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Dad Smells Bad


"Dad is starting to smell bad. He bathes and changes his clothes about once per week. While he is not unhealthy, he and his house have acquired quite the odor. He needs to bathe and change clothing a bit more often. How do I approach this delicate subject with him? Since I am the oldest of my siblings, I am the designated point-person in our family to watch out for Dad. He is a very proud man, and I do not want to deal with this situation." - READER



When you figure out a great solution to this problem, there are plenty of children and supervisors who would love to know your successful approach. This is a subject no one wants to deal with, yet many of us are forced to at some point in time.

Bathing usually precedes or follows a significant activity. What is that activity for your father? Saturday night bathing rituals are often in preparation for Sunday church. Everyday showers precede the work day for most people. Most of us clean up with a shower or bath after a day of yardwork. Your father may not be engaging in many of these activities anymore and – in his mind – has fewer reasons to bathe as frequently as he once did.

Another thing to consider is that people have different odors at different stages of life. Newborns have a different smell than adults, and older adults have yet another odor. That is not to say that older people smell worse. In fact, a study showed that middle-aged men’s natural body odors are the most unpleasant of any age group. The exact reason for these differences is the subject of some debate and is not fully understood at this time, although the differences are well recognized. The bottom line is that older individuals smell differently than middle-aged individuals. With that said, however, most people tend to agree when odors are too strong, and no one – including your dad – wants to smell bad.

There is no one solution to your issue, and believe me, I wish there was. I do, though, have a few possibilities for you to consider.

  • Schedule two outings per week. Tell Dad to shower and put on fresh clothes before you go out.
  • Offer to help him shower if you think he genuinely needs it. Setup someone in the family or a paid caregiver to help him bathe if he does not want you to assist.
  • Purchase great-smelling shampoos and soaps that might entice him to bathe
  • Make sure his bed linens and clothing are properly laundered. If he is unable to do this himself, do it for him.
  • If there is an incontinence issue, make sure he has the necessary pads for his undergarments. You can also look into protection for chairs and bedding if necessary.
  • Make sure he is using seven different pairs of undergarments each week.
  • Lay out fresh clothes for him to wear each day.

These are just a few ways to try solving the issue. You are correct in your assumption that bluntly telling your father he smells bad may not have a positive impact on your relationship. Subtle, more nuanced solutions are usually more effective and better for your relationship. Try what I have suggested, and if that does not work, you will need to be even more creative in your approach.

I wish you success on this journey with Dad.


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