Understanding Bromidrophobia or Fear of Smelling Bad

woman standing outside shower with towel on
Marlene Ford/Getty Images

Bromidrophobia may be the result of today’s emphasis on cleanliness that has led us to believe that bodily scents are dirty or taboo. This mental health issue can lead to an unhealthy obsession with ensuring that our regular odors are removed or masked. Bromidrophobics can also have a fear of others' body odors.


Good hygiene reduces the risks of disease transmission and infection. Regular washing along with sterilizing procedures when appropriate (operating rooms, piercing equipment, etc.), is important for good health. However, like mysophobia, or fear of germs, bromidrophobia takes cleanliness too far.

Bromidrophobia is a fear of perceived odors. Bromidrophobia may be linked with obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. In OCD, however, the compulsion is the washing itself while in bromidrophobia the focus is on removing a smell. The difference is subtle, but important, and is best diagnosed by a trained clinician.

Body Odor Is Natural

Human beings, like animals, emit natural scents from our bodies. In a healthy person with reasonable hygiene, these odors are not offensive. In fact, these odors contain pheromones, which act as chemical communicators. Insects and other animals rely largely on pheromones to stimulate a wide range of behaviors. In humans, these chemicals seem to play a role in sexual attraction, although some research disputes this effect.

Today, advertising and social conditioning teach us that it's best to smell like soap, shampoo, and deodorant, which makes it is easy to develop the belief that any natural bodily scent is “bad” or “dirty” and you should mask it. In reality, it is impossible and unhealthy to remove or mask every single whiff of natural odor that might emit from the human body.

Bromidrophobia may result from a conflict between the “ideal” but unrealistic perception of how we should smell and the reality of our bodies' natural odor.


Most people have a routine before going out in public. Showering, washing your hair, applying deodorant, shaving, brushing your teeth and using a favorite perfume or cologne are all normal and healthy behaviors. If you suffer from bromidrophobia, however, this is not enough.

You may develop extensive hygiene rituals that you obsessively follow before leaving the house. Your showers may gradually become longer and longer as you worry that you are not clean enough.

Some people who suffer from bromidrophobia shower three or more times per day. Others damage their skin through excessive scrubbing and the drying effects of hygiene products.

Your fear might expand past hygiene rituals and render you unable to use public restrooms due to fears of emitting odors. Women may develop a fear of being around others during their menstrual cycles. Bromidrophobes of both genders carry large bags wherever they go, full of emergency supplies designed to mask any odors that might develop.


Like many phobias, bromidrophobia tends to worsen over time. Eventually, you might find yourself restricting your activities. You may:

  • Become reluctant to exercise or perform any tasks that might cause sweating
  • Refuse to go anywhere without pleasant restroom facilities where you can perform emergency odor control
  • Develop a social phobia or even agoraphobia, out of the fear that you might be in a situation where you cannot immediately attend to any possible odors.


Because of the impact, this anxiety disorder can have on your daily life, it is very important to discuss your bromidrophobia with a qualified mental health professional. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is generally the treatment of choice. In this therapy, you will learn:

  • Healthier ways of thinking about your own body and the scents that it emits
  • Relaxation techniques to manage your anxiety
  • To tolerate your own scent through a series of exercises known as systematic desensitization

Overcoming your phobia is never easy, but with proper treatment, you can be successful.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Phillips KA, Menard W. Olfactory reference syndrome: demographic and clinical features of imagined body odor. General Hospital Psychiatry. 2011;33(4):398-406. doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2011.04.004.

  2. Martin-Pichora AL, Antony MM. Successful Treatment of Olfactory Reference Syndrome With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Case Study. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice. 2011;18(4):545-554. doi:10.1016/j.cbpra.2010.11.007.

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.