my boss says it’s “not her place” to say anything to my smelly, messy coworker

A reader writes:

My coworker, let’s call her Pippa, leaves a layer of dirt everywhere she goes. Her hygiene is terrible and as the person who sits closest to her, I have to bear the brunt of it. I feel it best to give a bulleted list of some of her hygiene issues:

* She has never washed her coat (I am not sure she knows you have to wash coats) and you can smell it from about four feet away. We are supposed to share a coat rack but I have taken to leaving my coat at my desk, which can get a bit cumbersome.

* She leaves food in a shared mini fridge (four to six people use it a day) for months on end and when asked to remove it presents surprise that the food was hers. She uses this fridge every day and this thing is tiny.

* It seems as if she may only shower once a week, if that. She will get increasingly ripe as the days pass.

* Her workspace is covered in a layer of dirt, old food, shed hair, water stains, and dirty dishes. She works very close to our reception area and her messy space can easily be seen by visitors, some of whom are pretty famous and influential in our industry.

* Her breath is awful but she chews mints all day long. When you show her something on your computer, she gets right up in your space and will breathily talk into your face and over your work area. This results in an eye-watering cloud of minty halitosis on your face, desk, and keyboard. Trying to move further away from her does not work as she just moves to take up the vacated space. Not to mention, our desks are reclaimed wood and the texture makes cleaning smells out a bit difficult.

* Needless to say, her COVID safety measures are lackluster.

What doesn’t track here is that Pippa is a woman in her mid 20s, active on social media and still acts like a “pretty popular girl.” She dates freely and I know for a fact her house has working facilities. She does not seem to be depressed, is not an “unwashed hippy,” and came from a privileged background.

Unfortunately Pippa takes peer suggestions and criticism pretty badly and nothing changes, including in her subpar work, but that is a different letter. I have spoken to my manager many times about these issues and asked her to step in. She refuses to do so and says it is not her place. I do not agree with her about that! It has always been my understanding that managers address employee hygiene issues. She does not take into account the effect this is having on me and my ability to work, not to mention my appetite.

It is embarrassing that I have had to deal with this, that it is still going on, and that my manager will not address it. I am considering going to HR.

Go to HR.

Your boss is wrong that it’s not her place to talk to Pippa. It’s one of the most uncomfortable duties they have, but managers do need to talk with people if their hygiene is affecting others.

If your boss won’t do it, it’s entirely appropriate for you to speak to HR and ask for help. HR should then coach your manager to do it rather than doing it themselves, but different HR departments will handle it differently.

To be clear, not all smell issues are ones people can control. Some medical conditions can cause some (but not all) of the issues you’ve described. But the existence of that as a possibility doesn’t get your manager out of needing to have the conversation. If Pippa explains it’s a medical issue, they can figure things out from there … which might mean everyone has to live with it, but there might be other things that could help, like giving her a different or better-ventilated work space.

And there’s no reason at all that your manager can’t ask Pippa to keep her work space cleaner, be more courteous about food in the shared fridge, and stop leaving dirty dishes lying around — and certainly to be more vigilant about COVID precautions as well.

The fact that your manager is abdicating all responsibility for addressing it bodes badly for her ability to manage in general. What other issues does she also think it’s “not her place” to do anything about?

No one wants to have this kind of conversation with someone. But when smells and mess are negatively affecting other people, it’s part of the job.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 477 comments… read them below }

  1. Ellie*

    I had a co-worker like this a desk away that attracted a VERY robust column of ants from my window over my desk to his stack (waist high from the ground) of boxes of new and old snacks. They were not attracted to my desk since I scoured it at first sign.

    I sent (1) a polite “heads up, your desk has a lot of ants” then (2) “the ants at your desk are affecting me because they pass my desk; please fix” then (3) “seriously, this needs to be addressed and it’s really upsetting me” (ants were ending up on my FACE)

    That last day, his manager went up to him and very matter-of-fact (but quiet and polite) stated that he needed to remove the boxes and food because they were attracting ants, and that he needed to ensure it didn’t pile up like thus in the future.

    I was SO relieved, and the employee acted immediately.

    LW, my next step would have been HR if his boss hadn’t acted, but it really us a supervisor’s job to correct serious desk and shared spaces hygiene issues.

        1. allathian*

          I’m not sure I would have been able to keep the screaming internal, at least not if I had ants crawling on ME. When I was a kid, we lived for a while in an old wooden house (built in the 1880s). Every summer, we’d get an infestation of horse ants. They don’t sting or bite, but they’re big, like 1 inch long, and they’re like termites in that they chew through wood and can cause a wooden house to collapse. My parents had to get the exterminators in to get rid of them. I was so relieved when I heard we were moving away from that house that I can still remember the relief I felt and it happened more than 35 years ago.

          1. Partly Cloudy*

            I just broke out in goosebumps at the thought of one-inch ants.

            Ellie, HTAF were you so patient about this? I would have escalated and escalated at first sight of the ants, not quitting until the problem was resolved.

            LW, yes, go to HR since your boss is a wimp. Granted, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but hey… that’s management. Medical conditions can cause halitosis and body odor, but never bathing or cleaning are just gross bad habits that are totally fixable.

      1. charo*

        Going to HR right away is absolutely the right thing to do, esp. since the manager has such poor judgment, and esp. since the employee also does poor work. Manager needs a wakeup call here.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We had like a single ant spotted and it seemed like EVERYONE was running at me all “what can we dooooooo what can we do?!?” so I’m impressed that you tried to have the person closest just clean up. But I’m like “How did nobody else notice?!” What a wild story that I’m glad you had a good ending to, that’s all that matters in the end.

      Like y’all, if you have anything that requires pest control, you can come to management immediately and not try to work it out yourselves, that’s a “facilities management needs to know” kind of thing!

      1. Ellie*

        Oh, I also let facilities know about the problem but they use baited traps which take a week to work for large colonies and we didn’t want to spray pesticides inside/on my desk. They eventually also resealed that part if the window.

        I put some D-earth (diatomaceous earth) near the entrance but again, not instantly effective.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Phew! Thank goodness, I’m shocked that the facility management didn’t say something to the person. Ours would be like “Hey you, stop being a slob, you got us a case of ants!” lol.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Bay Leaf (it’s a spice) is also good for keeping ants out of places you don’t want them in. You want the whole leaf variety – break it in half just before putting in your cupboard. Tends to last 3-6 months depending on climate – and its non-toxic to most humans.

          Again, it’s not an overnight fix, but once established will work and last (and not as messy around glasses are D-earth).

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Let me rephrase – if you’re allergic to Bay Leaf it will be toxic (level depending on the severity of your allergy). Some animals also don’t do well with Bay Leaf – so check with your vet.

              So yeah – if your not allergic it’s non-toxic.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Since the office has been abandoned I’ve been getting reports that my desk is a mouse hotspot and traps there are constantly catching things. I’ve been pretty frantically bringing up to everyone that there was absolutely no food left in my desk, because I don’t want to even vaguely chance being *that* person.

        1. Jaid*

          We have several mousetraps in our area. Ask how long it takes for maintenance to come by and retrieve the mouse.

          Hint – we’ve had to put trashcans over caught ones…

            1. Wandering*

              No. The mail staff shouldn’t have to deal with this either.
              Go get facilities Mgr/s and bring them to the anticipated mess to clean it up.

          1. StillAtTheLake*

            Or…you could taxidermy them in funny poses and place them on desks or in lockers in the maintenance office!

      3. Amanda*

        When I lived in LA (there’s a ton of these little Argentinian ants there) I had a trail of ants that came in through the floorboards from the flower beds outside, over my bed, and under my bed to find one small piece of kibble my dog must have lost. I was laying in bed when I felt them. I had never seen anything like that before. We had to put salt and ant spray down around the floorboards against the walls to keep them out. Never knew I hated ants so much until I lived in LA

        1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          When we moved to the LA area in 1977, our home was (and still is) the last one in the development. Surrounded by undeveloped land. Literally every weekend when my mom would clean, she would find scorpions under every. single. area. rug. we had in the family room area. About once every month or so, she would find a tarantula.

          Got to the point that ants were a blessing. Nothing like lifting up an area rug and finding a one-inch long scorpion with his tail hiked over head pointing at YOU.

          1. ANTS*

            Right! I hate scorpions, spiders, anything with 8 legs. Not an ant fan either but given a choice. well, ants for the win!

            1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

              And much easier to deal with! Mom seemed to always take great pleasure in boiling up a massive pot of water and pouring it all over the ants.

              I’ve always felt my mom had a sadistic streak in her….

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                From painful personal experience boiling water only pisses off fire ants. I really, really wouldn’t recommend pouring boiling water in a fire ant pile.

            2. Edwina*

              Living in the Hollywood Hills, I’ve learned to love (LITTLE) spiders. They build webs everywhere and really get rid of the gnats and mosquitoes, which I appreciate.

        2. Edwina*

          Yes, can confirm, live in LA, and when those little bastards decide to come marching in, it’s almost impressive how single-minded and organized they are. We battled them endlessly last summer and it began to feel like General Patton “ROMMEL ANTS! YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARDS! WE SAW YOUR TRAIL!!” We had to put stakes outside in the plant beds and they finally subsided. For now.

        3. Darsynia*

          The tiny ants in my neighborhood are called ‘stink ants’ because they literally smell like rotten piña colada when you squish them. Apparently it’s to do with their plant diet. They’re all over the place in multiple houses in the area. We’re trying to do school at home and they’re up in the playroom area thanks to the kids sneaking snacks without my knowledge, hah. The only thing worse than having ants crawl on you is being able to smell them after you’ve swatted them away :C

      4. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        I once called the custodians about a cockroach in the hallway of my hospital. They acted like why are you bothering us with this? It had to be 3 inches long, it was a public area, and I didn’t want cockroach guts on my shoe.

    2. Anonariffic*

      Day 1 email: “heads up, your desk has a lot of ants”

      Day 2 email: “I’m sorry to inform you that somehow your entire desk area was set on fire and burned to ashes overnight. possibly as an accidental side effect of someone trying to kill an ant”

    3. Quill*

      The petty part of me would want to send an email asking if all of his insect guests had been carded into the building but you handled it better.

    4. Lady Meyneth*

      Ah, the memories. I once had a coworker near me that kept waaay too much food, old and new, at his desk. I brought this up several times both to him and to management, and nobody resolved it. There were always ants, but they didn’t come to my desk, so I was told his (often smelly) food wasn’t bothering anyone.

      Until roaches (yes, plural) got into his stack. I have a deep visceral fear of roaches, and started screaming like an axe murder victim, so much someone from the neighboring company came to ask what was going on. I panicked so much I had trouble breathing (I’m disabled, and sometimes have breathing issues) and passed out. I had to go to the hospital, because with my disability once breathing problems get to that level, my body doesn’t know how to fix it, and it can easily turn fatal. I was in the hospital for 2 days. All that was of course paid for by the company, includind additional PTO, because by law here any incidents in the wokplace are covered by the equivalent worker’s comp.

      Wouldn’t you know it, suddenly there were hard written rules for keeping food at desks.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Geez, it’s not like anyone ended up in the hosp…oh, wait. They did.
        I’m sorry that is what it took for basic human consideration to become a freaking rule at your office.

      2. allathian*

        Oh, my goodness. I’m so sorry it happened to you. Really, things shouldn’t have to get this bad before something gets done. I sure hope your slob of a coworker felt bad about having put you in hospital, but I wouldn’t count on it.

    5. Meghan, the OP*

      Hi, OP here!

      Oh my goodness that sounds terrible! I can’t imagine. Luckily it hasn’t come to that yet, just a few fruit flies.

      1. Observer*

        There are fruit flies and your manager says that it’s “not her place”!?!?

        What else is she refusing to manage?

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          OMG, yes! Fruit flies multiply FAST. (There’s a reason they’re popular subjects for genetics research–they multiply so fast that scientists can have multiple generations to compare in a matter of weeks.)

          Your manager sucks. I hope she will change, but it remains to be seen. Definitely go directly to HR, do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Good luck–we’re all rooting for you!

      2. Blue Eagle*

        Oh no, there is no such thing as a “few” fruit flies. If not taken care of immediately, those few fruit flies will very quickly turn into many fruit flies and getting rid of them will take much longer than just getting rid of a few old pieces of fruit.

        1. Rachel in NYC*

          My office would sometimes get the plant fly variety- and it would become a hunt to discover what plant was a problem so it could be resolved.

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            Some tips for getting rid of plant flies: Cinnamon on the top layer of dirt can get rid of them. So can putting a layer of cactus sand or gravel on top of the dirt on plants preemptively (say they’re in the office, but your plant is still unaffected.)

        2. Blisskrieg*

          Can vouch. Going through my first bout of fruit flies and it is taking longer than I ever would have anticipated to get rid of them. I am surprised they seem to like the bread box.

          1. Happy Lurker*

            I had a bad batch of fruit flies this year that went after my bread cabinet. I took every thing out, cleaned and then stored the bread in the refridgerator for 3 weeks.

            Also, I couldn’t wait for my traps to work and started spraying the fruit flies with whatever bottle was close (water, vinegar or cleaner) and then wiping them up when the water knocked them down.

          2. Just a PM*

            If you’re looking for a solution, I put 2/3c apple cider vinegar in a jar, a few pumps of dish soap, and cover with saran wrap (rubber-banded into place on the jar). Use a fork to poke holes in the saran wrap, place near to where the fruit flies are. Usually in a day or two, all the fruit flies have been collected in the jar.

            1. Perse's Mom*

              Honestly if you put just a few drops of dish soap in the cider and swirl it around, you don’t even need to saran wrap it. The soap breaks the surface tension and they drown anyway.

              (We have an annual fruit fly fight in this apartment. I’ve learned things, to their detriment).

              1. boop the first*

                Ugh, yeah I appreciate fruit flies because they are easy to deal with in a HOME setting (workplaces are too wet and chaotic), but I still hate them because they’re so entitled. We have one batch every summer that is quickly eradicated… but all year round we always have one. Just waiting. We don’t see him very often, but the second I pour a glass of wine in the middle of january, here he comes to check me out.

        3. sofar*

          100% this. We had “a few” when we got back from vacation — forgot to wash off a plate in the sink and left it for over a week. Days later it was clouds of them. We started using the fly ribbons all over our house and caught thousands. Two months later, we still see “a few.” We still have a dozen fly ribbons in our house to make sure they are all eradicated.

          I used to work at a small magazine, where we also had an infestation. My coworker (who caused them by leaving apple cores all over her desk) caused a stink when the owner set out traps. She claimed the traps were “toxic.” I was already on my one-month notice for that job, and by the time I left, I had those little suckers crawling on my arms at my desk. And I am happy to say I now work for a large company with an office manager who will read you the riot act if you so much as leave a spec of food anywhere.

      3. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Fruit flies? As in ‘pesky insects that feast on rotting food and drink and live in dirty conditions so you’ll see a lot more of them unless someone does some serious cleaning?’ Yikes, OP!

      4. Ellie*

        It doesn’t have to be at the “column of ants” level to be bad! I think you are very right to want manager assistance and it sounds like it’s a problem in a lot of different ways.

        The small fridge, old food problem you described is pretty bad. That kind of behavior drives me batty.

      5. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Ahhhhhhh! Fruit Flies are worse than ants! So much worse! So hard to get rid of! They get everywhere and gross me out so much. I also feel like they indicate a rotting food space much better than ants, but that could be highly colored by personal experience. Just…. ack!

      6. ManagerInCanada*

        Meghan the OP, I had a similar shared fridge issue in a previous job. The fridge became so ripe it started impacting the work of those near it (I think it grew a new life form), so we implemented a new rule. On the 1st of the month everything in the fridge (and I mean everything) was thrown out. Staff received a reminder email just prior to the monthly toss out. That way no one had to ‘remember’ to clean up their leftovers.

    6. Potatoes gonna potate*

      OK I kept snacks at my desk and that was my greatest fear, seeing ants or roaches.
      Thankfully it never came to that. In fact, I had gone back recently after 6 months to collect my items and teh snacks were still in there but not a single insect in sight. I did hav ea coworker who kept a giant rubber roach on his desk and I startled every single time Is aw it.

      1. Ellie*

        A lot of people in the office kept snacks without problem. When ant season rolled around, you put them in Ziplocs or Tupperware and cleaned your desk extra until facilities took care of the ants.

        They vacuumed everyday, took out trash everyday, cleaned the kitchen twice a week (fridge once) and yet still, ants.

        Southern California for yah.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I had one job where a mouse jumped OUT OF a co-worker’s desk once. Mice eat through plastic….and that day we learned that they do the same with foil soup packets. Any food had to be in metal cookie tins.
          Our building’s back alley was shared by restaurants. They switched to sticky traps after pesticide made some die in the walls and the HVAC system. The landlord’s *first* solution was to spray a smell-killer they said was used by CSI and morticians..
          (Midtown Manhattan, 1990s, old building.)

          1. Gatomon*

            That happened to my office too! Later I discovered that mouse had gotten in my fancy dark chocolate stash too so it probably died of the chocolate eventually, but we didn’t catch it. I keep my chocolate in a big sealed Tupperware container in plain sight now.

    7. Carli*

      At my one workplace, we had a coworker who had apparently never been taught workplace (or some general) etiquette and so we essentially had to teach him about office cleanliness and other comportment.

      One Christmas season, there were three of us left at the end of the last day we would be in the office until after Christmas. (Our company found it cheaper to pay us to take off several days than to keep the lights on for a smaller staff.) We were making sure that everything was fine to leave as it was and nothing would spoil or otherwise cause a problem. Even though we all knew to empty our trash cans before leaving (the cleaning crew had a cutoff time on the last day), this one coworker had left some trash in his. And it was fresh produce (carrot ends/peels) trash. I was so mad as the three of us looked at his future-compost-pile trash can. We emptied it b/c we had to at that point but I wouldn’t let them put his trash can back at his desk. It took weeks after we got back from vacay for him to understand why he didn’t have a trash can. He finally “stole” mine as a prank b/c he thought I’d been pranking him. I then calmly explained that no it was not a prank, but as he wasn’t responsible enough to empty his trash can before the holidays and left gross garbage in it, he no longer had a trash can.

      I think we eventually let him have it back, but I still remember that feeling of looking into his trashcan and being tired of one of us women having to clean up after him. Again.

  2. AnonInTheCity*

    I have no advice but I think I might have gone to grad school with Pippa. I wish someone in my cohort had gotten up the nerve to talk to our department chair about it. Instead I’m sorry to say we all just kind of made fun of her behind her back for being stinky.

    (I also was today years old when I learned you have to wash coats? But maybe they get stinkier if they’re worn by a stinky person. I’ve never noticed any odors on mine.)

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Oh yes, washing coats is a thing. I had one employee that was stinky coat guy. I’m not particularly shy and know that the stinkyness was mostly a factor of the field work he did and his dog. So anytime I’d start to smell it, it would be “Hey Fergus… your coat is mighty furry … maybe time to wash it” It became easier when his son started working there, because he was the one who would notice before I generally did… “Hey Fergus… your coat stinks do I have to tell mom to wash it for you?”

      Back to coat washing… it depends on a lot of factors, how often you wear it, how it gets stored, public transportation, where you wear it (restaurants with pungent food), how your house smells, pets, and so on.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, dogs. I bought a dress on eBay once and when it arrived OMG IT REEKED OF DOG. Like, I’m fairly certain the former owner’s dog had been sleeping on it and she just hair-rollered it before she sent it to me (it wasn’t furry, just aggressively smelly). Fortunately it washed out.

        I can’t wash my regular winter coat but I can have it dry cleaned if I have to. I do check it for stink/mustiness when it comes out of summer hibernation.

        1. Quill*

          I need to wash my winter coat before it gets brought back out in late fall… generally I try to wash at the end of coat season but this year I didn’t due to expecting to have to go back to work some very cold april morning.

          And honestly how do people not get visible dirt on their clothes and have to wash them for long enough to build up a consistent coat odor?

            1. Quill*

              Then again until recently I had a dog, and my idea of a winter coat is very midwestern. It better be rated up to -10 and partially waterproof.

          1. moql*

            I’m not quite sure how you get stains on your coats regularly, though? Do you eat in them? My coats I wear on hikes, etc get washed regularly, but I don’t think I’ve ever washed my work coat. I wear layers, so it’s never getting smells/dirt from the inside and I’m not sure how to get the outside dirty bar some weird accident.

            1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

              Drink more often than eat: hot chocolate is a visible stain, and tea with milk and sugar can also be a problem.

        2. Grace Poole*

          In the before times when we worked in the office, one of my coworker’s coats *reeked* of dog (and wet dog when it rained/snowed.) It was one of those situations where I waffled on “do I say something? Is this a big deal?” She does have dogs, so she might have been nose blind to it. I was not.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            And I will say that nose-blindness is a real thing. If you are constantly around “x smell” you will eventually just process it as normal.

            (Spoken as the mom of a tween who just doesn’t get why towels and sheets need washed regularly. It is an ongoing discussion.)

            1. schnauzerfan*

              Smokers coats. OMG.

              Also anyone who does mechanics type work. If you’ve changed the oil in your car or spilled a little gas while fueling, anything like that. Those smells linger, at least to my nose. Of course, my dad was a mechanic and he used to make me or mom sniff him over if he wanted to go out after getting off work. He’d get cleaned up and put on fresh clothing as still the smell of the shop lingered.

              1. MusicWithRocksIn*

                Yup. Why I know that all coats need to be washed is entirely because I went to collage when it was still legal to smoke in bars and restaurants. One night out and your coat would reek the next day.

                1. allathian*

                  Yeah, me too. Luckily I lived in an apartment with a small airing balcony, so I could just hang my coat outdoors and it would get rid of the smoke stink. I lived in a dead-end street so there was almost no traffic, but even exhaust fumes would have been better than smoke…

              2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                One of my coats reeks of swarfega and wd40, after dad sat on it after a long session fixing the car. I’m trying to air it out still.

          2. Fire Lord Azula*

            I spent 18 months as the caretaker for an elderly, incontinent, paraplegic dog. The entire time, I was terrified that I was becoming nose-blind to the smell of dog urine and would constantly ask a friend at work to make sure I smelled nice.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Dry cleaning all my winter outerwear at the end of the season is a regular thing for me. Here in the midwest, I can wear my winter coats from October to May, so they might get a little…fragrant…before too long. If they do, I use Dryel or Woolite dry cleaning sheets, and they work very well.

        Spilled coffee and salt stains? Those need a dry cleaner, stat.

      3. yala*

        I worry about being the Stinky Coat Guy. I have a leather jacket that I wear most of the time because it’s freezing in our office. But…I don’t really know how to CLEAN a leather jacket?

        I brought it home to mend some tears during the lockdown and haven’t brought it back yet. But I’d LIKE to. But…stinky?

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            This. If you are a little worried about sweat smells, you can also spray the lining with a 1:1 cheap vodka and water combo when you take the coat off in the evening. It kills the B.O. bacteria, but because it’s diluted won’t make you smell like a bar, it also doesn’t reek of perfumes like Febreeze, so it’s good for those sensitive to that.

        1. The*

          You can spot-wash the lining with hand towel and some mild soap, but be careful not to make it too soapy or it’s tough to get it all “rinsed” out. If you get things on the leather exterior, you can use a soft (lint-free if possible) cloth and mild face soap (like Noxema for sensitive skin, no acne medicine) to clean the leather.

          I have a light brown leather jacket I wear quite a bit that has stretchy knit cuffs and I have to wash those often. They always seem to get grungy! Sometimes I’ll get stains on the leather right above the cuff, and they show pretty badly on the light color, so I looked up ways to be able to clean it :)

        2. CommanderBanana*

          You can buy leather cleaning kits – it also helps maintain the leather and keep it supple and waterproof. Higher-end leather jackets often have the lining sewn in in a way that it can be removed, cleaned and resewn. I have a lot of vintage clothing and many of the coats with fur collars and trim are made so the fur can be taken off and then re-attached after the coat is cleaned. Also makes the coat more versatile for spring/fall instead of just winter.

      4. Lizzo*

        Restaurant smells getting attached to any clothing–but particularly nice and potentially dry-clean only clothing–is THE WORST. :-( That includes coffee shops!

      5. Glitsy Gus*

        Agreed. Most coats don’t need cleaning often, but some fabrics and living situations will require more often than others. Wool can collect odors faster than nylon, for example, smokers and pet owners probably need to clean coats more often, that kind of thing. I generally take mine to the cleaners at the start of winter when I take it out of storage, in spring when I put it back in storage, and usually once in the middle of winter. If my clumsiness gets the better of me, like the time I spilled a latte down the front of my coat which caused it to smell like sour milk within an hour, back to the dry cleaner it goes. We don’t have a super long cold season here, if I lived somewhere with 6+ months of coat weather, I may need to throw in another cleaning.

    2. Merci Dee*

      Wash/clean/launder in some way, yes. My best winter coat is a gorgeous maroon wool pea coat. I love that thing like crazy, and it’s wonderfully toasty warm. But after every other winter (because I live in the southeast, where I might have to wear it a total of 10 or 12 times a year), I take it to the dry cleaners to have it cleaned and to have any loose buttons repaired. Wool is a great insulator and does a fantastic job of keeping the body warm, but it has a tendency to pick up odors from your surroundings, and especially if it’s just left in the coat closet to sit during the warmer months.

      1. All.Is.On.*

        I have a nice wool coat and I quit smoking this summer. Your post just made me think to pull it out and see if it smells. It definitely does – I’ll have to get it dry cleaned before the winter weather arrives!

        1. Petticoatsandpincushions*

          Let it sit in the sun for a while and then put it in a garment bag along with some activated charcoal- sun and charcoal are even better for getting rid of smells than dry cleaning :)

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            thanks for the tip! I don’t smoke but my partner does and I’m sick of my clothes stinking because of him smoking next to me.
            Does it also work for barbecue stink? My partner will start up a fire for barbecue with the laundry drying right next to him…

        2. Partly Cloudy*

          Congrats on quitting smoking, especially during COVID! For a little while there, I was considering taking it up. Kidding… sort of.

      2. yala*

        One of the great woes of living in the southeast is only being able to wear our Nice Winter Clothes for a week or two–IF we’re lucky.

        (I swear we used to have winter. I have Nice Tops that I know I used to wear for Christmas that would have me pass out from heat stroke now.)

      3. allathian*

        We have an old cedar-lined traveling trunk. We use that to store our woolen winter clothes over the summer months. Cedar is also a moth repellent. Some people don’t like the smell of cedar but it’s definitely better than a stale closet smell, especially if your summer’s humid.

    3. nona*

      Depends on the coat. I don’t wash my coats on a regular basis, but will do so if stained or dirty around the cuffs. Most are probably labeled as dry clean, if anything. It’s probably more likely that one would brush them off or air them out if they developed an odor (like from a smoky bar).

      If it’s a BO order, the armpits are the most likely culprit and a soak with a clear alcohol (rubbing alcohol or vodka) should be enough to kill the bacteria and therefore not need a full on cleaning. Obviously, test the alcohol on a hidden spot of coat fabric to make sure it doesn’t have other affects.

    4. Jen*

      I wash mine super infrequently as well, and just to keep clean but yes they can develop an odor! I had a coworker who smoked in hers and then came back into the office. The office constantly smelled like cigarettes until spring!

    5. Ana Gram*

      I totally didn’t know about washing coats. I think my coat just smells like a coat? Hmmm. I’m gonna sniff the coat closet when I get home.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        I just ran and smelled all my coats. I am relieved to report that none of them stink (I think?) and none of them have ever been washed. I am pretty crazy about always wearing a layer between my armpits and my coats, so that probably helps.

        I probably *could* wash my winter coats, but how does one even clean a waxed cotton jacket or a wool peacoat?

        1. Merci Dee*

          Don’t know about the waxed cotton jacket, but dry cleaning would take care of the wool pea coat. It’s what I do with mine.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Same: I dry clean my pea coat as needed. No way I could wash it–it’s far too heavy–but that’s not a reason not to clean it.

        2. Teapot Tía*

          Professional cleaners. Definitely for wool. Waxed cotton, you probably have to hand wash the inside fabric.

        3. Beth Jacobs*

          I think a coat needs a wash for um…. ballpark… every 300 hours worn. So if you have multiple coats, you might now have hit that number on any of them. I generally dry clean mine at the start of the season.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            Oh I live near the Canadian boarder. I have definitely hit 300 hours on all my coats.
            Its also weird that I never really learned about coat-washing, having grown up in an atmosphere of near-year-round coat-wearers. But we are pretty big on layering up here, which I really do think helps. I think it would be incredibly rare day that I sweated through to my coat layer.

            1. schnauzerfan*

              I think the colder it is, the less likely you need to wash the winter coat. If you have 3 layers on under the coat the chances of body chemicals reaching the coat are slim, so unless you are around smokers, dogs, and other smelly things the cold are probably keeps it pretty fresh. Now if you chop wood, do strenuous activity, etc., in your coat in temps that are cold enough for a jacket but warm enough to cause you to break a sweat and have only a thin layer under the coat… yeah. Could get a little ripe.

              1. allathian*

                Yep. But also, if you’re in a cold climate, airing the coat outdoors, on the porch or balcony if you have one, gets rid of smells pretty efficiently. I only clean my winter coats if they get stained, and salt stains can be an issue downtown. Otherwise I air them. And with at least two layers between the coat and my skin, I’ve never had to get a coat cleaned because of body odor. At least not the heavy winter coats. The lighter coats I wear in spring and fall are a different matter. I have more than one of those so they can be washed even in the middle of the season. But they’re also machine washable, even if the recommendation is to not wash them more than absolutely necessary, because washing can damage the waterproof coating. Last winter was very warm, though, so I only wore my thick winter coat on a few days.

            2. Harper the Other One*

              I didn’t find out about coat washing for ages because as a kid/teen, I grew out of or wore out my coats before they need it! Fortunately I do not seem to create stinky coats but I do get them cleaned every year because of salt etc.

        4. Ana Gram*

          Ok I got the husband to sniff the coat closet and he says it smells fine. And he’s picky about smells so I think I’m good. Also, I only wear coat when it get super cold or it’s snowing. Otherwise, I layer up with Under Armour cold gear and a hoodie. So I guess that helps? I’ll probably dry clean them this year just to be safe.

        5. String Theory*

          For waxed cotton you can’t do much more than wipe down with a damp cloth. Anything else will remove the wax. But you can air it out in the sun outside if it has picked up some kind of smell. Or use the activated charcoal trick (put garment in sealable tote. Put a small container of activated charcoal inside the tote. Seal the tote and leave it for a week or two. Smells gone)

        6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I have never washed a coat. Jackets, yes, but coats never. With Stella McCartney’s blessing: she says never to wash suits either, just wash spots that get dirty, never the whole garment.

      2. Ms. Ann Thropy*

        Coats can absolutely absorb odors, and should be cleaned according to the label directions. Also, if you leave a wool coat uncleaned in a closet over the summer you may have moth holes come the next winter. Stains may also show up that were not visible when you put it away for the season.

      3. Quickbeam*

        I never heard of washing coats as a thing. Mine are all wool…I brush them and hang them out on a line. It’s WI so wool is 10 months a year. No pets though.

        1. allathian*

          Airing them outdoors does get rid of any smells. It’s pretty standard procedure here. Most apartments with balconies also include a rack that’s fixed to the side wall and can be folded up against it where you can put coat hangers to freshen them up. At least all the apartments where I’ve lived that had a balcony had them.

    6. Triumphant Fox*

      It can depend on how you use them and the materials too. Are you hiking through a lot of snow on your way to the bus, getting sweaty inside? Yeah, that probably needs to be washed every so often. If you have several layers between you and the coat, then I wouldn’t worry about it. The downy ones are like pillows, they can be washed. You can always dry clean too – let them handle it.

      1. Krabby*

        Oh man, I remember having to throw out a down coat because I worked in an office over a diner with really poor ventilation. I washed it 4-5 times and the smell of onions and burnt grease just would. not. come. out!

        Learned my lesson after that and started storing my coats in one of my filing cabinets. Glad I didn’t work there long.

    7. Miss V*

      (Sightly off topic, so if this gets deleted I totally understand)

      A great alternative to washing a coat is vodka- cheap, bottom shelf, I would’ve turned my nose up at this in college, vodka. Put it in a spray bottle and lightly mist the coat. Especially pay attention to the underarms in the lining. The high concentration of alcohol kills the bacteria that causes smells and it also evaporated quickly and doesn’t leave a smell behind.

      Also works great for any sort of clothing you don’t/can’t wash. (Spot test first.)


      Someone who is allergic to dry cleaning chemicals and is absolutely never going to risk washing her vintage wool coat.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        I use the vodka trick to spritz down all my suit jackets after a few wears as well. Saves on drycleaning.

      2. Anonariffic*

        I remember reading a thing from a movie costume designer who talked about dressing an actor in this wonderful vintage wool fabric she had in her stash and one of his action scenes was set outdoors in a pouring thunderstorm and the fabric shrank so much that they basically had to sew him a new outfit for every take. Definitely protect your coat!

        1. many bells down*

          I think that might have been The Phantom Menace! Every time Ewan MacGregor got his Jedi robe wet it shrank up to his knees. And there’s at least one scene where he wades into a lake wearing it.

        2. Miss V*

          I believe you’re talking about Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi robes! If I recall they were made from repurposed vintage wool army blankets, and every time they got wet they shrank so the costume department had to have serval replicas.

          Although given wool’s general propensity for shrinking it’s very possible there are multiple instances of this happening to a costume.

          1. Meghan*

            That definitely explains why he kept dramatically throwing his robes off and leaving them everywhere.

        3. Artemesia*

          Gene Kelly’s suits in Singing in the Rain did the same thing — he would start out singing in the rain and his pants would shrink two inches. They had to make several suits before shooting the rain scenes were done.

          1. Lizzo*

            LOL, I have a poster-size photo of that scene hanging in my office and I just turned around now to see how long his pants are in the picture.

          1. Arabella Flynn*

            Probably because it would have changed the texture of the fabric. Wool tends to turn into felt when soaked and left to shrink-dry.

      3. Lynn*

        I have a little spritz bottle of taaka for this exact reason. It’s great especially for shoes and sandals

      4. Temperance*

        I’ve used spray hand sanitizer for this as well. Dry cleaning chemicals make my clothes smell weird, whereas alcohol/sanitizer/spray do not.

      5. Arabella Flynn*

        Also works on silk. I’ve been wearing folded silk scarves as face masks, because the cotton ones were making me break out. Disinfect by spritzing thoroughly with vodka, then dry in direct sunlight for at least a day.

      6. LondonBridges*

        University costume tech jumping in, yup this works! We dilute it down and add powdered carpet cleaner so it smells nicer than just straight up vodka.

        1. Miss V*

          The powdered carpet cleaner for the smell is a great idea!

          I used to alter wedding dresses and our number one way to get stains out of them was Resolve carpet cleaner and a white wash cloth. People are sometimes *horrified* when I tell them this, because I don’t think anyone wants to imagine their five thousand dollar dress is getting spot cleaned with the same stuff I use on my carpet when my cat hacks up a hairball, but it was really so effective! (Would not recommend this on anything silk or vintage. Most wedding dresses are made from polyester now, so they held up to some scrubbing just fine, but if you’re trying to preserve your grandmother’s wedding gown you’re best getting that professionally cleaned.)

      7. hufflepuff hobbit*

        Placing difficult-to -wash articles in the freezer for a few days can also really help with smells. Not good for actual dirt/stains, though

      8. Elizabeth West*

        I saw this tip from a dancer who said they used it to spray costumes. I used it to spray the underarms of skating dresses when I had to wear them more than once for multiple shows/events.

      9. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Brilliant! I’m not allergic but I hate to think what those chemicals do to the environment.

    8. WellRed*

      People don’t wash coats? I get my wool coat dry cleaned after each winter. I wouldn’t want months to get to it if I had accidentally gotten a bit of food on it and didn’t notice. If I have the misfortune to pick up heavy smoke or other odors, I hang it outside to air it out.

      1. Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue*

        I live in Florida. We barely wear coats, so washing them not a thing I ever had on my radar.

        1. Black Horse*

          Same! I’m in California and I wear coats maybe…15 hours a year? If that? It never even occurred to me they need regular washing. I hang them to air if they get restaurant or public transportation odors on them, but other than that…

        2. RussianInTexas*

          Same! I have a wool coat that I wear may be 10 times per winter, and a jean jacket I wear more. I wash that.
          I have never washed my coat living in Texas.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        Yeah, I’m honestly kinda shocked. I wash my coats at least once a month in winter (because I somehow sweat even when it’s freezing cold), but I always thought washing when winter ends was the norm before storing a coat back to the end of the closet.

        1. Textile fan*

          All clothes should be cleaned before storage.
          And for the record, moths DO eat wool, so whether or not there is food on a wool coat is immaterial.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Moths and carpet beetles both eat natural fiber. And they find it fastest when it has been stored used…their sense of smell is stronger than ours.

        2. RussianInTexas*

          I don’t really store mine? They hang in the same coat closet by the door all year long. But I live in the warm climate and we don’t really “change over” closes.

          1. Tabby*

            I live in a cold climate (like half the year in Illinois is cold) and I never store my winter clothes… actually, I don’t even have a winter wardrobe. All my stuff can be worn all year, bar the one heavy leather jacket) and never store anything. It all hangs in the same closet all year. I just do a mild soap wipedown of the leather jacket every couple weeks or so for maintenence. I really need some leather oil for it, though, it’s a lil bit dry right now.

      3. Sleepless*

        Right? Like a poster above, I live in the South so I only wear my winter coats 10-15 times every winter, but I have the nice wool one dry cleaned at the end of every season. I have a waterproof parka that I used to dry clean every year, until I discovered after several years that it was perfectly machine washable…sigh.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        Nope, not unless they stink or are spilled on or take a nasty mud bath from a passing bus or something. I spot-cleaned my puffer/parka thing when it got makeup on the hood, but I don’t recall the last time I washed or dry cleaned any of them. I don’t wear them long, and never without a layer or two of clothing between me and them. I also rotate coats, so most of them get worn maybe once a week during the winter.

        I do wash my kids’ coats because they are more prone to be dirty or smelly and also the one my spouse wears to shovel snow or work outside and get sweaty in.

        1. Artemesia*

          it isn’t about ‘dirt’ or spills — if you wear a coat a lot — as we tend to do with puffy coats in winter they absorb a lot of sweat over time and will stink. Polyester (and most of these type coats are polyester at least on the surface) is notorious for hanging onto odor and that makes it worse. Of course it depends on how often they are worn.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            Yeah, I’m in Canada, where a winter coat might get daily wear for close to half the year. Add in not-very-breathable polyester lining and spending an hour a day on cramped public transit. Obviously you end up with a coat that absorbs a lot of goo.

            Then there’s the people who’re wearing the same parka that they frequently use on the slopes as their daily winter coat. If you’re not rotating or washing coats that’s likely going to lead to a lot of stank.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Good reason to stick to wool, apart from the fact that wool actually keeps you warm! Only thing polyester is good for is that it’s non-iron.

    9. TechWorker*

      Also if you’re in an environment with smoke and/or pets. My nextdoor neighbours are lovely but smoke inside so much that if we pop round for 5 minutes to chat our clothes stink and need washing. (Actually not exaggerating.. ;))

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Lol, I always kind of viewed the way my coats stink like bonfire smoke after camping as a feature, not a bug.
        (obviously not the same as smoking smoke, but now I’m cringing thinking maybe someone doesn’t like it.

        1. Merci Dee*

          If it makes you feel any better, Bath & Body Works sells lotion/body wash/body spray every fall in a scent called Bonfire Bash. It’s got a bit of a sweet marshmallow-y smell, but one of the more dominant notes of the fragrance is a wood-fire smoke smell, like you’ve been sitting around a bonfire, just as you describe. So there must be tons of people out there who enjoy smelling like they’ve been around the camp fire, because Bonfire Bash sells out like hotcakes every year when B&BW starts re-stocking their fall fragrances. I have about 3 bottles of that fragrance stocked away right now, and it’s the one I use most regularly once the weather gets cool enough to bring it out. :)

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            Oh man, I’m gonna have to stock up. Or, cheaper option, smear melted marshmallow all over my coat to get the sweet scent added in??

    10. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Last winter I went to an outdoor BBQ. A few days later I was in another office while wearing the same winter coat. After a few minutes in the warmth someone remarked that they could smell BBQ. It was my coat. I washed it that night.

      1. BadWolf*

        Last fall, I was at a Maple Syrup reducing party (boiling sap). My jacket smelled deliciously but overwhelming like sugary smoke. I had to wash it twice.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I love the smell of wood smoke. Bonfire on a winter night? That’s heaven for me! BUT, not a great smell the next day…or the day after…or the day after… There’s been a couple of times I’ve realized I forgot to wash my coat after being near a fire pit. Oops!

      2. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

        Years ago we went to a family dinner where a rather unfortunate meatloaf was served. It was winter, so I wore a coat. I could not get that stench out of my hair or coat or clothes for the life of me. Ugh!

        1. Artemesia*

          I think twice about what coat I wear when we go to a restaurants. All restaurants seem to impart that smell to coats or polarteks but Indian or BBQ or Chinese or other places with pungeant foods are really bad at it. I leave my coat in the car and just wear a polartek which is easy to throw in the wash when we are eating at such a place.

      3. Sesquedoodle*

        i once borrowed my brother’s sleeping bag after he’d taken it camping and i spent the night going, “this bag smells like bacon”.

    11. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      Yes, we do need to clean coats! Check inside for the care label (many coats must be dry-cleaned, but quite a few can now be put into the washer and drier). Coats don’t only come into contact with our clothes and skin – they can also pick up odors that we don’t control (tobacco smoke, industrial waste). BTW, some cleaners will both clean and store your winter coats over the spring, summer and early fall so they don’t simply take up space in your closet for half the year or more. But yes, ALL of your clothes need to be cleaned!

    12. Reed*

      I have a cat and I brush my coat regularly so I’m not tracking hair and dander into the office, and I wash it at the end of the cold weather so I put it away for the summer nice and clean. That way it attracts less moths. Also, I sniff it fairly regularly, just in case. And it gets an extra wash if I’ve spent the weekend at the farm, or if I tip food down myself (tragically regular occurrence).

      Also for the love of sweetness, WASH YOUR SCARVES AND WOOLLY HATS oh my gosh. The smell of cigarettes and dirty hair one particular colleague exudes from his beanie hat is eyewatering.

      1. Jellybeans*

        Now I’m paranoid that I’m nose blind. I’ve never washed my coats, because I’ve never noticed a smell.

        1. Anne Elliot*

          Well, we all get nose blind to our own familiar smells. That’s why you should just go ahead and launder your coats on an occasional basis regardless.

          1. Artemesia*

            LOL. That is why I immediately washed my winter down coat the first time I noticed the horrific sweat smell wafting from the puffy coat of a participant in my exercise class. She herself was not obviously dirty or unwashed or even stinky but that coat lit up the room.

    13. Garden Fairy*

      Yes, please wash your coats! I am really sensitive to this, especially fleece and anything that easily picks up odor. Winter coats are harder, but those still get washed at least once during the season and at the very end.

      1. Liz*

        I have mostly packable down coats and jackets, and generally wash them at the end of the winter, before I pack them away. BUT if they get dirty, or i’m doing something where i think they may need it, I’ll wash them before then. My fleece stuff gets washed a bit more frequently, as i can just chuck it in with my normal laundry.

      2. Not A Girl Boss*

        I think fleece is just one of those materials that will NOT let go of BO once it gathers, even if you wash it. I’ve had to throw away a few fleece’s after wearing them on backpacking trips. Even soaking them in enzyme wash doesn’t work.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Ugh, this. This is why I can’t understand why anyone makes softshells that don’t have pit zips.

        2. PeanutButter*

          For fleece and tech fabrics, I recommend Defunkify! It’s available now in the detergent aisle, you used to have to special order it. One of the organic chemistry professors that I TA’d for invented it to get sweat smell out of his running shirts.

    14. Meghan, the OP*

      Hi, OP here!

      Coats definitely don’t need to be washed often, but Pippa’s should have been washed years ago. There are large stains and visible dirt, even though the coat is black. I really think it is more laziness and lack of observational skills than anything else.

      1. Windchime*

        I know someone who wears a denim jacket that has a faux-fleece lining, including the collar. The “fleece” is supposed to look like white wool, but it is a dingy, gross gray. The jacket also smells like unwashed body. I always want to tear it off my coworker and spray it down with Spray-n-Wash.

    15. Artemesia*

      Before COVID I went to an exercise group at our local park field house. One person had a puffy coat that was never washed and just reeked of perspiration such that literally this whole huge basketball court/gym stank. When I first noticed it and realized she could not smell it herself (which is normal — we all get olfactory fatique for our own stench) I immediately laundered my giant down puffy coat in case it was also offensive.

      People who stink can’t smell themselves. I have had to deal with this as a manager — it is awful — but it is the job of the manager.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        at least now that people are wearing masks, those with smelly breath are starting to realise what they inflict on others.

    16. washing my coat*

      It definitely depends on the individual, the coat material, the layers worn between individual and coat, and the activities done while wearing the coat. I notice that in Boston I’ve had to wash my coat more frequently than I have when I’ve lived in other similarly cold places – I chalk it up to accumulated dirt from bus/train commutes, as well as wearing the coat while the heat is blasting on the bus/train, which gets it sweaty. But either way I always try to wash it at least once a year, before I put it away for the spring/summer.

    17. Jaybeetee*

      I didn’t know this either! I’ve probably spot-cleaned my winter coats as needed, but I don’t remember ever… laundering one. Lighter fall and spring jackets, maybe on rare occasion. But usually I have a couple layers on under whatever coat I’m wearing, so I’ve never noticed one picking up a funk.

      Also, I’m Canadian, so I wear some manner of coat like 8 months a year.

    18. Summersun*

      When I was a server I took a super heavy-duty Hefty bag to every shift to enclose my coat and purse, because the fryer grease smell would settle into everything (I had to wash my hair in Dawn at night). Despite that prep work, I was still putting out so much cash on dry cleaning that I just stopped wearing a coat unless it was truly bitterly cold, like below 20 F.

      1. Pretzelgirl*

        My BFFs brother worked at Boston Market (then Boston Chicken) in HS and made him strip in the garage after a shift. Otherwise the entire house would stink of Boston Market.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          My parents made me do this when I worked for the vet. I’d leave a bathrobe on the washing machine and just dump my reeking scrubs straight in as I came in through the garage (garage and laundry room were connected).

      2. SweetFancyPancakes*

        Yeah, I worked at a hamburger place one summer and even though I wore a uniform while there, it felt like everything I owned smelled like onion rings.

        Also, your comment about “truly bitterly cold, like below 20 F” made me smile, because where I live, below 20 F, while cold, is not truly bitter for us- that would be more like 20 below, which we hit regularly in the winter. It’s all what you’re used to, huh?

        Finally, to bring my comment back on topic, I have found that it’s really the collar and cuffs area of coats that usually need to be cleaned (for adult coats, anyway. Kids get all sorts of filthy). I spot clean those areas frequently, along will my wool hats, because I hate that dirty hair smell that shows up.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Yep. I worked at a bar and grill in college that had a smoking area. I would go home at night smelling like frying oil, ranch dressing, and cigarette smoke. I could smell it in my puffy coat even 6 months after I quit (and had washed that coat soooo many times). That poor coat had to be retired, there was no coming back!

    19. voluptuousfire*

      I had one coat in particular that would pick up the subway smell. Luckily that coat washed really well and dried quickly.

      I’d also do hte same for my favorite purple wool trench coat, but I’d febreeze it and throw it in the dryer wiht a dryder sheet and that would usually take care of the issue.

    20. KTB*

      Definitely wash coats! Especially if you notice that they aren’t as water repellant as they used to be–washing and drying Gore-tex and similar fabrics actually reactivates the water repellancy. I live in the PNW, so water repelling coats are, like, 3/4 of my coat wardrobe.

    21. CastIrony*

      I get the not knowing about washing coats. I wear my coats for so long that only my mom notices when it’s gotten dirty enough to wash, and for me, that means that the sleeves are stained or otherwise dirty. Maybe other people do, too, but they haven’t said anything.

    22. Kelly L.*

      This is the great thing about being clumsy. Long before my coat would get smelly, I’ve generally dumped my coffee on it and necessitated washing it for that reason.

    23. paxfelis*

      Coats are clothes. You wash clothes (and some shoes). Why wouldn’t you wash a coat? Or dry clean, if that’s the appropriate way to clean it.

    24. HoHumDrum*

      Thank you so much for your comment because I *also* had no idea washing coats was a thing. I usually just try to air them out periodically?

      I have had coats that got stinky and then I ruined them by washing them in a washer (yeah, turns out you cannot machine wash a raincoat, for example) so now I just try very hard not to get coats stinky. If I’m getting sweaty in a coat I take it off ASAP.

      I have no idea how actual adults keep their coats clean, I guess they can afford to take them to a professional cleaner?

    25. MCMonkeyBean*

      I’ve never washed a coat in my life. I live in a climate where they aren’t worn super often but I’ve never had any of them get smelly ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  3. Hills to Die on*

    That sounds awful! I completely agree with Alison’s advice, and I wonder if there are some other steps you could take in the interim:
    Toss her stuff out of the fridge more regularly. If she doesn’t recognize it anyway, maybe she won’t notice?
    Also, what about discreetly (When she isn’t looking) taking the dirty dishes from her desk and putting them in the dishwasher and/or washing them?
    To be clear, these things aren’t your responsibility and you really, really should not have to, but if it reduces the smell until HR takes action (please, HR, take action!) then maybe it might be worth it in the short term.

    1. Triumphant Fox*

      I do think having a rule that every Friday or whatever everything gets tossed from the fridge could easily solve that issue.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        This. It’s a really normal office rule to maintain cleanliness and keep space open for everyone who shares the fridge. At my last job, the office manager was militant about this, and anything not labelled with your name and the date would go in the trash at 4pm on Friday. It worked nicely in an office that had one fridge for 50 people!

      2. Grapey*

        Yes, but unless you have dedicated cleaning staff, the new problem turns into deciding whose responsibility it is to clean it. I sure wouldn’t want to clean up other people’s fridge mess.

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        At my office we have the every Friday at 18:00 clean out. The only things exempted are multi-packs (of individual drinks).

        We have a few co-workers that keep 12packs of pop are the office in the fridge (in fairness we have two oversized fridges for a group of 35 people, so there is room for this).

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Still, I’d tell the colleagues to only put what they’ll be drinking that day in the fridge. Fizzy drinks don’t need to be refrigerated unless you’re going to drink some in the next few hours.

      4. Lyudie*

        Yup, my office does this (once a month I think, or maybe twice a month) and they will absolutely throw out anything in there including unopened stuff and your Tupperware.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Exjob did that too. They put up warning signs that Monday that Friday would be fridge clean-out day and to remove anything you wanted to keep, else it would wind up in the bin.

      5. Happy Pineapple*

        My office does this at 5pm on Fridays and is VERY serious about it. It doesn’t matter what it is; if it’s in the fridge at that time it’s going in the dumpster. Brand new food, reusable lunch bags and water bottles, crockpots used for a potluck, you name it: it’s been thrown away.

      6. Glitsy Gus*

        That was my thought. Take the initiative there and send around an email every Friday. Then you can start with, “Pippa, don’t forget to get your stuff out of the fridge,” after everyone else grabs their stuff. It’s annoying, but better than doing it for her so she now thinks it really isn’t her responsibility.

        Also if she gets too far into your personal space feel free to say something like, “I’m going to back up a bit. Can’t be too careful right now!” Use Covid to your advantage for now, then after it’s over, you can just have “gotten used to” a bit more personal space. That doesn’t fix everything, but at least those are two things you can kind of control.

    2. Colette*

      Yes, I think it would be fine to put a sign on the fridge that says “anything left here will be thrown out Friday afternoon” and then follow through. I also think it would be fine to ask the coworker to step back when she gets to close – “hey, I need a little more space, would you mind stepping back?”

      1. Teapot Tía*

        Yes to “I need some personal space here!” somehow worded politely. That sounds like a pre-covid letter – depending on (sigh) the political environment, “Social distancing please!” might work (and also allow LW to avoid the bigger issue & let covid-trauma be blamed). (Which may or may not be the best option, but I’m pretty conflict avoidant.)

      2. Meghan, the OP*

        Hi, OP here! I have asked her to step back and give me space before…it does not go over well. This is part of the thing I mentioned about peer feedback. Even something as simple as asking her for personal space will send her eyes rolling and kick off 3+ hours of silent treatment. I have really tried to soften my voice, be as nice and flowery as possible, nothing works. The smallest criticism can’t be presented to Pippa without bringing the work day to a halt.

        1. Colette*

          The silent treatment doesn’t sound that bad … and you can raise that as a separate issue with your manager. “I need X from Pippa but she seems to be upset and won’t talk to me.”

        2. Anne Elliot*

          I would encourage you to consider whether you have to pick up her nonsense and carry it, or if you can leave it where it lies. If she rolls her eyes, she rolls her eyes. If she doesn’t speak to you for hours, then she doesn’t speak to you for hours and so what. My concern is that you describe any small criticism as “bringing the work day to a halt” and would ask you to consider why she has that kind of power. You are allowed to have boundaries and to advocate for your own comfort, and if she “punishes” you in a way that directly impacts your ability to do your job, you can bring THAT to your boss’s attention as something he or she CAN address. (“I know the quarterly numbers are due today but Pippa hasn’t given me hers yet and apparently isn’t speaking to me, so I can’t complete the spreadsheet. Do you want me to turn it what I have or wait until she provides her numbers?”)

          If she is breathing hot garbage breath in your face, you are allowed to calmly say “Can you please move back? You are breathing on me.” You can’t control how she reacts to reasonable requests that are politely conveyed, but you don’t have to care about her reactions either. If she’s mad, she’s mad. She’s survive.

          1. Ellie*

            Absolutely. If a co-worker wants to be immature, they’ll be immature no matter how hard you try

            If it impacts your work, it’s very appropriate to bring it up to one of your supervisors, e.g., “Pippa is not responding to my messages about time sensitive project”

            If they go to her and she says “I’m not talking to her because she saud he needed personal space”…she’s not gonna look great.

            If it’s frequent, you might want to start documenting it.

          2. Colette*

            Yeah, my mom’s uncle used to say “If I say something they’ll be upset; if I don’t, I’ll be upset. I’d rather it was them.”

          3. Glitsy Gus*

            Yep, all of this. If she gives you the silent treatment and it means you don’t have her hot breath in your face, win!

            If it means that you can’t get your work done, that is something your manager DOES have to deal with, so, win!

            Honestly, if it really doesn’t affect your work, let her be petty and pouty. That’s all on her and it’s her own awkward situation to deal with. Don’t engage or roll your eyes or get frosty back, don’t apologize, but just ignore it and move on with your day. I know it’s tough to do at first, especially if you are used to trying to make nice with folks, but really, you are not being unreasonable, she is. This is her ish to work through.

        3. Cinq or swim*

          OP, I feel for you! She sounds like a nightmare in every way. At this point, I personally wouldn’t care about getting the eye-rolls and silent treatment if it meant backing her out of my personal space– I mean, what’s the worst she can do? She stinks at her job and she stink in every other way too.

          I’m not suggesting bullying her or being purposefully mean or anything, but at this point, what have you got to gain by tip-toeing around her? “Pippa, breathe away from me please, whatever you had for lunch is RIPE.”

        4. Observer*

          That’s another thing that is ABSOLUTELY your manager’s “place” to address.

          “When I ask Pippa for a bit of space when she gets to close I get the silent treatment for 3 hours. I wouldn’t care, but she’s also refusing to do x,y and z while she’s giving me the silent treatment.”

          If her giving you the silent treatment doesn’t affect your work, ignore her and thank heavens you are not her.

        5. Grapey*

          Let her have her tantrum (unless it does affect work, in which case you have more to bring to your boss.)

          She clearly doesn’t care if her actions bother you; I’d extend the same courtesy.

        6. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          That sounds like a feature, not a bug. I think I’d politely tell her to step a few paces back every single morning to just get it out of the way and have a peaceful rest of my day; by softening and dodging, it’s prolonging the problem. The more she does it, the less the boss will be able to ignore it and the final solution might come faster.

        7. kt*

          I have a toddler. You just have to not react and do it again. She’ll get bored. Might take a week. Be consistent.

    3. Meghan, the OP*

      Hi, OP here! For a while I did take care of throwing her food away and taking her dishes to the sink, but it definitely got a bit old. I’ve also has to take up her slack in enough work projects that it has put my own work and large projects (some of which are extremely important to my career trajectory) on hold. I brought these concerns to my manager and again, she did nothing about it. At that point, I rather made the decision to stop cleaning up after her. I really appreciate the comment though! I wish it was as simple as running stuff to the kitchen and trash.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        OP, you definitely shouldn’t have to clean up after your messy coworker! Plus, it sounds like the dirty dishes are only the tip of the iceberg. Go straight to HR and insist that they do something. No one should have to put up with this at a workplace. (At the very least, they should arrange a seat change so you’re not sitting right next to Pippa!)

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Agreed. At this point it is time to go to HR. If nothing else, all the garbage around could start to become a health violation if it’s as bad as you say and you should NOT have to throw out other people’s garbage from the fridge.

          After that, start calling it out every time her being a brat slows down your work. It won’t necessarily help fix her being a brat, but it will make it clear where the slow down is. I’m sorry your manager sucks so much. If I were you I might start looking for a transfer or even a new job. I can’t imagine this boss is going to do much to help you move forward in the world if they can’t even deal with dirty dishes.

      2. Pretzelgirl*

        I put up several signs that I am cleaning out the fridge. Usually 3-4 days before. I clearly state to initial items people want kept, like dressings or condiments and otherwise it will be thrown out. A sign goes on the microwave, on the fridge and on both bathroom doors. If someone doesn’t get the memo that stinks for them.

        The first time I cleaned out the fridge was summer 2019 and I found 3 year old expired yogurt.

      3. SMH*

        Maybe you could throw everything in your managers garbage can and let it build up in her office. Maybe she’s care then.

      4. biobotb*

        Can you also just not pick up her slack? Alison probably has some posts about how to step back from that.

      5. kt*

        I think there are discussions here about coworkers who are shifting their work to you. Sounds like that’s the bigger problem in some ways — and one way to deal with it is make it your boss’s problem, somehow. You *have* to be able to prioritize yourself!

        Good luck….

  4. Jen*

    Absolutely her boss needs to address it! Most workplaces with a dress code include “proper hygiene” as part of that. I’ve dealt with this previously working in a call center. The woman who was still there from night shift when I got their in the morning absolutely reeked of cat urine. It was as though her cats would use her laundry as a litter box and she honestly did not smell it. When people asked her how many cats she owned she wouldn’t answer… my guess is a large, illegal amount.
    A manager addressed it with her and she came right out of that meeting and asked us all if she smelled bad. Thankfully an incredibly kind coworker fielded that one, because the group of us had taken to putting on caustic hand sanitizers or highly fragrant lotions to sniff our own hands during our hour long overlap with her in the morning. 7 years later, still the worst hygiene issue I’ve ever encountered.
    Sad when people do not realize their odor is impacting others, but most companies have a hygiene and scent policy that does need to be enforced!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Cat owner here: If you’re coming to work smelling of cat urine, you’ve got big problems. Even if you only have a few (a non-illegal) number of cats, if they’re peeing on stuff they either have medical problems or they’re stressed, which is very often a territory issue and usually means you either have too many cats in your living space or outside neighbor cats are freaking them out. Either way, it’s not even sorta-normal. I’ve had one cat, ever, who peed on stuff and it was when she got elderly, arthritic, blind, and probably somewhat senile. So we kept her in a smaller room where she couldn’t lose track of the litter box, so she couldn’t pee on our clothes/beds/etc.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Agreed. Aside from illness (or even arthritis), we have a cat who pees in unwanted places when she is angry (like she had to go to the vet) or when she thinks you haven’t been quick enough to clean the litterbox. People might also use too little litter, so there’s nothing to absorb the odor.

        I suspect the OP’s coworker may also be noseblind to her smells.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Oh, yes, noseblind. A friend got a small dog a few years ago, and it really, really pissed off one of her cats, who started peeing in the corner of her dining room. She smoked for years and has very little sense of smell and literally could not smell the overpowering cat pee smell in her house. She ultimately pulled the carpet, replaced the subfloor, and installed a hard flooring – but, wow, until then, it was bad, and I do not have a sharply tuned sense of smell myself.

        2. KoiFeeder*

          I have toxo and can’t smell cat waste (as long as the cat’s got healthy gut and renal microbiomes, anyways). Someone with a large number of cats, especially if they’re outdoor cats, is very likely to have contracted toxo.

      2. Jen*

        Exactly! I am more of a dog person but have owned a cat in the past so the smell was unmistakable. She was very open about her cat ownership so I know it wasn’t something else, and I do believe she was rescuing them, which is a lovely sentiment but you have to have a system in place and I truly think she did not. She was covered in cat hair and urine smell so I do think the cats were in the laundry. The day shifter who shared a desk with her would switch out the chairs daily so he didn’t share a chair with her, and wiped down the desk daily (seems normal in covid times but back then, not as much).
        It was super unfortunate, she was very nice but the smell was just too much. No one wanted to be unkind by mentioning it.

        1. Windchime*

          I say this as a dedicated cat lover: Nothing stinks as bad as cat pee. I used to have an old cat who would pee in places where she shouldn’t and it was gross. It also cost me thousands of dollars to replace hardwood and trim because no matter how much Nature’s (non)Miracle I used, it wouldn’t stop stinking.

          1. Caterpie*

            Hard agree from another cat lover. I’ve heard of landlords allowing dogs but banning cats over potential urine smells, and I kind of can’t blame them.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I had to get rid of a pair of comfy boots after our cat wazzed on them. That smell was intense.

            (I’d left them by the door and kitty smelt something he didn’t like by the door)

          3. jenkins*

            Yeah – my cat doesn’t have an issue peeing outside the tray but he is extremely fluffy and sometimes gets drops of urine on his fur (luckily he’s also calm enough for us to occasionally bathe him without significant bloodshed). He has a particular area of the stairs that he likes to sit on, and the carpet there gets treated regularly with specialist cleaner because urrrrrgh. If he was actually emptying his bladder there I can’t even imagine.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I used to work for a veterinarian and my feelings on rescue people are . . . mixed. I have done pet rescue myself, both with established rescues and on my own, but people can lose perspective. I knew people who were living in travel trailers on their own properties because the house was full of animals. If you’re living in animal waste you’re not doing anyone any favors.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            “If you’re living in animal waste you’re not doing anyone any favors.”

            Least of all the animals! Don’t forget, their sense of smell is way more sensitive than ours. It really disturbs me to see people who think they are rescuing animals, only to turn around and keep them in conditions that are downright abusive. :-(((((

      3. Moose on skates*

        Agree with Dust Bunny for sure. I had an ancient cat who liked to pee on soft things because she was basically blind and so arthritic and confused. Hanging up clothes and NEVER leaving them on the floor or bed was key.

      4. Reed*

        The only, the ONLY time my cat peed in the laundry basket was when she got shut out of the room with her litter tray and clearly couldn’t hold it until the humans came home. I think we kinda deserved that one.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Our daughter didn’t clean the cat box on schedule once, and the cat deemed it too dirty to use and went right in front of it. Had to throw the small rug the box sits on away, and I think the kid got the picture that no one wants to use a filthy potty.

        2. NRG*

          My current cat once peed on the bag of used litter waiting by the door to be taken out. Totally my fault.

      5. BPT*

        I mean to be honest, people who collect large numbers of cats to the point that they are peeing everywhere likely have problems beyond cat problems. I mean I know there are probably some people who just don’t care about hygiene, but most of the time, the people I’ve known like this have major problems in their own lives with isolation, depression, hoarding, things like that. The ones I’ve known don’t collect cats because they necessarily care about the cats’ health and can handle those issues on their own, its more of an unhealthy coping mechanism for themselves.

      6. Garden Fairy*

        The only time our 17-year-old cat has peed anywhere was when we had some friends over and one of the kids (unbeknownst to us) shut the door to the room where the cat’s litter box is located. Usually the door is open all time, but it also happens to be in a corner of the house that we don’t pass through that frequently. So that accident was on us, and omg, it was a nightmare to clean up. After several failed attempts, we ended up calling in the professionals to deal with it.

      7. Dream Jobbed*

        I don’t have much of a sense of smell. So I did not notice when my roommate’s cat peed on my jeans. (If you knew my roommate you would understand why the cat was stressed, but she also came pretty messed up from her last owner.) That was an embarrassing day at work! But I don’t I can’t smell myself so I beg people to let me know if they smell anything. If it’s a friend – let them know. Asking for the smelling impaired in society! (And I wish that people would recognize they can’t smell themselves and not to get upset when someone gives you a gentle warning.)

      8. Eukomos*

        If there were an illegal number of cats my first guess would be they were peeing outside the box due to territorial stress. It would be pretty surprising if they didn’t after a certain number of cats gets stuffed into the house.

      9. Perpal*

        (Cat owner here) I have a cat that… does tend to pee and puke on a lot of things. And yes, many vet visits, many treatments for cystitis etc and special food; but even when everything is grand she still tends to pee on clothes. I think she smells my husband’s clothes in the laundry and decides to go there. Mostly solved by banning her from our room anymore but once and a great while she slips in, or a coat gets on the floor, etc. And then I run out the door in the morning and on the way to work, start getting whiffs and think @#$@#$@#$ !!!!

    2. Cat Pee or dirty front loaders?*

      While this may not be the case here, i find that if clothing is washed in front loaders and left overnight they develop a funky smell that is very similar to cat-pee, and will infect the washer over and over until the washer is cleaned out using something like Affresh. It’s not always immediately noticeable and usually intensifies as you wear it and it warms up.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, I’d just do it. She doesn’t even realize it’s hers. And I’d dare her to make a stink about it if a month later her month old take away was gone or something like that. “Oh we toss out food after it’s been there after it expires, must have been expired.”

      But I make the rules so there’s also that to take into consideration.

    2. ENFP in Texas*

      This. A simple “all food must be removed by the end of the day Friday, anything that isn’t removed will be thrown away” rule would go a long way in fixing that issue.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      I have zero qualms about telling others they need to do it. Sorry I’m in the camp of we’re all grownups and can take care of our own messes. She brought it in, she should throw it out.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Fair. But it’s still a thing people regularly try and works for them in a lot of cases.

          People have “told” me what to do a few times over the years and no, they can’t make me do it but if it’s a reasonable thing, I’m also not going to pull a “You’re not the boss of me, Karen!” on them either. Despite having very few people who can actually “tell” me to do a damn thing! Pick my battles I do, it’s just standard cohabitation in the end.

          1. soon to be former fed really*

            Adults just don’t like other adults telling them what to do, especially if those other adults have no authority over them. Such adults just come off as bossy and/or nosy and that doesn’t set well with me. Just let managers handle this kind of thing, that’s why they get paid the big bucks.

        2. SomebodyElse*

          That can be tricky if someone really digs in (ahem… freshman college roommate, I’m looking at you) For the most part though, people generally will if called out publicly on it.

          1. Colette*

            But in this case, she denies that it’s her food, so I don’t think telling her to remove it would be as effective as just warning everyone and then cleaning out the fridge.

            1. SomebodyElse*

              If the goal is a clean fridge you are correct. If the goal is for her to take responsibility then doing it for her won’t help.

              1. Colette*

                True, my goal would be to not have to deal with her mess. I don’t care how that happens; there are situations where I’m responsible for teaching people responsibility, but coworkers are not those people.

    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Me neither, but please let everyone know when it’s the fridge purge will take place. Better safe than sorry.

    5. JM in England*

      Nearly all of my shared workplace fridges had signs saying something along the lines of all containers must be labelled with the owner’s name plus an expiry date as per company guidelines. The management reserved the right to dispose of any containers that were either unlabelled or past the expiry date.

    6. Mama Bear*

      Old office had a system. Every Monday there was a dot put on the food of a certain color (new color each week). If you wanted to keep it, you removed the dot. End of week the office manger did a clean sweep of all the food of that color. Now, a small shared fridge should be shared responsibility, but she also still shouldn’t trash it. Maybe make a suggestion to everyone that you put your name on the food so you know who owns that item. If she doesn’t want to name her food but is the only one who doesn’t then assume all the mystery meals are hers.

    7. Malarkey01*

      I’m big on the every Friday at 2 the fridge gets cleared. It takes less than 2 minutes to open the door and sweep everything straight into a trash bag. I like that so much more than the names/dates that some people do because you have to read each one and think about a date. With a Friday clean process there’s no fuss and I don’t mind taking a job like that if it takes 120 seconds.

      1. Yorick*

        I’d be pretty annoyed if they wanted to throw away my bottle of mustard every Friday at 2pm though. But I guess I get using that method, and I guess I could bring the mustard to my desk for a bit and then put it back.

  5. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    I reminded when I did live with a bunch of pretty-hippy people. One of them didn’t help much when cooking, but would make a big deal of it when he did. And never helped with cleaning. Oh, and often brought home ice cream from his work.

    So one time he cooked some baba ganoush and made a big deal of it. It was OK. And then there were leftover in the fridge. For week and week. Totally mold no one would touch.

    I went away for a weekend, and when I came back we were all sitting around except that guy. So I asked where he was. “Oh, yeah, you didn’t hear – he had a rock climbing accident, broke both his wrists, had to crawl a half mile to the road, and is staying with his dad now while he recovers.”

    Silence for a few minutes.

    Then another person got up, slowly walked to the fridge, and threw out the container of what had been baba ganoush.

    1. AnonInTheCity*

      When I was in college I lived with someone who would make herself a box of Annie’s mac and cheese, eat half, put the other half in a Tupperware, carefully store the leftovers in the fridge, and never touch them again. Repeat probably weekly all semester. At the end of the year we had about a dozen Tupperwares to clean out of the fridge, all full of mac and cheese in various stages of decay.

      Moral of the story: anything that’s clearly garbage in a shared fridge has lost the right of ownership.

  6. Triumphant Fox*

    I had this coworker and it was really a result of management refusing to manage anything. She was a heavy smoker she was more visibly dirty (stains, very dirty long fake fingernails with no polish on them, greasy hair) than smelly. She was out for a month and her desk had to be cleaned for a temp and her white mac keyboard was straight up brown. When she came back, she asked why we cleaned it since “it would just get dirty again.” She never washed her hands after using the restroom and regularly walked around in bare feet, even though we asked her not to. But she was a director and there was no HR and the partners refused to deal with anything.

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      Sorry (really) that you had to deal with that; it’s absolutely no fun when the totally clueless person is in a position of power. Not making light of what you said, but your description was awesome.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        Thanks! Sometimes I miss working there because I had so many stories every day. Now I have so much less stress but very few work stories worth sharing.

  7. Anon Anon*

    I feel so bad for the OP. I have a co-worker who stinks. And our HR department has decided that it would be inappropriate to talk to her about her hygiene, as it’s a “personal” matter. I’ve complained directly myself, because I simply can’t go into that department without holding my breath, so I avoid the department at all costs.

    Definitely go to HR. A good HR department (so unlike mine) will talk to Pippa about the issue. Some times there are underlying medical causes, and in those cases sometimes accommodations can be made to minimize the issue. But, I’ll just keep my fingers crossed it gets better.

    1. Can’t Stand the Smell*

      At that point, I’d be tempted to carry a can of air refresher (not just good smelling, but cleans the air) and casually remark they seem to have an odor problem in their part of the building. Maybe suggest they clean the carpets. That way at least you could breathe, and they’d get called out but couldn’t blame you for it.

      (Those air refreshers work! I have a customer that bathes, as best I can figure, monthly. When he leaves, I carry a can out into the lobby and spray everything down. It smells good when I’m done, instead of like cinnamon apple funk.)

      1. Liz*

        I was in the hospital once, and had a roommate who was elderly, with dementia, and let’s just say a rousing case of digestive upset. It was also during a blizzard so they were short staffed. She basically sh*t the bed, they came and cleaned her up, and sprayed some kind of air cleaner/ionizer spray. i don’t know what it was, but it got rid of the smell in seconds! i really wish i had some sometimes now!

      2. M*

        Slightly related, I had a coworker in a past job who always microwaved the SMELLIEST food and then basically did a lap around the office (?). It was awful. The other assistants and I always kept a bottle of air freshener and would do a pass once he left the area. It was one of the odor-less ones, so we never got any flack for scented things, and it was a lifesaver!

      3. Wintergreen*

        Careful with those air sprays. Some people (like me) can be incredibly sensitive to those smells! Anything in those compressed air canisters will give me an instant headache. If you must, put vinegar and water in a spray bottle and use that. (You can add essential oils too but always be careful about scents in a public area) It will clean the air without all the extra chemicals put in room fresheners. Something I read years ago that really resonated with me “The smell of clean is NOTHING, not lemon, pine or floral.”

        Years ago I had this strange health thing happen. I never lost my sense of smell but certain things smelled weird and I did totally lose the ability to smell skunk for 3 years. It made me crazy sensitive to chemical/artificial scents to this day. Anyway, there was a manager here who would plug in a room freshener that was supposed to be some kind of floral. To me it smelled like a combination of rancid butter and rotten fruit. I would have an instant headache and had to hold a tissue over my nose/mouth with a drop of peppermint essential oil on it to prevent myself from throwing up. Memos, emails, IM’s around the office would go out asking people not to use air fresheners and such. But she just kept plugging it in 3-4 times a week. It wasn’t until a friend specifically went into her office and called her out as the reason behind the dozens of notices asking people not to use air fresheners did she stop using it. She just couldn’t believe her “lovely” air freshener was causing problems.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          We have an accountant who comes in once a week to do bookkeeping (small business, she can do it all in one day, so we just have a set up for contract work). She’s a smoker and smokes in her car. It’s very obvious she will spritz herself with perfume before getting out of the car. You can smell her as soon as she walks in the door. It’s so bad and it gives me such a headache, but my boss hasn’t wanted to say anything because she’s only there for a couple of hours one day a week. She probably thinks I’m rude, because I’ll hear her come in on those days, I’ll pop my head out to say hello, then close my door for the rest of the time she’s here (and a while afterward). She’s nice and I would actually like to have conversation with her, but I can’t stand the smell or the headache that comes with it. So I resort to hiding from her :(

          1. Mme Pince*

            I am amazed at the extent to which smokers are convinced other people can’t smell it. I always thought it was just a movie trope when a person would try to hide their smoking from their spouse, but I have actually met a good number of people now who don’t realize that I and lots of other people can smell that they’ve gone outside, smoked, put on perfume/cologne, and popped a piece of gum in their mouth. It just smells like cigarette smoke, fragrance, and mint.

        2. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          Yes yes yes, be very careful with those sprays!

          I had a job once (I’ve spoken about this here before) where my co-worker would spray Lysol when she smelled something that offended her. She sat right next to me. She didn’t like the smell of my cigarette smoke so one day, when I was in the bathroom, she doused my London Fog raincoat with Lysol (and I do NOT mean sprayed it once lightly….now, 4 years later I can STILL smell the Lysol on that coat).

          I have asthma, emphysema, COPD and bronchiectasis. Lysol can literally kill me. I had been granted a medical accommodation that no one could use Lysol or other air fresheners around me. Did this stop the princess? Nope. She kept spraying it. I kept going to HR. Finally they brought both of us to find out what the problem was (still not sure why I was called in, I didn’t have a problem). Princess Co-Worker got all snarky and said “I’ll continue to use it because I don’t see how Lysol can kill someone!” I waited and waited and waited and waited and waited for HR to explain. They never did. I was waiting for them to say “You don’t NEED to understand. WE do and we are telling you to knock it off!” I ended up having to discuss my health problems and explain how Lysol could kill me.

          I hated working there.

          1. Scarlet*

            I’m sorry, but you have asthma, emphysema, COPD and bronchiectasis and you currently smoke cigarettes?

      4. Cactus*

        At an old job, our regular FedEx guy smelled like he bathed in cigarettes, used cigarette-scented laundry detergent, and chain-smoked all day. Air freshener was a godsend whenever he dropped by.

      5. Ron McDon*

        I used to work in the same building as an older man who was perfectly nice but didn’t have great hygiene.

        When he came into my reception area to chat before going out to visit clients it would smell very strongly of cigarettes and stale sweat afterwards, so I took to giving it a good spray with air freshener after he left.

        Until the time he’d forgotten something and came back in right after I’d sprayed … that was awkward!

    2. Triple Anon*

      I had a smelly coworker and in her case, the HR did pull her in to talk about the smell. Three times. They were not medical causes, where the smell cannot be helped no matter what a person does – this coworker talked freely about skipping showers or not washing her clothes for days. She would come back, rant about how she’d gotten the smell talk from the HR again, rant about how she does not smell, conclude that it was someone out to get her, and change nothing. It did not help things that her one office friend would always be pulled into these chats and would always say, “Nope, you don’t smell, I don’t know why they keep doing this to you”. Oh and the one time someone brought in an air freshener, the smelly coworker found it and went to HR to complain about being harassed (?!?!?!) It’d gotten to the point where I had really lost hope that I would ever be able to walk down a hallway or into the breakroom without holding my breath. Nothing was ever going to change. She lost her job in the end, and I felt bad for her, but oh my god, it felt so good being able to breathe again.

      1. Jess B*

        Oh, that response from her ‘office friend’ is not the right thing to do. Even if you don’t want to say that you think your friend smells, or you genuinely don’t smell anything, the best response in those cases is to say, ‘well, I don’t smell anything, but maybe some other people do, so it would be worth following their suggestions for a week or two and seeing how you go then.’
        But denying any smell AND basically encouraging no action at all is really awful.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Yes, go to HR. Yikes.

    There’s a level of “Leave her alone” allowed, her bad breath may actually be caused by a stomach ulcer and not because she’s not brushing her teeth. I’d be giving her a pass on that. If her lone issue was that she left junk in the fridge. Or if her lone issue was her coat smelled. Those would just be weird quirky annoyances to let pass. But not this, this is a huge list of “bad behaviors that compile and lessen the quality of life around you.” And you’re all at risk of getting sick from some of her practices, not okay!

    I had a “stinky” coworker and it was very much medically an issue, it wasn’t all these things wrapped up into it. It was just “Charles has a stink.” and I was like “Yeah, what’s your point? Leave him alone.” BUT everything you’ve listed here adds up and therefore needs to be addressed. She needs to be held accountable for her work space. It’s not acceptable to be messy/dirty in your work space. It’s not okay to not have basic hygiene, this screams “filthy” and how things like Coronavirus and stomach “bugs” get passed around! Not cool. Basic housekeeping skills are required of ALL our staff, office and production wise.

    This can also lead to rat infestations and other “pest control” issues. Our pest control guy would eat our faces if we let it get a “build up” of filth. They’ll tell you straight to your face “You did it to yourself, look at this hoarders den you’ve got going on here! They are attracted to food. You’ll be paying me to be here on a daily basis soon.”

    1. yup yup*

      Yeah, I feel like I’d give her a pass on the halitosis. It sounds like Pippa is fully aware that she has an issue, since she’s chowing mints all day. But it might not have anything to do with hygiene, it could be a gum disease issue or an ulcer or any other number of health-related things.

      The other gross stuff needs an intervention, though.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I wouldn’t let that pass without at least asking. My dad is convinced he doesn’t need to brush his teeth as often as he does as long as he chews mints. He seems to think they’re equivalent. They are not. But it’s complacency, not medical.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Please do not ever ask your coworkers about what could even remotely possibly be a medical issue. If it’s a medical issue, then it spirals much further out of control and into legal territory because you’re at a place of business, that’s held to legal standards and it’s not just a family member who you have a personal relationship with.

          1. Mama Bear*

            It could still be a datapoint to bring to HR. Express concern that the mints aren’t doing what she thinks they are.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            The thing is, almost anything could remotely be a medical issue, so this reasoning would prevent them from addressing pretty much all hygiene issues. Her manager/HR/whoever is responsible for this, should be able to ask her *discreetly* about something this disruptive.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              Exactly. If they tell you it’s a medical issue, you drop it, but unless you’re a literal doctor, how are you supposed to know what might be medical and might not? The fact that it’s medical doesn’t mean they can’t be a grown-up for one polite, respectful conversation.

        2. Liz*

          My dad had a tooth, and a pocket or something like that in his gum, which would trap food, etc. He had the WORST breath. like something had died in there. no matter how much he brushed, used mouthwash etc. It was only when he had it pulled (i think it was rotting too) his breath improved.

      2. CB212*

        Yeah, idk – my ex came from a family with miraculously strong teeth, like none of them had ever had a cavity, and so…. he wasn’t great about brushing. I tried to remind him (yes, yes he is an ex because I didn’t want to be his nanny), but sometimes we’d be out and I’d be forcing a mint on him, hissing “it smells like someone died I don’t care if you don’t want any candy just TAKE it”. And I’m pretty sure he felt like that fixed the problem, which… it did not. It just slightly helped.

    2. Legal Beagle*

      Yes. Bring *all of this* HR and insist they take action. The current situation isn’t an acceptable work environment for the OP, and it’s absurd for the boss to refuse to address the issue. People who don’t wash their hands after the bathroom are huge germ vectors in a space with lots of shared surfaces. The dirty dishes and food trash can attract ants, mice, roaches, which are themselves a health hazard. Talking close? Breathing on people? No thanks. We’re in a pandemic! This is a health and safety issue and it needs to be addressed.

  9. HR Ninja*

    Ugh. Best of luck! I know that hygiene issues are never easy to deal with but are very important to “manage.”

  10. Helen J*

    OP’s boss doesn’t want to have that uncomfortable conversation but needs to. If boss refuses, HR is definitely the next step.

    I would be so embarrassed for clients to see a desk piled up with dirty dishes. Toss the food. If she doesn’t know it’s hers she won’t miss it.

  11. ShouldBeWorking*

    I work in a setting where my team frequently travels off site and works for multiple days/weeks in a small common room. Multiple 24 hour work days are the norm, so you can imagine how little showering and cleaning goes on. The only way this works at all is that we can all say to each other “Ok, bud, I know we’re all super busy but it’s past time for you to go shower” and the person does it. And we have strict “throw your snacks/drinks away by midnight” Gremlins-style rules. If we can do it in this dysfunctional environment, anyone can.

  12. JM in England*

    At a couple of former jobs, the company handbook listed poor personal hygiene/grooming as a misconduct offence.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Just about anyone with a dress code of any kind has this basic stuff in there! I’m shocked it was only a couple of former jobs for you. We’re pretty rough with our manuals over the years but it’s always been thrown in there.

      1. JM in England*

        All of my employers to date have stated good hygiene/grooming as a basic expectation for employees. It was only the couple I stated that had poor personal care explicitly listed it as a misconduct offence.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Ooooh! That makes sense, I’m also a turd who just noticed you’re in England so I failed to deduce that “misconduct” is a whole different ball game than “policy states”.

      2. Zephy*

        All my jobs have had grooming/personal hygiene notes in the dress codes, sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where not meeting grooming standards resulted in formal disciplinary action, which is what it sounds like JM in England was saying.

  13. Jennifer*

    Maybe she uses natural products that aren’t very effective. Instead of approaching her with a “You stink!” point of view and more of a “we need you to use more effective products.” I have found that HR usually will ask if you’ve talked to the person first before you present a problem to them.

    I don’t know how “privileged” her background was but maybe she’s new to adulting and this is her first time having to clean up after herself.

    This is affecting morale at work so it’s not just a “Pippa is quirky” kind of thing.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      In personal issues, HR should want you to try to do it yourself.

      But this needs to handled by the management, not her peers. You should NEVER try to tell a peer this kind of thing. It can be seen as bullying or harassment, it can snowball and get way out of hand. Especially since the OP mentions Pippa is sensitive about feedback. Then you’re both going to be in trouble in the end. Please don’t give advice, where it could be a medical issue, that is covered under many different employment laws. Big old messy mess mess mess.

      1. Pineapple*

        I agree. OP shouldn’t try to address this herself and I don’t think its OP’s place to tell Pippa what products to use anyway.

      2. Jennifer*

        I would never give someone medical advice but I don’t see how telling someone that they smell is medical advice or bullying. Sure, the smell could be health-related but the OP shouldn’t have to delve into that. What Pippa is doing by coming to work smelling so horrible and leaving trash everywhere could be considered creating a hostile work environment.

        I just don’t have a lot of faith in HR, based on personal experience and many letters here.

        1. CatCat*

          What Pippa is doing by coming to work smelling so horrible and leaving trash everywhere could be considered creating a hostile work environment.

          “Hostile work environment” has a specific meaning in the employment context (USA) related to discrimination and harassment. What Pippa is doing, while extremely unpleasant, is not that.

          However, telling Pippa she smells or needs to use different products could be problematic on that front. Imagine if several coworkers start saying this to her and Pippa has a medical condition. It starts to look like harassment for her medical condition. This is why it makes sense for management or HR to handle it and try and figure out if a reasonable accommodation may be needed and what that looks like.

          1. Jennifer*

            You make a good point. I just don’t know if what accommodation would help if someone has a medical issue, physical or mental, that causes an odor this offensive, in addition to the grossness of her work area and the fridge. It kind of reminds me of the letter about the coworker with OCD who wanted everyone to stand boy-girl-boy-girl at the bus stop. But maybe they could come up with something. Stranger things have happened.

    2. Observer*

      As the others say, the OP should most definitely not be addressing this directly, but should go to HR. If HR asks if she’s talked to Pippa about this, they are incompetent idiots. Because this is NOT the kind of thing the someone should be addressing with their peer.

      Note that Allison generally is an advocate of addressing things directly with coworkers before going to a manager or HR. She advises this ALL. THE. TIME. She skipped that step here for a good reason.

      Now, if the person writing in were from HR and asking about how to approach it, I still would not use your approach. For one thing, some of this is definitely not about products – the filth is a matter of just not cleaning up after herself. Also, while it is HR / Management’s place to insist on decent hygein, it is NOT their place to tell her how to get there. And there is no real reason to think that the problem is the products she uses, anyway/

      Lastly, even children generally know better than this. This is not about someone who is “new to adulting”.

      1. Jennifer*

        I suggested products as a way of softening the blow instead of just saying “you stink.”

        All adults SHOULD know how to do this, but many don’t. I’ve been to many homes of young people just starting out that clearly didn’t know very basic things about cleaning.

        I don’t have much faith in HR, as I said above. If they don’t do anything, the OP will still have to address this herself. Maybe some people here have had better experiences. I still wouldn’t resort to calling them “idiots” however.

        1. Observer*

          Please. As I said, CHILDREN know better than this. This is absolutely not about “adulting”. If someone is starting out without having this minimal understanding of cleanliness, then their parents have failed them in a BIG way.

          And telling people that their products don’t work well enough is not “softening” anything. It DOES, however, create a total derailment of the essential issue. There is simply no way to make this possibly stick without calling out the odor.

          1. Metadata minion*

            This also sounds like it’s been going on for quite a long time. Even if this is due to a lack of being taught basic hygiene, sooner or later most people would notice and care that their space and clothes are filthy. She is an adult with an office job who presumably has access to the internet and can look up how laundry works. I’ve been in the position myself of suddenly realizing I don’t know how to do some basic housekeeping task that maybe I should have learned when I was 10, but then I look it up or ask friends or otherwise find out how dry cleaning or fruit fly control or whatever works.

          2. Jennifer*

            Please. This is exactly my point. Their parents failed them. Many do. I’ve seen many a disgusting dorm room and apartment. Less people know this than you think.

            Maybe softening the message wouldn’t work, who knows. I just don’t have high hopes for HR.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              As an 18 year old I ended up teaching (or trying to) four different rooms of people how to do laundry. It was sad (and I was totally judging their parents not my fellow freshmen).

              You do not do your kids favors when you ALWAYS do all the cleaning/laundry for them. Please teach them before they hit college.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Honestly, though, I’ve met people like this who were taught, but they’re just lax about hygiene in general. They don’t care. AFA work, they see their workplace as an extension of their personal space (I imagine Pippa’s car is also a wreck, if she has one) and treat it thusly.

  14. Butterfly Counter*

    I don’t know. Some of this I think rises to level of contacting HR, and maybe some of it doesn’t. I also wonder at how sensitive OP is to smells.

    Coat odor: I can see this being a problem if Pippa is a smoker, has a lot of pets, or wears a coat in weather where she is sweating (but then why wear a coat?). I wear my winter coats every day up here for months on end and generally don’t find they need any regular laundering. I don’t think my coat has any particular smells.

    Fridge: If she is okay about cleaning out her food, just ask more regularly?

    Showering: Yeah. If she’s as ripe as you’re implying, this needs definite discussion.

    Work space: I’m not a person who really sees a problem with watermarks or hair (I have long hair and it’s just a fact of life). How is she getting dirt on her desk? Or are you referring to just dust? Old food and dishes are bad, but again, that seems like a simple ask. Is dusting/vacuuming/cleaning something employees are expected to do? Do you have company-provided materials to help? If so, and you can clean on the clock, then the expectation she keep her area immaculate should have been discussed by her manager and now dealt with. If not, it seems like something your company should invest in a cleaning service for.

    Halitosis: It seems she’s very aware of her bad breath. I don’t know what more you want her to do about it except not exist near you.

    COVID safety: Absolutely this should be an HR issue.

    1. Observer*

      Workspace – What the OP is describing is not about not keeping the place “immaculate”. This is about basic cleanliness, and it’s something that should not need “discussion” with a functional adult.

      And, by the way, as someone who used to have long hair and family members with long hair, no hair all over your desk is NOT necessarily just a “fact of life.” If you have hair all over your desk on a regular basis is not necessarily a fact of life.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Again, I’m wondering if this is a matter of degrees. If she’s cleaning her hairbrush and leaving the wads of hair everywhere *hurk*, but I can have 3 strands on my desk and it looks like a lot more than it is. Also, again, I’m pretty meh about water marks.

        Also, what are the ways the office provides to help clean? At mine, there is no housekeeping outside of trash removal except once a year (maybe) and I think one vacuum for the entire 4 floor, 200+ office building. I’d love to clear my desk, but how?

    2. Triumphant Fox*

      It could be makeup instead of dirt. It can really stick to your hands if you apply it with fingers and get on everything.

    3. Esmeralda*

      It’s not any one thing, it’s that some of these things are truly problematic and the other things, while small INDIVIDUALLY or something you might live with if it were just the one thing, go towards showing the big picture.

      Altogether, this is a real problem. I don’t know if you’ve had to work with someone with significantly poor personal hygiene, but it’s hard to work when you’re trying not to gag and when you’re spending time and energy trying to minimize the smell. Such as, cleaning up after the person, having a stink-blanket in a giant ziplock that you lay on the guest chair next to your desk so that the smell does not transfer to the chair upholstery, purchasing and using upholstery cleaners for when you forget or when the person sits in the chair when you’re out of the office, making sure the window is open, living with the excessive heat or cold caused by having the window open, buying and running a small fan strategically angled to blow the smell away, running to the bathroom to vomit when the person leaves your office…

      BTDT. Even when the person is not in your office, it’s stressful, because you’re worried they will come over…

      1. Esmeralda*

        I’ll also add, I have a lot of sympathy for the smelly person –there are all sorts of reasons for this. Physical health, medical conditions, mental health conditions, lack of knowledge, lack of resources. I had a student who had a terrible odor– it was actually their clothes, which they could not dry properly because their family could not afford a drier and did not always have funds to use a laundromat. But I could not meet with the student in my office until the problem was resolved, I truly could not work with the terrible smell. (I’m not a priss either; I got no problem cleaning cat boxes, toilets, diapers and diaper pails, human fluids of all sorts that sick people emit…)

        That doesn’t mean OP has to live with it, nor that the manager is right to not say anything. Whatever the reason, it is a significant problem that is impeding the OP’s ability to work.

    4. Metadata minion*

      I have long, thick hair and tend to shed a lot, but I don’t normally end up with visible amounts of hair on my desk. The odd strand or two sure, or stuck to my clothes, but when my hair is long that also means that I see stray strands and sweep them off into the trash. I’m not even particularly fastidious or grossed out by hair, but it would take active neglect for me to end up with a noticeably hairy desk.

      1. Alexandra Lynch*

        I have hip-length hair and I don’t shed it everywhere. I put it up in the morning and take it down at night, and it comes out in the hairbrush, and then I put it up for the night, and take it down in the morning and it comes out in the hairbrush if it shed itself overnight.

        I don’t know if I would shed everywhere if I left it loose, but if I left it loose it would help me type, help me eat, etc, and that’s annoying.

      2. m*

        Is it also dark? My sister has long blonde hair and i have long (dyed) black hair, and only my hair is visible, for the most part

    5. Actual Vampire*

      When someone literally never showers or washes their hands, they accumulate dirt and grease on their body that then gets smudged onto other stuff. Learned that from my (luckily former) roommate.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I can see that. For me, I think I got caught on the mention water marks, and if the body dirt and grease was there, I don’t know if I’d even notice water marks except to think at least that part of the desk has been exposed to water!

  15. Mouse Anon*

    …you’re supposed to wash coats? I mean, I have washed coats when I lived in colder climates than I do now – but only once every few years, if that. And if my coat smelled, yes, I’d clean it. But reading things makes me feel like I was doing it wrong. (I’ve been in a warm climate for the past decade, and while I still own coats, I’ve NEVER WASHED THEM in that time! But I only wear them for travel jaunts once or twice a year. But still – AM I STILL DOING IT WRONG?)

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      If you’re wearing them that rarely, then the washing needs go way down. But yes, they do require cleaning, just like everything. You might want to wash yours since its been so long.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      Whenever hygiene comes up, there’s a lot of discussion about various standards. I think it’s normal to only launder coats periodically, or as needed.

      Given her cleanilness in other areas, it’s not crazy to assume that Pippa may not be keeping her coats sufficiantly clean.

      1. Kiki*

        Yeah, it sounds like Pippa’s coat can be smelled by people outside its immediate vicinity, which definitely means it should be washed (as is the case for literally anything). I don’t care if people regularly wash their coats or not, as long as I cannot tell, I do not care. I think most people are the same way.

      2. uncivil servant*

        Yes, I assume that the smelliness of a coat relates to the smelliness that’s inside the coat. If you put a clean body in a clean sweater in a coat, there’s just not many smells for the coat to pick up.

    3. Moose on skates*

      Yes! Wash a coat if it gets spilled on or is around a smoker, otherwise just wash it in the spring before it lives in the closet all summer. Or dryclean, if the coats are wool.

    4. Butterfly Counter*

      I don’t think so, and this is part of why I am wondering how sensitive OP is about odors.

      As I said above, I wear a winter coat probably every day for months on end. They live in the coat closet otherwise. But when I wear it, it is very cold out and I do not sweat in them. I don’t even get much of my own skin contact with them, nor do they come into close contact to any perfumes I might occasionally wear. Also, it’s cold outside which is not often conducive ripening bad smells. I’m a non-smoker and my small dogs aren’t shedders. There just isn’t a lot of smell to be had in cold, cold winters that my coat is exposed to. So I get them dry cleaned maybe once every two or three years, maybe?

      1. Yorick*

        I find that the extreme cold makes smells stronger. When someone comes in after a smoke in the dead of winter, it SMELLS.

        My coworker came in one morning and told me she wanted to give away a scarf. She handed it to me and I literally gagged. I don’t know if it was the smoke from the drive to work or if she smokes in the house or what, but it was STRONG. I felt bad but there was nothing I could do but hand it back to her.

      2. Artemesia*

        I wear a heavy down coat in winter and usually have several layers below that BUT we all sweat whether we think we do or not and over time it will get into the lining of that coat. I wash mine in the spring before putting it away and if I am wearing it a lot, maybe once mid winter. I am not a heavy sweater — but everyone sweats and I have known many people happily wearing sweaters or coats that reek and are oblivious to that fact. I don’t want to be that person.

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        I think the point isn’t that Pippa needs to wash her coat X times a year and now let’s all argue about what X equals, the point is that Pippa’s coat smells bad and she needs to make it not smell bad. Maybe one good wash every few years would take care of it, maybe it needs washing every few months, maybe it’s ground in by now and she needs a new coat, who knows, but it just needs to not smell bad. It’s the same with showering, I wouldn’t care if she showers every day or every other day or twice a week or whatever, that’s not my business, she just needs to look and smell clean. How Pippa achieves that is up to her.

    5. WellRed*

      I posted above, but briefly: I live in a cold climate so get my wool coat cleaned after each winter. This ensures I’m not attracting moths if I got any food on it. It also gets rid of any road salt etc that might lead to the deterioration of fabric. Fabric needs care. YMMV.

    6. BadWolf*

      Like most things, it depends! I live in a winter climate, so I usually wash my winter coat sometime in the spring time and my spring/fall jacket sometime in the winter. I do an extra wash if I’ve spilled something or been somewhere stinky. But for a long time, I had a leather coat and … I never washed that. I might have dry cleaned it once or twice. I specifically bought a washable winter coat the last time that I went shopping.

      In stinky coat stories, where we sit, the coat closets are far away. I brought a coat tree for myself and offered to share it with coworkers who sit nearby. One coworker did hang his coat. One day, I noticed a strong perfume smell, realized it was the coat I was wearing and washed it. Happened again later. Realized it was my coworker’s coat that smelled and my coat was absorbing it. Still unsure what it was…either cologne or maybe food. Anyway, he left so smelly coat situation resolved without intervention.

      1. Sam.*

        Yeah, I can’t imagine having an everyday coat that I couldn’t stick in the washing machine. They get washed a couple times every winter. When you live in a cold place, you just spend so much time wearing them, it’s inevitable that they get soiled/pick up smells, etc., especially if you’re a daily public transport rider like I (normally) am. I do have some more special occasion jackets that require dry cleaning, and they get cleaned way less often – but I also wear them much less!

    7. QA Mini*

      FWIW I used to work in a reception job where my desk was by the coat rack. Many many people have winter coats that smell pretty ripe and I think a lot of people have no idea. I live in a cold climate where you need a coat every day for half the year and we literally had to put volcanic rock pouches by the coat rack to deal with how bad some people’s coats smelled. I have always washed my coat at least once a month or had it cleaned if needed but I think many people don’t

    8. aebhel*

      I mean, I’ll dryclean my wool coat periodically, but I’ve never washed the leather jacket I wear in warmer weather (…and wouldn’t even know how to go about it, honestly). I’ve never noticed an odor, although it’s not like I’m sweating in it.

    9. AnotherLibrarian*

      When I lived in the deep South I had an annual “time to dry-clean the coats, suits ” ritual where I took all my wool things to the dry-cleaner and got them done professionally. It was a great local dry cleaner, I miss that place. But yeah, if you rarely wear them, its more about getting rid of must/moths than actually dealing with smell.

    10. Absurda*

      Yeah, I wash my coats at the end of the season before putting them away. If they smell a bit musty or dusty when I bring them back out at the beginning of the next season, I’ll wash them again to freshen them up. I just toss them in with my regular clothing laundry. For wool, I run them through the dryer with dryel or something similar; I don’t take them to a professional dry cleaner.

    11. Observer*

      You are supposed to wash / clean your coat if it smells or it has stains.

      Most people don’t know or care if you clean your coat as long as they can’t smell it.

    12. Karak*

      How often you need to wash them has a lot of variables! For example, if you only wear your coat for five minutes to walk into work, probably not often. If you’re walking two miles to the corner store every day, probably should a little more often.

      If you have animals, if you smoke, if you eat a lot of strongly scented foods, if you sweat a lot, if you spill drinks or food (I manage to dump coffee on myself at least once every three months) all those are reasons to wash a coat. My winter coat has a hood, and after months of sitting on my hair, absorbing hair oils and hair products, it’s not exactly fresh.

      Most coats kinda smell like old blankets or socks after a while-not “clean” but not really “dirty” either. Give yours a sniff, see what you think.

    13. Esmeralda*

      Give it a good sniff, or ask someone whose nose you trust. Wool coats for instance can get a musty smell if they are put away damp.

      In the winter you may still be sweating and that smell can get caught in a coat’s lining.

    14. Metadata minion*

      Yeah, I’m realizing I should probably wash my coat, ever. The cuffs and hem are pretty grimy. I know I have to dry clean it and I don’t own anything else dry-clean-only so I keep putting it off. Maybe that’ll be on my “cycling in the winter stuff” routine this year. I normally wear so many layers under the coat that I’m pretty sure it doesn’t noticeably smell, but washing it would be a good idea.

  16. irene adler*

    OP#1 should be allowed to exchange work stations with the boss.

    It’s so easy to dismiss a complaint when it does not affect you.

    1. Meghan, the OP*

      OP here!

      So the thing is, my boss does sit at my desk sometimes when I am on vacation to use items that are specifically stored there or as a spot to sit for clump meetings. But….nothing

      1. irene adler*

        It’s gotta be day in and day out.
        And with no end date – like when you are out on vacation. Because otherwise, boss knows it’s only for a short while. And, if boss doesn’t acknowledge the issue, then it doesn’t need to be addressed.

  17. Mama Bear*

    I brought up COVID compliance to HR a few times before the offenders quit skirting the rules. It also helped that the CEO reiterated that those directives came from him and he didn’t want to see any more noncompliance. Managers would be held responsible for their team/interns. Definitely mention the COVID concerns.

    Then maybe parse the rest into what you/your team can bring up (like the fridge) and what you need more help with. I worked in an open office with a lot of recent grads and they got very lazy about dishes. I absolutely think it’s worth pressing her boss about the condition of her desk. You might also ask the receptionist if it bothers them and try two angles to get it resolved. Maybe it will have more weight if another department is also unhappy.

  18. many bells down*

    I always read every word of these hygiene posts because this is going to be my stepson someday and I find them really helpful. He just flatly refuses to believe he smells bad, and showering is a boring waste of his time. As is laundry.

    1. AKchic*

      Having teenage boys, let me assure you that the majority of them outgrow that phase, I promise. Especially when they start realizing that they find certain people attractive, and those people may find him attractive too.

      – mom of many, greasier Kurt Cobain wannabes who now shower regularly and do their own laundry (I know, it surprised me too)

      1. many bells down*

        Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a just a teenager thing. Last year he was in treatment for an eating disorder and even professional health care providers couldn’t get him to bathe.

    2. Alex*

      Teens go through that phase (most of them) and you’ve just gotta hold firm through it, as part of parenting. And also as a favor to every person who’s will interact with them in the future. I was that kid around age 12, and became a voluntary daily showerer by 14. It can be done!

      1. Anon for this*

        I dated a guy whose parents never worked up the nerve to tell him his hygiene was terrible. I don’t think he knew this until he was in his thirties. :(

    3. Sled Dog Mama*

      My brother was one of those teenage boys who just stunk no matter what he tried. A one point he was showering Morning and Evening, and changing sheets every few days. Eventually he grew our of the stink but thank god we grew up before Axe.
      A vetrinarian friend of mine put it very well (she was talking about my puppy at the time but it holds for teenage dogs as well as teenage humans) “Some boys are just grosser than others, all we can do is keep them reasonably clean.”

      1. Sled Dog Mama*

        I guess I should also say that I have two brothers, they are twins and only one had the issue.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I know a teacher who used to give an annual “Axe Body Spray is not a substitute for a shower” lecture. (To the whole class, rather than singling anyone out.)

      3. A Social Worker*

        Yup, some of us know we stink and try everything and it just doesn’t work! I went through a couple years as a teenager where my feet REEKED no matter what I did…frequent washing, airing out shoes, never going without socks. It was so bad and embarrassing. Luckily I somehow grew out of it. And it’s not just boys! (I’m a woman).

        1. Merci Dee*

          My daughter is 15 now, so she’s mostly grown out of it. But when she first hit puberty and the hormones started flowing, woooooooow, was there some teenage girl funk going on around our place! It wasn’t specifically her feet, but you definitely didn’t want to catch a whiff of the armpits of her shirts after she took them off. And it seemed like no regular detergent would get out the lingering odor. Didn’t have any success with getting rid of the smells until I started adding 20 Mule Team borax to each load of the laundry. That took care of the smells like magic, and also brightened the whites, too! :)

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Showering IS a boring waste of time. I feel ya, kid. But sometimes, for the sake of the world, you suck it up. :P

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Oh agreed. With my tween it’s “yeah it’s a boring hassle – but it’s also a requirement to be a part of society.”

        Tween is very social – getting that shower in is getting easier.

  19. Garden Fairy*

    This sounds like a combination of both terrible hygiene AND a lack of awareness about basic cleanliness in shared spaces. Do go to HR; this sounds like a nightmare and something that is at least partly under her control.

    And people, I can’t emphasize this enough: Please wash your coats semi-regularly! They get grimy, too, and that’s saying nothing about the smells that accumulate on certain fabrics. Even going to a restaurant can stink up a coat quickly.

    1. 40 Years In The Hole*

      Oh I had a couple of “blue-cloud funk” work mates back in the day. One worked for me. I showed up as the newly minted admin/HR coordinator and when I was introduced to her I about fainted. Ratty and grubby uniform, hose that looked like she’d scaled barbed wire. And the…essence…from her and the admin office was…eye watering. And she was client-facing…Turns out she raised & sold small animals as a hobby, and would bring them to the office for customer pick up! In cages hidden under the desk and counter. I still can’t fathom why her immediate supervisor never addressed it. “Well, she’s very sensitive to criticism… .” Yah, Animal Farm was shut down real quick and new uniforms ordered. But because her van reeked of animals, she never could quite shake the barn smell. Just, nose blind.
      And the coworker who daily, biked hard into work, didn’t shower, changed in the small, non-ventilated meeting room, then left his shirts and pants draped over his cube all week for all to choke as they walked by. And appears not to have laundered or changed shirts regularly. One Fri I grabbed all his stuff home, washed it (twice) and brought it back on Mon. He never got the hint; evidently he was out of soap, and management was out of touch. Gag a maggot!

  20. Beth Jacobs*

    Honestly, today was a rough day. This post made me feel better – at least I’m ahead of the people who don’t shower.

  21. jake peralta*

    I am NOT excusing this behavior or diagnosing in any way, because I don’t think that’s appropriate, but LW has literally just described my girlfriend D: She has really severe ADHD and I love her so much but I wouldn’t wish this particular scenario on anyone else, tbh. If you look at her on the surface, she’s extremely successful professionally, has lots of interesting outside interests, is funny and brilliant and thoughtful, people really love her. And then her house, where she walks around barefoot, is full of roaches because she just forgets to take the trash out; she doesn’t shower or brush her teeth for days at a time even though it smells really bad because she’s got massive sensory issues and hates the feeling of water; she’s been fired from a dozen jobs because she literally cannot show up on time. She’s very rich and privileged, so it has no consequences — getting fired doesn’t mean she’ll starve or be homeless, for example. And because of her illness, her brain is trained to really only give a shit about dopamine hits (things she finds exciting or interesting or that produce a strong emotional reaction, like video games) and nothing else matters on that same level.

    Kinda like ShouldBeWorking’s comment above, the only way I’ve found to deal with it is just to be really direct and neutral/as nonjudgmental as I can be even when I’m really frustrated. “Please shower today” is a common line in my house. (In my case, I know that she doesn’t want to live like this, it’s been clearly expressed; she just doesn’t know how to override her own brain enough to make it happen consistently. But I consented to this relationship, and continue to, and part of our dynamic is working together to make a system that helps build habits that are more functional.)

    This should NOT be LW’s responsibility at all, of course. I mostly just want them to know they’re not alone and this can happen to otherwise reasonably happy and healthy people because brains are wild. This is some heavy-duty shit and it absolutely requires your boss or HR to intervene. It’s possible if the coworker does have some sort of focus issues that are documented, your manager might feel like it’s cruel or even illegal (there’s a lot of bad, infantilizing armchair psychology on the internet for people with ADHD, for example, which will give ~advice~ like “People who are mentally ill have different brains than people who are neurotypical, and therefore it’s discriminatory to expect them to do things they aren’t driven to do on their own”) and that freaks people out sometimes

    1. Garden Fairy*

      This sounds like a hell of a load to bear for another adult. One of my kids has ADHD, so I am familiar with what lack of stimulation can look like, but it doesn’t appear that his manifests quite in this way. Take care of yourself. I hope your girlfriend has additional tools and supports that she can lean on.

    2. space cadet*

      I have ADHD too, diagnosed as an adult, and it’s been quite an interesting process to figure out what outside tools can help (besides meds and therapy), since I don’t have another person around to nudge me. In case you/she are interested, I’ve found Tody to be one of the most useful tools to break down and remember home chore needs! (I also forget to take out my trash pretty often or get overwhelmed with dishes, but this app does a really good job of kinda gamifying the process with small tasks you can check off. I’ve stuck with it longer than any other similar thing yet!)

    3. Alex*

      That sounds incredibly difficult, but as you note, you are opting into it with your eyes open. I hope you’re able to make sure you take good care of yourself, and get your partner to contract out as much of the labor of running her life to paid people, as possible. My partner has ADHD, and my experience is not at all like yours, so people definitely vary! He’s not great with deadlines, and has sensory sensitivities, but unless he discloses, nothing is visible.

    4. Jaybeetee*

      A couple things pinged me for ADHD as well (though I do, like, bathe). If your gf wants to shower more regularly and literally forgets or gets absorbed in another activity, something as simple as setting a regular phone reminder can help.

      Another thing that might help is (much like with a child) making the shower a more “fun” place to be. Like I said, I’ve never had this particular problem, but I do have some ambient lighting and a waterproof speaker in my shower, and it’s just a nice vibe, especially at night just before bed.

      Pardon me, I realize you weren’t asking for advice and this is off-topic here, it just sucks that she struggles with this and you’re in this position! I hope you can find a solution that works for both of you!

      1. LJay*

        This. I’ve started listening to podcasts while in the shower on a speaker (and while doing housework, etc) and it really helps with getting myself to do basic things.

    5. Meghan, the OP*

      OP Here!

      Thank you truly for your comment, it’s given me a lot to think about. There are other behaviors of hers that indicate focus issues and I’ll refer back to this when charting a course through this matter. You put a lot of thought into this answer and I really appreciate it.

      1. Ice and Indigo*

        If it is an ADHD issue, I’d recommend looking up ‘rejection sensitive dysphoria’, given how she responds to criticism. Not saying it is, but IF it is, that’s a thing to know about.

      2. theletter*

        as an ADHD person myself, I do get a dopamine hit from physical activities with peers. Perhaps setting up a fun late-Friday afternoon office clean-up time with some music might inspire her to clean up her desk?

    6. misspiggy*

      Hope not too off topic, but I just wanted to add that Captain Awkward, herself recently diagnosed ADHD, has some extremely useful advice that feels actually useable when you’re in that situation.

      I gotta say, if I hadn’t been in fear of poverty when I was younger, I dread to think how I’d have conducted myself. Now what I use to get me going is accountability to other people, thinking how upset they will be if I let them down again. Not fun for me but it works. My person had to clearly state how upsetting he found certain things for me to include him in that.

  22. TexasRose*

    1. The mess of food and dirty dishes is NOT a personal matter – if it can be seen from reception, the mess reflects badly on your BUSINESS. Get your office manager involved. If you have a receptionist, might they be willing to pass along some “visitor remarks” about the apparent slovenliness?
    2. The fridge is a shared resource, and so is often treated by everyone as “not my job.” If you really don’t like what’s there, bite the bullet, post a note on the fridge that you’re tossing anything left there on Friday/whenever (coordinated with the cleaning/trash dumping crew so the rotten stuff gets removed ASAP – no reason to just move the mess). It’s more fun if you can find an office buddy who is also disgusted to at least keep you company while you empty the fridge (and sometimes you can shame them into helping).
    3. Brag on this great new dry cleaners you found that did this great job on your coat. If that doesn’t work, liberally use of Febreeze on the coat while someone else distracts Pippa.
    4. Try offering a different breath treatment: maybe Newman’s ginger mints? (at least it will give a different flavor to the halitosis).
    5. Polish your desk. Feeding the wood with orange-scented or lemon-scented polish will help keep it from picking up other odors.
    6. If your office allows it, get a small HEPA air cleaner and run it as often as you can. Place it as near to her desk as possible.
    I know, I know – all these simply address symptoms, rather than the problem. But since Pippa seems to have “that guy” syndrome* (you know, that guy that only showers before a hot date, and never notices when he needs to take the trash out?), and your RA won’t take care of it – oops, your supervisor won’t take care of it, at least you can make your work space more tolerable.
    *Yes, that is a gendered statement. I’ve only ever encountered this behavior in guys. I humbly acknowledge that there may be other women out there with this same problem, but I haven’t ever encountered them.

    1. HR Bee*

      Please do not spray any type of chemical on another person’s belongings without their knowledge. Febreeze seems rather innocuous, but please don’t.

      My husband is exceedingly allergic to fragrance. Spraying Febreeze on his clothes would break him out in a very uncomfortable, itchy rash for days. We buy special laundry detergent. We buy special shampoo and body wash. I don’t wear perfume or lotion or use hairspray. His allergy isn’t deadly, but its annoying and uncomfortable. When our son was born, we thought, naively, that Dreft would be fine. It’s literally supposed to be for babies and their sensitive skin. My husband broke out all over his hands and arms just from handling the baby clothes that were washed. We switched the baby to our detergent immediately.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah – my freshman roomie had clothes that could have gone to class on their own. She never did laundry in our first semester (and only twice in the second semester). I was soooooo glad to move out at the end of that year.

  23. Anon4This1*

    Oh, yes, coats need to be washed or dry-cleaned on a regular basis.
    True story: I grew up in Seattle. You know, where it rains all the time. Even supposedly clean coats get musty and mildewy smelling in damp closets. Living in that environment, one didn’t always notice the smell.
    Then I moved to Eastern Washington — the desert side of the Cascades, where it’s dry. Folks, I’m sorry to say, we can smell Seattleites coming by the mildewy smell of their coats/clothes. It’s quite off-putting. And for me, riding in an elevator with someone wearing a beautiful, yet musty/mildew coat can set off an asthma attack that lasts for hours.

  24. YoungTen*

    I had a coworer “Rich” who literaly wore the SAME clothes EVERYDAY for the 3+ years he worked in our office! I am not kidding. I was pregnant at one point and his smell would hit me as I arrived in the mornings. If I dint experience it, I wouldn’t believe it

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I worked somewhere where I had a similar issue. One of my coworkers often smelled a little “human” and his shirt looked a little greasy. It wasn’t terrible- it certainly didn’t meet the standard for an intervention or writeup- but it was noticeable.

      It turned out that when he was hired, he was issued ONE uniform shirt. He was a full-time employee who worked six days a week! It’s not like he had a ton of time to launder that one shirt over and over and over again. I’m not even sure if he had a washing machine or if he had to go to a laundromat.

      I gave him a stack of new staff shirts, and the problem was resolved.

      1. Sister Michael*

        My co-workers and I were all that person at an old job. We’d be given one shirt and then scheduled for so many consecutive days working (outside, in the summer, doing a physical job, for 11 hour shifts) that we couldn’t even do laundry and just fabrezed our shirts for four or five days at a stretch. Our boss pointed it out once and had to be told that if he wanted us clean, he needed to let us be home long enough to clean our clothes.

        Same job had a guy who smelled like an armpit and when I asked my boss to handle it, hoping for discretion and that the guy wouldn’t get made fun of so much, our boss told him that “everybody says” he smelled, and that sure didn’t help our working relationship. (Which, insofar as it’s possible to be fair to anybody in this story, it was never going to be anyway. He was an unpleasant person and odd in some ways that were directly connected to the manner in which he was unpleasant. The story is funny, this much later, but it was a lot at the time.)

  25. Louie*

    I think it’s SUPER HARD to have conversations like this. I had a team member that coughed and sneezed into other peoples’ cubicles and instead of using kleenex, would “snot rocket” directly into the trash can. His desk was covered in chips and speckled with soda and coffee… thinking about it is giving me the heebeejeebees. I went to my HR to see if they could help and they said I was on my own. I did a thorough search on AAM and found some help, but it was still awkward as hell. The discussion did not go well and I was accused of taking advantage of my management status in order to make him feel bad. In the end I had to have team members move seats because one was less upset about it than another.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Gross… and this is where I’m just shocked people (in this case garbage owners) wouldn’t say something in the moment.

      “Yo! What the hell… take this and get me a clean trash bag and get rid of your snotty one”

      As for taking advantage of your management status…well duh… you were managing presumably. In that case it should have been …

      “Yo! What the … take this and get Gloria a new clean trash bag and dispose of the snotty one”

      Honestly… this is a special snowflake who got embarrassed because someone called him out his gross behavior. Sometimes embarrassment is needed.

  26. HR Bee*

    I almost exclusively wear peacoats. I have like 8 in a multitude of different colors. And I had zero idea coats were a thing you washed until one day in college my very helpful (now) mother-in-law took them all to the dry cleaners one day. I now have them dry cleaned once a year. I do have one big winter coat that I only wear like MAYBE once a year and I don’t think its ever been washed. But again, it’s been worn like a whole 3 times in its lifespan. So I can’t say I’m too freaked out over the coat issue, but everything else. YES.

    It is 100% the managers job to have this conversation; however, I do find myself having to have these conversations more frequently than I’d like because manager’s just don’t want to. Usually I don’t ever find out until another employee comes to me. Similar to dress code violations. Hygiene and dress code are the two biggest areas I see managers avoid. The only time I ever agreed it should be handled by me instead of the manager was when a male manager needed to send one of his female employees home to change because her bra could be seen through her shirt (literally, bright purple bra and white shirt).

  27. Dave*

    I actually have a rule for hiring that they can’t smell. The fact that I have this rule tells you I have dealt with smelly coworkers.
    Pre-Covid I would put out my are and say personal space. You can’t care if they think you are rude. You are allowed a personal bubble especially at work.
    I get not wanting to clean their smell but maybe tag team with colleagues until you can get HR to address it.
    Given this is more then just a BO issue or a smelly smoker type issue you maybe (or maybe not) dealing with some kind of mental health issue. Some of this sounds like hoarding behavior.
    There is no easy answer but not getting physically sick from the smell of a coworker should be a bare minimum workplace standard. Let her get huffy if you exert boundaries for personal space while someone deals with the bigger picture.

  28. La Triviata*

    In my office, we have one person who has a true phobia about mice; another person has a drawer full of snacks and packaged entrees. And we’ve had a mouse on occasion who tends to make a beeline for the drawer of food. The pest control people make regular visits to make sure the office is mouse-free … and the phobic person has to be occasionally reassured that we ARE mouse-less. We’ve had gnats and mosquitoes from our potted plants, but that’s currently under control these days.

    We have an office refrigerator and, since I can’t work from home, I’ve been coming in almost every day. I cleaned out some things that had gone bad and continue to monitor it for things that should be OK but aren’t. We do get winters, so people wear coats, but the only time it was bad when someone stored their winter coat in mothballs. I have my coats cleaned at the end of winter; suit jackets and such, I use a DIY dry cleaning thing – you spray a cleaning solution on the clothing, concentrating on any areas that are stained or need special attention, put them in a waterproof bag, toss in a “moist towlette” that has some other cleaning solution, zip the bag and toss it in the dryer for half an hour. Works better than you’d think.

    And as for going noseblind, that also applies to people who’ve been wearing the same perfume for so long, they don’t smell it any more, and so end up using enough so they CAN smell it … and the rest of us can from several feet away.

  29. Trek*

    Add a small fan to your desk and when needed point it on low away from you. Preferable towards COWORKER and hope that MGR is down wind. Yes go to HR but direct it away from you as much as possible. There was a post on this site years ago about a man burping and farting and being disgusting to get rid of his female office mate. I always thought a fan pointed at him would have solved the problem.

    1. Notwithstanding the Foregoing*

      I had a coworker who sat right behind me in our open office. She kept her winter clothes in moth balls and the smell was overwhelming. I always keep a small fan at my desk and strategically angling it to blow the smell away from me did help.

      The absolute worst was the first cold day of the year. The winter coat would be freshly pulled from its stinky storage just minutes before she left for work. My eyes still burn thinking about it.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        The chemicals currently used in mothballs are potentially harmful to anyone who breathes a lot of the fumes (anyone=not just people with specific sensitivities) and possibly carcinogenic.

        The older ones used camphor, which has medicinal uses and in large quantities is poisonous. I read a mystery novel years ago in which someone asks a chemist if they know any poisons that smell like camphor, and is surprised that the answer is something like “the only poison I’m aware of that smells like camphor is camphor itself.”

        Probably not dangerous at these concentrations, but worth bearing in mind for everyone who is being careful in case a coworker or friend has a bad reaction to Febreze or air fresheners.

  30. Penny*

    We had a co-worker like this in my office who had horrible hygiene and just smelled in general. Her hair was honestly the greasiest, thinnest ponytail I have ever seen. No one wanted to sit near her because of the overwhelming odor. And working in a cubicle there was little way of escaping her. Eventually the managers put her and her one friend alone in a row by themselves because no one else could deal with it. People used to gag when she walked by and no amounts of HR intervention helped.

    As for the fridge, implement a policy that the fridge will be cleaned out every Friday. Post a notice and say that anything left there after 2:00 PM on Friday will be thrown out.

  31. CastIrony*

    I feel bad for Pippa on two notes, but I still agree on the advice (Please don’t kill me!)

    When she gets surprised that there’s food in the fridge- could she have ADD/ADHD? One of the symptoms I’ve read about is having troubles with object permanence- meaning, that if she leaves food in there, thinking she’ll eat it tomorrow, but then forgets all about it, then it’s surprising when there’s lots of her food in there, especially if she puts it in an area where she can’t see it- think a vegetable crisper.

    The halitosis but mints- I live with someone who has Scjogren’s Syndrome, a disease where you don’t have much moisture in the body, especially in not making saliva. I hate getting near that family member’s mouth, but I know it can’t be helped.

    These are not excuses, but it’s something to consider. I hope you don’t have to deal with this much longer. If someone stinks, they stink, and it makes it extra hard to work with! My sympathies!

    1. designbot*

      or also related to ADHD, dehydration and dry mouth are common side effects of stimulant medications. It may be a side effect of something she’s taking to try and deal with the rest of it better!

    2. Meghan, the OP*

      OP here!

      Thank you for your reply, those are some really good things to think about! I am pretty sure the breath is in part because Pippa is an excessive weed smoker but I will absolutely keep that in mind.

      1. allathian*

        Weed? Marijuana’s the one smell that’s guaranteed to turn my stomach instantly, even worse than cigarette smoke. Just the weed alone could explain a lot of the funk. Especially if she smokes indoors. Even if she showers frequently the smell is going to stick to her clothes. I’m in an area where weed is still illegal so I don’t get exposed to it very often, but I do recognize the smell.

  32. Mediamaven*

    I had an employee who was a gorgeous girl, an influencer on Instagram who posted nothing but cutesy photos of herself and yet her bathroom skills were TRAGIC. She would literally defecate on the seat and I had to clean it up. It was so disgusting! You can’t always judge a book but it’s cover. I hope this gets resolved.

    1. Manchmal*

      What?? Why was that your job?? Why not send her back in the bathroom, with “Um, I think you forgot something.”

      1. 1Potato2Potato3Potato4*

        I have to say I almost choked laughing so hard reading this. Not a funny situation by any means but I love your response.

  33. Anonymouse*

    TLDR From personal experience, go to HR and get them to address the behaviour in terms of its practical impacts and make it clear it’s a performance issue. Try to keep any personal offense at the behaviour (or your guesses as to it’s cause out if it), because

    Long commen
    This was me when I was younger.It came down to problems with the anxiety executive functioning, sensory, emotional and observational issues that come from undiagnosed ADHD.

    But it is not your job to diagnose, and it is causing you genuine workplace – you have to move your coat, the smell distracts you and there is mental/physical health impacts to coworkers from her behaviour.

    There are compassionate ways to approach this, if that is your goal. In my case, of course I was aware of the issue but I was mortified to realise how much impacted my colleagues. What worked was when a trusted colleague and HR explained the problem behaviour outlined the practical impact of my actions, that it was a very real problem that needed to be addressed and that it was a genuine performance issue. Through trial and error I eventually corrected it.

    What didn’t work was nasty comments, snickering, sniping, ‘jokes’ and going behind my back. I would suggest you do not use these strategies (added because you say above you suspect that this us driven by ‘laziness and a lack of observational skills’ – if this attitude informs your response, she may well not listen to you because you are risking been seen as a hostile person whose opinion is not worth responding to.)

    You do not need to have a compassionate response though. However I suspect n order to be effective that any message will need to come from someone with authority, with an outline of the practical impacts be delivered from someone who is firm in the position and is prepared not to be argued out of it.

    Best of luck.

  34. Silvia*

    Many years ago I had to tell a female employee about her body odor. It was so bad that no one could use bathroom after her for at least 30 minutes. The manager and HR refused to get involved. I went out bought some feminine hygiene products and met with her in a private room. She took it surprisingly well and did well for about a month and then was back to her “normal” self

  35. Carol*

    I had a friend and coworker with many of the problems you describe. It wasn’t until she made a distress call to me from home one day that it all came together. I drove to her house and discovered she was living in filth and had been hiding a drinking problem that rendered her incapable of picking up after herself. She had a breakdown. I was angry at myself for not probing earlier. She needed help and we all ignored the obvious.

    1. Anon for This*

      Thank you Carol. It was not too many years ago I was in the same situation as your friend/coworker. I’m pretty sure I didn’t smell bad … but then I was in the throes of serious alcoholism and at one point I didn’t shower or take a bath for seven months. True story. I tried very hard to hide everything, but one look at my home filled with filth and trash/alcohol containers and fruit flies would have exposed me. Basically I was in the throes of a horrible PTSD-fueled depression and all I could manage was to wipe myself down with washcloths and baby wipes and keep my clothes clean and show up for work on time. I kept my teeth brushed and either washed my hair in the kitchen sink every weekend or went to a blowout salon. But for some reason, I just could not propel myself to take a damn shower. My work product was immaculate and beyond scrutiny. But as soon as I got home I started guzzling alcohol until I passed out, making sure to set my alarm to be at work on time the next day. Weekends were just a blackout blur. Anyways, I sure wish I had a friend like you to notice and maybe intervene. I recall a couple of friends who knew something was off offering to help me out if I ever needed anything, and a boss noticing my extreme bloatedness asking if everything was all right, which of course I explained away claiming adjustment to a new medication. He couldn’t argue, because my work was perfect. In the meantime, I was dying.. But eventually, I started coming to my senses and cleaning up my act. I’m still dealing with the repercussions of letting my housekeeping and home maintenance go to hell for 4+ years. But I’m getting better, and hoping to make some good friends one day, good friends like you.

  36. The Spoon Fairy*

    Ahh, the desk litterers. I’ll never understand – my Pippa works in a public facing area and yet thinks it’s ok to leave snotty tissues and crisp packets on all our shared desks. I’m forever having to apologise to clients because she shoves the stuff behind computer screens, where we can’t see it but the clients can.

    Lockdown came at just the right time for me, because I had started throwing the company’s cutlery in the bin rather than have to wash up after her. I figured when we ran out of spoons, she wouldn’t be able to cover them in yogurt and leave them to dry behind the pen pots any more.

    Our team is being reduced down to three people, and if Pippa and I both keep our jobs I’m leaving the country.

  37. lilsheba*

    OH hell no I can NOT stand someone who is dirty and stinks. Makes me feel sick. I also can’t stand someone hovering over me and invading my bubble, ESPECIALLY now. I’d be going to HR right quick. I don’t normally like to tell people what to do but damn being clean is too important.

  38. BlondeSpiders*

    Years ago, when I managed a mall record store (remember those?!?) I had an assistant manager was super stinky. At the time, I didn’t know if it was poor hygiene, or not washing his clothes or what, but you didn’t want to come within 2 feet of him. (Now that I’ve read accounts of grown men who don’t/won’t wash their ass, it was probably this.) Everyone in the store knew he was this way, and some of my staff flat-out refused to work with him. I was a very young manager (21) and of course, I didn’t want to say anything to him. I tried to get my male staff to do it, to rib him gently in that way guys sometimes do, but they refused. Customers made comments to me! His friend since high school worked at the bookstore across the hall and said he’d always been this way. He received a Pepe Le Pew watch for his birthday and he swore it was “because he was good with the ladies.”

    I finally sat him down one day and told him. He was so embarrassed, and suggested he had a problem with his feet. I knew it wasn’t his feet, but I didn’t want to drag out the conversation. 3 weeks later, he’s back to his stinky self. My regional manager pays a visit that week, walks by this guy and immediately calls me to the back room to rail at me for having such a smelly guy on the floor. So I had to talk to him, again, in front of my manager. I think all 3 of us wanted to die that day.

    In the end, he stopped smelling. I didn’t ask what changed. The worst part? He worked in food service before I hired him.

    1. Girasol*

      I learned the hard way that you want to go easy on the febreze in a stuffy office. Be sure the place is well ventilated.

  39. Sunny*

    Does anyone feel OP is being excessively mean? Though it can be a pain, it’s clear that OP just doesn’t like her coworker and some of the descriptions are hyperbolic.

    There’s no way that OP can know if her coworker has a medical issue or is depressed.

    1. Jean*

      This person is making life crappy for everyone around her at work. Also she’s apparently bad at her job and it’s causing additional problems for the OP. Nothing the OP said came off as excessively mean, in my opinion. If Pippa does have some sort of medical or mental issue, that would be sad for her, but it shouldn’t become their coworkers’ problem. You can have compassion for someone without making their problems your problems, or accepting their excuses. It’s inappropriate to be dirty in a shared workspace, full stop. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.

    2. MostCake*

      +1 Sunny. You never know what someone else is going through. I think it’s rude to leave rotting food in the fridge and have no qualms about tossing it – and COVID masking and distancing are not up for discussion with my, but there’s no telling what is behind the personal hygeine issues and many years of working amongst others has taught me that sometimes you just need to know when to turn your head or keep your distance to avoid an unpleasant smell. My first experience with coworker stench (and by far the worst) goes back about 40 years and was due to a medical condition. Since then I’ve just learned to adjust to the smelly coworkers and guard against direct contact when possible. It takes all kinds of people to make the world.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        It takes all kinds of people to make the world but in a workplace, we expect all kinds of people to be held to an equitable standard. It breeds a lot of contempt when one person is allowed to diverge significantly from that standard in a way that impacts other people and wouldn’t be tolerated if anyone/everyone else did the same.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      You’re right in that the OP can’t know whether there’s an extenuating circumstance behind the way that Pippa is, but even if there is one, it doesn’t change the effect that Pippa’s hygiene has on the people around her. Those effects are real, and compassion only provides so much of a buffer.

    4. BadWolf*

      Based on follow up comments from the OP, it sounds like this is coupled with sub par work and silent treatments. I don’t blame the OP for possibly crossing from compassion to annoyance.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – it sounds like the hygiene issues are just the most visible problem, but far from the only problem OP has with Pippa.

  40. Jean*

    If your manager is too timid to recognize that they HAVE THE POWER in this dynamic, and to use it for the benefit of the team, then they have no business being a manager. Honestly, this type of manager fills me with contempt. OP, if I were you I would be blowing HR up with complaints until this was resolved. Good luck.

  41. Sabine the Very Mean*

    Does anyone remember that show, “Yes, Dear”? The main couple made new friends that were obnoxious and didn’t take hints that others would take to stop being obnoxious. The main couple couldn’t figure out what to do and then just began resenting them. And then they introduced friends to the Guest-house couple (less couth sister of main couple lady) who immediately and seriously called out the obnoxious behaviors and held the friends to the fire. The friends were horrified and you could tell they would be changing immediately.

    What is needed here is a bumbling, likable, honest person to just go, “Sweet Little Baby Jesus, Lady, do you know how badly you smell/how gross your area is/that people can see you from the front door?!”

    I’m only half serious but sometimes these are the heroes we need.

  42. Christine*

    For the food left in the fridge, just an FYI – some folks with ADHD (like myself) have a real problem with object permanence, so we legit just don’t remember that we brought food. For me, I’ll bring something in which other people in my office might plausibly have brought in, leave it in the fridge with every intention of eating it, forget about it, and then repeatedly see it in the fridge and go ‘I wonder who brought in oat milk, I want to ask them if I can use it in my coffee, I love that brand’. My recommendation in dealing with this would be to (1) be empathetic if possible because not everyone’s brain works the same and (2) implement a policy of putting names and dates on food, leave some tape and a sharpie by the fridge.

  43. Kella*

    Having read OP’s comments farther down, it sounds to me like the real problem behind the problem is the manager. OP mentioned that if they try to ask their smelly coworker to step back, that she will turn it into an excuse to give them the silent treatment and cause work delays. OP also mentioned multiple performance problems with this coworker that’s impacting everyone else’s work. And OP said that they’ve gone to their manager about both the hygiene stuff and the performance stuff, and the manager has refused to address either one.

    So you have an inconsiderate coworker that causes drama when her peers ask her to change her behavior and a manager that isn’t interested in managing an ineffective worker, so she effectively is allowed to do whatever she wants.

    I really hope we get an update on this one. I’m anticipating that the update will include a much wider picture of the issues at play here.

  44. Hank Stevens*

    I will say this, as a male manager, I do not touch this it is involves a female employee. I give this assignment to higher level female employeeswho works with me. I gladly have dealt with male employees, including one who could not keep his neckties clean for some reason? Am I wrong in my thinking here?

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I will say only to please make sure that the female employee being spoken to knows that you are fully behind the employee you delegate this too. I have been that person before and it was incredibly uncomfortable because the person I was asked to talk to thought the conversation was all my idea.

      Maybe also check and see if there is a female manager who you could ask to substitute for you in the conversation.

  45. Sarah*

    I would give her a pass on the coat thing because I’m not sure that is common knowledge. I didn’t know until now that you’re supposed to wash coats (although I grew up somewhere with mild, short winters and now live somewhere with long, severe winters, which could explain that lack of knowledge).

    Maybe the gum chewing is because she knows her breath stinks?

  46. The Other Dawn*

    Someone from another department approached me last year and asked if managers are allowed to talk to their direct reports about lack of hygiene. Apparently there’s someone in her department that has a very noticeable hygiene issue and everyone in the department has complained about it, both to each other and their manager. It was at the point where no one would sit anywhere near her in large meetings (in small meetings they really didn’t have a choice). The manager’s response is that she can’t talk to Susan about the issue because “it would be discrimination.” I’ve never heard of that before. Either the manager is misinformed or she just doesn’t want to deal with it. I told her if her manager refuses to do it, she/they should go to HR. I don’t know if they ever did, but we’re all WFH home now so it at least they don’t have to deal with it until at least 2021.

  47. NuHuSs*

    So much of this can be addressed by framing it as a COVID concern..

    Workspace: I’m not usually a fan of putting out broad messages to all staff, but in this case I don’t see anything wrong with framing it as ‘look, we all need to improve office cleanliness and hygiene right now; so the office cleaner will now be visiting biweekly instead of weekly, and on the days they aren’t here, we need everyone to wipe down their desks and workspace with sanitizer at the end of each day. Food in the fridge will be removed every Friday, and we will have a rota for/nominate one person to/request that the cleaner sanitizes this weekly’

    Breath: ‘Please don’t stand so close to me – I’m being very cautious to socially distance right now.’ or again, an office-wide reminder to practice social distancing, and therefore not stand over people’s desks, but instead use screensharing/a larger AV screen/print-outs (OK, not ideal) to share information.

    Improving ventilation or air circulation might also help – which again is best practice anyway from a COVID point of view. Might be impractical, but can you move the coat rack at all, so it’s away from your (and others’) desks? ‘We noticed the coat rack is right next to Jane’s desk, so to avoid her being close to other people’s personal belongings for germ transmission, we’re moving it to just outside the door/outside the toilets/wherever for the moment’ and then just neglect to actually move it back when this all dies down.

    That leaves you with the general hygiene, which while absolutely the manager’s responsibility to address, at least reduces the number of things on the list of ‘ways that Pippa smells’ if the manager/HR won’t step up…

    Of course this is all just a short-term solution, the manager really needs to step up, but if she doesn’t or won’t, then hopefully a few months of the above might form some new behaviours that you can all live with more easily.

  48. Janet*

    I’ve been in the work force a long time, and I’ve noticed there are occasionally some 20-somethings who haven’t really fully clued in yet that clothes washing is essential and must be frequent and done properly. I can think of one situation where people assumed a young woman in our office rarely showered, but she later claimed she did, and it became evident she primarily wasn’t washing her clothes often enough or was (possibly?) doing it so poorly that BO smells lingered. Bottom line is that a manager has to say something because people don’t realize, and it is ultimately a kindness to clue them in. And when people invariably (in my experience) say they care a lot about hygiene and shower regularly (true or not), there has to be another line of conversation about how frequent clothes washing is also essential. It’s so awkward and uncomfortable, but just has to be done kindly but also matter-of-factly and with a minimum squirming and hemming and hawing if possible. That makes it even more embarrassing. In and out — shortest conversation possible. Also, personally I’d suggest it is not a time to bring up a bunch of other stuff to try to shift away from the embarrassment while someone sits there mortified and distracted and desperate to get away.

  49. pastelround*

    It’s great that people are always considerate of exceptions when someone has an issue at work. Maybe your rude/smelly/unpleasant/credit stealing workmate actually has ADHD/alcoholism/personality disorder/depression etc etc. It’s good to be understanding.

    However, don’t forget some people are just jerks! Some people smell just because they are lazy and gross and inconsiderate of others and it is fine to be direct to them about it and not tolerate it.

    By all means give people a chance to explain why they do what they do but don’t be such a pushover that everyone gets away with bad behaviour because you’re not understanding some people are just jerks and there is no excuse.

  50. La Triviata*

    We once had a woman in our office who was a compulsive eater. She’d sit at her desk and constantly eat unbuttered/unsalted popcorn. She kept herself immaculate – clean, nicely dressed, hair clean and brushed (although she tended to brush out her hair over the table where people ate). However, one time she was out and her keyboard was knocked over and masses of popcorn crumbs fell out. We spent a good deal of time knocking the crumbs out and cleaning the keyboard, then got a keyboard “skin” (thin plastic that went over the keyboard) for it. She hated the thing, but the office manager insisted she use it and it did keep the keyboard clean.

    I have a friend who works in tech support and they periodically get keyboards with MOLD growing in them. They’re supposed to clean up the keyboards but sometimes they’re too far gone.

  51. OfficeNotLockerRoom*

    Best of luck, smell OP!

    Pre COVID I worked with someone who was smelly like that, and it was not addressed because she…well, let’s just say when one is very overweight and isn’t super careful to clean oneself (which can be physically difficult after a certain point), fungus can happen. No one wanted to address it despite complaints because no one wants to address someone else’s hygiene and also weight was involved to an extent.

    I have pretty big…tracts of land, so I get sweaty/gross under them, but I always shower or at least get under there with a towel/deodorant daily, sometimes more. (That’s why I started to really twig to my coworker’s smell problem, I was paranoid it was me at first).

    I hope you get a better resolution- my coworker improved her self care and lost a bit of weight which helped a little, then quit to move states.

  52. Laura H.*

    I’m not the most hygienic when I’m not working (Handwashing is the exception.) But if I’m working or going out, my YIKES I need to get my you know what together kicks in, thankfully.

    In a small defense for Pippa, hygiene is easy and difficult. Routine helps me when I need it, I shower days x y and z. That routine needs to be easy and reasonably flexible. (If I miss shower on day x, I can get up early on x1 and do it)

    Same with washing clothes. Once a week, I do my laundry. I need to be attentive to this stuff and not be an utter slob- that’s reasonable. The public view is absolutely an issue.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of a “mind your appearance” talk at several of my jobs- hair related. Dirty hair for one and knots in the back of my head that I neglected to fix before coming in. It’s embarrassing, yes. But I always think I make an effort once it’s brought to my attention. Sometimes, the issues returned- not consistently but enough. I remember these moments now because they were handled well, and in private by wonderful, wonderful managers who wanted me to succeed.

    Nobody wants to have that convo with their employee. But by doing so, I’ve had immense respect for the managers who did for me.

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