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Bad Smells

Bad smells are never a good thing, but they are far more prevalent in summer than they are in winter. Heat and humidity are a breeding ground for bacteria, allowing the associated smells to travel further and faster. CHT looks at the best ways to keep things smelling fragrant as we enter the summer months.

Humid air in the summer traps bad smells and causes them to hang around longer than they normally would. But it isn’t just that already present smells last longer and smell worse that causes problems during the summer months. Houses, restaurants and shops all throw their doors open and this means there are just more smells flooding the streets. 

As a general rule “bad” smells will always overwhelm or overpower “good” ones, though no-one can quite seem to agree on why this is.

This is worse news for women than for men as studies have shown that women can actually smell better (and more discriminately) than men. Pregnant women are even better at smelling, the close link between smell and taste is why people suddenly like different foods or get cravings whilst pregnant.

Age also plays a big part, research shows that the sense of smell begins to deteriorate for lots of people as early as their twenties, with almost everyone falling off a cliff by the time they reach 70.

As everyone knows sense of smell, and how a person reacts to those smells, is unique to each individual person. The point at which a smell actually impacts someone’s comfort depends upon the frequency, concentration and duration of an odour. Also, most interestingly, on past memories and experiences.

Indeed smell is the sense most closely linked to memory with smells often triggering recall of past events and even key to unlocking “lost” memories. Psychologists also say that it is far more closely linked to emotion than we realise. Most people know all about the role pheromones play in attraction, but it goes deeper in that with many scientists believing that kissing developed out of humans sniffing each other thousands and thousands of years ago.

Mental health experts also say that people without a sense of smell (anosmia) are far more likely to develop depression and cut themselves off from society because subconsciously it is much harder to judge things and people if you can’t smell them.

On the other hand they avoid the illnesses that odours apparently trigger including asthma, panic attacks and hypersensitivity. Maybe.

Whatever its history and impact smell plays a massive role in all human societies. Perfumes and flowers are much sought after, people spend a fortune on air fresheners, scented candles and cleaning products.

Some even swear by aromatherapy where smells impact moods, raise spirits, boost self confidence and aid sleep. There isn’t any scientific evidence to back up these claims however.

What is certain is that humans have evolved to smell things that are dangerous or harmful as “bad”. Some scents might be considered pleasant in one culture but foul in another, this is purely down to culture and expectation. Others however are universally despised, rotting food, faeces, burnt flesh and compost being some of the most obvious. This is because they are undoubtedly dangerous to humans, no matter when or where they live.

This is why it is important, not just to cover bad smells with nicer ones, but to eradicate the cause of the smell itself.

How to get rid of bad smells
When you think about vision or taste it is easy to put what you see or eat into categories. What you see is a certain colour and everyone can name all the possibilities. What you taste is sweet or sour etc. But similar categories don’t really exist for smells, but in 2013 a team of researchers from Bates College and the University of Pittsburgh attempted to come up with a conclusive list of “smell categories.”

They claim that every odour falls under one of 10 labels:

  • Fragrant (flowers, perfume etc)
  • Fruity (All fruits except for citrus)
  • Citrus (Citrus fruits)
  • Woody (Wood and grass smells)
  • Chemical (Cleaning fluids, bleach)
  • Sweet (Caramel etc)
  • Mint
  • Nutty (Peanut butter, popcorn)
  • Pungent (Cheesey odours)
  • Decaying (Spoiled food, rotting meat)

Assuming this list is conclusive (and it almost certainly isn’t) then the only one of the 10 you would say is automatically dangerous to humans would be the last. Pungent falling somewhere in between. Perhaps the next study needs to expand but it is a good starting point. But once scientists finally getting around to categorising smells how do we banish the bad ones, and their underlying causes?

There is a whole litany of websites, articles and lectures about precisely how to go about this. Of course it depends entirely on what exactly the smell is so invariably the first piece of advice is to find out what is causing the smell!

For general, every day smells the advice is pretty generic. Hot, soapy water, antibacterial cleaners and/or detergents come up a lot, but for other, more persistent smells more extreme measure might be required.

Smoke for example. Anyone who has smoked, lived with a smoker or just overcooked some food knows how difficult it can be to get rid of the lingering smell of smoke. Most advice seems to consist of opening as many windows as possible, though several websites recommend sprinkling baking soda over carpets and furniture overnight before hovering it up the next morning.


  • Although taste and smell are separate senses in land animals, sea creatures often combine them into one.
  • Apparently humans can remember and identify smells they haven’t smelled in up to 60 years.
  • The humans’ sense of smell evolves over their lifetimes. Babies actually like smell of feces because it is something they are familiar with. It is only as we get older that it starts to repel us.
  • Mothers can actually identify their child almost immediately, purely by smell.
  • Though smell can trigger memories they are most effective in triggering ones from your first ten years, sight become more useful the older you get.
  • Smell was the first sense that our ancestors evolved.
  • Age-related loss of smell is linked to race. Research has shown that blacks lose their sense of smell faster and earlier than whites.
  • Humans have five to six million odour-detecting cells, dogs that have 220 million.
  • Humans can remember smells with two thirds accuracy after a year, visual memories is down to about half after only three months.
  • Some experts claim that peoples lingering smells could be the next big breakthrough in crime solving.
  • York’s Viking museum has started to pump in recreated smells from the Viking era.
  • Your sense of smell is “turned off” whilst you sleep Parosmia is a condition where everything smells rotten or spoiled

Pests are another issue which comes up a lot. Wet dog or cat pee isn’t an odour you want flooding your house. Quite disturbingly more than one source says that if you can’t find the source of the smell (also known as “where your pet has been doing its business,”) then they recommend using a black light (no, CHT doesn’t know where you get a black light) and then just following the ultraviolet glow….

Anyway, once the smell has been identified a blend of water and white vinegar is apparently the most effective way to remove both the offending stain and odour. Though if any smells do linger the ever useful baking soda should be applied once more.

Kitchens can often be the smelliest part of the house (after the bathrooms anyway) but it isn’t just because of the bins. Fridges, sinks and appliances can cough up stenches that invade the entire house or workspace. 166281571

Fridges are probably the simplest to sort out, throwing out the old food and giving everything a good scrubbing apparently does the trick more often than not. Dishwashers though are more of a problem. Most people assume that dishwashers clean themselves (it is sort of implied) but this isn’t the case, food that isn’t scrapped of the plates can get stuck in mechanisms and seals and start to smell. Every once in a while give your dishwasher a thorough clean and if there is a problem fill a couple of glasses with vinegar and start it on a full cycle.

The most obvious place, whether we’re talking offices, houses or pretty much anywhere else, for bad smells to appear is toilets and bathrooms. This is one case where prevention is undoubtedly better than cure. If you want to stop your loos smelling then you have to clean them on a regular basis.  Bleaching the toilets is essential and make sure you check the wax ring as well for any signs of decay.

The other major issue to consider is your flooring, especially if you have carpets. Smells can linger in the fibres and if you have pets, have spilled food or drink or simply if your carpet has gotten old then you could be letting yourself in for trouble. Regular vacuuming will help, as will keeping windows and doors open to let air into the room. If this doesn’t help then you can always fall back on that ever reliable baking soda!


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