Our sense of smell is often the most attuned, mature and sensitive of our five senses.

Whilst our taste palate often takes a long time to mature, our sense of smell begins to develop before we are born and is the strongest part of our sense memory.

This is why, for example, the smell of freshly baked bread can take many people back to their innocent childhood days and act as an emotional glimmer.

By contrast, an offensive odour is far more powerfully repulsive and one of the biggest reasons why retailers opt for a retail scent diffuser is not only to fill their stores with pleasant, curated fragrances but to avoid allowing less pleasant smells to permeate.

Originally, this list was going to be a list of the most disliked smells to coincide with a similar list of the nation’s favourite smells, but the problem is that most of the nation’s least-favourite smells are ones that are so obvious and repulsive that nothing can be gleaned from them.

The same list that said fresh bread was the most beloved fragrance in the air said that the ammonia smell of rotten eggs was the least favourite, but that is not a scent that someone might disseminate on purpose.

To ensure that there are valuable lessons to learn, here are the most disliked or at least highly contested fragrances that are liked by some but can be quite unpleasant to others.


Smoke is a scent on the borderline between an intentional aromatic choice and a bygone byproduct of an era that many people have moved on and moved away from, but it is also one that is quite widely disliked.

2015 poll conducted by coffee roaster manufacturer Cafe Don Pablo found that to Americans, cigarette smoke was the single worst household smell, beyond cat litter, mould, rotten fish and rubbish.

Health issues aside, and breathing in cigarette smoke, in particular, is very hazardous to your health, the smell itself has probably undergone one of the most significant cultural shifts in history.

A smell that was formerly (due to aggressive marketing) characterised as mature, rebellious and masculine is now repulsive to far more people. This highlights that whilst there are some innate aspects to the perception of smells, cultural aspects are still important.

Either that or people have regained their sense of smell after quitting smoking and so notice the more stale and unpleasant aromatic notes.

Lily Of The Valley

A common part of bridal bouquets and adored by some of the most famous perfumers in the world such as Christian Dior and Penhaligon, the lily of the valley scent, also known by its French name muguet, is a surprisingly contentious fragrance.

A delicate smell that cannot be extracted in the way rose and jasmine can, part of the reason for the often quite diverse reaction to lily of the valley is that there is no natural ingredient that can replicate its smell, leading perfumers to mix it by nose.

For some, it captures the myriad aroma notes perfectly, but for others, it can instead create a scent more reminiscent of pungent cabbage.

With that said, lily of the valley can become more appealing when used as a counterpoint to other strong fragrance notes.

Warm Vanilla Sugar

The definition of what can happen if you misuse a popular and beloved scent, warm vanilla sugar is one of many variations of vanilla along with tonka bean, Madagascar vanilla and the various dark and light tons, but the difference between these and warm vanilla sugar is potency.

Warm vanilla sugar is quite a powerfully sweet note and works best in fragrances that take its unique qualities into account. Unfortunately, it would commonly be misused as a substitute for other vanilla scents and create an overpowering aroma.

The lesson to learn here is not to overuse a scent that is universally beloved. It is akin to assuming that people would use a bacon-scented soap because they like the smell of bacon frying in the morning.

Giorgio Beverly Hills

The debate about so-called “artificial” smells against natural fragrances is one that is hotly contested but also largely misunderstood, even if their intended point of ire is clear.

When a lot of the people who decry artificial fragrances do so, it is not so much because a diffuser is not using a naturally extracted essential oil. Instead, it is more about the perception of scent and the belief, absent of judgement, that all fragrances should at least attempt to resemble a natural essence.

The bright perfume Giorgio Beverly Hills was somewhat infamously banned from several restaurants in Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the reason for that was also the reason for its somewhat divisive appeal during that time.

Its notes of peaches, tuberose and jasmine were as proudly synthetic smelling as its bright yellow colour in the bottle, working almost as an experiment in how to create a fragrance with no aroma base whatsoever.

If there is a lesson to be learned from such a strange perfume story, it is that excess is relative to context, and what fragrances you can get away with at one time and in one place may not be the same as what you can get away with in another.

Dior Poison

Many, if not most fragrance options tend to err on the subtle side, creating subtle notes that do not overly linger on the nose and can sometimes even be ignored if you are not paying attention. Dior Poison is not one of these.

One of the most popular fragrances of the 1980s, Poison is openly bombastic with dozens of different and highly potent floral notes.

Whilst there are many who loved it at the time, it is also a fragrance that due to its sheer power is either adored or despised.

The lesson here is that with stronger aromatic notes, the greater the chance that people will have a strong reaction either positively or negatively. This is essential to keep in mind as it can inadvertently turn away business if the wrong scents are chosen.

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Benefit from a free consultation session with no strings attached. Either choose a time slot here or submit the form below. 

Our team is here to help find the perfect scent marketing or odor control solution for your business. 

Your details: