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Barn Worker with Bad BO

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  • Barn Worker with Bad BO

    We have a nice woman in our barn who does barn chores a couple times a week and rides and shows with us. She stinks. There's no other way to say it. She is stinky enough that several people have come up to me and mentioned her offensive odor. It's not even normal armpit stink. It's something more foul. Almost like a strange health condition? A dirty washing machine? We have no idea. I'm constantly tempted to febreeze her when she turns away from me.
    Since no one else has offered to do it, I guess, as the owner of the barn, it's up to me to say something to her.
    People back away from her when she approaches and we all fight over who has to take her in their vehicle when we go to shows.
    I know she has sensitive skin and can't use perfumes or fragrances in detergents. I don't know what the solution will be and I'm willing to help her figure it out.
    . If you were that stinky, how would you want to be approached about the situation? (It has to be solved, too many people are complaining)

  • #2
    I wouldn't tell her that several people have complained because she may feel ashamed when she meets other people at the barn and asks herself who talked about her. Maybe it is enough to tell her in a polite way that you want to talk to her and if you can help. For sure not a pleasant situation.


    • #3
      Be as sensitive as possible. I don't know if there is an easy way to approach this. Good luck.


      • #4
        I have been in a situation where I have had to figure out why a student (in high school) had a very notable smell.

        YMMV, but approaching sensitive issues tactically has never resulted in something spiraling beyond my control (unlike the more direct “so I notice you smell. What gives?”)

        Open a dialogue with them. Ask her how her skin sensitivity is these days and how she’s managing it (if she has talked about it with you before). If not, ask her how she is doing. I suspect if something is overtly wrong that might be causing BO (broken washing machine, no water at home for bathing, homelessness, etc - IDK about your situation but these were all common culprits for students) if you have a gentle conversation sincerely seeking to see if she is alright, that you will get hints that can open the door to this.

        If that is too roundabout, you can try asking “is everything okay? I am noticing that (explain your situation politely). Is there anything I can do to help you get in a better place?” (Buying detergent, soap, a place to wash clothes or shower, etc.)


        • Original Poster

          Thank you everyone.
          I do think that money might factor into it. I know things are tight for her.
          We've discussed her skin issues in the past. I might "plant" a bottle of vinegar in the barn laundry room and say "hey, you know what helps my laundry smell better and rinse the detergent out? Wanna try some?"
          I know just telling her she stinks without offering any assistance or sympathy would be awful.


          • #6
            Hard to say. When I was a punkish 20 something transitioning to the real work world, and I was a bit lax on hygiene, one hint (in private, from a supervisor) was all it took to mortify me and I never let it happen again. But I was fundamentally a goahead fairly ambitious kid that was trying to do it all right.

            It's harder if the person has long term health issues, mental or physical. It's harder if they are a bit socially isolated or marginal. What's the rest of her life like? Is she holding down an actual job somewhere, or is she long term unemployed or on disability, and you are her only contact with social life? Does she live alone? Do you know anything about her health? Does she do anything other than come to the barn?

            People can get used to their own smell, and in an outdoor or smelly situation, may not notice it as much either.

            I think the best you can do is have her in for a private chat, and if she gets defensive and says no one else has said anything to her, you can say that the concern is widely spread but no one has known how to bring it up, and it's most appropriate for you to, as her supervisor.

            I know what you mean about the difference between normal BO and something else. My punk hippy friends in our 20s sometimes got a bit whiffy, but a sweaty healthy young person (while I wouldn't enjoy that smell today!) is totally different from some of the odors you get off more marginalized people (I did some literacy work with street people in a dropin center way back in my youth). Throat and mouth abscesses can smell like rotting tissue (like really really bad hoof thrush) and I think there are all kinds of wierd yeasty things that can get going especially if the person is a bit fleshy and has flesh rolls in places. And then there is foot fungus.

            it's also an interesting question whether the problem is her body, her clothes, or a combination of both. If she can't use detergent can she use any kind of soap? Does she have access to a washing machine? Can she use washing soda or vinegar in her machine? Does she have a clothes dryer or does stuff get to molder on a clothes line inside a dank basement suite?

            We tend to think that everyone has a nice hot shower, a washing machine, a dryer, these days. But there are many substandard living situations where you have to haul out to a laundromat, or maybe you have a tub but not a shower, or the bathroom is moldy and uninviting. I've lived in many such and you can keep yourself decent if you are healthy and detrermined, maybe not so much if you had health problems and were depressed.

            Maybe offer her the use of the barn washing machine, if there is one?


            • #7
              Talking to someone about personal hygiene issues is never easy - doubly so when it is a subordinate/non-family member.

              I think I'd start off with the skin condition, asking her in a compassionate manner what difficulties than condition/disease means for her. She may have something like Trimethylaminuria. In that case, there is little she can do to "fix" it. Or maybe she just has such sensitive skin and severe allergies that she can't use typical products many of us take for granted.

              People with medical conditions are generally more open to talk if you show genuine interest or concern over their condition, rather than an accusatory manner (telling her lots of people have complained about it), no matter if you have good intentions or not

              I speak from experience - I have MS. I "look" normal if I'm just sitting there, but often am far from it. The whispers, snickers, pointing, etc. when my balance is off or I slur my words (appearing drunk to some) or whatever it might be, are embarrassing and hurtful. People that want to change me, so that I conform to social norms are exasperating. I once had a close family member actually tell me "Well, just don't wobble and no one will notice you are having a flare up."

              However you approach it, be gentle and compassionate.
              Last edited by 4LeafCloverFarm; Aug. 14, 2019, 04:51 PM. Reason: I meant "genuine" interest, not "general" interest LOL
              ~~ How do you catch a loose horse? Make a noise like a carrot! - British Cavalry joke ~~


              • #8
                Ah, my post overlapped with the previous one.

                it is indeed possible she is homeless, or almost so. Do you actually know?

                You do have a barn laundry, so offer to let her use it and get some no-perfume detergent and vinegar for her. If you have a barn shower, get her to use it and supply clean human grade towels and perfum free soap.

                If she's really broke, she may be ignoring health issues or rashes or abscessing teeth.


                • Original Poster

                  Lots to consider.
                  We have a lovely, clean washer and dryer in the barn. Might start there.


                  • #10
                    I wonder too if she has bladder leaks? I have learned from COTH that they are fairly common . If you can't afford panty products and you aren't doing your laundry regularly, that could get pretty smelly. Actually it is more older marginal men that I associate with smelling like stale urine. And indeed even some not so marginal men that are getting older and living alone. But it's a possibility for women too.


                    • #11
                      Some meds can also lead to bad smell. What about starting to offer to wash her barn clothes there? This not too personal for the beginning but gives her the opportunity to save money.

                      I had a stinky colleague once. None of us was tough enough to tell him. We didn't want to hurt his feelings. Instead we talked behind his back. Shame on us, this is so much more unfair than having the balls to talk to him.


                      • #12
                        This lady had a great approach:


                        That's a snippet from a longer YouTube...she really is worth listening to, and funny.

                        eta: oh, here we go. The whole thing, gives more info about her technique in talking to people about hard things:


                        • #13
                          Where are you located? Here in Florida, i often change clothes 2-3 times a day. I usually shower twice a day just because it is so hot outside. If i go riding in the morning and do barn chores, i shower and change clothes afterwards. I change back into clean barn clothes before finishing evening chores. When I come in i shower again before bed.

                          If I'm sweating and i spill any water on me, my clothes start to stink. Polyester doesn't seem to retain smell like cottons so i have been switching over to polyesters. I've noticed that rinsing my clothes when I come in and hanging them to dry before they go in the wash reduces the smell as well. Nothing worse than throwing damp clothes in a basket.

                          My washing machine is a newer one and it doesn't work as well - one of those machines that is supposed to save water. Instead i end up washing my clothes twice or at the very least putting it through a double rinse cycle. That is in addition to using vinegar. I cannot wait to replace that machine. It's terrible.



                          • #14
                            Do things improve at all when you are at shows, and presumably providing her with a hotel room or camper with shower/toiletries?


                            • #15
                              This is totally a delicate subject, but better she hear it kindly from you, than rudely from someone else. Good Luck. please let us know how it goes.


                              • #16
                                The links above to Shari are SPOT ON.


                                • #17
                                  Hmmmm I’ve had several high school students who had BO problems. Some of them were obviously due to lack of hygiene and/or lack of washing clothes, but there was one student who was different. I tried to get her guidance counselor and the school nurse to talk to her but everyone was afraid to- why? Because she was a Muslim from Algeria. They insisted the smell was from a spice used in her family’s cooking. It was almost like garlic, but stronger, and mixed with other odors. Other students complained nonstop about it after class, asked for passes to go to other locations to do work because it was so disruptive, even the next class complained about the lingering odor. She was the nicest girl and I never got up the courage to approach her about it but I wish I had found a way to talk to her in a respectful manner. More than anything, because she was really very smart and heading to college and I didn’t want her to lose professional opportunities because of the smell. Which unfortunately, I could see happening.

                                  Anyways- that’s another thought- if she is from a distant country there might be some aspect of her cooking that causes the smell. Alternatively, most people from other countries think Americans are hypersensitive about hygiene and smell. I’ve had LOTS of students that really didn’t seem aware that they stunk or if they did that it was an issue.


                                  • #18
                                    While a one-on-one conversation is ideal, please consider having someone else there to serve as a witness in case she throws it back at you as harassment.

                                    I formerly worked at a very global company, frequently working with people of a nationality known for BO issues. Someone confronted an individual about it (no running from the smell when you get to share a confined space entry in a small reactor - day after day after day after day...), and came a gnat's ass from getting canned when the person complained to HR.

                                    It's a touchy subject, for sure.


                                    • #19
                                      I moved from the great white north to a much hotter location. I thought I was having bladder leaks as an older woman but my gyn assured me that it wasn’t the case. I had extra STD and bacterial tests “just in case”. All negative.

                                      Until finally I realized I only had the issue when the temp outside was 85+ (all summer here). So I tried a pantiliner - no smell. Interesting. Then I tried powder - it worked. Holy crap I had swamp groin!

                                      i finally trusted someone enough to relate that story and she said “oh yeah, we all use powder here”. Smh. A year and literally no one told me, and undoubtedly I stank it all up for a freaking year.

                                      So there are loads of reasons someone might have a hygiene issue. If you approach it for their sake, not your own, you might have more luck I wish someone had kindly mentioned something to me as I might not have suffered for an entire freaking year.


                                      • #20
                                        Getting this problem fixed for this woman is only going to help her in her general life. I mean if people are reacting to her like this *at the barn* where there's a higher tolerance for ambient stink, and sweaty women, she must really be driving people away in shops, on buses, or if she ever tries to actually get a job.

                                        It's also possible she doesn't have a great sense of smell.