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Clearing the Air: How to Deal With Smelly Clients

Disgusted teenage girl wearing lilac hoodie pinching nose due to bad smell in gym.

“I have a very stinky member, and other clients are complaining.”

I’ve made this statement, and I bet you have, too. It comes up from time to time in Two-Brain’s private groups for gym owners, too.

The smelly-member situation is not uncommon in the gym world, but it causes stress every time it pops up.

Here’s how to deal with it.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."


1. Educate in Advance


The best way to deal with most problems is to get in front of them.

Start by adding a note about hygiene and odor in your onboarding package.

Here’s the key part: You must remember that nothing is “obvious.” Spell it out as if you were educating a young kid about general grooming practices.

Some people just don’t know what they need to know to keep smells in check at your gym. Lay everything out. Like this:

“Shower at least once a day and use deodorant. Reapply deodorant as needed throughout the day or before working out. Launder sweaty workout clothes right after training. Or rinse them and hang to dry, then get them into the washer ASAP. Don’t keep sweaty shoes and apparel locked in a gym bag or hamper. And don’t reuse sweaty clothes—wash before reusing.

“Regularly sniff workout clothes and footwear for foul odor, and replace as needed—workout gear doesn’t last forever. If you have any doubts, ask a trusted confidante or coach ‘does this smell bad?’”

You can even let new members know that foul odors will result in a very polite, helpful conversation with a coach.

To back up this on-ramp education and hit your current members, write a blog about odors. Keep your tone light and helpful. Don’t make fun of people. Avoid shaming or mocking.

Republish the blog annually and share it in your members-only group. Send it to your mailing list. Have you coaches mention it. Get the message out.

From there, provide deodorant or body spray in bathrooms so people can freshen up before training. Make it easy for them to smell good.


2. Address Issues With Kindness


Bad smells are always going to appear in a gym from time to time.

In some situations, you can decide if you need to address the issue or if it’s a one-time thing that won’t happen again. Like if the usually well-groomed Sam shows up to train right after a 30-hour, six-country flight on planes with air-conditioning problems, you might choose to consider the stinky session a “one off.”

When a certain person smells bad all the time and members start dreading their appearance, you need to have a kind conversation immediately.

Being kind means you’ll try to help someone even if doing so involves an awkward chat.

Here’s an example:

“Hey, Kim. Just a quick note: Your body odor is quite strong during classes. I’m just telling you because I care. It might be time to get some new workout clothes and hit the deodorant a little harder. I’ve got some in the bathroom!”

Another: “Hey, Dana. I know you’re killing it working outside in this heat. I don’t know how you do it! Do you mind hopping in the shower before class to clean up? I’ve packed the stall with shampoo and soaps!”

You should have these conversations in private. If you have a problem with an individual, talk just to that person instead of carpet-bombing a group. Address the problem head on. And avoid saying “everyone is complaining,” which can cause embarrassment. Just be the honest, authentic, caring coach that you are.

In some cases, you might have to educate a person. Here’s an example:

“Performance fabrics are great, but they trap bacteria—especially when you forget about wet clothes in a gym bag for a week before you wash them. This website has some instructions for deep cleaning of synthetic fabrics. If nothing works, just replace the clothes, hang new ones to dry when wet and wash them ASAP after training.”


Smells Like Problem Solving


I’d bet you’ve had a bad smell at your gym already—I can tell you more odors are coming.

And if you haven’t dealt with this issue yet, I know you will.

Either way, get out front of future problems with regular education, then deal with the situations that arise directly and with great kindness.  

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One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.