How to Advise a Person That They Have Poor Personal Hygiene

Updated February 21, 2017

Due to dietary habits, health conditions and different standards of cleanliness, some people smell more strongly than others. Bad hygiene is often a personal choice --- many have an aversion to tooth brushing and showering --- but sometimes, an unfortunate health problem is to blame. If the poor hygiene of an employee or co-worker is turning your workplace into a hostile environment, or if a friend, roommate or significant other is slacking off in his grooming, you must treat the situation with honesty and tact.

Write a clear company policy on dress code and hygiene standards, and make employees aware of these standards before or as soon as they start working with you. In the policy, include the importance of shaving, showering, tooth brushing, wearing clean clothes and using deodorant. If there is already a clear policy in place, employees won't feel attacked if someone tactfully points out their breach of this company policy. A policy will also motivate employees to exercise good hygiene, even if it hadn't occurred to them before.

Wait a day or two after first seeing or smelling the evidence of poor hygiene. It is possible that the employee had some kind of embarrassing mishap that led to the one-day hygiene violation. If the poor hygiene continues, it should be safe to assume that he has a personal problem rather than bad luck.

Tell a supervisor --- ideally a supervisor of the same gender as the offender --- about the problem. Don't mention the problem to anyone else. If you are a supervisor, it is your responsibility to confront the offender, or ask another supervisor of the same gender to confront the offender.

Ask the offender to meet with you in your office, a conference room or another location where you can speak privately.

Speak to the offender in an empathetic, professional, neutral tone, presenting her with straightforward information about the hygiene problem. Say something like, "I have noticed (the offensive odour), and I am concerned that it is affecting your performance at work." Review the company policy about hygiene.

React to any outbursts or negative reactions with a calm phrase such as, "It's my job to tell you this because it affects the company," or "If I was having a problem, I'd want to know about it."

Wait a day or two after first seeing or smelling the evidence of poor hygiene. It could be that your date/new friend/roommate had an emergency that prevented her from freshening up. If the poor hygiene continues, it should be safe to assume that she has a personal problem rather than bad luck.

Invite your friend to watch some TV shows or movies that focus on makeovers and grooming. Act like you were planning to watch these shows anyway, so your friend doesn't get defensive.

Plan a trip to the salon or spa and invite your friend along. A day of pampering could boost your friend's confidence and encourage her to take better care of herself in the future.

Pick up some antibacterial soap, shampoos, mints, washing powder and other hygiene products and share them with your friend.

Compliment your friend if she uses these products. Be natural with your compliments. For example, "Your hair looks really nice today," or "That body spray smells so good!" This will reinforce her use of these products.

Confront your friend directly, in private, if she still hasn't improved her hygiene practices, or if she refuses your offers and gifts. Use polite "I" messages, such as "I can't get used to the smell of (offensive odour). When I have a problem with (body odour/bad breath/other offensive odour), I use (hygiene product), and I think it will work well for you, too."

Give your friend an ultimatum, if the problem continues: "I really like you, but I can't get used to the smell of (offensive odour). If you can't improve your hygiene, I'm going to have to (break up with you/find a new roommate/stop hanging out with you." This may motivate your friend to improve her hygiene. If she still doesn't improve, there isn't much more you can do about it, and if you can't stand her smell or sloppy appearance, it's probably best to end the relationship.

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About the Author

Christina Sloane has been writing since 1992. Her work has appeared in several national literary magazines.