We’ve all had the experience of a lingering bad odor in our home or car, days or even weeks after the source of the whiffy smell has been removed. Our olfactory systems are incredibly sensitive, and can detect hundreds of different odors, so why do certain ones seem to be so much more pungent than others?
There are several factors at play, some of which are related to the substance responsible for the bad smell and the materials it comes in contact with. The other cause may be physiological, as the nose is an incredibly sensitive and complex organ, and our sense of smell is strongly linked to emotion and memory.
The volatility of the material (how easily it turns from a liquid to a vapor or gas) is one of the biggest influences on how far a smell will travel. A more volatile liquid will quickly transform into minute airborne particles that can become dispersed over a wide area, and are more likely to find their unwelcome way into your nostrils.
However, substances with a low volatility are more likely to settle on surrounding porous surfaces such as carpets, wallpaper, clothes, and curtains, and they can become deeply embedded in the fabric. They are also resistant to water, which is why particularly pungent odors seem to linger on your clothes and soft furnishings even after they have been washed.
This is particularly true of lingering cigarette smells, which are notoriously hard to get rid of, even long after a cigarette has been smoked in the vicinity. There is even a name for this kind of pollution, ‘thirdhand smoke.’ Tobacco smoke is composed of many different types of chemicals that are left behind even after the smoke clears away.
Some of these chemicals contain sticky particles, including nicotine, that cling to surfaces long after the substance has been released into the room. The chemicals can even be absorbed by dust particles and the millions of tiny fibres in carpets, curtains and so on. This level of intense saturation is the reason why the smell of cigarettes is particularly pungent.
The way our brains and olfactory systems are wired can also make a difference. We are hardwired to have an adverse reaction to unpleasant odors, probably to keep us from consuming rotten or poisonous substances, and to alert us to disease or danger.
However, the link in our brains between smell and memory is so strong that scientists believe we can sometimes feel as though a bad smell is permanently plaguing us. This condition is called phantosmia, whereby the brain is convincing the person that a smell is present, even with no physical evidence that it is.
A related condition is parosmia, and it can convince the sufferer that a previously pleasant smell is now repugnant. It’s thought to be triggered by trauma, viruses, or chemical exposure, and it is now listed as one of the official side effects of Covid 19.
Some people recover from the condition over time, although for a few unfortunate individuals, it can become permanent.
If you are looking for an industrial scent diffuser, please get in touch with us today.