that issue worked out, she’s a lovely person and I’d enjoy working with her more but right now I have to minimize our interactions.”

    (She was in another dept. so I didn’t feel like I had standing to raise the issue, and it didn’t really get handled–her contract term ended so she’s not with us anymore, but I do feel kind of sad about the missed opportunity!)

  79. Hobbert*

    My husband tried out a new supplement and it did not interact well with his body chemistry. The man stank and it was super awkward to tell him but it was really obvious so I’m pretty sure his coworkers knew and didn’t want to say anything. He quit taking the supplement and was back to his usual nice smell a few days later. So that’s something to consider.

  80. Mariss*

    OP, do you have any friends or family you would be comfortable asking about this? It might really help you narrow down the issue to just ask a friend. If you just say, “Hey, someone at work mentioned a concern that there was something on my person or in my office that smells, I appear to be nose blind to it. Have you noticed anything? Do you have any idea what it is?” If you are lucky, they might be able to tell you the likely source (feet, laundry, sweat, etc.).

  81. Technical_Kitty*

    OP, the only truely unforgivable smells in the work place is over perfuming or fart contests. Everyone smells sometimes, you might be doing it more than some, but that’s not the end of the world. All of those people at some point had a bad smell/bad breath/wardrobe malfunction day.

    Lots of comments on here have great coping mechanisms for persistent body odor, do those things, your co-workers will appreciate it. But you don’t have to feel bad about it. You didn’t do this to them, this is happening to you, and it’s through no fault of your own. Just remember, you might have had some time where you didn’t smell great to co-workers, but everyone has had a day like that at one point or anotherm and you are sorting things out!

  82. CRM*

    OP, are you a smoker by chance? I can smell all of my colleagues who smoke from a mile away. Even if you don’t smoke all of the time, the smell remains on your clothes and is quite pungent. I’m a non-smoker, so it may not be as noticeable for those who smoke and are used to the smell.

  83. Rick Grimes*

    I would suggest making sure your office doesn’t have an odor. I worked with someone who kept spoiled food in his office. It smelled so bad that I would dread going into his office. The smell would cling to him since he spent so much time in his office. Maybe try an air freshener in your office to be sure.

  84. Rez123*

    I’m sorry you are going through with this. There are a lot of reasons for the smells. There are a lot of medical reasons such as diabetes, skin conditions and gynecological issues can cause smells. Also mold is a big factor. Ask a trusted friend about the smell thing if changing deo and shower gels have made a difference. But it might be worth visiting a doctor.

  85. ZK*

    My husband had an employee that would go out drinking and the next day this atrocious smell would just ooze out of him. Even after a shower, brushing his teeth, etc. I offered him a ride to campus one day, since his car was in the shop. It was an hour drive. I ended up rolling the window down, in the winter, and telling him I got car sick without air, because I didn’t want to make him feel bad, but oh gosh, it was awful.

    And as a coffee addict, I know coffee breath can be terrible. I try to finish my second cup before I go to work so I can brush my teeth and tongue and hopefully deal with it before I inflict it on anyone else.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I hate to say it but my husband gets like that when he drinks too! It’s a horrible smell. I believe it comes from the body metabolizing the alcohol. It doesn’t last more than a few hours, but yes, it’s bad and I can always smell it. But it only happens after drinking more than say 1-2 beers, so fortunately it’s not like an every day thing.

      My husband was once bothered by me, and we tracked it down to these veggie burgers I was eating. Seems they had some kind of spice in them, I think it was Turmeric or Cumin or something that stayed with me even after teeth brushing/showering. Weird, he was the only one bothered by it, but maybe he was the only one who said so!

  86. Bromhidrosis sucks*

    Very late to the party but still, maybe it’ll help you, LW.

    I smell horrible. As in I’m washing in the shower and coming out stinking as if I hadn’t showered in a month horrible. My condition is called bromhidrosis. When you talk to your doctor, you may want to ask her about it.

    Everybody else has covered trying to find the cause of the smell. If it turns out that it is your body (not your clothes or shoes) that smells, try different deodorants. Try different brands and consistencies. Sometimes a deodorant that has worked for years suddenly stops working mid-bottle. Don’t get discouraged. Check the internet for alternative deodorants.

    My experience is that solid deodorants that leave a creamy film on my skin work better than roll-ons. Crystal deodorant does not work on me. Ever. Neither do sprays. Many of the anti-transpirants do not work. The Rexona brand works, but only the creamy one, not the liquid one.

    I have recently found an excellent deodorant cream that works very well. The cream is vegan, not very expensive and you need very little for a good result. They ship within Europe, as far as I can tell, so I’m not sure if this helps: wolkenseifen dot de. (They’re awesome – you can buy a sample set for 20 €, which has 15 individual samples of the various deodorant creams they offer. If you use up all the samples, they’ll last for about seven months. If you buy the 6 € size, you can make that last for six months and not smell. They make an unscented deodorant cream as well.)

    Hang in there, LW. It’s hard and embarrassing now but once you figure it out, it’ll get easier. I have my smell under control now to the point that none of my co-workers within the last ten years have any idea of my bromhidrosis. Yes, I’ve asked.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’m sorry, that must be quite difficult to deal with indeed.
      Is this something that came on suddenly, or did you (or others) always notice it?
      I know that teen boys seem to just have a stink/funk like that due to hormones. I suppose it can last into adulthood.

      1. Bromhidrosis sucks*

        I can’t quite remember. It started when I was between three and five, so quite a ways away from being a teen. I’m not sure how my parents dealt with it in the beginning but when I was a teen, they knew that it wasn’t a hygiene issue and I was given special soaps to try to kill the bacteria that cause the smell. Didn’t work.

        These days it’s less difficult to deal with. I don’t go to vacations where washing/showering is difficult but beyond that, I have the internet, I live in a place with lots of options for deodorant. Much easier than when I was a kid!

  87. Cafe au Lait*

    Hey OP,

    Do you shower at night? Some mornings I wake up drenched in sweat. Since I shower at night, I need to take another sponge bath to wash the sweat off my skin. Are you changing your sheets regularly (once weekly) and washing your blankets? Those are two things to check out as you’re exploring reducing/eliminating your smell.

  88. MissDisplaced*

    I’m sorry OP. I’m sure it’s embarrassing. I hope they mean it in a good (as in do you realize this?) way and aren’t being bullying or spiteful (which has happened on occasion). I seem to remember a letter writer on here who’s husband received similar “you smell” message from work and was trying to help/find out why as she herself didn’t notice a smell. Wonder if they have an update on that and figured out what it was?

    The best you can do is investigate, as it could be from anything in these main areas
    1. Personal hygiene frequency or products: lotions, soaps, perfumes, teeth, breath, hair, etc.
    2. Clothing: washers/dryers, shoes, storage, dampness, dryer sheets
    3. Home/Environment: Pets, water leaks, mildew, mold, auto (seats, mildew), smoke, oil
    4. Food: spices, diets, supplements, etc.
    5. Health: medications, supplements, medical issues, gingivitis, dry mouth

    Actually, #1 will probably be the easiest to rule out as you say you shower regularly. My guess is you’ve got a culprit somewhere in your home environment unless there is a diet/health thing and you didn’t mention anything unusual in that area. Mildew and mold can creep in many places in houses, and this may be difficult to track down. I hope you find it, and don’t feel to bad.

  89. K. A.*

    I’ve had to have the “your odor is distracting” talk with a former employee of mine several times. We finally centered on the problem: He didn’t realize that towels needed to be washed because he only used them on himself when he was clean. He had never washed his towels.

    He also couldn’t remember the last time his bed linens.

    1. Traveling Teacher*

      Oh my.

      I just had a flashback to a college roommate who had the same problematic thinking…also that you don’t need to wash handles of silverware or backs of plates and bowls because “that’s not the part you eat off of.”

  90. Mrs. Smith*

    I have a smell disorder, and I had to stop drinking coffee this year. Not because of the coffee smell, but because of the way *I* smell after I drink it! It comes out in my pores, my sweat, my urine, and not a nice fresh-brewed coffee smell, it’s a gross old yucky coffee smell. Just a teaspoon makes me feel like I reek for days So I switched to strong tea, and that’s been fine, but I can also smell it all over my colleagues who drink it, and there is absolutely zero chance I would tell anyone, especially a teacher, not to consume coffee in my vicinity. It’s . . . rough.

  91. Mike Bevel*

    I wanted to add to the chorus — however quiet it is — of This Is Not Your Problem/Fault.

    I think the manager handled it poorly. I think you were burdened with something that you should never have been burdened with. Unless you’re an unwitting corpse actively decaying I think this is just people trying to make you feel terrible.

    I’m so sorry. I’m sorry the answers have been ones that seek to put your manager at ease, but rarely to tell you that you’re F I N E.

  92. planetmort*

    This whole post and comment thread is like my worst nightmare. I was the stinky kid in school, and was teased mercilessly for it, and I am also blessed/cursed with a very, very, poor sense of smell. Like seriously bad. So I constantly live in fear that I stink, or I’m over scented, or whathaveyou. To date, I’ve never had a boss or co-worker say anything, though I did memorably get told by an older relative when I was in my 20s that my hair is particularly bad smelling (and therefore I wash it every day, even though my hair guy says every other is better for hair health).

    On a more productive note, I echo the advice to look into your laundry. A friend got “the talk” from a boss; turns out the problem was indeed a musty washing machine she and her husband were both nose blind to. Fixing the washer issue (I believe vinegar was involved) fixed the issue.

    1. Sylvan*

      Ouch, I’ve been there, too! I wonder if the poor sense of smell made learning about staying clean harder. Most of the time, I’m washing things because I’ve memorized how frequently they need it, not because I can detect any scent.

  93. Anon today*

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this! Something I find useful, (more in warmer weather but handy at any time) is to carry an inexpensive pack of facial wipes in my bag, just to freshen up if I’m a bit sweaty before using deodorant. Also, be mindful of what fabrics you’re wearing – wearing looser clothes and natural fibres rather than synthetics might help too, and maybe think about keeping a couple of spare tops in your office so you have a change of clothes if it’s going to be a particularly long or hot day. (that’s assuming it is down to body odour, I appreciate that doesn’t help if it turns out to be another cause). I hope you get things sorted and that you’re feeling better about all this soon!

  94. Stinky Mo*

    I wonder if the OP had a baby recently. After I had my last child I stunk bad. I tried switching deodorants, body powder and everything nothing but time worked. In addition I had to get rid of a lot shirts. Many of my shirts “held the stink” in the arm pit area. OP you may try getting rid of clothes or giving them a good sniff.

  95. Newsy Nonsense*

    Oh gosh, I feel for you, Letter Writer. Sometimes bad water is the culprit. I had a friend who always smelled slightly of sulfur because of hard water in his house.

  96. RubyJackson*

    Native deodorant changed my life. I used to have body odor (may or may not be what your issue is) and once I switched to Native, no odor at all! It’s all natural, basically a combination of baking soda and yogurt. It’s not an anti-persperant, so you will still sweat, but it’s the best for fighting odor.

  97. BluntBunny*

    I wanted to add that it may be your car if you drive to work, it could be left over remnants of food or sweat from a workout or its just musty. It would be worth washing the inside and febreezing if it hasn’t been done recently and an air freshener if you haven’t one already.
    There are also lavender and other herbal bundles that you can buy that you can hang in your wardrobe or put in shoes to keep them smelling fresh.
    Also there are deodorants for feet, if they are the source of the smell you could also try wearing different shoes to travel to work then changing them in the office.
    You could also ask if the office would mind having a diffuser, vanilla is a soft scent that most people won’t react to it would also show to people that you are trying without having an awkward conversation about it, hopefully they would be more understanding as a result.

  98. Letter Writer*

    Thank you to everyone who wrote with kind words, it has helped. I came in this morning on the edge of a panic attack and I’m feeling much less worried now. I’ll be trying some of the laundry/shoe tips, and bringing up the various medical issues as possibilities with my doctor. It’s comforting to know others have been in this situation, or have had a coworker with the issue but didn’t think badly of them.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I hope you find what it is for your peace if mind, but try not to get too embarrassed or anxious over it. I mean, things happen, and it’s not something you’re knowingly doing. If you do find something in your environment, like the funky washing machine, you may even have a good laugh over it. Some of the comments were really good and made me go around the house doing a smell check myself! Like, I wouldn’t even suspect washers, dryers and mildewed closet walls.

    2. thepinkleprechaun*

      Just read all your other comments and I agree with whoever said you might be pushing it with wearing clothes more than once. I definitely don’t wear shirts more than once without washing, nice sweaters that are annoying to wash I will wear maybe 3x, but that’s with another shirt underneath – for example a button up collared shirt under a cotton sweater. Pants I’m more lenient with, but I still only wear those a couple times. And if you’re an anxious person all the more reason to make sure you’re always putting on a fresh outfit.

      I totally get the anxiety sweat too, I have pretty bad anxiety and whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed at work or have an important meeting coming up, that can happen to me. But I also know that some anxiety medications can make you sweat MORE, which is stupid! I remember one time I was on this new med and had a business trip, and for some reason this stuff makes you sweat like around your lower stomach and groin area… it was really weird but the front of my pants were like soaked on the inside. Thankfully they were lined, and dark colored wool, otherwise that could have been embarrassing!

      If I were you though, I would keep a few undershirts or tank tops at work, and if you have a panicky bout during the day you could always change undershirts in the bathroom.

    3. kitryan*

      Two things- first, while of course you want to reduce or eliminate the issue, remember that we are all humans who inhabit flesh bodies and have physical existence. Odors, noises, aches, pains- changes to our bodies and how they function – all are part of being people. A lot of societal rules take ignoring the nature of physical existence to an extreme. I started working with a trainer and was so embarrassed by just having a non-perfect body I just sort of repeat in my head that it’s all part of just existing.
      That said, we all want our bodies to coexist harmoniously, so my suggestion (that I didn’t see in the thread) is that if you end up identifying armpits as an or the odor source and want to minimize that impact on your clothes, you might want to try dress shields. They are inserts that cover the armpit area in between your skin and clothes and can be removed and washed (or thrown out for disposable ones). For the reusable ones, you can then soak them, wash on hot and any other treatments you couldn’t put your regular clothes through. If you think they might help you can try disposable ones to see if it makes a difference before committing to reusable cotton ones (which need to have tiny snaps sewn to the shields and garments-an alterations person at a dry cleaners should be able to do this). Unless you’re a very heavy sweater don’t use the ones with plastic inner layers though, they make a weird crinkle noise.

    4. AlaskaRocks*

      I didn’t get a chance to comment yesterday, but if you’ve started any supplements recently, please keep those in mind. I worked with a lovely woman who developed a strong odor after a few months. It was so strong that the drillers I was working with could smell it and talked to me about it. I finally got up my courage and talked to her about it, since I figured if it was me that smelled that strong I’d want to know. She was mortified, but realized she had recently started taking a fish oil supplement that matched when the smell started. She stopped taking the supplement, the smell went away.

  99. Not So NewReader*

    I have one more that I did not see listed here, OP.
    I read a story once of an older man who had a body odor problem. He went to the doc and the doc ran down the list of usual ideas. The man did not have any of those problems.
    By odd luck, the doc happened to notice the man’s ring. He had worn the ring forever. He never once cleaned it. Crap had gotten stuck in the ring and took on a life of its own. The man cleaned the ring and his problem was solved.

    For most jewelry I toss mine in a small bowl of hydrogen peroxide. I have something soaking once a week as I have tried to make a habit of this on Sundays. You can see it bubble sometimes. Then I lay it out on a paper towel to air dry. A hydrogen peroxide residue, if any, is not a bad thing. On your more expensive pieces you may wish to consult a professional as to how best to handle them.

  100. Old fat lady*

    This thread scares me to death. I don’t have a sense of smell – none at all. Once the room was on fire and I didn’t even notice.

    I worry all the time about smelling. I’ve asked close family members if I smell they said no but often close family members can’t smell you.

    I usually try to explain to co-workers that I have no sense of smell. I really would love to add “tell me if I ever smell” but I worried it might be awkward for them.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      You might as well add it, because chances are that they will not tell you if you smell, anyway.

  101. CaptainMouse*

    Okay, I remembered that my partner had written a post on his blog about how to clean smelly trail runners. This is the stuff, and it really works. You can use it on natural and synthetic fabrics, wetsuits, whatever you want that can be soaked in water. McNett Mirazyme Odor Eliminator, you can find it on Amazon and many stores that cater to serious athletes. So LW, if you find that some favorite clothes are holding the smell try this before tossing them.

  102. Cath*

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments, but most of the smelly people I’ve encountered were wearing synthetic fibers (doesn’t breathe), overweight (not sure if it’s an extra sweat issue or hormones or what), and/or had the “oops, I forgot the clothes in the washer” musty smell. That’s where I’d start, plus ask a friend for feedback.

  103. Kat in VA*

    It may have been said elsewhere (there’s a lot of comments here) but sometimes I prefer good old honest human body funk to whatever godawful cheap cologne/perfume some folks choose to pour over themselves. Especially in an elevator.

    I’m all for good scent, applied in a reasonable fashion, in a reasonable dosage. But if I can still smell your ThunderPits2000 or 100^6FlowersCompressedIntoOne when I’ve gotten off the elevator, made it through the lobby, through the security door, and over to my desk…yeah. I think I’ll just take a whiff BO or bad breath instead.

  104. Not myself today*

    Something that I hope might be reassuring: a few years ago, we had a manager who had very bad BO. It took a long time before his manager plucked up the courage to talk to him about it, seeing as he was very popular and no-one wanted to embarrass him. He was brilliant at his job and a lovely caring person, and the BO didn’t stop him being very popular and very well respected. It just meant sometimes people winced a bit if they had to sit right next to him in a meeting.

    He eventually got on top of the problem, and I’d forgotten about it till your letter.

    So your workmates probably aren’t thinking you’re gross and will probably forget this pretty quickly too.

  105. Lee*

    I’m not a medical professional but I work with a number of them and I have learned that using clinical language tends to keep a conversation on the neutral side, so if you’re worried about having a follow-up conversation with you manager you could try to frame it with more “clinical” terms, as opposed to “familiar” ones. It might help you feel less embarrassed because, hey, this really boils down to biology and science and those things are universal. Good luck and remember that this one thing does not define you.

  106. anonagain*

    This sounds so stressful. I’m so sorry you are dealing with this.
    I hope that your doctor’s appointment does well and that you don’t have any medical stuff going on. Hopefully this is something you can figure out quickly and easily, so you can put it out of mind.

  107. TM*

    You could also look at the fabrics you’re wearing. I’ve noticed that my body chemistry reacts badly to some synthetic fabrics, especially in undergarments, even if I’m otherwise completely clean.

    1. Boo Hoo*

      Any of those dry wick fabrics in my opinion cause an awful smell when mixed with sweat…which is pretty ridiculous since that is their purpose. I have noticed it on ANYONE who has ever worn them though. My husband wears a cotton shirt under these to solve this.

  108. Boo Hoo*

    FYI, Over the counter “clinic strength” has 1% more of the acting ingredient than non clinical. This is just a way to get your money. They are about double the cost for no actual difference.

  109. Maria Lopez*

    Sometimes women can leak a little from the bladder and you will have a urine smell, and some people do not wipe adequately after a bowel movement. Knowing what the smell is can help narrow this down.

  110. Professor*

    I’m coming in to say that adding more fragrances on top to cover up the smell may not get at the core issue. I had a problem where my laundry detergent wasn’t getting the crotch smell out of underwear and jeans in our household. Adding an oxyclean or oxy boost like powder to your laundry can help a lot. Also warm water gets body odors out better than cold. (Also I commented above, but make sure you are cleaning your front load washer frequently if you have one.)

    Any item of clothing other than a bra that touches your body directly should be worn once then washed. If you wear a lot of dry clean only clothes to work, maybe try varying your wardrobe.

  111. Kate Childers*

    I didn’t read many of the comments, but there is a rather rare weird symptom of PCOS (poly cystic ovary syndrome) that causes a body odor that only some people can smell (50 percent I think, but some are more sensitive than others and smell it more strongly). I have this issue and I had to do some deep digging to find out about it. It causes your body to emit a steroid smell that I’ve seen used at science centers to show people that genetic differences can cause some people to be able to smell something that others can’t. It’s a bad odor that I personally can’t smell (my husband can, but only slightly) – he’s described it as old gym smell or rotten grapefruit. It’s erratic and I’ve noticed that it tends to be an issue when I’ve been hot and sweaty and that Asians are more likely to be sensitive to it.

    It’s been kind of a bizarre issue, since everyone who I’ve talked to about it – doctors, bosses, friends, whomever, always assume that the people who can or can’t smell it like them is lying. I did find a specialist – an endocrinologist who prescribed spironlactone for me, on the basis that this suppresses the steroid. This did work, but I’m unclear on how well since I can’t detect it and never know when it’s an issue (thank God my husband can tell, if I ask him to check). I’ve also found that wiping my armpits with alcohol will immediately resolve the issue.

    It’s terrible because no one will tell you to your face you have a body odor issue, and if some people can’t tell, and some people complain, the people who can’t tell (in this case my immediate boss at the time) will assume the other people are trying to get you into trouble, and never tell you about it. I went a decade before I was finally told at work. At the time I was told, I had no clue.

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