I work in an office of 6 or 7 people a day. I absolutely like everyone and it is a really nice place (seriously). I want to stay here a long time and continue working with the same people. I have a coworker I get along with really well (despite our age gap) and we hit it off perfectly. He found out that I am an Excel and MS Office guru and I have been helping him with some special projects and he wants me to continue to help him. I love helping and have no problem with it except...

His breath, however, smells like a sewer. He smokes, possibly a lot (I don't keep track), so that might cause it.

I want to continue helping him and working with him, but I don't know how to handle the odor coming from his mouth if I have to sit next to him for extended periods of time.

How do I handle this so that I do not hurt his feelings, look snobby, and avoid anybody getting hurt or disgruntled?

Please note that this situation is not to the level of disciplinary or managerial action. This could easily apply to a minor habit of a coworker that is a pet peeve of another.

  • @JoeStrazzere not really since it's not to that level (ie they would not get HR involved or send the guy home in my case). That's an extreme case, this is more like an annoying habit or minor pet peeve if you will.
    – G.T.D.
    Mar 20, 2016 at 2:23
  • 1
    @B1313 "HOLY S***!! I could vomit from it" doesn't seem like a "minor pet peeve"
    – HorusKol
    Mar 20, 2016 at 23:17
  • Maybe gentle phrasing, such as "your breath could not a buzzard off a s--- wagon" would give enough of a hint without being too direct.
    – jimm101
    Mar 21, 2016 at 19:57

2 Answers 2


Straightforward is my method. Depending on how friendly the relationship is I'd give him a mint and say:

'Mate, can you chew on this; your breath is pretty strong.'

Or if we were on very good terms (judgement call here):

'Do me a favour and either stop talking to me, or brush your teeth, bro. Smells like something crawled in there a while back and died.'

They might be temporarily uncomfortable with you, but they'll get over it and they'll do something about it.

If you don't want to go down that track, another way that might work is to just give them breath mints all the time. They'll work it out for themselves with a bit of luck. I know that many won't like this solution because it's not particularly nice. But it's a fallacy to think that people whose breath stinks are not aware of their issue, so in my opinion it's better to nip it in the bud asap.

  • 2
    That was along the lines my thinking, but I didn't want to be seen as a clean freak or without rigor.
    – G.T.D.
    Mar 19, 2016 at 23:11
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    he already knows his breath stinks, it's not going to come as a surprise, just be polite about it I reckon. I'm a heavy smoker, many many years ago someone was straight up about it to me, and I fixed it that same day and no one ever complained again.
    – Kilisi
    Mar 19, 2016 at 23:11
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    My position is: is it better to walk around with stinky breath all the time, offending the sensibilities of everyone who has to smell me (to the point that they broadcast it on the Internet) or to have just one brave person tell me directly? I'd rather know, and appreciate a forthright friend who tells me. Sure, it may be uncomfortable for a moment, but I'd rather know! It sounds like you're conflict averse; if so maybe tell his manager the same things you posted here. Mar 20, 2016 at 0:47
  • I'd actually prefer a quick 'heads up' from a colleague than the manager having to get involved
    – Kilisi
    Mar 20, 2016 at 0:54
  • I agree. Seems far below a manager's job duties/pay grade.
    – G.T.D.
    Mar 20, 2016 at 1:35

Since you did say that you get along with your co-worker really well, and for the fact that smoking is injurious to both physical and mental health, i in your place would help him quit smoking.Suggesting somebody not to smoke is not at all rude. It will help him improve his health and you can feel comfortable while talking and get rid out of unpleasant smell.

If he is very rigid and addicted to smoking suggest him Electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette. They still deliver a nicotine hit, but they release a water-based vapor that quickly dissipates and doesn’t linger in your clothes and hair — and it doesn’t smell at all.

The other way is converse through mails. Or the last option could be mints and drink lots of water.

  • I downvoted this because the question is not "How to help a coworker to stop smoking?" , and actually the fact he is a smoker is not very relevant: many non-smoker have breath odor issues too while many smokers are careful enough.
    – Laurent S.
    Dec 20, 2018 at 11:56

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