my coworker told me I smell

A reader writes:

A week ago, a coworker in a manager position (not my department) who is also a friend sat me down in her office and talked to me because, apparently, I am the smelly coworker.

She was very kind and I could tell that it was incredibly hard for her. I think I took the beginning of the conversation well. I’m incredibly sensitive to scented products (severity ranging from itchiness to full on hives) and had just recently changed deodorants since the one I had been using was discontinued. Unscented products don’t always work well so I was responsive to that. However, she mentioned that it was an ongoing issue and had gotten to the point that several coworkers had asked her about it (in her words, out of concern, but it doesn’t feel that way) and that she knew our store manager and my previous department manager had mentioned it.

This is where I became mortified. I remember the specific instances she was referring to and they were not framed as “this is an on-oing issue.” With my department manager, I was running late to work and made it there without part of my uniform. I only had a shirt that I had tossed in my trunk awhile ago. My manager mentioned that I didn’t smell great and that because she was pregnant it was hard for her to be around me. We went to a back office, and I took off the shirt and asked her to smell it and then me. She said it was 100% the shirt. We asked the same coworker who gave me this recent talk and she agreed (she remembered the incident when I mentioned it). That was what my old department manager considered “talking to me about it.”

It was a similar scenario with my other manager: The power briefly went out overnight while I was drying clothes. I started the dryer when I woke up and didn’t realize that the shirt smelt mildewy until I got to work and started moving around. (I re-washed the entire load when I got home.) No one ever sat me down and said, “Hey. This is an ongoing issue that we need you to address.” The first occurrence was in January of last year. The second was in June. Which means that this has been an issue for almost a year, and no one said anything to me.

I shower daily, wear deodorant, wash my sheets every week, and am generally a clean person. I am mortified that all my coworkers were talking about me and, yet, no one said anything to me. I could have taken steps to fix it but I feel ashamed and really insecure that I was the source of work gossip for almost a year without anyone letting me know and I am too uncomfortable to talk to anyone at work, which has resulted in everyone asking me if I’m okay since I’m not my usual jovial self.

I’m so mortified that I’ve just started using scented products for the days I work and using the unscented on my days off to try and give my itchy skin a break because I’m so afraid that this is going to happen again and no one will say anything. I’m at a loss about how to feel comfortable in my workplace again.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 342 comments… read them below }

  1. animaniactoo*

    OP, it also sounds like you might need to make a practice of smelling your clothes and possibly even laying them out the night before to make sure that what you have on hand is not giving off vague odors of mildew/back of the closet musty/whatever.

    1. Maria Lopez*

      I think OP should also ask one or two of the co-workers about this. “Cersei, I have been told that I sometimes smell bad. Have you noticed this as an everyday thing, or just sometimes? I’m trying to figure out what’s going on.”
      I just remember the co-worker who constantly complained about the OP smelling bad, and it turned out the co-worker was pregnant and it wasn’t the OP at all.

  2. Oxford Comma*

    OP: is it possible you need to clean your washing machine? There are a couple of products out there you can use for the more energy efficient ones or you can use plain old distilled white vinegar and baking soda in the older models to do this.

    1. iantrovert (they/them)*

      Seconding this, a washing machine deep clean might reduce or eliminate the issue. And if there are icky things growing in hard-to-see places, getting rid of them will likely make you breathe more easily/feel better.

      1. JessaB*

        Also don’t forget the dryer, if dryer sheets or things don’t trigger your itch issues maybe run it a couple of times with just something like that in it, also wipe it out with a rag with vinegar and make sure you clean out the lint traps. Because the dryer can also add smells into things.

        And on a silly note, also check your shoes. I got to work one day and got taken aside and we could not figure out what happened except we finally figured out I’d stepped in something but hadn’t cleaned it off my shoe as well as I thought I had.

        1. TootsNYC*

          shoes can also end up really smelly if you wear them every day.
          My son’s were awful (though he was also putting damp feet in them after the pool).

          What saved them was the Peet shoe dryer (there’s a travel kind that’s much easier to store; that’s what we got, because we don’t have a mudroom or back porch). I don’t remember that we washed them, even.

          1. Alston*

            Sticking smelly shoes in the freezer (I put them in a bag in there) for a couple days can also kill smells!

          2. Happily self employed*

            I’m a big fan of Peet shoe dryers! I got one when I moved to a rainy area from growing up in a desert. So nice to have warm, dry shoes and boots on a cold morning. They also cured the athlete’s foot I couldn’t get rid of after my last roommate.

    2. Snow globe*

      I was also going to suggest that laundry could be a problem. After we got a newer, high efficiency washer, had a problem with a mildew smell in the clothes. I hadn’t realized that if you use too much detergent, if doesn’t rinse out completely and you can get that smell as a result. And with the he washers, you need very, very little detergent.

      Another possibility are quick-dry athletic shirts. I don’t care how many times you wash those, they continue to carry the stink.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        When I switched to the new high efficiency washer, I replaced my fabric softener with infused vinegar. Works like a charm and cleans the machine each load. Its been especially good for towels and sheets.
        So much cheaper too!

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          +1 YES! I love using vinegar in my laundry! I also use a little bit of tea tree oil. You can get it pretty cheaply anywhere now.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Borax works well getting out smells too.

            I don’t use it every load because it’s a tad spendy to do that, but occasionally.

            I keep a giant box of baking soda with a ¼ cup scoop on the shelf. One scoop per load. It also helps soften the water so win/win.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          OMG! Vinegar is the greatest! You can even make your own scented vinegar with lavender, citrus peel or whatever you like. Otherwise, the smell from plain white vinegar will dissipate as the garment dries.

          Vinegar is especially nice to use in the final rinse for towels because it removes all the goo and detergent build up and leaves them extra absorbent.

        3. Duff*

          I have been having a smell problem with my HE washer. Can you please share more about the infused vinegar. What is it and how much do you use? Thanks!

          1. HQetc*

            Nathan Sport Wash makes a fragrance free one that works pretty well in my experience (sweaty leotards are groooss). (It’s not unscented, though, just fragrance free, and I can never remember which of those is which.)

          2. ThatMarketingChick*

            Not necessarily! I use Hex detergent and they do make an unscented version. I also second the vinegar in place of fabric softener. And the deep cleaning of your washing machine.

          3. SusanIvanova*

            Even the major brands have fragrance-free versions – look for something like “sensitive skin”. They might be tucked away on the bottom shelves.

      2. hayling*

        You also often need to clean out the rubber gasket around the opening, and keep it open after running so it dries out

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          That gasket kills me. It is hard to clean/dry and molds so easily, even with the door open. I looked at replacing ours, but it’s $80 for the part AND you have to basically disassemble the washer. Totally going back to a top-loader next time – this one came with the house.

          1. e271828*

            I wipe the puddles off the gasket with a microfiber cloth which I then hang over the door to keep it from closing completely so that the drum and rest of the gasket can air-dry. I have had no odor or mold problems in 4 years!

            The gasket has several small holes for drainage. Make sure they are not clogged with hair or lint.

          2. teclatrans*

            Lolsob. I have had some mold-related health issues and our new rental has a moldy gasket in the washer. The dryer is on top, so there is no way I can do the replacement myself. Labor quotes have ranged from $300-450, and the gasket itself is $250. I am trying to decide whether I should just buy a new washer myself.

            And yes, not only do you need to always leave the washer open, you should be drying up under the folds of the gasket.

            1. Looking for Change*

              I bought a condo a few years ago which came with the appliances included, and the washing machine was contaminated by mold, especially the gasket.

              I ran three sets of washing machine cleaner, followed by a bleach hot water run. For the gasket, I soaked heavy duty paper towels (the blue shop ones) in bleach and placed them on and in the gasket, covering it completely. I left the towels overnight and voilà! The mold and staining were gone!

              I wash clothes with Borax, run an empty washer with bleach once a month, leave the door open and always wipe down the gasket after the final wash. The mold has not returned.

              Hope this helps!

      3. New Job So Much Better*

        Also check your surroundings. A coworker once had an unknown, discarded fish can under his desk. Everyone thought he smelled until they finally found the sardine can– another coworker had thought he’d thrown it out.

        1. Raven*

          We had an issue in our basement some years ago that we thought was from our neighbors’ aggressive tomcat spraying near our window well. It turned out we had mushrooms growing underneath a basket where we sometimes put wet towels. Definitely seconding checking surroundings!

      1. Working Mom*

        I am allergic to scented detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets. I like to add a small amount of white vinegar to the wash (like a 1 count pour… which is probably like 2 tbsp. worth I would guess) and that really helps me eliminate orders. (I’m a runner… my running clothes get really stinky with sweat and when I don’t use vinegar the sweat stink lingers even after they’ve been cleaned.)

      1. Fake Eleanor*

        I find that Tide Sport works great on athletic shirts and gets the smell out of clothes better than most detergents

        1. Anonya*

          I’m not very sensitive to scent, and yet that stuff makes my house reek for days. Will never buy again.

    3. skylight*

      OP, Do you leave the door the the machine open until it dries? My machine has a magnetic lock that holds the door slightly open so the machine dries out between loads.

      Also, Biz laundry booster works wonders on getting rid of body odor i. clothes. nothing else worked for my smelliest clothes, even though I always use vinegar as a fabric softener.

      1. lilsheba*

        Oh I know I definitely keep the door to the washer open whenever it’s not in use, or the machine stinks something awful.

        1. New Job So Much Better*

          Yes and be sure to run a hot water load on occasion. We used to only do cold-water and got the odor– using bleach sometimes also helps (like when doing whites.)

    4. ThatGirl*

      On ours you can also pour in bleach and run a hot clean cycle (which reminds me, I need to do that)

    5. tinybutfierce*

      I’d suggest taking a look at the detergent they’re using, too! A few months ago, I switched to a more natural/eco-friendly detergent that I thought had a fairly faint, pleasant scent in-bottle. After a few uses, though, I noticed it was somehow leaving my clothes with a weird, almost, mildew-y smell; I’m not sure if it was strong enough for anyone else to notice, but I definitely did when wearing my clothes.

      1. WellRed*

        There are definitely detergents that leave clothes smelly slightly mildew-y. I really don’t think leaving clothes wet overnight is going to be the cause.

        1. Joielle*

          I also thought this was odd. I’ve definitely left clothes in the washer overnight, my husband has put them in the drier the next day (not knowing they had been left wet for hours) and they’ve come out just fine. I wouldn’t make it a regular practice, but I don’t think that by itself is causing the problem.

        2. JanetM*

          I’d have to say that “overnight” is going to depend on ambient temperature and humidity. I can leave clothes wet overnight in winter without too much trouble, but not in summer (East Tennessee, USA), and I never could when I lived in Arizona.

        3. btdt*

          It depends where you live. In the south, especially summertime, mildew will stink up a load within hours – certainly overnight. And I don’t have an HE machine- need to have my clothes be clean without washing twice, dumping various products in the machine, etc. Lots of water, little detergent.

          1. londonedit*

            I don’t have a dryer (they’re not as common in Britain and I have a tiny flat anyway, there’s no space for one, plus they’re expensive to run) and I ended up buying a heated clothes airer to help dry my clothes, because in damp old winter London it can take two or three days for a load of washing to dry by itself, and by that time things like sweatshirts can definitely get a ‘wet dog’ sort of smell about them.

            1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

              We use a combination of a fan and a dehumidifier. We had both in the house for different reasons already but turn one or both in when drying laundry indoors. They really help.

    6. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Yes.

      On the one had, do as AAM suggested and try to get more info.

      But more generally, you probably should do a thorough check/cleaning of your washing machine, dryer, places you store your clothes, etc.

    7. Me*

      Yes. It generally takes longer than overnight for the mildew smell to come from clothes sitting.

      It’s very likely her washer.

    8. Wendy Darling*

      My washing machine broke in such a way that it stopped draining fully and had been soggy for A WEEK OR TWO before I noticed, which turned it into a MILDEW TERRORIST. Fortunately or unfortunately the smell was so bad it hit you at ten paces so there was no missing it, but there was a week there where I thought my partner and I were both going to have to throw away 2/3 of our clothes because they suddenly came out of the wash stinkier than they went in and even after we got a new washer I just could not get the smell out.

      My bacon was eventually saved by Ask A Clean Person and the miracle of chemistry that was Zero Odor Laundry but I was very, very worried for a while there.

  3. hamsterpants*

    OP, I feel so sorry that you’re gong through this. Don’t fall for the trap of focusing your attention on how the message was delivered (much too late) or fall into that trap that some do of trying to shift their mortification onto others for not communicating in the “right” way. The truth is that this would have been embarrassing regardless. Focus your attention on things you can control, such as your own hygiene going forward.

    1. Kipo*

      I disagree with your second point. Its not kind to gossip about someone and let something happen for months without speaking up and I think its ok to feel resentment about that. That’s not the same as inappropriately transferring your emotions.

      It doesn’t change your go forward plan, but I think we give a pass to people being unkind through not speaking up directly while complaining about it to others way too much.

      1. MissMeghan*

        I think this assumes that the coworkers are gossiping, which I don’t think is entirely fair. Maybe they did, or maybe they just went to the manager and said, “hey this is awkward, but I think it’s time to talk to OP about an odor issue.” It’s not a comfortable topic, and I can easily see not addressing the issue for a longer period of time to see if it is something that will come up frequently.

        OP, in my experience once something like this is solved, it’s done. I would be surprised if anyone discussed or thought about it at all once it’s addressed.

        Particular smells that get to me are usually related to breath. Lingering smells of coffee, cigarettes, or food can be really difficult to notice in yourself but strong for others when in close quarters. I don’t know if that’s a possibility but I thought it might be worth considering. Best of luck!

  4. Washi*

    Are you customer-facing? I guess I’m a little surprised that the first two incidents were brought up at all, if they were truly one-offs. If my direct report normally smelled fine, then one day didn’t, I’d probably just assume something was going on that day and not say anything for a couple days until it was clearly a pattern. (Like the deodorant thing, I understand why that was brought up.)

    I say this not to make you think that there are even more incidents you’re not aware of, but because my attitude is that everyone smells occasionally! Stuff happens! You’ve just been made more aware of it than I think most people have.

    1. Artemesia*

      People are SOOOO reluctant to have this conversation that I am not buying that is was a couple of incidents. There may well be a continuing laundry issue or medical issue. I would certainly get aggressive about the washing machine, laundry and how clothing is handled — all the incidents seem like very haphazard management of work clothing e.g. grabbing smelly shirt from back of car or letting a load of wash molder. This can be an problem that builds over time — musty clothes don’t smell okay just because they were washed again. As someone else noted a long soak in something like BIZ can get at long standing smell issues; I do that with my husband’s black Ts every couple of months; even though he is very clean and not stinky, those shirts over time in high efficiency washer never seem to entirely lose their sweaty smell without doing that. It is a cumulative thing.

      This is not a conversation that happens after a couple of incidents and laundry could well be the culprit.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        And after some time the odors are just part of the fabric and need to be replaced.

        Old towels, sheets, work shirts…all eventually will just never be free of that musty old fabric smell.

        1. 1234*

          That happened to some of my athletic shirts. No matter how often I washed it, the sweaty smell never came out.

    2. hbc*

      I’m wondering if the background level is somewhere between “not great” and “mildly stinky” and these two incidents were in “I can’t take it” territory for these coworkers. I’ve got a few friends like that, where their normal maintenance keeps things at not-too-unpleasant. They’re not labeled in my mind as Those Smelly Friends, but when something falls apart in their routine, my brain kind of lumps allll the accumulated smell history together, whereas a normally odor-free friend gets a mental “Eh, gross today, that’s weird.”

    3. PrgrmMgr*

      I’m curious as to why if the job is customer facing is relevant. It seems like her manager told her one day that her odor that day made her difficult to be around – her co-workers’ and managers’ comfort here matters, too. That said, there is a reference to a store manager, so interaction with customers seems likely.

      I’m guessing there may be an ongoing odor issue (possibly clothes) that’s making the OP difficult for others to be around and it comes up in conversations between her other coworkers. Memorable incidents like “I mentioned it to her, and then we went to a back office where I smelled her shirt” get repeated, and that would be why the one who brought it up with her mentioned those as well.

      1. Washi*

        I would let one funky day go for someone internal, but if they were out mingling with customers or clients, I’d probably tell them that day so they could fix the problem asap!

  5. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    OP, I bet Alison is right that this is something that has been noticed a handful of times or fewer and someone well-meaning is thinking “OP probably doesn’t realize.”

    On the offhand chance this is more frequent than that, is there any chance your bath towels are the culrpit? Jolie Kerr (who Alison has featured a few times) give some really great advice for washing/drying bath towels on her podcast (“Ask a Clean Person”). I was doing everything wrong and she set me straight. Never ever use fabric softener or dryer sheets on towels, and apparently most of us use too much detergent, which makes them smell mildewy. I don’t know about you, but I never recognize that smell on me, but definitely do on others. She has great tips for a corrective washing. You use white vingegar and about half as much soap as you would for a load of that size per instructions on the bottle — this removes excess soap residue. Then dry on full heat without a dryer sheet. Sometimes it really is something this small and easy to fix.

    1. Llellayena*

      This is great advice that I wish I could use, I have noticed my towels smelling a bit. Unfortunately, I never have enough towels to make up a load all on their own so they get thrown in with the rest of the clothes, which DO need detergent and dryer sheets!

      1. TootsNYC*

        do a load with only them just once. It’s a little wasteful, but it may be necessary.

        I am lucky that I can do sheets and towels together.

      2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        Or use reusable dryer balls! I have wool ones, but they also make spiky plastic ones. They work SO well and last forever!

    2. Leisel*

      I had to ask my mother why all her towels are stiffer and scratchy. She had stopped using fabric softener because she heard it makes the terry cloth less absorbent. They are soooo uncomfortable, though! I hate using her towels when I’m home for a visit. At my house, I started using dryer balls instead. But on some fabrics I’ll still use dryer sheets because I have long static-y hair and it’s a bad combination with a shirt that didn’t get any fabric softener.

      1. Auntie Social*

        You can also use 1/3 or half-sheets of dryer sheets. Better for the dryer, too, and I notice no difference between a portion of a sheet and a whole one. I use unscented sheets but I will tear off a quarter-sized piece of a scented sheet and add that if I need fragrance.

      2. TootsNYC*

        Fabric softener does make them less absorbent.

        My MIL helped me when my first baby was born by doing the laundry for me (took it home to her house).
        After she’d brought it back, I knocked over a glass of water on the kitchen counter and make a big puddle. I grabbed a kitchen towel, shook it out, and laid it flat on the puddle, expecting it to immediately become sopping wet as it wicked up the water.

        It FLOATED.

        It never did absorb anything, no matter how long I waited. I ended up wiping up the puddle with a paper towel. I thought, “How do you break a towel?”

        I mentioned it to my own mom, who said, “I bet she used fabric softener.”
        Which explained why, on the times I’d taken a shower at her place, I’d wondered why her towels didn’t do anything but push the water around. I’d thought maybe they weren’t cotton, but no–they were nice quality 100% cotton.

        I won’t use fabric softener. I do use dryer balls, but even without them, I don’t find that my towels get all that terribly scratchy. I don’t know what’s going on with cotton that gets crunchy and harsh after washing. Is there something about hard water?

        1. TootsNYC*

          I just went looking…
          hard water is indeed one cause
          another is build-up of fabric softener
          and air-drying means that you aren’t jostling the fibers and “softening” them up

  6. cosmicgorilla*

    You mention deodorant…do you mean anti-perspirant but are using the word deodorant? I do this myself, but there is a difference between a product that controls sweat and a product that adds fragrance to cover a smell. The two words are often used interchangeably but are in fact different.

    I suspect Allison is right, however. Said co-worker has probably put these 3 incidents together in her mind, and there are unscented products and products for sensitive skin that you could use instead of subjecting yourself to itching.

      1. Leslie Knope*

        I tried an all-natural, aluminum-free deodorant a while back and hated it! I could not figure out why I was so opposed to it, then realized that what I had been buying before was definitely antiperspirant. I just could not get on board with moist armpits.

        To each their own, though.

        1. JKP*

          All antiperspirant has aluminum. I also made the switch and also hated it at first. But after a little while, my body chemistry adjusted and now the aluminum-free deodorant works great. If your body is used to antiperspirant, then when you stop, you sweat more until your body acclimates and stops sweating so much.

        2. Is butter a carb?*

          The ONLY natural deodorant that has ever worked for me is Native. The ones with charcoal act like an anti-perspirant. If it was super hot and gross, probably not, but it works for me and I don’t smell also!

          1. ThatMarketingChick*

            I tried Native too, and it didn’t work for me, which was a bummer. I went through what some people call a “purge” but uh, that phase never stopped. I use Tom’s of Maine Antiperspirant in the Coconut and Lavender scent. It’s very subtle but keeps the stink at bay even after a long workday and a trip to the gym. I think you really do need to test out different brands, since each person’s body chemistry is different.

    1. Amber*

      Deodorant is meant to eliminate odor, not cover up the smell. I have been using unscented deodorants for years.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        OP there is also a product called Body Mint, which are chlorophyll capsules that remove odor for whole body. They really work.

    2. Eukomos*

      Deodorants usually kill the bacteria on our skin that creates the smell, rather than covering it up with fragrance. Antiperspirants stop the sweat that feeds the bacteria, and of course also makes your shirt damp.

    3. Laurelma_01!*

      I’m one of those people that stress sweat, and have noticed that I can smell at work if I’m not careful.

      I use the crystal deodorant roll on, than spray Dove Antiperspirant Deodorant, Sensitive Skin, 3.8 oz on top of it. It says it’s good for 48 hours, but I’m willing to test it. I keep wet wipes in my drawer along with spray deodorant at work. If I’m stressing I do the underarm wipe and spray.

      Most of the time when I have dealt with someone with “stinky” issues at work, they are having a medical issue, washer problem, etc. There has only been a few times in my life that it’s been because someone is not bathing or doing laundry.

      1. Working with professionals*

        Also, as Alison mentioned you should check with your doctor about medical issues that may cause odor. When my Mom’s blood sugar levels were high she would give off an odor and not know it. There are many different health reasons it could happen. Rule those out. You can get past your embarrassment and part of that is to take back control by checking all possibilities. Please don’t make your allergies worse, keep your head up and give yourself some slack.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I had this problem once. The agency that sent me to a job said people had complained that I smelled.

        Turned out it wasn’t actually me. My cat had peed on my backpack, but it had dried to the point that it didn’t smell much *until* I put it on and took it to work. Where I stashed it there was near the door to my office (this was way back before the open plan idiocy took hold), so everyone who walked by though it was me that stank. I had to discard the backpack.

        Why didn’t I smell it? I have hay fever plus I’m allergic to artificial fragrances, so my nose was stopped up most of the time between pollen outside and the weight of perfume in that office.

  7. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    OP, this sounds really tough. Others have offered great suggestions, just wanted to say hang in there!

  8. JayNay*

    i sympathize with the embarassment – nobody wants to be told that they smell! I still think the LW’s colleague handled this about as well as you could have. It seems she tried to be kind about it.
    So I would try not to fixate on the time it took for someone to tell you, LW. Someone has told you now, and you can start fixing the issue going forward. Be gracious with yourself. Don’t keep running over the exact time when you set the dryer in your head. It happened, it’s done. Just think of what you can do differently going forward.

    1. Laurelma_01!*

      I had a thought. I had a coworker years ago that smelled horrible. She was diabetic and suffering foot infections. There is only so much they can do in that situation, and hearing that you stink wouldn’t help. They are aware when they have a medical issue most of the time if that’s causing problems. Maybe not, you get use to the way you smell, may not think about it?

      I would think I would notice if my smell changed, it did during menopause.

  9. ACP*

    I’m very sensitive to the musty clothes smell. This often happens with my own towels and a simple rewashing doesn’t remove the smell. I’m not sure if this is the issue here, but may be worth trying. I’ve found that soaking laundry in vinegar/water for a couple of hours, washing and drying completely often eliminates the musty smell.

    1. Snarflepants*

      OP, you could also examine your shoes for odor.

      There was one time I was plagued by a Stench That Would Not Leave. Turns out, it was my running shoes. I’d taken them on a vacation, the shoes had gotten wet in the ocean, and they were never the same since. No amount of washing or deodorizing product could remove the smell.

      It’s something to look into anyway that doesn’t involve hygiene products.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I mentioned shoes above as well.

        My son’s sneakers were hella stinky the summer he had a lot of swimming lessons.

        We went and got the Peet shoe dryer, and it actually took care of the problem in those shoes.
        It’s also good to have the shoe dryer around even now that his problem is solved.

        If it rains, or if it’s a particularly sweaty day, or we step in a puddle, or if we find we’ve worn the same pair of shoes for several days in a row…we can dry our shoes out in just a few hours (we just put the dryer in at night and take it out when we get dressed in the a.m.–it’s 3 to 8 hours, depending on how wet your shoes are).

        We go the portable version, because I don’t have a place to put the one that has a stand.
        And now that I think of it, this is probably a good Christmas present for people in the future!

  10. Kama'aina Kitty*

    If your work uniform is polyester, it can retain odors even after laundering. It may smell clean when it comes out of the washer/dryer, but once you start wearing it, it will smell. Try Defunkify detergent (available on Amazon and at Safeway). Super expensive, but you only use a small amount, and it really works. I’ve tried everything–Gain, baking soda, vinegar rinse, you name it–and this is the only thing that works on my husband’s tech fabric clothes.

    1. Rowan*

      Another vote for Defunkify! There’s a treatment that you do once every few months, and then a detergent that you use every wash.

    2. valentine*

      If you’re comfortable in layers, consider a wicking layer under the uniform. If you don’t mind the smell of Hibiclens, you might try washing with it prior to applying deodorant or antiperspirant or midway through your shift. You might also change the wicking layer then, if your job makes you sweat.

      Alternating footwear may help as well.

      1. Annony*

        Layers could also help if the OP decides to keep using scented products for work. Having a layer between her skin and the shirt cleaned with scented detergent could help (although it really wouldn’t be my first or second choice).

    3. Katie*

      Bodies are weird! Sometimes they get smelly! Everyone has the occasional “off” day or it’s extra hot and you get a little funky on the way to work. Don’t be hard on yourself – this thing happens.

      As others mention, I think a good place to start (because it is something one can actually address, whereas other aspects of this concern are more nebulous) would be to see if your washer/dryer need cleaning. After that, wash all your towels with white vinegar to be sure they’re “reset” and not causing the issue. And then, as time allows, perhaps work your way through your wardrobe and wash everything with a stronger-than-usual detergent. I like Rockin’ Green, which is a bit pricey, but a little goes a long way, and I don’t find the smell to be strong. (Again, not something you need to use all the time, but it has helped me in instances where my workout clothes still smell after being laundered with regular detergent. It’s good to get out the stubborn stuff, and then you’re fine to proceed as usual.) I’ve also read that spraying the underarms of clothing with vodka can help with stubborn smells.

      If your clothing is holding onto any odors, this should absolutely take care of it, but check your shoes too. I had a colleague take her shoes off in the cubicle next to me and the smell was terrible. Shake some baking soda into your shoes, and maybe try not to wear the same pair for several days in a row (if you have more than one pair, of course), so they have time to air out, just in case this is a problem area.

      I tend to think that if you’re showering daily, you, as a human being, are probably not smelly, but clothing and shoes and car upholstery can really hold on to odors. If you are in an area where it’s safe to do so, consider cracking your car windows just a smidge overnight to allow fresh air to circulate.

      But be gracious with yourself. This sort of thing happens, and it’s better to know than not.

        1. Ms. Alex*

          An ex-boyfriend once left a sack of potatoes to rot in the trunk of his car. Even after he realized what had happened and threw them out, the smell never came out, and when it rained, it was worse. I had no idea potatoes could smell so bad.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            My college roommate inexplicably left a single potato in her closet and I came back from winter break and thought that somehow an animal had died in our room and was rotting. I was both angry and relieved when I discovered that it was merely that my roommate was very odd and had left a potato in her closet. Behind her shoes.

    4. History Geek*

      weirdly I’ve had good use of pine sol for getting those smells out (and works wonders on grease) when I was engaged to a car mechanic.

    5. Smithy*

      Came here specifically to call out “unnatural fibers” – perhaps they’re in your uniform specifically but also possible if you wear pants that are a blended or natural fibers along with assorted materials that bring in stretch (i.e. stretchy jeans, trousers, etc). Those can hold onto smells a lot longer than 100% natural fibers.

      I am also someone where if I opt to go “sock free” in any closed shoe I ever own – eventually they will just become very smelly.

      I think all of this to say that in addition to possibly useful advice, your coworker telling you have given you the opportunity for hopefully some more insightful advice – aka – identify the smell. All the deodorant/antiperspirant in the world won’t help if the problem is to do with your clothing or shoes. And to be better able to tell whether it’s a smell of mildew vs body odor vs pet odor vs other possibilities will also help in identifying what helpful next steps might be.

      Hearing that had to be very embarrassing. But only going off “smells bad” and a few examples – I think it’d be like being told where you lived had a insect infestation and that in order to stop being bitten to “treat your home for bugs”. Without knowing the kind of insect infestation, you could drive yourself crazy trying to go after ants, bed bugs, fleas, etc.

    6. PeanutButter*

      Another vote for Defunkify. I had athletic shirts I use for running that I had to hang up in a completely separate closet and only put on immediately before working out because they smelled so bad even after repeated washings. One or two rounds with Defunkify and they are all fresh and odorless.

      Also one of the people who invented it is a former chemistry professor of mine and he is a super great guy. :)

    7. TootsNYC*

      and if that particular product is going to cause you irritation, I bet you can wash your uniform in it, and then rewash the regular way before you wear it.

      Do that now and then, and you’ll probably be OK.

    8. Elsajeni*

      Yeah, especially if these are clothes that get worn a LOT — I know in my uniform-wearing jobs I was always trying to get by with the bare minimum number of uniform shirts, so they’d go through a year’s worth of wear, and, alas, a year’s worth of permanent funk development, in three months.

    9. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Also, did your work issue you/give you the opportunity to purchase enough work uniforms? I worked somewhere where 40 hour a week staff were given 1 staff shirt. ONE.

      I found this out when one of the guys started smelling funny, he said, “But this is my only staff shirt and I work six days a week.” I didn’t TECHNICALLY have the authority to give out extra shirts…but I gave him extra shirts. That’s bull.

      1. big_time*

        LOL at the idea that every comment on here is helpful to the OP. Most of them are commenters sharing their own experiences that are, at best, tangentially related.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think the concern was that it would make the OP feel worse, not better.

          For the record, there’s no rule that every comment here must be helpful to the letter writer. The rules are that comments must be kind and constructive, on-topic, and the other stuff listed here. I think the point being made here was that it didn’t feel kind (although I suspect inadvertently so).

          1. big_time*

            I understand, and I apologize to you and to Atalantaojess for my tone. It came out a lot snarkier than I intended and I should have re-read/deleted before hitting submit.

      2. boo bot*

        FWIW I read it as empathizing – “I hear your story, I grasp its horror.” To me that kind of comment tends to be validating IRL.

    1. Giant Squid*

      Agree–hopefully the OP sees this as us empathizing. I smelled for years, and nobody told me; even worse it was something out of my control until I moved out (parent’s hoarding, house and laundry smelled awful).

      I can share some advice for how to get people to be honest. A lot of people will lie straight to your face even if you ask if you smell (I know it’s hard to say someone smells, but I also think you owe it to them).

      Some things that help people be more honest:
      – Preface your “Do I smell” by giving a reason for why you *might* smell. “New deodorant, I’m not sure” or “I had to sprint to a meeting and got a little sweaty”. By framing it this way, you make it clear that you’re concerned and want to change it, and you let them be honest without feeling like they’re criticizing your routine.

      – Don’t ask “Do I smell?”, ask on a scale of 0-10 how bad you smell. Anything other than a 0 is “yes”. Though this could be about cologne or perfume; for what it’s worth I think it’s much better to smell unpleasantly good than unpleasantly bad, you do have to watch for other people’s fragrance sensitivities though.

      I know this is a bad feeling, and it’s easy to build resentment and paranoia (I think this post is going to be more bitter sounding than I’d like). Ultimately I think it’s a problem with our culture though, you can’t blame any individual. All you can do is let people be as polite as possible.

      1. big_time*

        This is such helpful advice! My father lived with very, very bad halitosis that was actually a symptom of a larger and serious health issue, but it went undetected for a long time because no one wanted to tell him. (In my defense, I was living in another country at the time, but I’m really not sure what I would have done if I’d been around). Setting context and giving a rating scale is ingenious.

        I also have a lot of empathy for you because I had similar, if milder, issues with my mom’s housecleaning issues when I was in elementary school (so, before I could really figure out how to solve some of them). Everything in our house smelled like cat and dog urine, basically, including coats and backpacks, but I didn’t know because I’d been accustomed to it. A trusted friend who understands why you’re asking and how they can be helpful is really valuable!

        1. Allypopx*

          I had this experience as well though it was also compounded by general uncleanliness of the home and my mother’s indoor smoking. I have to say this whole thread is bringing up some latent stress for me surrounding that. I do really like the idea of setting a context for the question, because I feel like I’d default to “would you tell me if I smelled bad?” in an unintentionally accusatory tone.

  11. Rae*

    I agree with Alison.

    First is to mentally move on and to perhaps enlist your supervisor so that you can know what’s an issue right away. People can forgive one smelly day. Don’t make a few isolated incidences into some kind of vendetta against you. They addressed it when it became clear (to them) that the odor was habitual. Everyone has bad days. Not having a coworker make a big deal of a bad day isn’t worth getting worked up about. People talk. That’s the nature of people. Especially when you’re dealing with circumstances like pregnancy it’s very normal to check in and say “Hey, I’m hard time being around Lavinia because of the smell….is it just me?” Because even though it’s 2020 you do NOT want to be the pregnant woman who makes a big deal out of nothing. And even though pregnancy discrimination is illegal, this blog (Including commenters) shows it still happens frequently.

    The second is to see a doctor. Clean or not, smelly is hard. Doctors can work with you and prescribe deodorants or other products that can ensure your skin is safe. If ordinary measures aren’t cutting it, it’s on you to make sure you’re prepared.

    As a note, if you don’t have enough uniform shirts for an emergency situation and you are required to wash them yourself, you should bring this up to your manager and work with them to get an appropriate number of outfits. If you do have a medical condition that results in harder to control BO, this can even be an ADA required accommodation.

  12. GigglyPuff*

    If you do have to use scented items, and honestly I find most “unscented” detergents, well smell. And I hate wasting the water, but I have a slight smell sensitivity, I make sure to double rinse (turn on the rinse function) all my laundry. It really cuts down on the detergent scents. Plus use a high-end detergent, it makes so much difference. The only scent I don’t find offensive is Woolite, who did change theirs in the last year or two which took some getting used to. (Which I just found out, Costco is carrying it again!)

    Also if you have a front load washer, leave the door open overnight to dry it out. The rubber seal gets disgusting, wiping it also works but letting it air dry works best.

    Also as someone else mentioned, antiperspirant is different than deodorant, and I’m not sure what you buy now, but I’ve found men’s antiperspirant scents less disgusting/clingy than women’s (which whenever I try takes two weeks to get rid of some flower smell from one use).

    1. TootsNYC*

      I make sure to double rinse (turn on the rinse function)
      Not easy to do in a coin-op laundry. I’d have to run the cycle twice, and at $1.75 a load, that’s a lot.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I literally have to wash my intimates twice in a coin op because of my fragrance sensitivity. The second wash is without any soap or anything. That’s even when using a fragrance-free laundry soap. The one time I forgot I ended up with a rash in a very sensitive place because of leftover fragrance.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I have had the unfortunate experience of trying to wash my underpants in a sink without detergent and can unfortunately report that agitation and cold water does very little for your sweaty underwear. (Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap in peppermint, however, works startlingly well in a pinch.)

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            Ummm, tried that. It very much didn’t get anything clean. As it… still smelled of sweat, etc.

  13. anon4this*

    I would at a minimum keep some febreze air effects/spray in my car/purse and spray on fabrics before I go in if I think it’s an issue. You may want to keep some tiny travel size non-scented wipes/dry shampoo on your person as well.
    “I shower daily, wear deodorant, wash my sheets every week”
    I’d also ask what the specific “smell” is if this ever comes up again. It sounds like you have a normal schedule and unless you handle particularly strong smelling foods (onions, cheeses, fish, etc.) or unless someone can pinpoint exactly what the smell is, it could be more of a body odor, rather than a clothes odor thing. Which the aforementioned spray/wipes/dry shampoo should conquer.
    Good luck with everything, please know you are not alone.

    1. Clorinda*

      True confession: Febreze is my emergency deodorant (I keep a mini spray bottle of it in my desk). But OP has scent sensitivities, so it may not be an option.
      Circling back to the polyester issue: some people cannot wear polyester because it reacts badly with their natural body chemistry and turns into skunkyester (me). If OP is required to wear a uniform shirt that’s only available in that fabric, maybe plan on using two a day and change at lunchtime. Also, wear a cotton undershirt.

    2. Lucia*

      That would work if she didn’t have a scent issue. As a fellow scent sufferer, Febreze is the tool of the devil.

      1. Leslie Knope*

        Also, that can work against you if you use it in the car or other enclosed space. I have a coworker who smokes in her car, then will spray Febreze before getting out of the car to come into the office. The smell is SO strong that it gives some of us headaches!

      2. GigglyPuff*

        Agree Febreze is awful, one whiff and I have a headache for hours. Years ago one of my neighbors told me they kept it around as a roach killer for when they ran out of regular bug spray, apparently it was just as effective as eating thru the skeleton.

      3. All monkeys are French*

        I agree that Febreze is evil. I recently discovered an alternative called Zero Odor that works really well and leaves no scent. It smells slightly chlorine-y while it dries, but then it goes away. I am very paranoid about odor, and this stuff has been a game-changer.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Febreeze makes my sinuses try to leave my skull.

          I haven’t tried the Zero Odor spray yet but the laundry additive single-handedly saved most of my wardrobe after a major broken washing machine mildew-stank incident so I should really buy some.

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have to leave the area if Febreze is used, especially in a bathroom. It’s hell to need desperately to take a leak, but end up doubled over coughing before you even get to the stall.

      5. Collywood*

        You can order the original scent free Febreze on Amazon. I can’t stand the scented ones. But apparently the scent free didn’t sell well. The scent free one does help with getting rid of odors as long as you aren’t bothered by the chemicals in the product.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      I use Renuzit air fresheners on my desk and keep them between me & the visitor chair. I pretty much only interact with people at my desk. I also eat at my desk which is the main reason for the air freshener.

  14. CupcakeCounter*

    So with your sensitivity to scented products, your laundry might be part of the problem. My mom has a pretty bad allergy to the ingredients in most soaps and switched out a lot of her products. One of the things that was noticed fairly quickly were her clothes – the all natural, unscented detergent wasn’t always strong enough to deal with the body odors. She started washing her clothing more often and used white vinegar as a fabric softener. That vinegar helped neutralize the smells a lot better and caused no reactions. I did some research and switched as well but I infuse the vinegar with lavender (using actual dried buds) for my sheets and towels and fresh mint leaves for the rest of the laundry (super easy…just add the mint or lavender to a glass jar and top with warm white vinegar. Top with a plastic lid and shake. Let sit for a few days and then strain and use exactly like liquid fabric softener). Might be worth a shot since clothing was mentioned and those are really cheap things to try. We also do a post-laundry linen spray with lavender and a bit of vanilla essential oil (witch hazel/vodka, water, and the oils) in between washes. Maybe having a light, natural spray on your clothes instead of on your skin will make you feel a bit better without causing a reaction.
    The other thing is that it seems like the deodorant switch is the current trigger. Check with a couple friends outside of work and ask if they think it is working for you. I know my mom and aunt had to go through a TON of options to find the right one for them. My MIL uses the aluminum free Arm & Hammer and really loves it (I haven’t tried it but it seems like a good middle ground – not one of the “natural” deodorants but doesn’t contain the aluminum).
    Otherwise, it probably isn’t as bad as you are thinking. Someone probably noticed it one day and one of the people they were talking to was involved with one of the previous instances and declared it a “pattern” as opposed to 3 different, but explainable instances over a 12 month period.

    1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

      I keep seeing catchy ads for Lume deodorant — is it any good? If I believe the ads it’s supposed to solve lots of different problems.

      1. Morte*

        It is AMAZINGLY effective. My partner happens to have strong body odor and it the first thing she had tried that actually eradicated the odor.

        I borrowed it for working a convention on a hot climate and I got SO sweater sweaty and gross and I only ever smelled faintly of evergreen trees.

        They have unscented products too! And soap now!

      2. That'll happen*

        Lume is amazing! It stops the chemical reaction that causes body odor. It is a lotion consistency so it takes a little getting used to, and it’s not an antiperspirant so you’ll still sweat, but you won’t stink. And it is safe to use on any part of your body, so if you have any other areas that get sweaty and stinky, this will help too. I have a skin condition which means most deodorants/antiperspirants cause horrible irritation/infections on my armpits and Lume has been a life saver. I don’t work for them or anything, I just really love the product!

      3. Lissa_*

        I started using Lume last summer, and am super happy with it!
        I used to have issues with rashes from all sorts of other products that I tried, my skin is much happier & the armpits on my clothes aren’t all gunky from aluminum products since I started using Lume.

      4. Filosofickle*

        I’ve been using Lumé for two years and I have absolutely zero stink with it. It’s kind of unbelievable, actually. It doesn’t stop sweat, but luckily I’m not a huge sweat-er to begin with so I don’t mind.

        What I hate about Lumé is its own smell! I use the unscented because I’m really scent-sensitive and it is absolutely disgusting going on — I basically have to hold my breath — but in a minute after it dries there is no smell left. It’s also not the easiest to apply. It easy to get too much too fast, which amplifies the smell issue. But it’s so effective it’s worth one minute of discomfort a day. It doesn’t last 2-3 days as advertised, it’s definitely one day for me.

      5. Peaches*

        Another shout out for Lume! I just started using it recently, and it works better for me than the traditional deodorant/anti-antiperspirant mix you buy at Walmart. And it works loads better than other natural deodorants.

        They make unscented, but I tried the rose and really liked it, even though I’m usually sensitive to scents. It is lotion consistency, though, so even though it comes in a dispenser option, it’s easier to buy it in a tube.

      6. Is butter a carb?*

        I tried it and it definitely did not work. I stank so bad. I was disappointed because I have been trying to use natural products for years and they don’t work.

        Now I use Native – the kind with the charcoal which acts as an anti-perspirant. I think probably a lot of my odor is generated from that sweat and nothing else is strong enough to deal once it’s on my pits.

    2. Jack Russell Terrier*

      These are great suggestions. I have always incredibly sensitive skin. Ideally I use Ivory detergent but since I can’t find that anymore I use arm and hammer sensitive skin. I don’t think my clothes smell, but I do have problems with deodorant and have found Tom’s works best for me. It’s healthier to avoid antiperspirant if possible so your body can sweat – that’s part of its cooling method. I feel for you – I’ve had wiffy days because of the deodorant issue.

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “Maybe having a light, natural spray on your clothes instead of on your skin will make you feel a bit better without causing a reaction.”

      This is a great idea. I’m a little doubtful it will work, but it is DEFINITELY worth a try.

    4. DivineMissL*

      Uh, inquiring minds want to know – doesn’t using vinegar as a fabric softener make the clothes smell like…vinegar?

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        No, vinegar washes out easily and is very volatile, so any remaining vinegar should vaporize.

      2. Iris Eyes*

        Nope, not unless you go way overboard but if you are worried do make sure that the extra rinse cycle is turned on.

      3. Amethyst*

        No. You use such a small amount while washing that it just leaves your clothes smelling like nothing. They’re clean, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no fragrance at all.

        I use a combination of vinegar/water to clean my windows & mirrors & it’s great. Everything gets cleaned & there are no streaks left behind. (I also do a mixture of blue Dawn & vinegar to clean my bathtub chrome fixtures which works wonders. Just spray & let sit until you’re ready to rinse it off. It’s like you’ve got brand new tub fixtures after it’s done.)

  15. Catalin*

    Chairs and jackets/coats are big culprits: people wear the same coat or sit in the same chairs over and over until the sweat-scent gets into them. Then the odor transfers to perfectly clean shirts very easily. I had to sort this for a relative who suddenly developed a BO-ish smell: she was sitting in the same chair she sat in after the gym and the odor transferred to her clean shirts.

    1. Allison*

      Oh yeah, and our winter coats, hats, and scarves are starting to get funky around this time of year, so I’m a big advocate for rotating coats through the dry cleaners and washing hats and scarves so they’re fresh for the rest of the season. If nothing else, be sure to clean the winter stuff after winter is over so you’re starting fresh when it gets cold again in the fall.

    2. Artemesia*

      Good point. There is someone who brings a winter jacket to our workout class which literally stinks up the whole gym; I am sure she can’t smell it as we generally dn’t smell our own stinky sweaters or shirts or coats. We all get nose blind to our own stuff. Because of that I wash my down winter coat a couple of times a season although it isn’t obvious to me it needs it. And all synthetics really hang on to odor and uniform shirts are usually synthetics– I never can re-wear something I wore to a restaurant as the food odors cling and smell like BO to me. Synthetics also hang onto sweat. My SIL gave me a high tech fabric base layer that was too small for him that he only wore a couple of times — I love it but for literally months it still has a slight smell of his sweat after many washings (and now of course mine too).

    3. TootsNYC*

      the solution for an upholstered chair:

      Mix vodka and water, and use a spray bottle to coat the chair. Theater folks do it for costumes.

  16. scmill*

    20 Mule Team borax in your laundry will help. My ex used to go to the gym in the morning and then leave his gym bag baking in the back of his truck all day. Talk about a stench that Would Not Come Out!

    The borax did the trick!

    1. hayling*

      Borax can unfortunately irritate sensitive skin. I used it on my dog’s bedding and it gave him a rash!

    2. Close Bracket*

      I recommend Arm and Hammer Washing Powder. The chemistry means the same amount of powder gives twice the boosting power of Borax.

    3. Salsa Your Face*

      Borax is great for getting sweat out of gym clothes, sheets, and towels! I add it to my wash with a squirt of blue dawn dish soap (which is possibly the most important all-purpose cleaner I have in my home), and then add vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser as a rinse. I don’t remember where I originally read about that combination but it works wonders.

  17. Vicky Austin*

    You shower daily, use deodorant, and wash your sheets weekly, but what about your clothes? Never put on an article of clothing unless you have washed it since the last time you wore it. This is especially important for underwear.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      Underwear, sure, but I would argue that most people absolutely do not have to (and should not) wash *everything* between wears. As long as things aren’t really soiled and I hang them to air, I can wear most shirts 2-3 times before a wash, and things like jeans and bras? Way more.

      Obviously this is person-dependent–OP might want to be more scrupulous about this for a little while, for instance–but wearing clothes more than once before washing is better for your clothes and better for the environment.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        And if you wash bras too much, they disintegrate and you have to put down serious cash to replace them.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, I have two bras I rotate between, mostly to give the elastic a chance to rest, and wash them weekly. Jeans get washed maybe once a month. Same with most of my cardigans. I do wash my t-shirts after every wear unless I’ve barely worn it.

        1. Quill*

          T-shirts only get washed if I know I did anything physical in them, they encountered food, or it was more than 70 degrees that day. They wear out too fast otherwise.

          Jeans have to get washed every other week or, to be frank, they start irritating my skin before they’d have a chance to smell.

          Cardigans: literally no wash unless I know they had a problem with things getting on them.

          Bras: I try not to wear the same one to non-physical activities (work) for more than a work week, but…

          1. Kelly L.*

            Jeans, for me, mostly get washed to snap them back to their original size. They start out form-fitting, and once I’ve worn them a time or two, they’re baggy. That or I’ve spilled things on them, but that’s always a hazard with me!

            1. Leslie Knope*

              That’s how I operate, too. I have some jeans with spandex in them, but they tend to wear out faster in areas like the knees or inner thighs than jeans that are 100% cotton. However, 100% cotton denim looses its shape a lot faster, so…it’s a trade off. Sometimes I’ll throw my jeans in the dryer with a wet towel to get them to snap back into shape without having to wash them. Either way, I try not to over-wash denim so it will last longer. I get MAD when I drop salsa in my lap at lunch!

              1. Quill*

                I especially get mad because it’s damn hard finding jeans that actually fit me without spandex…

                Hence using the legs of jeans that have finally given up the ghost to patch the thighs of the ones that are only starting to go…

          2. Artemesia*

            sweaters get really stinky over time and because you don’t smell you, you don’t realize that others get that sweaty BO thing. I’d rethink the cardigans. Have made that mistake myself.

            1. Quill*

              In practice I air them out between wears and can usually be trusted to spill tea on them, necessitating a wash, once a month.

              Should up that for whenever the building temp starts to be cold while my car is warm again, though…

            2. ThatGirl*

              Yeah, I wash my cardigans when the sleeves start to lose their shape and Febreze them between wears and I’m realizing the one I’m currently wearing has a little armpit-area funk :)

              1. TootsNYC*

                another option instead of Febreze is the theater costumer’s trick: alcohol and water (they tend to use the cheapest vodka they can find instead of isopropyl alcohol)

                You can google it to find out the ratio and the technique.

        2. What's with Today, today?*

          Check your shoes. I wear Rothys and LOVE them, but they have to be washed after every other wear or they smell terrible. There are a lot of dress shoes that do this.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes.

        For example, jeans are literally supposed to be washed as infrequently as possible. Or anything that’s denim.

        It depends on the material more than anything.

        It’s often about airing things out. Make sure they’re not clumped together with other festering items kind of thing. I just throw my pants over the back of a chair most days. So they’re airing out just fine.

      4. Kelly L.*

        Yep. I have a system for shirts. They get two wears if I haven’t spilled anything on them or gotten sweaty. After the first wear, I hang it up inside out. Because the second time I wear it, I’m not going to remember whether I wore it last week, but I will remember whether it was inside out when I grabbed it this morning, so I know it goes in the laundry that night.

      5. ThursdaysGeek*

        Bras are underwear. I’ve only heard recently the idea that bras don’t get washed after each use, and no, I’m going to wash them after each use. I don’t buy the super expensive ones, however. I will wear shirts a couple of times, but only next to my skin one time. Pants can be worn 2 or 3 times before laundering.

        However, when laundering, I only dry the shirts and pants for a short time, just enough for the fabric softener to do its work, and then hang them up damp and let them hang dry. That helps them last longer. That also means I live in a dry climate, where they will dry, where adding humidity to the air is a good thing..

        1. TootsNYC*

          I thought bras needed to be washed in order to spring the elastic back into shape.
          Maybe i’m wrong.
          Off to google…

        2. Media Monkey*

          yep – i wouldn’t consider myself a crazy clean person, nor do i live it a hot sweaty climate (london) but i have always washed bras every other wear (like i wear them for 2 days). i am amazed that people wear them for so long – i had no idea!

      6. Jess*

        Shameful hands up if you actually can’t remember how long you’ve been wearing your current bra for…

    2. Salamander*

      +1 I personally cannot rewear clothing, even jeans, and especially not something that’s as close to my armpits as bras are. I suppose everyone’s body chemistry and level of sweat-producing activity is different, but there are a lot of us who cannot rewear clothing *at all* without it getting funky. No shame in it, you just gotta recognize it and do what you need to do.

      1. PeanutButter*

        TBH, everyone who has told me they could wear clothing more than once before washing without it getting smelly actually couldn’t.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            Ah, but in addition to body chemistry, it has a lot to do with the fabrics you wear. You can’t wear cheap polyester repeatedly for anything…it just smells no matter what. But natural fibers self-deodorize and air out really nicely.

        1. Goliath Corp.*

          I used to play sports with someone who claimed not to need deodorant, and that’s a HARD disagree from me.

      2. Aitch Arr*

        The only clothing I will re-wear more than once is pajamas and my bra.

        Bras get worn for a week tops.

        I will note that I sweat a lot and also have OCD/anxiety about clothing being dirty. I can’t even look through the racks at thrift stores without getting grossed out. Oddly enough, I’m fine at regular clothing stores.

  18. StellaBella*

    I am so sorry, OP. I want to say that I wish you well and agree with the other comments here. You will get thru this!

  19. Caz*

    As a young female who had a manager have to give her this talk a couple of decades ago when I was 20…. I’ve never forgotten the mortification either. Iknow if was just as hard for her to have the talk with me, and I had pretty much the same issues with deodorants… they made my HS worse soi was using natural deodorants and mainly body sprays… I thought I was clean, showered daily, stuck perfume on….but thinking back on it now, I probably didn’t wash my jeans, clothes or possibly even underclothes as much because I was flatting not living at home, etc…. and I was young and dumb! However, I lived through the mortification of knowing I must have smelt enough that a few colleagues had mentioned it to my manager and even though it was cringy, I took it on board…..and bless my old manager, she was gentle about it…. but that shame has made me NEVER be that person again and taught me a good life lesson, lol. That bra that you’ve worn for a day or 2… might not be as unsmelly as you think…. your jeans or work pants you’ve worn for 3 days… might be a bit smelly to others and need washing and changing out 2 or 3 times a week… don’t stay mortified though, it WILL be forgotten and never mentioned again as soon as you smell good

    1. Legally a Vacuum*

      HS is the worst- finding a deodorant that was wearable is an ongoing struggle for me- I have to switch every few months as my skin starts reacting to the product.

      1. Quill*

        Also it’s when your body chemistry is funkiest and most unpredictable… And your taste in perfumes or axe body spray is at its worst…

        :/

      2. That'll happen*

        Lume works great on my HS. Basically everything else other than schmidt’s sensitive gives me horrible rashes/yeast infections on my underarms.

    2. Close Bracket*

      “That bra that you’ve worn for a day or 2… might not be as unsmelly as you think”

      Man, frequency of bra washing is serious fighting territory. You wear them snugly against your skin, accumulating oils, dead skin, sweat, and bacteria, but if you dare suggest that they should be washed more than once every 3-4 wearings, holy smokes, you better be wearing asbestos underpants.

      1. PeanutButter*

        I don’t understand the resistance to washing bras. I have a special bucket I let mine soak in detergent/cold water for a while then rinse and hang up. It’s max <3 minutes time investment and it doesn't ruin my expensive lingerie. You don't have to like scrub them with a washboard or anything.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I will just wear mine into the shower and wash them with my body wash, then hang them up to dry afterwards.

        2. TootsNYC*

          one of the best things I ever did for myself was take a deep breath and buy enough to get me through a whole week.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I always thought you were supposed to wash them each time, so the elastic can spring back into place.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          No, actually machine washing them causes the elastic to wear out faster.

          So you have to either buy lots and lots of cheap bras, or have to spend hours that no one has to hand wash them.

          I’ve done both, and I will never go back to hand washing those d@mned things again.

      3. YetAnotherFed*

        Yeah, I have absolutely no idea how anyone can stand to wear a bra more than once without thoroughly washing it. Particularly in a Washington DC summer. (Personal standard of thoroughly washed = in a lingerie bag in the washing machine)

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          When I was doing field work in Georgia in June, I showered and changed clothes completely twice a day – once in the morning, once before dinner.

          In winter in Northern California? Nope.

      4. MatKnifeNinja*

        I handwash mine and air dry mine over night. I rotate four bras this way.

        If you are tossing g them in a washing machine, that will tear them up faster.

        One a month I put them in a small bag and run through the washer.

    3. Viette*

      “don’t stay mortified though, it WILL be forgotten and never mentioned again as soon as you smell good”

      Yes! These are the sort of things that really don’t stay with other people. If you smell bad and then you stop smelling bad, as long as your coworkers are overall kind and benignly self-involved, nobody is going to remember it months later.

  20. Marzipan Dragon*

    I had a weird experience for a while where my laundry was smelling like dirty socks. It was really odd because even my socks didn’t smell that way before they went in the wash. I finally tracked it down to using too much “Unscented” detergent. That is also when I found out that “Unscented” is the name of the perfume they put in those products and I’m one of the rare few who can detect it. Switching to fragrance free detergent and using a bit less got rid of my weird dirty sock smell. I was lucky that the ability to smell “Unscented” isn’t that common so I was only offending myself.

    1. Allison*

      This reminds me, when I kicked up my fitness routine around this time last year to 3-4 sweaty workouts a week, my regular All Free & Clear couldn’t keep up with the amount of BO I was putting in, my clothes would still stink a little after a wash cycle and I’d need to re-wash them with baking soda, so I switched to Hex detergent and that did the trick for me.

    2. Ophelia*

      Oh, woah, this answers SO MANY questions I have about why I always think unscented detergent smells funky.

    3. Kelly L.*

      Oh wow! I had no idea some people could smell Unscented and that it smells like socks. I sometimes smell a sock odor whose source I can’t pinpoint, just kind of in the ambient air, and this is super interesting to me.

    4. Not Me*

      “Unscented” isn’t the name of the perfume, it means that they have used masking fragrance to cover up smells. Everyone can smell it, it’s what you smell instead of the scent of the product without it. Like you said though, if you have fragrance concerns you’re looking for “fragrance free”, but that doesn’t necessarily not have a scent to it.

      I have a contact allergy to fragrance, among other things, and there are also different names for “fragrance” that you can look for on a products label. Phthalates is a very common one.

      1. Lucia*

        From the EPA

        Fragrance-Free vs. Unscented

        Some products may have the terms fragrance-free or unscented on their packaging. Understanding the differences between these two terms is important for consumers and purchasers looking for products without fragrances.

        Fragrance-free means that fragrance materials or masking scents are not used in the product.

        Unscented generally means that the product may contain chemicals that neutralize or mask the odors of other ingredients

        1. Not Me*

          Yep, exactly what I already said. “Unscented” means a masking agent. Fragrance free means no fragrance added. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say by re-posting the same, or if you think it’s different info?

          1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

            Believe it or not, sometimes people respond to comments to register their agreement. Lucia was providing a source for what you said, enhancing your comment.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have a contact and respiratory allergy to artificial fragrances (i.e. not essential oils.) Specifically, I react to the aldhydes and ketones therein. I have become very good at spotting “fragrance” and “masking scent” on ingredient lists after some unfortunate formulation changes on products I was using… Ouch.

  21. Allison*

    Hearing you smell bad is never going to feel good regardless of how the message was delivered. I agree there are good ways and bad ways to find out, and maybe you didn’t hear the best way, but at least now you know. And I also agree that it’s best to hear as early as possible, but better late than never, right? The issue has been addressed, now you can move forward. Most people will forget all about it in time.

    There’s some good advice here about washing your clothes, your towels, your machine, making sure it’s not your deodorant, etc., but I’ll add that certain foods can make you smelly if you eat them often. Garlic can come out your pores, for example, if it’s a staple in your diet.

    1. hamsterpants*

      Oh my goodness yes. Many foods, including garlic, curry, beets, fish, and even milk can get “sweat out.”

  22. AnonAcademic*

    OP, I was once given a dress code talk about appropriate professional clothing. It was mortifying. I’m pretty sure the reason was ONE outfit I wore, which involved a pencil skirt that kept riding up above the knee, and that the manager felt my fabric and color choices were too loud taste-wise for an office. Nevermind that I got frequent compliments from our clientele on my outfits. Funny enough I haven’t changed how I dress much, and I haven’t had a dress code issue in a single job since.

    The only advice I have, is to have a backup work outfit in your car.

  23. Not really a waitress*

    I was at the gym once and I could not believe how bad it smelled near the treadmill I was on. So I moved and it smelled bad there too. What a horrible gym. Don’t they clean this place!

    Once I got in the car I realized it was the shirt I had thrown on before I left. Mildew is the word. (i grabbed from the wrong pile)

    I am a huge proponent of vinegar in your laundry. I was taught a quarter of a cup. My mom did it when I was growing up and I thought she was whack. (My mom was whack, just not about the vinegar) Then I moved to Florida and had horrible smelling water that made my clothes smell. I started using vinegar and not only does it help with smell, it also works as a fabric softener and reduces static electricity.

    1. MCL*

      I always put white vinegar in with my bath towels and wash on hot. I think I read a Jolie Kerr article once where she said that towels in particular are susceptible to mildew scents because mildew “eats” the scented detergent that hasn’t completely washed away. My towels seem to last a few days longer doing that, and they are nice and soft from the vinegar and tumble dryer. They don’t have any residual scent from the vinegar.

    2. Sparkly Librarian*

      I had this issue on a bus heading home from work… I figured someone had vomited, and I watched where I put my feet. But then it followed me off the bus! Sniffed my cardigan when I got home and nearly fell over. Best I can figure is I spilled baby formula on myself, or the baby spat up unnoticed, and then that was the sweater I grabbed the next time it was chilly out.

  24. kathleen*

    Just going to pop in and recommend my miracle natural deodorant solution – Stridex in the red box! Natural deodorants DO NOT WORK for me, and the ones that kind of do have baking soda that makes my pits raw. I accidentally discovered that the salicylic acid/witch hazel combo in the Stridex red box is amazing when I was using it to battle ingrown hairs. I think it changes the pH balance so bacteria can’t thrive.
    I put it on right after my shower and once it’s dry, top off with some nice smelling natural deoderant (Native) to be safe, and my pits have never been happier.

  25. Jennifer*

    I’m sorry this happened to you. It seems they took two one-off incidents that could have happened to anyone and combined them with the most recent issue to decide you are the smelly coworker and that you have been smelly for months, which is very unkind, not to mention unfair. Your friend should have just addressed the most recent issue and not mentioned that it’s something several others have complained about because that just unnecessarily twisted the knife. I hope you sit down with her after you have corrected the issue and tell her how you fell. I think it will help. Best wishes!

  26. Chili*

    I feel like it might be time for a deep clean of your clothes and maybe your closet and car? This happened to me too: even though I was washing things thoroughly like I normally did, there was some lingering odor. I cleaned my washer and dryer, aired out my apartment, and soaked all my clothes with vinegar and water overnight, then washed them twice. Something like this happens to almost everyone at some point in their lives and it’s totally okay! As Allison said, thanking people for letting you know and making changes is all you need to do and nobody will hold it against you.

    Some random de-smelling notes that might be helpful:
    – I found that aluminum in deodorant/anti-perspirant was causing odors to cling to fabrics even after washing. Switching to aluminum-free helped diminish persistent pit stank for me
    – Spritzing clothes right after you take them off with a mixture of vinegar and water (or water and vodka) can help prevent odors from settling in if you’re not going to be able to wash items right away.
    – Less is more when it comes to laundry detergent. It’s really tempting to douse smelly items in detergent, but it actually makes odors persist more
    – Keep shoe odor balls (or similar containers filled with baking soda) in spaces that don’t get a lot of fresh air (closet, car, gym bag, etc.)
    – Line dry when possible
    – Make sure garments are dried completely before you put them away or wear them
    – Don’t blast your dryer on high heat– it can “bake” smells in

    1. anti-perspirant residue*

      I had a similar experience with anti-perspirant, but continued to want the anti-sweat properties. I now use Certain Dri liquid at night (just following the instructions) and a natural deodorant (Lavanila) during the day. It’s solved the yellow pits/anti-perspirant residue issue I used to have, and the combination has been very effective for me with respect to both odor and wetness.

      1. MissMeghan*

        Second Lavanila! Love it so much. It has an unscented option, but the scented ones are mild and have no synthetic scents. I have had strangers tell me I smell nice when I wear the Vanilla Grapefruit perfume.

        I have in the past also just made my own fragrance with vanilla extract. It smells nice and you know exactly what’s in it since you made it.

    2. GigglyPuff*

      using oxyclean & vinegar paste on the pits of clothes, let it sit for a while, will remove the build-up of anti-perspirant smell and residue, works wonder on my t-shirts in the summer

  27. Jennifer*

    Also – why are so many people giving laundry advice? It was a one-off issue when the power went off when she was doing her laundry, not an ongoing problem with musty-smelling clothes. The uniform was in the trunk which is why it smelled – again not because of laundry procedures.

    The suggestions on good natural deodorants make more sense.

      1. Jennifer*

        She didn’t mention changing the way she did her laundry. She mentioned the odor being a problem for the past week after she changed deodorants. The issues with her clothes smelling bad were one-offs. Why give the OP even more things to worry about instead of focusing on the issues she actually raised?

        1. CupcakeCounter*

          Partly because the deodorant issue can lead to a laundry issue (when I tried natural deodorant I had stinky clothes that normally weren’t) and the previous 2 instances were clothing related. On the off chance she has been the “smelly coworker” all along (as opposed to the one-off instances that it sounds like) and they just brought it up again due to the increase in smell due to the deodorant change, we are giving several options.
          Not to mention lots of people do laundry differently and it can be interesting to get a different perspective.

    1. ThatGirl*

      What Clorinda said, and also because not everyone thinks about washing their washing machine, so it can’t hurt to offer suggestions. (And also, because even with the power going off, a few hours sitting in the washing machine shouldn’t cause a mildew smell.)

      1. Jennifer*

        Then her clothes would have smelled bad everyday for months. That’s not the feedback she got from her friend.

        1. Quill*

          Possibly not though, since a smell in the washing machine can depend on whether the tub has dried out between uses or not.

        2. msjwhittz*

          Well, lots of work friends aren’t really close enough to share that sort of frank feedback with one another. The work friend might have taken the easy out in that situation.

          The OP has indicated she’s mortified. She may take some of the laundry advice people are offering because she wants peace of mind even if those highly specific incidents she described aren’t likely to occur again. Additionally, other people will find this post looking for help battling their own stinky coworker stigma, and the advice in the comments may be helpful to them.

        3. Allypopx*

          Well she didn’t really get overly specific feedback from her friend on what “ongoing issue” meant. Her friend gave examples of times she knew OP had been *talked to*, but it’s possible that the people who were talking to this manager “out of concern” did mention a more consistent issue besides these incidents. It’s hard to know from the information provided.

        4. Myrin*

          It is, though. The friend explicitly called this “an ongoing issue”, which is what is at the heart of OP’s anxiety – she had been under the impression that these were two (or three, recently) isolated occurrences of bad smelling and now she’s finding out that coworkers have spoken to Friend about it to an extent where Friend sees the need to call it “ongoing”.

          (I do think the letter is a bit confusing regarding the who-said-what but after reading it several times, it seems like the two incidents OP describes in more detail are just the two situations Friend “knew [their] store manager and [OP’s] previous department manager had mentioned”, separate from the times coworkers mentioned the smell to Friend. And in fact, OP must have brought up at least the second example herself since Friend “remembered the incident when [OP] mentioned it”, meaning Friend didn’t volunteer this situation as an example. So we really don’t know whether Friend was any more specific than “this has been an ongoing issue, coworkers talked to me about it, and I also know that both current and former manager have talked to you about it”.)

    2. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

      On the chance this is an ongoing or recurring issue (and those specific incidents were just more memorable) we often mistake odor on clothes for body odor. It’s just about identifying the right problem. This sucks for OP, but once she gets past some of the shock and embarrassment, it’s in her interest to play a bit of detective and make sure she identifies the smell culprit.

    3. Autumnheart*

      Because mildew doesn’t happen overnight. It takes at least 24-48 hours to form. So either the clothes were left longer than overnight, or the washer has an ongoing mildew problem that OP hasn’t noticed before now. Either way, it’s fairly simple to clean the washer and to honestly assess whether wet clothes are laying around long enough for mildew to form.

      1. Jennifer*

        I just don’t think creating more issues that weren’t even raised is particularly kind. She’ll have sold her car, gotten rid of all her clothes, moved, and rehomed her pets by the time this is all over.

        1. Close Bracket*

          We are not creating more issues. We are performing root cause analysis for underlying issues that could have caused the immediate issues.

          Immediate issue -> clothing left damp overnight smelled like mildew
          Corrective action -> re-wash those clothes

          Underlying issue -> washer is not clean and/or laundry methods are insufficient
          Preventive action -> Clean the washer and use vinegar in the rinse cycle

          1. Jennifer*

            Those issues were already handled so it is creating more issues. If you see her response below, all she needed was to change deodorants. It’s like my mom cloned herself 200 times in these comments lol.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Ummm, that depends on the ambient temperature. My laundry in the summer will definitely start to smell of mildew when left overnight. When it doesn’t drop below 80 degrees F, mildew can develop fast without A/C.

      1. Jennifer*

        She admits that the issue with the deodorant has been happening for a week. She it’s been ongoing for a week, not several months. I could see having “the talk” if it had continued for several days with no sign of stopping.

    4. Senor Montoya*

      It might have been a one-off, or it might be more frequent, since it seems other coworkers are commenting on it more than just those couple of times. Also I can see how someone might point to a few incidents rather than an exhaustive list. (Not saying that’s what happened, just that it could be).

      Given how kind the person was who told the OP, I think that making sure about laundry (and thinking about the other suggestions as well) is worthwhile. It’s really hard to be the person who tells a coworker they don’t smell good (have bad breath, are wearing extremely inappropriate / revealing clothes, etc — btdt on all of these, it is HARD to do, because you know the other person is embarrassed and hurt, even though you also know it’s kindest to tell them.)

    5. Daisy-dog*

      Ideally, the comments should relate to the issue at hand for the OP. But these posts are reviewed by others that may have a similar problem. And sometimes it’s in the future when they can’t ask questions in the comments. It’s nice to provide everyone with other potential perspectives.

    6. TootsNYC*

      because there is a suggestion that it’s gone on for a little while, and the deodorant change is new.

      So just in case…

  28. The Ginger Ginger*

    Oh NO. This is why someone having a conversation like this SHOULD NEVER say “everyone is saying” or “the group thinks” or whatever. Own the conversation yourself so you don’t exacerbate what can already be an embarrassing situation.

    I’m sorry OP, but truly, I don’t think it’s as bad as what your embarrassment is telling you. I’m sure it’s just those 3 incidents and not some larger trend. If you’re looking for advice, there’s a lot on the thread. Maybe check your washing machine to make sure it doesn’t have a mildew situation going on, especially if it’s a front loader. If you shower at night usually try switching to morning. If you’re a repeat wearer of some clothing articles, maybe cut back on that for now. If I remember correctly there are some legacy posts about this as well, so it might be worth digging those up.

    Good luck! You got this!

  29. Quill*

    OP, everyone keeps mentioning your laundry, but keep in mind: It could be your car! If the upholstry has gotten damp a mildewy smell can cling to anything you wear after you drive to work in it, despite your best efforts. So can any smells of smoke, whether it’s from cigarettes, burnt popcorn, or your air conditioning motor slowly dying. (source: first car had 2/3 problems, the burnt popcorn was a dorm problem.)

    It’s probably time to systematically start cleaning things (washer, dryer, car, closet) with fragrance-free products and a lot of mild acids or mild bases, (vinegar, baking soda) both of which are very useful in smell-disrupting due to the actual molecules involved in scent being able to react with either of them.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      My car, which I bought used, reeked of wet dog until I changed the cabin air filter.

  30. Not My Usual Name*

    Hey there, I also am/was the smelly coworker — I’m the one who wrote in a few months ago that my boss told me she and others had noticed a body odor smell. I was, like you, absolutely mortified that A) the conversation had to happen, and B) that multiple people who I interacted with every day had noticed and talked about this, for who knows how long.

    You say you’re at a loss about how to feel comfortable at work again, and to be honest, it just takes a lot of time. It took me about 3 weeks to get back to normal interactions with my coworkers and boss, because I just always had in the back of my head, “OMG what if this was one of the people who noticed and complained to Boss, what if despite all the steps I’ve taken I still smell.” I just tried to do as much of my communicating with them as possible over phone/email, and minimized chit-chat. It just slowly gets better, as eventually you’ll stop thinking about it all day, every day. If your coworkers continue to act normally around you, that will help too. Try to remind yourself that despite whatever smell issue, they still like you — you have many good work qualities.

    I will be totally frank though, it’s been over 3 months and I still get hung up on it. At least once a week I remember the conversation with my boss, and the mortification just wells up again. I’m 99% sure I’ve solved the issue, and nobody has said anything since, and my coworkers and boss still treat me exactly the same, but brains aren’t always logical things. Best of luck resolving whatever the cause is, and with your efforts to mentally move past this.

    1. Ali G*

      Were you able to pinpoint a specific problem? Or were there specific suggestions that were helpful to you that would also be helpful to the OP? There are so many variables!
      Glad you worked through it and have been able to move on so far.

      1. Not My Usual Name*

        My husband’s laundry hamper was in the closet, and I’m pretty sure it was primarily an issue of my clean clothes picking up the “dirty smelly gym clothes” scent. The hamper is now on the other side of the room, and I also routinely add some white vinegar when doing laundry.

    2. Letter Writer*

      I wrote in to Allison before I searched the website and ended up finding your letter.

      The advice in the comment section helped me so much (both in trying to get rid of the issue AND in helping assure me that my coworkers probably didn’t think I was disgusting and hated working with me despite how nice they are to me).

      I still think about it from time to time and I sometimes find myself constantly smelling myself and have to mentally remind myself to stop. I believe my friend when she says she’d immediately tell me if it was an issue again so I’m trying to remind myself that if she hasn’t said anything then I should be fine.

      Best of luck to you as well on being able to move past it mentally.

  31. anonymousstinkyperson*

    Do you have a pet? I was once the stinky coworker, and it was because my dogs slept on my laundry. I didn’t smell it, at all. Once someone mentioned it was sort of a wet dog smell, I washed absolutely everything and changed where my clean clothes were stored. Presto, I smelled better.

    1. Quill*

      Another thing: if you have, say, a cat, where is the litter box in relation to your closet or where you keep your clothes while you’re showering? Because smells can be airborn.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I had a cat who peed on my laptop bag. I couldn’t smell it because of allergies. I had to discard it.

  32. Mme de Poppadom*

    It’s a hard subject to broach and a hard subject to hear. The official incidents mentioned are, unfortunately, likely not discrete events but memorable instances of an ongoing problem.
    Why? Because issues with such symptoms are part systematic parallels of laundry machine molds or overuse of detergents, which add living colonies to your clothes and skin when you think you’re being the cleanest.
    Or, synthetic clothes holding in funky smells for later release… for these you need to pre treat armpit areas before laundering.
    Diet, medication, and personal floral can produce a constant source of odor causing agents.
    Body hair traps sweat esp underarms and folds in skin e.g. at the braline.
    Putting on antiperspirant at the wrong time (read the label: dry skin, night before) or thinking deodorant will mask b.o.
    Speaking of allergies, some natural products cause skin reactions such as baking soda formulations.
    Courage, and I hope it will become a blessing that this was handled instead of what usually happens, that no one feels comfortable bringing it up and the poor person unwittingly goes through life being treated differently without ever hearing why.

    1. Mme de Poppadom*

      * personal flora

      P.S. let go of any shame as you problem solve… if no one made you feel bad whilst you were suffering from the problem, then of course they are not going to be any more judgemental as you reduce the problem. They will treat you just as kindly.
      Only your awareness has changed. Like that cute story of the Deaf students who didn’t realise others could hear their farts.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I know my regular medications (of which there are a lot) have altered my body’s natural aroma. I can’t do anything to change this though. I was pretty scared for a while that someone would say I stank and call me into a meeting about it.

      Did have one coworker tell me to quit burning incense at home (I wasn’t burning anything) because I kinda smell a bit patchouli now but she was cool once I explained that there wasn’t anything I could do short of dousing myself in perfume!

  33. Meepmeep*

    I’ll jump in with my “natural deodorant” recommendation – lemon juice. Just plain lemon, nothing else. For me, it works better than the real thing.

  34. MsClaw*

    If you and/or your clothing have an odor then putting on scented products will not help. In fact, it will do the opposite of help — you won’t smell like roses. You’ll smell like roses plus whatever the funk is, and that’s doubly off-putting.

    I agree with the suggestions to check your washer/dryer, make sure things aren’t mildewing, that there isn’t some smell from your kitchen, bathroom, pet, closets, neighbors, etc that is sinking into your clothing. Consider whether it is something you are eating or preparing in your kitchen (onions, garlic, etc) that is lingering on your hands or sweating out at work.

    I’m sorry; this sucks and I am definitely one of those who worries about just this thing. Probably because I am so sensitive to smells myself.

    1. Briar*

      I think LW is saying they’re not using scented products FOR the scent, but because most scent-free products are the kind of all-natural product that are just not as good at cleaning things. If you want the hard-core cleaning action it always comes with smells. I am also scent sensitive and this is really frustrating for me — for example, every single scent-free dishsoap I have ever tried is noticeably worse at dealing with grease than your classic Sunlight or Dawn or whatever.

      1. MsClaw*

        There are plenty of unscented products that are not ‘natural’. I use Palmolive and All Free and Clear and it’s the exact same stuff without lavender or citrus fresh perfume. But it’s not ‘natural’. You could be right that OP is now using Rain Scent Gain or whatever instead of an eco detergent. Either way though, my wider point stands — if your clothes are mildewed, tropical breeze scent + mildew will still smell bad. If you exude onion juice, onion juice plus Old Spice is not pleasant. I use a lot of garlic and onions in my food, and I know it takes effort to get that fragrance out of the skin of my hands.

  35. Interviewer*

    As a manager, this is a really difficult conversation to have with someone, and I’m glad you recognize that. I do not doubt that it took up to a year and multiple incidents to prompt the sit-down – managers often hope things will change on their own. It’s certainly possible that your hygiene was perfectly acceptable for the majority of the time, except for the times you specified. However, managers should note that holding feedback like this really hurts the employee, and OP’s story is a good example of this.

    I would not have told you it was ongoing for so long, because it prompts exactly this kind of mortified reaction. Instead, I would have owned the feedback myself, based on my own observations, and not brought in the specter of office gossip or coworker complaints. But given that information, you’ve been able to suss out the different episodes and reasons for the odors, that it was not just the most recent issue with body odor. I understand it was hard to hear that it was a source of office gossip, but it’s good information for you to work on a lasting fix. And there’s lots of great advice in the comments.

    In the meantime, take the high road. Let your manager know you’re open to feedback, and you hope in future she won’t take so long to address any problems with you. You can say to your coworkers, “hey guys, let me know if I have a problem, I would be happy to fix it” – or you can ignore it altogether. Good luck – I hope you’ll update us down the road.

  36. GingerSheep*

    Everyone here is mentionning your laundry or other fabric issues, which could definitely be the problem or contribute to it, but I also wanted to mention the issue of “natural deodorant”. I had to have a (lighter version) of the “you smell” talk with my best friend because her new boyfriend complained about her BO and she wanted me to confirm she did not smell – spoiler, she did. Turns out the issue was her home-made all natural deodorant (and possibly her choice to shower daily but only wash her hair once a week). She used a mixture containing baking soda, some kind of vegetal oil, and I don’t remember what else, but it Did Not Work. At all. Switching to an organic commercial deodorant (mostly) took care of the issue.

    1. Quill*

      The once a week hair washes can be a tricky thing because some people have much healthier hair like that… but while they’re trying to transition to that their hair is a bit of a mess.

  37. Allypopx*

    I’m sitting here furiously taking notes about all the reasons I must smell horrible and people are just too nice to tell me. This thread is such anxiety fuel. (But helpful tips!)

  38. Lady Heather*

    I feel for you, OP. I am gluten intolerant and when I do ingest gluten by accident, I stink – and it makes me very very VERY insecure and embarrassed.

    Nothing works for gluten stink. But for regular sweat, I use alum. Deodorant and I don’t agree because the smell makes me crazy, but alum is a kind of salt that prevents the stinky bacteria from making an appearance and doesn’t smell. It doesn’t irritate the skin, it’s super cheap, and the only downside I’ve found is that it only works where you apply it. (Deodorant is more forgiving in that it adds a smell, so if you spray it under your armpits and your shoulders sweat, you’re still covered)

  39. Letter Writer*

    Hi everyone!
    Thanks for all the advice and kind words. I ended up going to the doctor and getting a prescription strength antiperspirant. This seemed to have helped.

    As for my friend, she realized that saying anyone else said something was a mistake as soon as she said it. Something I didn’t mention in the letter is that I have a history of battling with anxiety and depression and I’ve worked where I do long enough that most people have seen me have some low points that haven’t affected my work but have made me a bit more standoffish than I normally am. When she says people may have mentioned it to her because they were concerned, I’m sure it was from that angle of “is she okay? Can we do something to help?” versus the gossiping factor that my initial mortification caused me to feel.

    The first few days after this occurred, I would immediately find my friend to see if I was okay. After a week or so, we had another talk and she assured me that she’d tell me immediately if it happened again because she now knew that it would be something I wanted to know immediately.

    I’ve slowly begun to forget about it and move past it and, really, no one has treated me any differently so my initial “oh no, everyone thinks I’m awful and smelly” reaction wasn’t warranted.

    Thank you all for being so kind.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      LW, you and I were apparently writing our posts at pretty much the same moment. Glad to hear that what I predicted has already come true!

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Depression battles are hard fights (my brain hates me) and I’ve had plenty of times when that dark voice in my head has caused me to worry far far too much about a situation.

      I’m very glad your worries were unfounded. Hope you have much calmer times now :)

    3. RC Rascal*

      Another thing— consider your diet. When my mother eats garlic she smells like the Grim Reaper. Neither my dad nor I emit this odor. It might be something with your diet & personal body chemistry.

    4. Viette*

      I’m so glad! As you say, you’ve “slowly begun to forget about it and move past it”, and I just want to encourage that and promise you that once you stopped smelling bad, people stopped being bothered. It sounds like you work with nice people who did speak up out of concern, and I’m glad your friend recognized her blunder and is on board with telling you ASAP now.

      It’s really hard to call to mind the memory of a smell. Smells are so powerful when they’re happening, but once they leave they’re typically very gone. At most, people might remember that you used to smell, but they’re almost certainly not going to have flashbacks to *how* you smelled, and I’ll bet they’re all going to forget about it very quickly (in a good way!).

    5. Old Biddy*

      As a fellow person with fragrance allergies and itchy skin, I’m so glad the prescription deodorant worked for you! Deodorant and conditioner are the hardest ones to find for me, in that they both need to be unscented and work ok with my skin/hair.

  40. Director of Alpaca Exams*

    LW, I have perfume allergies and sensitive skin, and I sympathize so much with the struggle to find soap, deodorant, laundry detergent, etc. that actually work and also don’t make your body miserable. It’s hard!

    My sweat can get pretty pungent, but my skin breaks out if I use any kind of strong soap or antiperspirant. Herbal Magic unscented roll-on deodorant works very well for me and it really smells like nothing. Wearing breathable cotton or linen base layers helps me sweat less, and the sweat smell washes out of those layers much better than it does out of artificial fibers.

    If you don’t shave your hairy bits and your soap isn’t fully effective at cleaning them, you might try occasionally washing them with shampoo and conditioner like you do the hair on your head. I can only wash with baby soap/shampoo, which doesn’t do a lot against strong grown-up smells, so I mix ten drops of tea tree essential oil into eight ounces of unscented conditioner to make a batch of Stink-B-Gone and use a bit of that to wash my underarms once a week or whenever I note lingering odor. (Yes, that small quantity of tea tree oil will be effective! It’s strong stuff.)

    For laundry, I use Charlie’s Soap laundry detergent, which works great in my high-efficiency single-unit washer/dryer. We had a mildew problem with our towels because our bathroom doesn’t have a window and the vent fan isn’t great, so I bought Green Earth Quick-Dry cotton towels; they aren’t as plush and luxurious as I’d like, but they’re soft enough and don’t get smelly. I change our towels once a week, wash them in hot water, and make sure they’re dried thoroughly before I fold them.

    To get smells out, I add OdorKlenz to the Charlie’s Soap and use the heavy duty cycle with warm water. OdorKlenz works best with a lot of water and agitation, and the machine weighs the laundry at the start of the cycle to decide how much water to use, so I add a sopping wet bath towel to the load to trick the machine into using more water. (I learned this from laundering cloth diapers.) If all else fails, a vinegar soak (one to two cups white vinegar in a washload’s worth of water) followed by thorough rinsing will do the trick.

    Hot water and high dryer heat will kill mildew but they can also “bake in” biological smells like sweat and pee. If you suspect that sweat smell is lingering in your clothes after washing, don’t dry them—wash them again. Line drying in the sun is best if you have that option.

    Good luck!

  41. Oh No She Di'int*

    There are a lot of suggestions here about laundry, hygiene, and body products. However, OP’s question is really about how to feel comfortable around her coworkers now that this issue has been brought to her attention.

    As hard as this is to put into practice, I think you should try to realize that this incident will eventually fade in everyone’s memory, including your own. And while it wouldn’t be honest to say that everyone will “forget”, it will absolutely become way, way less of A Thing anyone ever thinks about. The fact that people are asking about your well-being means that people like you. They liked the jovial person you were before and they want that person back! They don’t want to dwell on this any more than you do. Help them and yourself put this in the past by reframing it as “Oops, I had a problem. Thank god I fixed it!” Trust me, this issue will eventually fade away.

  42. Wing Leader*

    FYI for laundry: Throw a cup of plain white vinegar in with your wash and it will get rid of ANY bad smell. It doesn’t come out smelling like vinegar either, just clean laundry.

  43. XtinaLyn*

    We also had the Case of the Smelly Coworker™ in our office, and it was a no-win situation. Either you say something to the offending individual, and risk having him/her be mortified by the observation, or you say nothing, and continue to let other coworkers suffer from the smell.
    In our case, the coworker was completely offended, but it had to be dealt with (he was riding his bicycle to work every day in summer heat, and wearing a sweater to boot). Our department’s boss finally had to say something, and whatever she said worked, because we haven’t had that issue since. (He just gave his notice, though, and part of the reason was his embarrassment at being called out for his B.O. So that sucks.)
    Just know that the odor must have been really bad for someone to say something to you, and they must want you to stay around if they felt obligated to speak up. There are a lot of great suggestions in the thread–hope you find one that suits you.

  44. Temperance*

    OP, not sure if this will work for you, but a wipe with a Stridex or Oxy pad can knock out BO before you put deodorant on. A friend recommended to me (I’m allergic to random stuff), and it really does work.

  45. SAPro4*

    Not to knock all the laundry advice, but I’m kinda of shocked no one has mentioned visiting a doctor. If you have health insurance and can afford it OP, (I can’t believe I live in a country where I have to write that sentence, but I digress…) I would go talk to a doctor as well. Sometimes we have things going on with our bodies that we are nose-blind to and it might be something more than just our clothes. Maybe there’s a medical condition you haven’t noticed because you have just dealt with it and didn’t realize it was causing an odor. Just a thought.

    Wishing you the best of luck.

  46. Bingo*

    Great suggestions here, especially cleaning your washing machine. Also, wash your smellier clothes in warm water, even the darks.

    My daughter suffers feom what I’ll call excessive stink. She is extremely clean, but even so, her armpits smell. We talked to the dermatologist about it and she was given a prescription to put on twice a day that has really worked. This is a different treatment than you would use for excessive sweating. Her clothes still get stinky if she is very stressed, hormonal, or active; but not like before.

    I have allergies, so I use low to no scent products in my laundry and I swear by white vinegar yo get smells out of clothes. Also, putting stain remover on the under arms of your shirts and then washing immediately helps.

    Good luck and do talk to a dermatologist.

    1. Iris Eyes*

      And possibly also a nutritionist! Your diet can have a HUGE impact on how your sweat smells. Poster above mentions gluten, garlic is one I’ve experienced, and I’m sure there are a ton of others that just don’t produce particularly pleasant results.

  47. Ms.Vader*

    My heart goes out to you. It is so hard battling something like allergies which makes it really hard to find products that work that you don’t also react to.

    I think that you have followed up appropriately and are taking this seriously – which your coworkers will notice and it really will not become a big thing. You can only go forward and try to remember that this will be just a small blip and nobody will really think about it after a while.

  48. Pretzelgirl*

    After I had my 3rd child and stopped nursing her I was pretty stinky for a while. My hormones were super out of whack. I often would still smell bad even after showering. It leached onto my clothes. No matter of soaking in vinegar, baking soda and even bleach (for white) helped. I had to throw a lot of clothes away. I switched to Charcoal Body Wash (by Native) and Charcoal based deodorant and it helped a lot. A non talc based body powder with tea tree and spearmint also help to freshen up thru out the day. This isn’t the exact one I got, but its by the same company (don’t work for them, just love it)
    https://www.amazon.com/Fromonda-Atone-Powder-Cooling-Menthol/dp/B01NA9FEA5/ref=pd_bxgy_3/144-4065853-2783658?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B01NA9FEA5&pd_rd_r=021f4ddc-4096-4170-8f72-557e582c2c52&pd_rd_w=jiipZ&pd_rd_wg=bus6F&pf_rd_p=fd08095f-55ff-4a15-9b49-4a1a719225a9&pf_rd_r=36QFMGXKCFZGR7675QWF&psc=1&refRID=36QFMGXKCFZGR7675QWF

    I would try and see if you can get some new uniforms. That may help as well.

  49. cheeky*

    Oh man, this is timely reading- I was just looking through back letters about coworkers who smell. I’ve got two female coworkers who smell terrible, one smells unwashed and musty and the other smells like spoiled milk. Both are “quirky” and a bit oblivious to social norms. Not looking forward to raising this with either of them because it’s embarrassing for all.

  50. Hiya*

    Check your washing machine. They can develop odors. Leaving the door open in between washes can help this along with running an empty load with vinegar. You may also have a moisture issue that can leave clothes smelling musty in the closet. Even if you fix the underlying issue the smell can be imbedded in the clothing. Try a detergent for smelly workout clothes to get it out. It is probably not you at all but a laundry problem.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      This is not helpful, since many people do not have their own washing machine. If someone is using a laundry room or laundromat, there is jack all they can do about how those machines are being cleaned, unless they want to pay the fee to do it themselves.

  51. lkr209*

    OP, so sorry you’re dealing with this. You don’t have to start using scented products that make you break out or cause itchiness, but there are natural deodorants that are stronger than others. I would start looking at reviews for natural deodorants that work harder. TOMS is not one of them! Number two, do you only have one work shirt? Is it part of a uniform? If so, ask if you can get at least two more shirts. I agree that you should clean out your washer at least once every 3 months. Put it through a rinse cycle with 1 cup detergent and diluted white distilled vinegar with hot water. If you mix workout clothes with regular/work clothes, stop keeping them in the same hamper and wash them separately. Bed Bath and Beyond (and Amazon) have these charcoal, odor-absorbing pouches you can hang in your closet and put in your shoes as well. If you have pets, ask a friend to come in your house and tell you honestly if your house stinks. Many people with pets get used to it and don’t realize how badly their house can smell. It really sounds like you only have one uniform shirt, however, which in any circumstance is ridiculous. Please ask for more, so that way you always have at least one that’s clean and ready to go in case of an emergency.

  52. CoffeeLover*

    A lot of others have good suggestions of possible “smelly” culprits, but there’s one thing I haven’t seen above and want to mention in case it helps. A bad diet can have a huge impact on body odor. There are studies out there talking about this and which foods can cause smell. I know sugar is one of the bad ones. A relative of mine is addicted to Coca-Cola (I’m talking 2 liters per day) and boy does his sweat smell. Of course, everyone’s body is different but it’s worth thinking about (and talking to your doctor maybe) if you can’t find another cause.

    1. RC Rascal*

      It’s not just a bad diet. Sometimes a persons body chemistry can react with very foods. They don’t have to necessarily be bad ones.

      1. WS*

        +1, some people can eat X food all day and have no problems, others will eat it and stink. It’s very much an interaction between food and body chemistry rather than the food itself. For example, when I ate garlic regularly, I didn’t have any problems. But my partner has FODMAP issues so we don’t have garlic in the house, and now when I do occasionally eat it, people have commented on me smelling weird.

  53. Enginear*

    Noseblind. Some people just have strong body odors. Wear deodorant and use extra detergent. Should be enough to neutralize the BO.

  54. The Bimmer Guy*

    It sounds to me like these are two different odors. The first one was BO and the second one was mildew. And, like you said, they were isolated incidents that you remember clearly. So, fortunately, you’re probably not being pegged as the person with a particular and persistent noxious odor.

    And I sure *hope* your coworkers aren’t idly gossiping about your hygiene, because if they are, that’s boorish and mean-spirited.

  55. Tiger Snake*

    Since your examples focus heavily on mildew or ‘old’ clothes smells, and you mentioned using a dryer;

    Try to fully line-dry as much as possible. The sun is by far the most effective mechanism to get rid of those smells (and most of the other smells that aren’t removed by the washing machine, actually!), and the fresh air keeps it from lingering and getting re-absorbed like you do in a small dryer space.

  56. Jeffrey Deutsch*

    Having struggled in the past with body odor/clothes odor, judging from some responses I’ve gotten I can tell you some people do indeed think “What a revolting person!”

    They might be in the minority, but they’re not rare.

  57. Chelsea*

    Hi OP, for what it’s worth, I used to be a smelly person. I now use the rough side of a bath sponge to wash my pits with soap in the shower daily, and I sometimes dab some rubbing alcohol under there too after I’ve dried off. I now don’t ever smell. Maybe that will help you.

  58. Ruthie*

    Chiming in as a fellow deodorant allergy haver! The kicker is that I’m also allergic to the natural bacteria that our skin breeds that everyone has (shoes are a nightmare for me), so when it builds up on the deodorant stick after simply touching my body, I have a reaction to THAT if I didn’t already have a reaction to the chemicals in the product.

    Just want to weigh in that mosy people with severe skin allergies for any length of time can almost universally answer “But have you tried…” with “Yes!”

    I actually had somewhat of the opposite problem as OP in my last office. Because I get an obvious rash (and resulting scars) down my arm when I use deodorant or antiperspirant, colleagues started noticing and growing concerned. People would interrupt conversations to say “Ruthie, are you wearing DEODORANT?”

    This is all to say that when people who I worked closely with had the context about my allergies, they were incredibly understanding. Of my odd smells, of my unsightly rashes, and the ridiculous problems that result from my missing fingerprints (more common than you’d think for people with skin conditions affecting their hands).

    If you’re comfortable, I may mention it to the people who’ve raised concerns. “Sorry about the smell. I have a heck of a time finding products I can use and I guess what I was trying out of desperation this week wasn’t cutting it!

    And I know from experience, a lot of those “allergenic” products do not cut it!!

  59. Bethany*

    OP, do you smoke or live with someone that does? Smokers and those who live in smoking houses often get ‘nose-blind’ to the smell, but it is really awful. You can always smell a smoker.

  60. Sleve McDichael*

    You can get unscented antiperspirant in my country, so maybe you can get it in yours online. I use Mitchum Unscented for Men. I’m a woman, doesn’t matter. Women’s deodorant is for faeries and pre-teens.

    Tips:
    1. Don’t use women’s deodorant, men’s is always a stronger formula
    2. Roll on works far better than spray on
    3. Use an antiperspirant
    4. Polyester and nylon stink! Slowly change your wardrobe to 100% natural fibres
    5. Clean out your washing machine with vinegar
    6. Don’t re-use your towels each day
    7. Wear layers and layer up and down all day to stay comfortable but prevent sweating
    8. Hand washing sucks. Do it anyway. If you’re re-wearing jumpers they probably need a wash.
    9. Did I mention man-made fibres stink? That also includes acrylic and sadly bamboo. (The plant is processed into plastic fibres that are then woven into clothes. That’s why they’re soft.)
    10. Don’t torture yourself using scented products. A good smell on top of a bad one still smells bad so you’re just hurting yourself without fixing the problem. Just find an unscented ANTIPERSPIRANT and you’ll be set.
    11. Pharmacists are lovely and can often suggest solutions to problems like ‘My unscented deodorant isn’t strong enough’. Go and find a bored one in a small store and ask nicely.

    Smell problems suck, and nobody talks about them. All these things took me a while to work out in my teens and early twenties. Don’t worry, once you fix it nobody will care anymore. Best of luck! Have fun picking some new cotton work shirts!

    1. CatLady*

      I use that one too! Mitchum unscented for men. It DOES have a masking fragrance in it which can cause a reaction in some but it’s worth a go.

  61. Ann Nonymous*

    Use an antiseptic cleanser such as Hibiclens on your body when you shower, concentrating on the parts of you most likely to smell. Let it sit on a bit before you wash it off. Do this 5-7 days in a row and then once or twice a week thereafter. Use SmartMouth mouthwash…it is a miracle product. Be sure to have regular dental cleanings and have the dentist check for halitosis and tonsil stones. Make sure that you don’t wear any jewelry that can trap gunk (crevice-y rings or earrings you don’t change or clean) or even a funky watch band. Follow everyone else’s suggestions re shoes, laundry, towels, coats, chair, etc. and you’ll be the formerly-stinky co-worker in no time.

  62. Alex*

    My closest friend at work smells occasionally. Not sure why, but…occasionally there’s a BO smell about her.

    I still think she’s the greatest.

    OP, this isn’t the end of the world.

    (Also, as a fellow person with occasional reactions to products, I heartily recommend Almay unscented hypoallergenic deodorant. It’s a little hard to find but is both hypoallergenic and very effective–the active ingredient is as potent as a man’s deodorant. It is definitely not the hippie all natural stuff.)

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I used to have a boss who smelled funky. Not a
      B.O. smell, but funky. I realized it was because he drank a lot of espresso all day. I think like so much espresso that he was exuding it through his pores or something.

  63. Ann Nonymous*

    Oh, and use straight vodka to spray on the pits of your shirts when you take them off and before you put them in the hamper. Another miracle product.

  64. MissDisplaced*

    I’m sorry OP! It sounds like it’s the separate instances, but at least you know what to be aware of in the future. If this kind of thing happens often (the dryer disaster, running out of clothes) maybe you should consider a sort of back-up set of clothes you keep in reserve?

  65. lab_sally*

    Dude, I feel your pain. I started a new job at a hospital and after I was there about a week, my boss asked me to swing by HR one afternoon. I had to go there for a bunch of stuff my first week as I was a new employee so I waltzed right down there and was told that my new co workers thought I smelled bad. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. I considered (momentarily) quitting from embarrassment.

    But my boyfriend (who came home and found me crying and hugging the cat) gave me a pep-talk and I went out and got myself some new deodorant and also asked my boss if I could wear long sleeved plain blue cotton tops instead of scrubs. I think the polyester scrubs paired with the polyester lab coat was just too much for my armpits. I also have a very poor sense of smell myself, so it’s a bit hard to be my own judge (but is beneficial in all sorts of health care situations).

    Two weeks later I wrote an email to the HR lady and my boss and asked if anyone had mentioned anything. Neither of them ever responded (shrug) so I decided I wasn’t going to bring it up again if they weren’t. In retrospect, I did feel glad that someone mentioned it right off the bat rather than letting it be a thing for months. I worked there for two years and had a really nice experience. So it is possible to recover from being told you stink.

  66. Is it Spring yet?*

    This reminds me of a coworker I have that is constantly asking others if she smells. She doesn’t smell and I am not sure why she keeps asking, but she keeps asking. Anyway, I would say if it’s not your clothing or car, make sure to check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy and see your dentist too. Also, if anyone needs a good antiperspirant & deodorant that is fragrance free, I get Almays clear gel hypoallergenic, and it works great. I am allergic to all others so been using this for years. Goodluck Op!

    1. Mikasa*

      Oh god that’s me. I don’t actually ask anyone if I smell though. I have an anxiety disorder that constantly makes me paranoid that I may smell or have food in my teeth or have toilet paper on my shoe or other embarrassing stuff. I don’t know why. I’m just weird.

  67. NYC trotter*

    At the risk of sounding insensitive, not wearing mildew smelling clothes to work is pretty easy to do. Wash clothes correctly, rewash them if you leave them in the washer too long, if the dryer is broken air dry them, etc etc. The choice to wear mildew clothes to work is OP’s and it should be expected that someone will notice.

    For the body odor, that is also easy to mask. There are probably millions of people with sensitive skin issues and find ways to not smell.

  68. Boldly Go*

    OP, I feel for you! I’m also sensitive to a lot of products and had people tell me that my deodorant (natural kind, that had worked for a long time) was no longer effective, or that the odorless natural coconut oil I was using as hair and body moisturizer was not as odorless as I thought. It’s embarrassing but I know that it’s a very difficult conversation for the other person to have and I was grateful that they told me. You need to focus on the *what* and not the *when*.

    Deep breath. Take an inventory of everything you do to keep clean. Could be deodorant, could be laundry as others pointed out, could be a mildew problem in your closet. Shoes. Sheets. Towels. Etc. Next step visit your doctor as it could be a hormonal issue, medication, etc.

    The point is that you have a good friend in your corner who is willing to help you. You’ll get to the bottom of this and move on

  69. Emily Tatum*

    I once had a coworker who had bad breath. But it never once made me think that she has poor oral hygiene or that she is not seeing a dentist. I also had another coworker who had a distinctive smell to his breath, sort of fruity and sweet, but I knew he was diabetic and having trouble controlling it. He was working with his doctor, and I found out on my own that the smell was consistent with ketoacidosis. I honestly think if people were noticing a smell, they would be feeling concern rather than judgment.

    Also, please take Allison’s advice to not resort to using products that will cause skin reactions. You do not owe it to anyone to make yourself sick. Also, feel free to talk to your doctor. There are options for prescription antiperspirant, and Allison is correct in noting that there are medical conditions that can affect body odor. Best of luck to you!

  70. Something to consider*

    I haven’t seen this posted in the comments but is there any chance the smell is related to “that time of the month?”

  71. Amber*

    There’s one thing I haven’t seen brought up here, (and if I just missed it, someone please point me in the right direction), and that is also that what your coworkers might be smelling is clean skin. Due to the over-saturation of smells in our society, I think people as a whole forget what naturally clean skin smells like, so they equate it to something “bad” rather than something “different”.

    I say this as someone who is allergic to almost ALL scented products, and who is married to a severe asthmatic, so we can have nothing scented in our house except Dial soap and the lightest hair soaps we can find. It’s a little different when people are exposed to a natural scent in this day and age since we as a society have spent so much time and effort trying to cover those scents up.

    1. CatLady*

      Amber – Interesting point! I notice now that I think those with perfumed items on smell too. I cannot deal with the cacophony of smells anymore!

  72. Is it Spring yet?*

    I have wondered if my coworker has something like that, but don’t want to pry. Also, she is from another culture and lives with her family and is HUGELY introverted, as in never ever talks except to ask us about the smell thing. We hope she stops asking though, as it’s gotten where she asks everyone because she thinks we are lying to her. I told her I am honest and would tell her, but she didn’t believe me. Sorry you have to live with that, but it sounds like you have some control over it.

  73. CatLady*

    Oh man. I feel you. I am SO allergic to fragrance I use fragrance free too. And some of it really does not work. Add to that allergies to things like coconut (it’s in every damn thing) and other nut oils, etc. and we have problems. Here’s what I do:
    I use an antiperspirant that is fragrance free. Many are fragrance free. I use one now that is technically not fragrance free but unscented and it works ok! IF you’re not allergic to coconut try Schmidts. They have really good ingredients.

    -I rotate shoes daily
    -I wear an undershirt every day and change it out daily
    -Make sure you are completely dry before you dress when getting out of the shower
    -I add vinegar and baking soda to every load
    -I air dry certain clothes and don’t hang up until 100% dry
    -Smell check the underarms of your clothes. DAILY Eventually some clothes hold onto smell and there’s nothing to be done, then the shirt is done and toss it.
    – Certain fabrics cause you to sweat more. like all polyester is a no. Cotton is a yes BUT can hold onto smell and sweat so a blend is good. It will take trial and error
    -Jackets need to be washed more than you think. Same with cardigans.
    -Oh and I scrub the underarms of certain shirts BEFORE washing them. I use Oxyclean which is not fragrance free BUT I rinse it before washing.
    -Do not mix workout clothes with work clothes. Meaning if a shirt is nice enough for work but you have used it to work out in, do not wear it to work even if it’s clean.
    -Good luck! I feel you!

    -I second checking the washer and making sure there isn’t a mold problem. You can become nose blind to smells that you encounter every day. So check it out and have someone over to see if they can smell something you can’t. I have that rule because we have pets, everyone needs to tell me if it smells.

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