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Yellowdog's avatar

What is the best way to deal with people who have poor hygiene?

Asked by Yellowdog (12183points) February 25th, 2019

My mother has chosen to stop going to their church (a pretty nice, comforting place where they have been attending for over 40 years) because someone who wants to sit next to her in their class has poor hygiene.

I happen to know this individual. In fact, when I was a pastor in another church eighteen years ago, I married this woman to her husband. And I know that their house is the source as they have, in recent years, aquired several dogs, cats, other animals, that the house is filthy and unfit for visitors.

Its not an overwhelming stench on her but it is bad enough that you wouldn’t want to sit next to, or directly in front or behind this person or want to be in a car with them. I think it has also damaged their advancement in their professional careers.

I also know someone else who wants to talk to me constantly, and I wouldn’t mind so much listening to them, except they always have moderately bad breath. Enough that you have to inhale strategically while trying to not make it obvious. But when you come across as avoiding them it not the impression you want to make. You wouldn’t mind being social at all except for the breath issue.

If any of you have experienced this, you know that such people are absolutely clueless and never seem to take hints. In fact, some might not even believe it if you told them directly and would be insulted. If they did, they still would be hurt or feel ‘put in their place.’

Even if one has a malodorous dwelling place. I believe that wearing clothes that have been recently washed might curtail the problem. As far as oral hygiene goes, there are multifarious products one ought to use.

I am not talking about conditions like trimethylaminuria, or things beyond a person’s control. I’m talking about things just bad enough that you avoid or curtail contact, that can be remedied, that evidently people just don’t get.

How can you approach this sensitive issue without creating a rift or further embarrassment?

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19 Answers

Kardamom's avatar


Tropical_Willie's avatar

There is no way, I worked with someone 12 years ago, they smelled like the didn’t know what deodorant was and hadn’t taken a shower in six months. Oh also they may not have changed their “White socks in boots for . . . a year !

We had the supervisor talk to the person every other week, nothing but B.O.. ;(

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
JLeslie's avatar

If it’s a friend with bad breath, only meet with them for things like lunch where you have a table to maintain distance or to your house for something specific like a TV show where you know you will be sitting on two separate pieces of furniture. When the opportunity presents itself sneak in a couple of sayings, with in specific one that might help. It goes like this: My mom always told me to look someone in the eye when I shake their hand, to always take a mint when it’s offered to me, and to never put all my eggs in one basket. See how I snuck the second one in there.

As far as church, I would tell the person in charge of the class. That person needs to either say something with the risk that the person who smells badly might quit the class or church, or your mom needs to work it so she can sit far from her.

Some insight that may or may not help the brainstorming here. The situation is my dad, and since it’s my dad I’m aware of how he thinks. He resents that people judge others based on superficial things like grooming, clothing, or looks. He sees it as shallow and meaningless. He is overweight, but that really is not the problem. If my mom or I tell him he should cut his eye brows or brush his teeth, he feels like we are focusing on the wrong thing. I’m assuming it also maybe hurts his feelings.

Most recently, he’s been visiting for a few weeks, and AGAIN he has very bad dandruff. It’s all over his shirt daily. It’s embarrasing to me for my friends to meet him like that. This has been going on for years. For years I have asked him to fix it, and for years he has told me the shampoos don’t work, which I told him I doubt is the case.

This time I said, “Dad, this really matters to me. It really bothers me. You are a good looking man, will you please focus on this when you wash your hair, and just try the shampoo the way I tell you to use it.” Then I told him specifically what to do with the shampoo. I made it a personal plea of if you care about me you’ll do this. It took another two weeks, but he finally did it. In one washing it is drastically better, and he did see the difference, he was even annoyed I didn’t comment on the lack of dandruff. Now, he needs to use that shampoo again within two days, and he already is on the third day and didn’t do it. He needs constant reminding. It feels like I have to harass him. He complains my mom treats him like a child when she is telling what to do and what not to do and to hurry up, etc. No shit. He is like a child needing to be told. Part of it is mild mental illness maybe. Depression or loneliness or stubbornness.

My dad is a little obsessive. He gets obsessed with either things he worries about, or he gets obsessed with a topic, and he doesn’t manage his time well, so some grooming things get squeezed out, or put on the bottom of the list.

He also is unaware of some social cues. Like, if he is standing talking with someone and they take a step back to leave more space between them, he takes another step forward! It drives me crazy. He does it to me, and I’ll literally say to him he’s too close, and he still can’t maintain the space I prefer. Some of it is his hearing is going, but mostly I think it’s he is always desperate for human contact and to be heard. He was neglected (I’m serious when I use that term) as a child.

seawulf575's avatar

I had a friend that once asked a similar question: How do you tell someone they have bad breath? Ans: Hey, you have bad breath. Sometimes being direct is the best way. They may not know their breath stinks.
I did run into an issue involving my kids and my ex-wife. She had enough animals to fill a small petting zoo and every time my kids would visit her, they would come back smelling of cat pee and God knows what else. I tried telling them once how they smelled and they thought I was just trying to attack their mom. So the next time they went there, when they came back I told my boys to change their clothes because I was going to be doing laundry. They brought me their clothes. I put #1 son’s clothes into a plastic grocery bag and tied it shut, put that into another plastic grocery bag and tied it shut. Then I did #2 son’s clothes the same way. The next day, after they had showered and gotten the stench out of their noses, I had #1 son come and open his bag and take a smell. He recoiled from how bad it was. I handed #2 son’s bag to him and told him to take a smell. Seeing his brother’s reaction, he declined. I told them this wasn’t about their mom, but it was about how they smell after visiting with her. I didn’t want them smelling that way around their friends. After that, when they came home from visits with her, they would immediately strip out of their clothes and jump right into the shower for a good scrub.

KNOWITALL's avatar

No no, you have to tell them! I usually say, I heard someone talking about you and as your friend, felt like you should know. Thats it. We have to help eachother.

I also gave some neighbors rides to school and they reeked of cat urine. I broughtsome Axe body spray which is really strong, and told them to use it so they didnt smell like cats. No offense was taken and the kids paid better attention.

Woodruff's avatar

If it is a friend or just know him/her casually, you can tell em nicely so they can be aware and suggest something for them to do about it in a way they will not be offended, something like you’re just being concern. But if you don’t know em, forget it, just move away.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Tell their outreach, social worker, family or friends.

kritiper's avatar

Move. To another church.

jsellers145's avatar

Look slike this answer was given…but yeah being direct is best.

Inspired_2write's avatar

@JLeslie Research online what causes dandruff and one will find that many serious illness’es are attributed to dandruff problems.
Example: Diabetes type II is one and has a long list of symptoms. Your father may be displaying this type?

Yellowdog's avatar

@RedDeerGuy1 what “outreach” or “social worker”? This is a woman who goes to my mother’s church, whom I knew pretty well about 10–20 years ago, If ANYYONE knows her in anything like those capacities, regrettably, it would be me. This woman and her husband, oddly enough, have professional careers—though haven’t advanced much.

It is regrettable but probably true, as several of you have said, that being direct is probably the best way. But how to do it remains the problem,

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Yellowdog Tough situation. Many folks with a lot of cats or animals go nose blind, so they can’t even smell it anymore. Let us know how it goes!

Yellowdog's avatar

Hey, not sure it is doable. @Tropical_Willie said that at the start. As several have said, my mother will probably have to stop going to that church. which even my mother said she would do.

As far as the individual with halitosis who I am bothered by, I think @JLeslie‘s mentioning offering a breath mint (especially if I take one myself firs) is a very good suggestion. Not many would refuse to accept (some would) and even if the person ‘gets it’ it would not be taken badly. Its a very polite way to make the suggestion.

JLeslie's avatar

@Yellowdog My dad refuses the mint.

@Inspired_2write I’m not arguing with you, I don’t doubt what you write is true. With my dad, he never follows through with the shampoo. It’s like having strep through and taking antibiotics for a day and saying they didn’t work. You have to beat down the fungus to low numbers so you no longer have the infection. If you use the shampoo one day, and not for another 3 weeks, you’re right back where you started. He just has to do it. If he did it right for 3 weeks he probably wouldn’t have to do it ever again. Or, maybe still periodical. He used it again, I reminded him, and today again hardly a flake. He just need to care about it.

Inspired_2write's avatar

@JLeslie Oh I see perhaps he is looking for quick solutions and thus is frustrated with this type of solution ( shampoo). Perhaps best for him to see a Doctor about his symptoms and concerns?

JLeslie's avatar

^^He has prescription shampoo. He’s had two different prescriptions actually. When the first didn’t work they gave him a different one. It didn’t work because he doesn’t do it. It works initially and then he stops.

I bought him the OTC one (because he’s down here staying with me) which is half the strength of the first prescription one, and it’s working if he would just stick with it.

My dad gets free medical care and free prescriptions, he has no excuse except himself.

He doesn’t see these things. He doesn’t see dandruff, he doesn’t see a mess in a messy house, doesn’t see many things like this. It’s not his focus at all.

Inspired_2write's avatar

@JLeslie Possible that he is depressed? He needs counselling perhaps to get through this?

JLeslie's avatar

^^He is more anxious than depressed I think, but not really aware of it.

He has been the same most of my life. You’d have to understand his upbringing. He’s lonely is what I would say, and probably mildly depressed I guess, but I’d say very mild.

He had a very successful career, he travels, he has fun, and he has more friends than most men I know that have lasted since childhood and college. He practically split a seem a few night ago when we all went to see a comedian. Most depressed people can’t enjoy themselves like that. He and my mom are laughing watching Frazier right now. To use my mothers words, “he’s just a slob.” Lol.

The last 15 years of his career the Surgeon General required officers in the PHS to wear their uniform at least twice a week so he had the convenience of just wearing the same thing a few times a week. Clean, but I mean he didn’t have to think about what tie with what suit sort of thing.

He doesn’t value superficial things, he values peoples’ minds, personalities, integrity, it’s nice in one way, but just too much of an extreme.

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