Woman drinking coffee in breakroom

Stop and Smell the Office

It's the office problem no one wants to talk about: smelly lunches, stinky bathrooms, and funky colognes.

It's easy to find the light side of office life in our breakroom quirks, our professional (and sometimes unprofessional) behaviors, and even our coffee addiction. But there's another part of office life that's lurking around every corner, hanging in the air, the thing everyone experiences but doesn't like to talk about, and we're here to talk about the problem wafting around your workspace: the various assaults on your nose. Office odors. Smelly workplaces.

So what are some of the most common no's for the nose in the office, and how can you fix them? Take a sniff and see.

Food Funk

The problem: The most common of the fragrance faux pas, the smells we carry into an office with our food might be mouth-watering to us and appetite-slaying for our coworkers. From fish to eggs and everything in between, one man's lunch is another man's loathing.

The solution:  As you'll see with most of the complaints listed, the first line of defense for most smelly situations in the office is to have the right cleaning products on hand. Having odor-fighting products in the breakroom and encouraging employees to use them regularly can help. Also helpful? Making sure you have a dedicated, furnished breakroom or cafeteria where employees can eat, as well as having managers who support and encourage away-from-desk breaks.

Terrible Trashcans

The problem: All those banana peels and coffee grounds can add up, and eau d'office trash isn't exactly a productivity booster. According to Clorox*, garbage smells are the top source of complaints in professional buildings, and the spaces that are the hardest to keep daisy-fresh include garbage rooms and trash cans.

The solution: A regular, documented cleaning and trash emptying schedule is a must for any office building and maintenance staff. And, as before, the first line of defense is the evaluation and selection of the right cleaning and deodorizing products to use in areas with large or multiple trash cans.

The Reek of the Restroom

The problem: Oh, we know no one wants to talk about this one, but it's the one we all know, and it's the one we all hate. Bathrooms took the top spot on Clorox's list of toughest spaces to fight smells in, and—ahem—specific bathroom smells ranked second on the list of most complaints.

The solution: This one really comes down to cleaning and maintenance, from in-bowl deodorizers to air fresheners and the cleaning products used regularly in the bathrooms. It's key to have the right products for the right places, and the bathroom is the one place guaranteed to generate the most issues and the most dissatisfaction. In addition, technology like automatically flushing toilets can help keep the room clean and odors down.

Coworker Cologne

The problem: Colognes, perfumes, hand lotions, candles, diffusers—you name it, people have brought it into the office to create their own smelly safe haven. But, like your leftovers, the scent that smells good to you might be giving your cubemate a migraine.

The solution: Obviously, the easiest way to keep the office nice and neutral is to discourage usage of heavily scented products. But regular cleaning and maintenance of HVAC and filtration systems can help clear the air, literally and figuratively.

Cloying Cleaners

The problem: That's right, the solution has turned into the problem. Strongly scented cleaning products and deodorizers that mask rather than eliminate smells actually contribute to poor air quality, user complaints, and poor handling of the initial issues. What's worse than a bad smell? A bad smell combined with a strong, artificial "good" smell. The road to blech is paved with good in-scent-ions.

The solution: Cleaning and deodorizing products have come a long way, and companies have invested in research and development of products that buck the trend of having strong chemicals, odors and dyes just to give the perception of effectiveness. Evaluate your office's problem areas and root causes first, then look for a product—or, better yet, talk to your supplier to help you identify a product—that can tackle those areas without making the problem worse.

* Clorox Professional Products Company and Ketchum Research Findings (August 2016). Online Survey of Professional Cleaning Service Industry Decision Makers. (Survey of 402 cleaning industry decision makers across various industries.)