What To Do When Your Au Pair Doesn’t Bathe

by cv harquail on January 20, 2013

Some issues are just too awkward to talk about.

But we have to talk about them anyway, because these are the very issues that keep host parents and au pairs from really connecting.

We’ve hit some of these issues already– contraceptives, personal safety, swimming when she has her period (I told you they were awkward!), crazy elements in an au pair’s social life, when the host parents are thinking of divorce, and more.

Now we get to talk about another one:

What to do when your au pair doesn’t bathe, doesn’t shower, doesn’t wash her hair, and as a result, kinda smells.

Dear Au Pair Mom-

We love our au pair. She’s wonderful with our girls, kind, loving and fun to be with. We like her as a person, and we feel very blessed to have her with our family.

Except for one thing: Her personal hygene habits leave a lot to be desired.

This weekend, she is away with friends, and I have opened all the windows in her bedroom to air it out. Our cleaning lady has taken it upon herself to clean our au pair’s room, because even our cleaning lady can’t bear the body odor smell that wafts out the doorway.

The house and home things we can deal with. We can ask her to wash her sheets, our cleaning lady can vacuum and wash towels, but obviously we can’t treat her like one of our toddlers and just pop her into the bathtub when she gets smelly.

What can we do? How do we talk with her about this?    HMw/SensitiveNose

Dear HMwSensitiveNose-

This IS an awkward one. I’m sure that AuPairMom readers will have some ideas for you. Here are mine, just to get us started.

  • Describe the problem as a cultural difference.

Tell her that in your country (not the USA, by the way), people pay atttention to the cleanlieness of others. Tell her that in general, people in your country shower/bathe 3x a week, and wash their hair 2x a week. Tell her that people in your country wear deodorant.

  • Gently note to her that her own bathing schedule does not fit that cultural expectation. Suggest that, as a result, other people might be evaluating her negatively or even avoiding her.
  • Ask her if there is anything that keeps her from bathing more often.
    Does she worry that there isn’t enough hot water? Does she need a hairdryer?
  • Tell her that you know that hygiene is a difficult thing to talk about because it is so personal.
  • Tell her that the only reason you’re even bringing it up is because you like her so, so much.
    You want her to fit in easily with all the people she’ll meet. And, you want her to be happy.

Readers, what else could HMwSensitiveNose do, to get her au pair to bathe more often?

How can we make it easier to talk with each other about these difficult topics?

[ note: it’s summer in the host mom’s country, and the au pair is from North America.]

See also:

How Should An Au Pair Bring Up A Challenging Topic? Your preferences
Birth Control and Your Au Pair
How can we prepare our Au Pair for significant disruption?
My Au Pair Has Awful Table Manners

Photo Credit: Zabowski via Compfight cc


Momma Gadget January 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm

That is a tough one! I tend to be the big mouth in my family… So any difficult conversations with an AP or kids fall on me.
I think I would try to make this less personal and more matter of fact-

” We think your great because of xy&z. But there is one issue that we need to address. We realize that bathing schedules are different in other countries,but here the norm is for people to bathe every day or at least every other day. As you are an example to our kids we need you to set a positive example of hygiene. Please shower at least every other day and wear deodorant- thanks for understanding”

Although it is uncomfortable, it doesn’t have to be a big deal unless you make a bog deal of it. Good luck!

Posie January 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm

I just had a conversation with a coworker about this issue with her daughter (who I think is 13?). Clearly a different dynamic and part of her issue is that she’s a late bloomer just hitting puberty, but I would say:

1. Some people need to shower every day or they smell bad. Even as adults. Cultural or not, she may witness her family and yours bathing 3 times per week and think that’s enough. I wouldn’t ask that she shower a few times per week. I’d ask her to shower every day.

2. You might want to get her a little gift basket as part of the conversation with your familiy’s favorite soaps, shampoos, etc. tell her it’s the stuff you love to use and thought she’d like to try it. If it works, pick up these items for her as they are on sale or at Costco. I know it’s not the HP job to provide toiletries but if money and/or laziness are factoring in here, it’s probably worth the little extra cash you’ll dish out.

3. Don’t forget clothes. My friend’s daughter wasn’t changing her underwear or clothes every day. If she is stinky by nature, she needs to wash everything she wore every day (except maybe sweater/sweatshirt). Just make sure you tell her in your conversation to wash her clothing after each wearing and that she always put on clean clothes after a shower (clean body does no good if dirty clothes go back on it).

Also encourage pajama wearing. Sleeping in clothes is another thing some teens try to get away with to save time :)

Good luck, let us know how the talk goes!

SAMAP January 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Firstly, I cannot imagine NOT bathing/showering, it just gives me chills up my spine. Secondly, She/he should at least have some self respect, seeing that the AP does influence your children. I would tell him/her that the kiddies are trying to get out of bathing everyday, reason being : “if she/he does not bathe, why should I?”. Tell her that she must set an example for your children, and bathe at least out of example everyday. When she returns home, she can continue her ‘normal’ way of living.

Should be working January 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I think self-respect is not the issue here. It is a cultural difference.

I would make the conversation short and matter-of-fact, like it’s not a big deal, in order to reduce embarrassment–as much the HP’s as the AP’s. At your next meeting try, “Hey, one more thing. In the US people bathe every day. They are a little bit obsessed with it. And they only wear their clothes once and then launder them. Yes, it uses a lot of water. But I’m going to ask you to do these things too. The kids need to see you model it, and people here are REALLY sensitive to any kind of unwashed smell. Is that ok with you? Thanks, here’s some soap and shampoo because I know these things cost money.”

Vanilla ex au pair July 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Best reply EVER!

Posie January 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I don’t know if self respect is the issue or if it is cultural or something else (laziness, habit, she might just not know she smells bad!) I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to ascertain WHY in the first conversation, but if nothing changes after a direct, brief conversation, maybe you should ask a “why” question to get at the root.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 20, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I go with the others. Your AP is a role model. Do your toddlers resist bathing? If so, then ask her to talk explicitly about her shower/bath. Tell her that you want her to ask your toddlers to sniff her hair so they can smell how nice it is when it is clean.

Is your AP overweight? She may have a bad body image and may reluctantly bathe because she becomes aware of her body when she is naked.

This is a conversation that is best to take place alone HM to AP. Start with all the good things that make her someone you want living in your home, because hygiene is a sensitive issue (I have a preteen he has to be warned a day in advance that we will require her to bathe and resists it.) Does she know how to do her laundry? Did she do laundry at home? Did she bring enough clothing with her to be able to change her clothes frequently? Does she have to worry about hot water expenses at home?

Tell her that you provide hot water to bathe and clean her clothes as part of her salary and that you expect her to make use of them. Tell her that she is not keeping herself clean enough and that her body odor gets in the way of the lovely person she is.

spanishaupair January 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I agree with that you should bring it an issue with your kids, and as a cultural difference. And I also should ask is there is any problem for not take showers or baths daily.
I say about reasons because other aupairs i know and we talked about this topic and me are finding really difficult to get a shower daily with this freezing, we come for warmer countries where dont usually get to 0ºC and with heating all day at home, and is too cold that we are afraid to even get sick. Im a person who showers myself at least once a day (in summer usually more) in spain is not common to take baths, but here when is very cold days i have to change to once other day because its not worth it the freezing and the possibility to get sick

Should be working January 20, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Good point: European APs (and maybe others) believe that cold air, especially combined with being wet, makes you get sick. Wet hair especially. Most Americans don’t believe this, they believe you get sick from a virus that is passed between people. Europeans also tend to be wary of drafts and breezes, even when it isn’t cold out. Even when, in my experience, you are in a stifling hot room and want to open a window.

spanishaupair January 20, 2013 at 6:51 pm

yeah thats a big point that i forgot, my mother always told me dry your hair even when not cold because you can get sick with it.
hehe i know how freezing is outside for how cold is in my room….

kat January 20, 2013 at 7:28 pm

its not the air and beeing wet that make you sick, we know that! its the fact when your body is using energy to warm itself up/stay warm, it cant use the same energy to fight off bugs. i am lucky not to be sensitive this way but know lots of people who do get sick when they let themselves to be in a draft with wet hair etc. perhaps with all the airconditioning people have in the us you are more used to the changes of the temperatures and all the drafts.

Skny January 20, 2013 at 8:11 pm

This is a Funny topic. I my culture baths are taken daily. Even newborns take daily baths. My Au pair is also from my home country and take daily showers.
Most of my Au pairs friends (also from our home country) comment that their host kids only take showers 2 or 3 times a week, and it is always a reason for discussions. They can’t understand it and see it as lack of hygiene.
So culture do play a HUGE part in it

AboutToBeHD January 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm

In this para:

“Gently note to her that her own bathing schedule does fit that cultural expectation. Suggest that, as a result, other people might be evaluating her negatively or even avoiding her.”

didn’t you mean “does NOT fit that cultural expectation”?

cv harquail January 21, 2013 at 11:10 am

thans for cetching the tipo!

German Au-Pair January 21, 2013 at 5:37 am

I’m usually all for being direct and straight forward but this issue is so awkward and could potentially make someone feel really bad so at least I’d try to be subtle about it first.
Explain the need for a daily shower to the KIDS not the au pair, so she can hear it. Say something like “Today it’s not that cold, let’s open all the windows and doors in the house to let in some fresh air”.
Ask your AD to give a general cultural lesson to the au pairs at the next meeting. Or have a relaxed talk about all the cultural differences she and you can come up and include the bathing part. Buy her a nice conditioner and say “if you use it daily it will make your hair really shiny and healthy” or something like that.
Only if she’s totally immune to subtle hints I would have a direct talk to her about it.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 21, 2013 at 11:12 am

I disagree. Keep the kids out of issues relating to the AP. (However, if your AP is not bathing the kids because she feels it is too cold and drafty, then talk to her directly about the need to keep kids clean.)

German Au-Pair January 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm

I think it depends on the age of the kids…my kids are a bit older and have had more than one lecture about personal hygiene. Doing that in front of the au pair might help with the issue.

Seattle Mom January 22, 2013 at 1:53 pm

That sounds too passive-aggressive to me… I hate it when someone has an issue with something I’m doing and instead of being direct with me they talk about the issue with someone else in front of me. Rather than “clueing me in” it makes me feel paranoid… “are they talking about me? Why won’t they tell me? What else are they not telling me?” It would definitely give me a complex.

American AP in Europe January 21, 2013 at 6:28 am

Agreed with what other people have said about having a conversation to her about cultural differences. Also especially buy her the shampoo and conditioner, body wash, deodorant and perhaps a hair dryer if she doesn’t have one. If it’s not her priority, she might resent having to spend money on those things as often

Aussie mum January 21, 2013 at 8:03 am

We have an Indian employee (from India) and he was not wearing deodorant in our hot climate. He really smelt and my husband bought him deodorant and told him he had to wear it because he would upset the customers. We dont have to share a house with him though, which would make it both more urgent and harder.

Honesty is the best policy. In my experience anyone for whom English is a second language won’t get hints easily. Do mention cultural differences, but be honest about how hard you find it, or you might not get compliance. A big hug helps soften a difficult conversation.

Amelie January 21, 2013 at 9:04 am

I’m a former au pair. I’m from a very hot country (Brazil), where everybody showers at least once everyday, so probably that wouldn’t be an issue for me. But I still have an opinion the matter.

Some posters suggested not talking directly to the au pair, just giving hints (like talking about personal hygiene with the kids while the AP is around, or offering her hygiene products such as shampoo and soap).

Of course this how I would feel, and it doens’t reflect how other au pairs would, but I always prefered when my host parents talked to me directly. I always felt unconfortable abut not being talked directly to, and being very self conscious while living with my host family, I always wanted to know that I was doing things right, and that they liked me. So, if I knew they would be honest when something was not good, I’d know everything was OK otherwise. Also, it would give me the chance to fix whatever I was doing wrong.

I hate to feel like I have to always be picking on someone’s hints. As an adult, I don’t think this is the way I like issues invlving me being addressed. I know the subject of personal hygiene is a very touchy one, but still, I’d prefer to have a straight foward conversation anyway.

Also, I wouldn’t like if my host parents supposed I didn’t take showers for one reason or another (being to cold, lack of money for hygiene products, etc). Again, I’d prefer they talked to me, so I could tell them what my reasons are.

I’m from a very hot country (Brazil), where everybody showers at least once everyday, so probably that wouldn’t be an issue for me.

Some posters suggested not talking directly to the au pair, just giving hints, and offering her hygiene products such as shampoo and soap.

Of course this how I would feel, and it doens’t reflect how other au pairs would, but I always prefered when my host parents talked to me directly. I always felt unconfortable, and being very self conscious while living with them (I always wanted to know that I was doing things right, and that they liked me). So, if I knew tey would be honest when something was not good, I’d know everything was OK otherwise. Also, it would give me the chance to fix whatever I was doing wrong.

I hate to feel like I have to always be picking on someone’s hints. I know it is a very touchy subject, but still, I’d prefer to have a straight foward conversation anyway.

Also, I wouldn’t like if my host parents supposed I didn’t take showers for one reason or another (being to cold, lack of money for hygiene products, etc). Again, I’d prefer they talked to me, so I could tell them what my reasons are.

German Au-Pair January 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I am very direct, too and I like when people are direct with me. But I imagine that it could be very hurtful to someone if the host mum told her to shower more often. It’s just…awkward and weird and I would feel very uncomfortable for the person in question.
I would do it, if there was no other way, but I would definitely try to avoid it in the beginning. My host mum has told the kids about why they need to shower more often now that they become adults and that this culture expects grown-ups to shower every day. I have told my kids the same.
If the au pair hears that, she will not relate it to herself but it might give her some insight and make her overthink her own habits.
Asking the group’s AD to talk to all of the au pairs in an “just FYI”-matter will also make her HAVE that information without feeling uncomfortable. I know that APC actually gives out an information sheet when you match with your family about stuff like that…it literally said that if you want to be part of the community, you need to shave your legs and things like that. That’s MUCH nicer than saying “oh, by the way, your legs are hairy, go shave them.”

A new set of hygiene products can be a bigger hint but can be softened by something like “I love those products, see if you like them, too.”

If someone told me directly I needed to shower more often I would feel super uncomfortable around them and probably would get paranoid about smelling…

NJ LC January 21, 2013 at 10:17 am

Yes Amelie, I agree with you and others who have suggested the host parent be direct. Open, honest, kindly spoken expressions on the part of the host family are always the best option for discussing thing with an au pair. The risk of hurting her/his feelings always runs higher when we used coded, or nuanced language to say what we really feel while expecting the other to pick up on the real meaning. The indirect method doesn’t always work with people who speak the same native language, let alone when dealing with cultural differences.

And SAMAP, you should be aware that what you consider a “normal way of living” is different for people all over the world.

NJ LC January 21, 2013 at 10:20 am

Yes Amelie, I agree with you and others who have suggested the host parent be direct. Open, honest, kindly spoken expressions on the part of the host family are always the best option for discussing things with an au pair. The risk of hurting her/his feelings always runs higher when we used coded, or nuanced language to say what we really feel while expecting the other to pick up on the real meaning. The indirect method doesn’t always work with people who speak the same native language, let alone when dealing with cultural differences.

And SAMAP, we all have what we consider a ‘normal way of living’.

Future Au Pair January 21, 2013 at 7:45 pm

I think that as an AP you have to be the model, if you don’t bathe and one of the HK doesn’t wanna bathe you can’t tell him that is wrong. As an AP this has to be the principal idea, you are a model to be for the kids. And my advice for the HF is keep the comunication open, some topis are complicated to talk about but if you are kind, open, with a big smile everything can be talked about.

HRHM January 22, 2013 at 10:34 am

Dragging over the topic of over-perfumedness (that’s a word, right?) from the male AP topic of last week.

This too should be a topic that the LCC covers with APs in addition to the “expected hygeine in the US” topic. Our current AP is fine, but the 4 prior to her all wore TOO MUCH perfume. I think it was a combination of trying to cover BO (not deoderant users or daily bathers) and reapplying on previously worn clothes that were already saturated with scent. Either way, it took weeks to get the stink out of the room/carpet/mattress/pillow/car! Ugh.

Seattle Mom January 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Over perfuming would bother me too… our last APs wore a lot of perfume when they went out, off-duty, and I was really glad they didn’t do that while on-duty. I think from now on I might lie and say I’m allergic to perfume while matching. I might be allergic- it really does make me sneeze! And I personally think it’s unhealthy (phlathates and all that stuff- it’s not good for children to inhale).

NE mom January 22, 2013 at 11:23 pm

We have in our family handbook “no perfume.” Ostensibly b/c of one child’s allergies (and it could exacerbate them), but I also despise strong scents and will get headaches from too much perfume. So we state upfront that unfortunately they cannot use perfume or strong bath scents while they’re with us. Have never gotten pushback.

Seattle Mom January 22, 2013 at 2:06 pm

The OP didn’t say how often her AP actually bathes, just that she is smelly. So it might be something other than not bathing enough- others have hit on it- not laundering clothes, not using deoderant, not using soap in the bath, etc. So I would be careful with making it about bathing. And I agree with the above commenters to be direct and kind, and understanding. Also make it seem like it’s no big deal- the more passive and indirect you are the bigger the deal you make of it. Awkward subjects can be made less awkward by acting like you are totally comfortable with them.

In our family, we have had the opposite problem. We have one bathroom, and it’s annoying when the AP is in there showering all the time, taking a long time (we had only one AP who was really bad with this). We don’t shower everyday ourselves, because we really don’t have time and conservation is important to us. We mostly shower after working out in the winter- often at the gym.

I’m thinking that in the future I’m going to have to be more clear that conserving water is part of our family values, and we do not want an AP who expects to shower for 15 minutes every morning before work. Luckily our current AP is fine with showering in the evening, and not every single day.

Seattle Mom January 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm

FYI when I was a teenager I was obsessed with showering every morning, and I totally understand the impulse. But I’m glad to be free of that. I don’t smell. I do sometimes “sponge bath” quickly when I need to leave for work and I need to be cleaner. I guess having lived in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer makes me a bit more aware of these issues- where I lived in Africa people bathed twice a day (it was super hot and no one used deoderant), but they didn’t have running water and they managed to use FAR less water than we do in the US. I think we can learn something from them, and we should be open to that.

All that said I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting your AP not to smell, or to fit in however we need them to- they are here for a cross-cultural experience, and this is part of it. And they are here to take care of our children and make our lives easier (not harder). For some people that means they need to bathe every day. There are challenges with living in a new culture- whether it be the style of dress, bathing, food, communication, or childcare issues.

Should be working January 22, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Seattle Mom, you are giving me an idea for a question while matching: How long do you need to get ready in the morning when your day is spent taking care of the kids? What’s your minimum lead time? Makes me crazy when we try to do something spontaneous, like go out to dinner, and the AP needs at least 45 min notice.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 22, 2013 at 8:52 pm

If your AP needs 45 min. to accept a spontaneous invitation. Does her delay mean the kids are extra hungry by the time they are served dinner? Or is she responsible for getting the kids ready and packing their bags before running down to get whatever she needs? If the latter, then she may be overwhelmed by the need to prep the family for an outing. If she’s just getting herself ready, then I think it’s acceptable to say, “we’re leaving in 15 minutes and would love to have you join us.” Shout “We’re leaving!” and mean it.

Should be working January 22, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I’m talking when she is off-duty, lounging around in pajamas and unwashed, and we say, “hey, we’re going out to dinner!” and she needs all that time to get herself ready. Dolled up, as they used to say. Then we feel bad inviting her knowing that she can’t be ready when we want to leave. It’s not a big deal, and actually the au pairs tend to loosen up over time. Full makeup is just not how people look where we live.

German Au-Pair January 22, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Wow, this is something I could not live with. A 15 minute-shower is not a long shower for me -I have pretty long her and there needs to be conditioner involved- and while sometimes I don’t shower every day, usually I feel very yucky when my hair is not washed once a day.
But it seems to me like people on the West Coast are very big on conserving water in general, right? I once went to a hostel in San Francisco and they seriously had the “sink” ON the toilet -water would only “run” (more like drip…) when you flushed. It was very interesting to me.

Seattle Mom January 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

It depends on the individual family, but people do tend to be more conservation-minded on the west coast.

I’m fine with long showers in general- sometimes I take a long time in the shower too. The problem is when it’s during bathroom “rush hour”- either in the morning when DH and I are getting ready for work (popping in and out of the bathroom) or in the evening during the bedtime ritual (lots of pottying and tooth brushing going on). After the kids are asleep, it’s ok, but we do like the AP to mention that she’s on her way to the shower, and let us run in for a quick pee.. if she sees us- no need to go hunting around. This wasn’t a big deal for 2/3 of our APs, but one AP seemed to duck in there and spend 20 minutes during the worst possible time. Agh!

German Au-Pair January 24, 2013 at 12:24 am

Oh okay, THAT I totally get. I don’t need to do that here because I have my own bathroom but at home we share (can’t even think about sharing a bathroom again after having my own for almost 2 years :D ) and it’s normal to navigate a little…
I thought your problem was her showering for 15 minutes every day.

American AP in Europe January 22, 2013 at 8:01 pm

As a northwest native who went to the large public school in Seattle, may I just say you have spoken like a true Seattleite ;)

Seattle Mom January 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Thank you :)

I’m an east coast transplant, so I take that as a big compliment :)

Taking a Computer Lunch January 22, 2013 at 8:49 pm

This is interesting. Almost all my APs have taken what we might call army showers: enough water to wet down and then turn it off, enough water to rinse off soap and shampoo and then turn it off, etc. The shower can take a long time this way, but water is conserved.

If the AP is accustomed to showering this way, I could see why she would be reluctant to shower in the winter. Sometimes one has to be given permission to take an American hot shower.

Gianna January 22, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I like the idea of putting this in the handbook in terms of cultural differences: ” it is the custom here for everyone to shower or bathe everyday; we realize that there are different habits in different parts of the world but we ask our aupairs to shower or bathe each day”. Another advantage is that if a bathroom needs to be shared, that issue can be addressed, too. Then, when the handbook its reviewed at arrival, it is easier to discuss it dispassionately. I think it is difficult for non-native speakers to pick up hints in a second language. I definitely think that this should be addressed during the week aupairs spend in training , too

Returning HM January 23, 2013 at 10:44 am

We have a section in our handbook about hygiene and cleanliness. After an AP who didn’t shower much and smelled terribly (who didn’t last long with us for other reasons as well), we have a paragraph about appropriate hygiene for our household. We also are clear in the handbook and in matching that we pay for all essentials to keep our APs clean: shampoo, soap, conditioner, toothpaste, deoderant, etc. We do not pay for the stuff they feel they need to make them beautiful (and learned to be clear about this when one AP gave us a receipt for her $50 Brazilian legwaxing kit), but since we ask them to follow our household hygiene practices, which may be different from those in their own countries, we feel it’s our responsibility to pay for this.

We also have a paragraph about what goes into the toilet as opposed to the trashcan (in our household, as in many American households, anything that comes out of your body or is used to wipe your body goes into the toilet; only wrappers go into the trashcan). This paragraph is helpful as we have had APs before who came from places where they throw toilet paper into the trashcan after wiping, and it was an awkward situation when our children were upset about this but didn’t know what to do or say about it, and it took them a while to share this with us but meanwhile were upset with the AP who was doing it out of habit (we don’t share a bathroom with the AP but the children did in our last house). A good and direct conversation with her cleared up the matter, but now it’s in our handbook, and this actually allows an opening to discuss whether the Ap prefers us to pay for sanitary materials (which we will do) or whether she wants to get these on her own (most have chosen to get theirs on their own but I will reimburse if they give me the receipt…otherwise I’ll get her what she wants at Costco when I get my own).

Finally, we actually do have a small paragraph about perfume use, and I am clear about this in matching lest it turn anyone off to us (it hasn’t so far). After our first AP’s perfume was so heavy it took more than a week to air out her room when she left, we now ask our APs not to wear perfume in the house or when on with the children. We ask them to put their perfume on outside when they are going out. The Germans we have had the last few years since we returned to the AP program don’t seem to wear perfume anyway, but with the Brazilians who did, it turned into a joke along with the way, but all complied and no one made an issue out of it. Since I’m pretty laidback about most other things, this seems to be one quirk in their HM they’re willing to put up with. :-)

Again, all of these are in the handbook, so as Gianna noted, it’s less personal and we talk about these things prior to really getting to know our APs so nothing is directly related to them. I can therefore be very clear and direct without worrying about hurting feelings.

Tristatemom January 23, 2013 at 11:06 am

Your post prompted me to note that we will add a section in our handbook for future APs: no sanitary items in the toilet. I thought every girl knew this, especially Europeans, but we learned the hard way :( Talk about an unneccssary bill and akward conversation.

Seattle Mom January 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm

This is a great idea. I did put something in the handbook about not showering during “morning rush hour” or bedtime routine after it was a problem with the last au pair. And the perfume thing would bother me too- we did have to air out the AP room after the last AP because it stank of her perfume. But it wasn’t bad enough to make me ban perfume in the house. I think I will put something in the handbook about no perfume while caring for the kids- ironically the only one who has done that one is my own mother, who was our nanny for a month. I didn’t say anything to her though, there were too many other more important issues I had to deal with (I would never want my mom as my AP, oy vei.)

German Au-Pair January 24, 2013 at 12:29 am

Yes! PLEASE put something about sanitary products in your handbooks. In Germany most people throw their tampons in the toilet but every plumber is telling you that this is the worst you can do. Since I wanted to avoid bursting pipes and awkwards conversations, I did ask my host mum the very first day :D I think it could really help clear things up for new au pairs.

GermanMom January 26, 2013 at 2:52 pm

No German woman I know throws her sanitary items in the toilet!! And I am German! This is universal knowledge and there are special bins in every German restroom and even private home. I am surprised that you would even think its ok?

Seattle Au pair! January 23, 2013 at 7:02 am

I never had any problems related with that with my host family, but I can´t imagine living with a host family where I couldn´t shower every day. I just can´t and I think it can be a cultural thing, I´m from Brazil and we usually shower twice a day but at least once, I can´t remember when was the last time I didn´t take a shower.
As much as can be unconfortable for both AP and HF, I agree that the HM should talk directly to the AP she is an adult and has to be an example to the kids, of course it can be a cultural thing and she might have an explanation for it.

Jessica (AuPairToBe) January 25, 2013 at 9:50 am

Hello, I’m new here and I’m loving this space where HF and AP can share their anxieties and doubts!

As an future au pair looking for a HF, I’m very interested in this question. I’m Brazilian and a daily shower is a deeply ingrained habit in my culture, especially during summertime. I live in the south, where we actually have cold winters and it’s when we allow ourselves to skip from a bath or another. But we usually bathe or shower at least once EVERY DAY.

I talked to a family in California and we didn’t match because of this issue. The kids only shower/bathe 2 times per week, even in hot California summer.

I’d not adapt in a smelly house with smelly children. So I think that the hygiene habits should be take into consideration before the match. Both, AP and HF, should ask about it!

Should be working January 25, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Getting my little guy into the bath even just twice a week is a challenge. He doesn’t smell like grownups do when they don’t bathe. I actually find it strange that people make little kids, even if they haven’t been outside getting dirty, take baths every day. Not so good for skin or water conservation.

Jessica (AuPairToBe) January 30, 2013 at 8:06 am

I agree with you about the little ones, especially if they haven’t been outside. But the kids I was talking about are 7 and 9 years old!!!

HRHM January 25, 2013 at 1:14 pm

When DD8 was little, we usually did bath every other night in the winter time. Her bottom was being well cleaned with each diaper change and lets face it, baby sweat does not smell! Especially in the winter, daily bathing dries out kids’ skin and is rarely necessary. Now that both DDs are older (4 and 8) we do nightly baths almost without exception, but that’s because DD8 stinks (starting to smell like Teen Spirit!) and also because they are in gymnastics and swim most days of the week. In addition, DD4 is not nearly as good of a “wiper” as DD8 was at that age (sorry if it’s TMI). The other thing to keep in mind is that families in the socioeconomic bracket in the US that have the means to hire an AP most likely have and use central air conditioning, so even in “hot” Cali (which depending where they are isn’t actually hot most of the time) they may spend little time outside of a controlled climate.
Trust me, most Americans are VERY sensitive to body odor and if their kids smell, they wash them.

Seattle Au pair! January 25, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Well Jessica (AuPairToBe), that is something you will have to deal with, and that is the cultural part of the program. Its really comum to find families where the kids take 2 baths a week.
My 2 host families were like this.
In Brazil you would never give only 2 baths a week on your kids but in US that is not abnormal.
So get used with the idea because is more likely that you will not match any time soon if that is a big issue to you.

Jessica (AuPairToBe) January 30, 2013 at 8:20 am


I’m aware of it. We didn’t match because the HM was really intolerant and said to me that no matters if they are stinking or if they have been outside, bath only 2 times per week. I don’t know, maybe I’m really wrong, but I don’t think it’s normal for two kids of 7 and 9 years of age having bath only 2 times per week.

New Europe Au Pair February 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I AM HAVING THE SAME PROBLEM!!! I have been with my host family for a little over a month now and their personal hygiene is deplorable–I never realized what a germaphobe I was until I got here. Their children also are only bathed 2-3 times a week (once of those times including hair washing), they said it is normal to get lice numerous times a year, they NEVER wash their hands, brushing their teeth and hair is optional–and with those dirty bodies and hands they are always touching me, and more importantly and way worse, OUR FOOD!!! They are allowed to stick their hands in communal food bowls, when helping with dinner they can lick the mixing spoons and continue to cook with them–it is absolutely appalling. I am sure I am sending their water bill through the roof because I actually make the children wash their hands and I personally shower every day–their children smell so awful and it is heinous to get close to them. Apparently it is a cultural thing but I am always horribly offended (oftentimes literally dry heaving), and they get miffed when I make the kids wash their hands all the time (and it is not for stupid reasons, trust me!). I don’t know how to broach the topic but I’m so grossed out all the time over it…

Au pair with two awesome kids February 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm

In what country are you?

Aussieupair March 10, 2013 at 6:14 am

I would also firstly ask if there was a problem that you could help solve with hygiene – like, ask, ‘do you feel you have everything you need for the bathroom? Is there anything we can help you with in that area.’ I say this because I try to shower everyday – in Australia is expected as well – and hate it when I don’t, but some days I have so much to do and the kids demand so much of my attention that I don’t have time. I’m a shower in the morning person and I’m supposed to shower while the baby’s down for the morning nap, but sometimes the 4 year old demands so much of my attention that suddenly the baby’s awake again and I’m still in my pjs.

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