Is it Rude to Tell Someone They Smell?

Everyone has been there before, at work, at school, hanging out with friends, at home, or even on public transit with random strangers.

One minute everyone is fine, then wham it hits you: someone smells terrible, and they are standing, sitting, or otherwise far too close to you. 

You can’t escape the horrible aroma of the person. What do you do? Even more importantly, is it rude to tell someone they smell? Read on and explore the full answer below!

Is it Rude to Tell Someone They Smell?

It is rather rude to tell random people they smell. Likewise, it is equally rude to tell people that you know well that they smell rude. 

The only time it isn’t rude to tell someone they smell is when you truly have a genuinely good reason to do so (such as you are their boss or parent, and their bad smell is affecting others).

How Rude Is it?


On a scale of 1 to 10, telling someone they smell rates 9 on the rude meter. The only reason telling somebody that they smell bad doesn’t rate 10 out of 10 on our scale is that sometimes, ever to soften, there is an occasion where you have no choice, or the right thing to do, is to tell someone they smell.

For example, if your spouse is about to leave for a job interview, and they smell the rear-end underside of a racehorse after the Kentucky Derby, the action is fully warranted and much less rude.

On the other hand, telling your spouse they stink, on the way out the door to a night out on the town, because you don’t like their perfume or aftershave is rude and uncalled for.

Why is it Rude?

Telling someone that they are smelly, is very hurtful because people are prideful creatures. It is much better to avoid the person, by simply walking away or putting some distance between you. 

Moving far enough away that you can’t smell them anymore is the respectful thing to do, not tell them that they smell.

Other Options to Do Instead

There aren’t many other options to do instead of telling them something they smell, rather than simply not saying anything to them.

If you can’t fight the impulse to let the person know they smell, try doing it as politely as possible (though we suggest just moving away from them).

Walking away from the stinky someone is the most polite reaction you can have.

Of course, if it is a family member or employee, you can be much more direct about it (and should be).

Common Questions

Is it wrong to tell someone they smell?

It isn’t exactly wrong to tell someone they smell, but it should be done in the most discrete manner possible. Otherwise, you risk embarrassing the person in front of others. Telling someone they smell is already going to make them self-conscious and feel ashamed. 

How to tell someone they smell?

Telling someone they smell is a very touching subject. The best way to do it is in private. Whether you need to whisper in their ear, ask them to talk in private for a minute, or wait until you can catch them alone, never tell someone they smell bad in front of others.

When should you tell someone they smell?

You should only tell someone they smell if you really need to do so. People rarely one need or want to hear your private opinion about how they smell (would you like or care to hear other people’s opinion about how you smell, on a bad day?). If the smelly person is under your care, such as a child, student, or employee, it is your responsibility to deal with the smelly person, however.