“My Holiday Houseguest Stinks!”


I recently had family visit for a few days for Thanksgiving and they plan to visit again for Christmas. I love having them visit, but there’s an issue that has me dreading the next visit: my brother stinks. We have guests take off their shoes when they enter our home and the smell when he takes off his shoes is overwhelming and fills the whole house. For the last few visits, I’ve had him leave his shoes and socks outside, which helps a little. I usually open doors and windows to get rid of the smell, but that’s not always possible depending on the weather. He usually showers soon after getting to my house, but that does nothing for the smell of his clothes. Several people have commented to him about the smell and I even offered to wash his clothes during the most recent visit (he declined), so he’s definitely aware of the issue. I enjoy seeing him and would hate to hurt his feelings, but it’s come to the point that I’m tempted to tell him he’s not welcome to visit if he can’t be bothered with the most basic personal hygiene before he comes. Having him stay at a hotel is not an option. Do you have any suggestions? — My Brother Stinks

If your brother is aware of the issue because numerous people, including you, have talked to him about it, and he’s showering almost as soon as he gets to your home, there might be some medical problem. Because he’s your brother and I presume you’re close (you love having him visit even though he stinks), you could try broaching the topic — compassionately! — from the angle that you’re concerned about his health rather than simply concerned about the aroma of your home. Has he talked to a doctor? Could the body odor be a symptom of something that needs medical attention?

Beyond that, there are some changes you can make at home to help with the stink. First, don’t have him remove his shoes. I mean, I get it, I’m a “take your shoes off at the door” kind of person, too, but there are exceptions, always (including when we’re having a get-together/party). Or, if you simply cannot handle shoes in your home, buy a pair of slippers (as a Christmas gift even!) for your brother to wear while he’s visiting so the foot stench fills the slippers and not your home. (Be aware though that you can’t control whether he actually keeps the slippers on.) I’d also get some candles. This is my very favorite one, especially for Christmastime. You can also do DIY home fresheners, by mixing different ingredients on the stove top or in the oven, Here’s one I found with a 30-second Google search, called “How to Get Rid of Home Odors Using Vanilla Extract.” Boom. You could also do lots of cooking. You know, fill your home with the scent of pies and roasts and chocolate chip cookies.

Finally, if all of that doesn’t work, there is one full-proof method that will do the trick: whiskey. It mixes well with the holidays and stinky family houseguests.


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  1. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    My daughter has smelly feet. It didn’t matter what I did or how much I washed her shoes they would smell and so would her feet. The thing that works is to spray deodorant into the shoes. It takes the odor away and keeps the feet from smelling. It seems like she has sweat that feeds some kind of smelly bacteria. I think it is personal body chemistry and has little to do with hygiene. The spray deodorant keeps the foot and the shoe dry and then there is no odor. Have a couple of cans of spray deodorant waiting and as soon as he takes his shoes off ask if you can spray the deodorant into them. It will take the odor away from the shoe and after he wears them with the deodorant it will take the odor away from his feet.

    1. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      My daughter’s feet were so smelly that sometimes I could smell them when I was driving and she was sitting in the backseat with her shoes on. There are three places in our house where she leaves her shoes and I keep a can of deodorant in every one of those places so that if I see her shoes sitting there I can easily spray them.

  2. Unwanted_Truth says:

    I used to have this problem myself, with my own feet. Even when I had my shoes on, there were times I could smell them still. In the car, sitting on the couch, and truth me told, it really really bothered me. I showered daily, bought new socks, new shoes, inserts, put baby powder in my shoes after taking them off every time, to no avail. I ended up going to a podiatrist because the smell grossed me out and I was extremely embarrassed whenever I knew others could smell it too. Guess what? I had foot fungus, and other than the smell, I would have never guessed this. I was given an antibiotic cream and within a week it was gone. No smell, no thing, this was 8 years ago and I’ve been fine since. Maybe your brother should go, it could very well be worth it. I don’t know if it’s the same smell or whatever, but if it’s like funky corn chips, get him to the foot doc stat.

  3. Does he change his clothes regularly? If the problem is that he’s wearing the same socks and other clothes for days, then you could buy some socks and sweats and ask him to wear those while you wash his clothes. It sounds like you’ve been pretty blunt with him already, so why not just say “sorry, but washing your clothes is not optional this time, I can’t deal with the stink”?

    1. I agree if the issue is that he’s not washing his clothing and has poor personal hygiene having back ups like you mentioned and slippers like Wendy mentioned sound good. I would also keep spray deodorant by the shoes for everyone to use. My feet sweat a lot and I have to use something or my gym shoes would smell awful.
      Beyond that using candles and the things Wendy mentioned to make you house smell better over all are good. Making coffee also always makes your house smell better. Especially if it is flavored. And the glade room deodorizing candles work really well.

  4. PumkinSpice says:

    My BIL has the same issue. He lives in our basement apartment, and when he takes his shoes off, you can smell it through the hole house. I have to put the fans on because nothing else works. The reason is due to the fact that he only washes his feet 1-2x per week. And he wears the same socks without changing them. I tell him to wash his feet or keep his shoes on because it is gross.

  5. I have a stinky friend, and he has major foot smelling issues. When he comes to our house, he leaves his shoes and socks outside. Then he will wash his feet with vodka. The vodka helps to kill the bacteria and any smells. It does wonders. And we buy the cheap stuff so we’re not wasting good vodka on feet.

  6. It can be a medical issue – I think I remember reading an xojane article about someone who smelled really bad but she couldn’t help it no matter how much she showered, etc. and it was a medical condition. I forget what the outcome was. All the previous suggestions are good ones.

  7. LisforLeslie says:

    Definitely sounds medical but washing clothing will help. Vodka is good, so is white vinegar. Another remedy for the shoes is soak cotton balls in rubbing alcohol and stuff the cotton balls in the shoes overnight. It kills a lot of the bacteria and neutralizes most of the smell.

    But you have to discuss this with your brother that his smell is offputting and he needs to get it under control so that he’s not “that smelly guy”.

  8. It could totally be a medical issue. I used to work in a clinical laboratory taking samples to grow cultures. I am not an easily-grossed-out person, if that expression even exists. But there was this one time that this guy took his shoes off and I almost fainted because of the smell. He was deeply embarrased and told me that he knew he had an issue because he just couldn’t take his shoes off without stinking the whole place he was at. I took samples and grew them in the lab, and he had a very agressive bacteria growing in his feet. He came back for a second time, to control the situation, and his feet weren’t so stinky due to the treatment he had received.

  9. Agreed with above posters about cheap vodka to wash the feet. The best shoe deoderizer I’ve found is baking soda. Just dump in a few tablespoons, shake it about, and leave it over night. In the morning, dump it out as best you can and the small remainder will be absorbed into the shoe and feet.
    Also, one of my brothers and one of my friend’s brothers have self-esteem/depression issues and for related reasons have decided not to shower much or clean their clothes regularly. It’s partly a money issue for them both as well I think. We’ve tried to get them to get help, but it’s hard to force a 30 yr old man to do something he doesn’t want to. One thing that did help is I bought my brother a pair of hiking pants, which are designed to need washing much less frequently and somehow do not smell much even without wash. Something like this: http://api.shopstyle.com/action/apiVisitRetailer?id=468514482&pid=uid7024-24991532-18

  10. for_cutie says:

    I have the same issue, except substitute in “Dad” for “Brother.” However when I politely ask my Dad to shower – “I want to make sure there is enough hot water, Dad why don’t you take your shower first…” – he doesn’t. He stayed with me and my family for 6 days this Thanksgiving. At one point he picked up on my not-so-subtle hints and said “what do I stink?” I said yes, and still no change in his behavior. One shower and one pair of clothes in 6 days! I was raised with this man and he showered daily then so I have no idea what gives.
    I sympathize with you LW, and I am following the comments closely for advice. Thanks for starting this awkward family thread!

  11. Could be a fungal thing of some sort, if your brother doesn’t want to go to the doctor or for whatever reason isn’t able too he could talk to a pharmacist. I used to be a competitive swimmer as a teen and when you live at the public pool weird rashes etc. become a part of life. At one point I had an itchy rash all over my chest and wasn’t sure what to do, a family friend who’s a pharmacist was able to recommend me an over the counter anti-fungal lotion that cleared it right up and saved a doctor’s visit. Whatever it is, if its a personal hygiene thing that might be an indicator of a mental health issue like some have implied above or a physical ailment if its as bad as LW says a visit to a medical professional of some sort might be the first step

  12. convexexed says:

    Additional ideas for problem feet:
    Get some cheap or ruined pantyhose, fill toes with baking soda, tie off. Put into shoes when shoes are off feet.
    Lysol your footwear.
    I put Certain-Dri on my feet at night. It helps control my excessively sweaty feet.
    Earth Therapeutics Tea Tree Oil Foot Spray is super-tingly and makes my feet smell a LOT better.
    Crystal salt (like the hippie deodorant sticks) can be used on feet. The salt deodorizes and kills bacteria.
    Advise he wash his feet with Selsun Blue and follow with a Vicks Vapor Rub and socks, or Desitin Maximum Strength (zinc oxide diaper rash cream) and socks. Trust me on this.
    Most of the time, it’s a simple matter of bacteria happily growing in the warm, moist environment of a sweaty foot. For me, hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating) causes my foot odor, and if I use these measures consistently, I keep it sweat and odor under control. If self-care doesn’t help, then see a doctor to rule out an infection or for a prescription strength antiperspirant.
    Some health insurance doesn’t cover podiatry, but a general practitioner or dermatologist can probably help.

  13. simonthegrey says:

    My husband does a contact sport where he wears heavy full-hand lacrosse gloves and he sweats a LOT. Also, his sweat stinks. I bought these charcoal pack inserts for deodorizing gym bags, and I shove a charcoal pack in his gloves as soon as he gets home. It absorbs the smell, and when it seems they aren’t doing as well, I can leave the charcoal lying out in the sun to “recharge” it.

  14. Have him dip his feet in a vinegar bath… stinky feet run in my family and this always works.

  15. Bittergaymark says:

    Drat! This is ONE letter I’d have loved an update on…

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