Help! How Do I Tell Someone Close About Their Personal Hygiene?

The top 10 how-tos on approaching someone with personal hygiene

By Hana O.
Help! How Do I Tell Someone Close About Their Personal Hygiene?

Personal hygiene issues are usually a topic of concern, especially when it’s about someone else – because it is meant to be personal. However, there are times when you just can’t disregard the issues any further as it distracts you, or you just genuinely want to help out a friend. Fortunately for us, there are ways to tactfully, subtly, call it what you may bring up issues on personal hygiene to someone else.

The Dilemma as A Friend To Someone With Poor Hygiene

Working with someone, or worse, living with someone that practices poor hygiene can cause unnecessary tension between friends, housemates or workmates, and family. You might be sitting there taking in the pungent smell of the breath, timing your inhales to when he or she is inhaling and not exhaling, and completely distracted by your breathing than the topic of discussion.


It isn’t fair that you’re there suffering when they might even have no clue about it!


Bringing up someone’s issues on hygiene is difficult because you worry that they might get hurt, offended, or humiliated by the comment. It’s not convenient for you, either. You don’t want to risk being considered as a nitpicker or whatnot.

How to Tell Nicely On...Top 10 Embarrassing Hygiene Issues Answered

Smelly feet, body odor, or bad breath, in the end, it’s really your decision whether or not to discuss the issue with the source. If you’ve suffered enough and want to take on the mission, below are some general tips for raising the rather embarrassing topic followed by more specific ways to offer solutions to more specific issues on personal hygiene:

It’s all about the tone and volume

Don’t go exposing your friend’s poor hygiene issues with other people around. Keep it discreet, private, and be wary of your tone. Think of how you would want to be approached if the tables have turned and apply the same.

Use of terms

It’s all about wordplay. Go for downplaying the gravity of the situation and avoid words like “stink” or “education” or anything that comments on the person’s upbringing. You only want to bring up the matter, not go all the way to their level of proper education or background.

Use words that don’t put blame or sound like an attack. For example, “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute. I wonder if I could bring up a matter that would help both of us a bit. It’s not a big deal, don’t worry…”

Keep the intention in mind

It is important to remember the most important reason why you are raising the issue – and that is because you care. You care about your colleague or friend and want to help them now before someone else does it tactlessly.

1. Inform on Bad Breath

Perhaps the most common personal hygiene issue is bad breath. While others might have simply forgotten to brush their teeth that morning, there are also more significant health concerns that lead to halitosis, such as medical conditions, medication, or dietary choices. Because of this, a plan must be put into place.


First, gauge the frequency of bad breath situations. If their breath is usually fine but not today, then you can offer some gum or mint. If they decline, suggest that “they really should.” Most would understand the hint by then.


Second, if halitosis is an everyday event, then you can bring up the matter while keeping the tips above in mind.

2. Inform on Body Odor

Body odor is another subjective hygiene issue. It can be caused by stress, medications, diet, or medical condition. Furthermore, one’s outlook on body odor is also cultural. Different cultures have varying views on the topic and practice traditions that involve spices, incense, and the like.


With that in mind, ensure that you are not stepping on someone’s beliefs, culture, and traditions as you open up the subject politely and discreetly. A tip that usually works is by mentioning the issue as if in passing. Start with, “Oh, perhaps you’re not aware of it, which is totally fine, but…” No lengthy discussions, less embarrassment.

3. Inform on Smelly Feet

You’re in a room, and the person beside you removes their shoes or socks, and slowly but surely, a repelling scent fills the air – what do you do? Telling them to put their footwear back on might sound like the quickest solution, but if that person isn’t close to you, you’re in for some awkwardness.


How about, “Hey, I think you’re not aware of this, but I think the odd smell in the room right now might be because of your feet.” Make it sound like a question that lessens the impact.

4. Inform on Unruly Farting Habits

Passing gas is as healthy as breathing. Being unable to control when the surprise happens is also equally normal. However, if you know someone who does it excessively and the smell is quite strong, then you have two options: subtly leave the room or even more subtly bring up the issue.


One way to politely comment on the situation would be feigning innocence, “Hey, who was that?” Add some humor and make sure to keep the mood light. If the person says “Excuse me” or apologizes, make sure to reply how it isn’t a big deal and that it happens to everyone. That way, you inform the person without putting him in the spotlight.

5. Inform on Burping Habits

This is a bit tricky because burping discreetly is typically taught in preschool or at home. If you meet someone with poor burping habits, make sure to apply empathy, subtlety, and the right choice of words. Chances are, there are reasons as to why their body is responding that way.

6. Inform on Poor Toilet Habits

Leaving the toilet seat up, missing the bowl, or forgetting to flush are common poor toilet habits that get on the next user’s nerves. Unfortunately, we can’t always pinpoint the culprit unless you live with him or her. One way to get the message across is to leave a note or organize some posters or signs to be placed on all workplace toilet stalls.

7. Inform on Ungroomed Privates

Grooming one’s private areas is something that concerns more than personal hygiene. Many are turned off by their partner, who neglects to trim and to groom their privates. Given that there is a deep level of intimacy involved, a suggestion to groom should be easy to accept.

8. Inform on General Poor Hygiene At Home

It is easier to give advice on proper hygiene to someone you live with because of the familiarity. Although just because you and that person are really close, the information must still be delivered respectfully.

9. Inform on Chewing Habits

“Can you please chew quieter?” or “Can you please chew with your mouth closed?” would not come off as offensive if done in a polite tone.

10. Inform on Poor Hygiene At Work

Someone who practices poor hygiene at work gives you a bit more justification to address the situation because your colleague represents the company. We want to look, smell, act, and hold ourselves to high standards because it is the reputation of the company at stake. In a way, your workmate’s hygiene at the office is your business. Just be sure to handle that business professionally.

How to Ratify the Situation if My Friend Gets Upset?

A person’s reaction and response to your comment are highly dependent on the level of your relationship. A close friend, family member, or partner would not be as offended and affected as a colleague or friend.


If the situation gets complicated and the receiver gets hurt, there are ways to ratify the situation. First off would be to accept your mistake and apologize. This is the easiest way to achieve peace.


If you choose to get defensive and stick to explaining how right you are, the more likely your friend will get even more upset. But by quickly apologizing, the damage is minimized, and your friend would remember the suggestion all along.

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No matter how awkward and none of your concern it may seem, constructive suggestions on someone’s hygiene issues are sometimes a must, especially if the odor or habit breaches your own space. Luckily for us, there are different ways to approach someone and tell them about their poor hygiene; and if they get offended, we have our fallback strategy, which is apologizing. Hopefully, at the end of everything, everyone is closer because of the experience.



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