How important is it to smell good on a date?

You’re probably thinking “Duh! Very important!” but of the nineteen men I’ve dated in the last year, eight didn’t smell good, and that’s an immediate turn off.

It’s a sensitive subject, but I have to address it head on. You don’t want this to be the one thing that turns your date off, do you?!

There are different problems. Body odour and bad breath can be temporary or chronic. You might need to see your doctor or dentist, try a different diet, give up smoking, wear only natural fabrics, or try a different deodorant. But everyone should definitely do the things on my checklist below:

Checklist before your date

  • Brush your teeth and use mouthwash just before the date – take them to work if you’re meeting straight from the office – “work breath” is very common
  • Don’t eat spicy food for 48 hours before your date
  • Try to avoid coffee on the day – avoid “coffee breath”
  • Don’t smoke, ever! – you’ll never have nice breath that way – but especially not before your date
  • Drink plenty of water in the hours leading up to your date
  • Don’t have any alcohol before your date arrives – it’s best if you don’t smell of alcohol when you first meet
  • Wear freshly laundered clothes
  • Think about taking deodorant, a change of clothes (or at least underwear) if you’re meeting after work
  • Make sure you have some mints and have one just before meeting

Over forty? Special effort needed!

As we get older, having a shower or bath every day is ESSENTIAL, and using some kind of scent, after-shave or perfume becomes more important. You might need to wash your clothes more often and use washing liquid that smells especially fresh – some really don’t, like Ecover in my opinion! Some of my dates had a kind of musty, old smell that I’m sure could be avoided.

The semiotics of hygiene

Making an effort with all these things shows respect for your date, and that you’re the kind of person who is attentive, conscientious and focused on the other person …. As opposed to sloppy, disorganised and living in your own little world. Which impression you want to give? The same goes for where you live if/when you invite them round. Make sure it’s all CLEAN and tidy – your bathroom and kitchen especially. It’s as important as your profile photos. People create much stronger associations between the person and any example of something yucky than with something positive. So one dirty bathroom more than cancels out your amazing conversation and delicious kisses!


What do you do if your date has bad breath?

Well, personally there’s no way I’m going to kiss anyone with bad breath. So I have two strategies. Before we meet, I make a joke about how many of my dates have had that problem and that I hope they won’t! This means they will make an effort. Then when we do meet, at some point I ask “Would you want someone to tell you if you had bad breath/body odour/spinach in the teeth?” They invariably say yes, so then if they do, it’s much easier to tell them – gently, of course, especially if you’re English and therefore prone to saying “sorry” and beating around the bush far too often. But once you’ve said it, don’t keep referring to it. That way they’ll retain some self-esteem. However, the kissing is still not going to happen!

Pheromones – is there anything in it?

You’ve no doubt read about Smell Dating. Studies have shown that we are attracted to the smell of those who are genetically different from us – scientists think it’s because we then complement each other for immunities in our offspring. The dating service matches you up based on what you think of smelly T shirts worn for three days – you say which ones you like the smell of. Hopefully they’ll soon be able to predict who we’d like the smell of based on our genes, so that we won’t need to smell the bad, bad T shirts…… (I’ve signed up for Smell Dating anyway but at the moment they’re not taking on new people.)

This is why you have to meet face to face!

Don’t fall into the trap of sending hundreds of messages to someone you like the look of without meeting them. For me at least, if they don’t smell right, it doesn’t matter what books they’ve read or how emotionally intelligent they are. So I don’t want to start getting interested in them too early. Good smell equals good chemistry.

‘‘Ultimately there is something that people must assess face-to-face before a romantic relationship can begin. Scholars are still working to identify exactly what that something is, but it appears to reside at the intersection of experiential attributes, chemistry, and gut-level evaluations. Some emotional reactions could even be based on sensory experiences, such as olfaction, that cannot be gleaned any other way. Meeting in person also serves as an important reality check before intimacy progresses: People are less likely to misrepresent their observable attributes in a real-world setting as compared with online correspondence.’’

(Finkel et al, 2012, p 32)


Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Dating in a digital world. Scientific American Mind, 23(4), 26-33.

Jamieson, A. (2016, April 27). Smell dating: sniffing out potential lovers (and their sweaty T-shirts). The Guardian.  

Thomas, R., & Roiser, J. P. (2010). In the nose of the beholder: are olfactory influences on human mate choice driven by variation in immune system genes or sex hormone levels? Experimental Biology and Medicine 235, 1277-1281.

Wedekind, C., Seebeck, T., Bettens, F., & Paepke, A. J. (1995). MHC-dependent mate preferences in humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 260, 245-249.