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Can You Smell That?

March 31, 2010

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could know how your sense of smell stacks up against others?  Clearly there are some people with very gifted olfactory nerves (look!  I used a five dollar word!).  People like that are working for perfume or food companies as professional smellers / tasters.  But what about the rest of us?  How do you know where you fall on the olfactory bell curve?

These are things that keep me up at night.  Questions like that, and questions like “What is that smell?” 

I’ll just confess right now that I have smell-phobia.  I’m paranoid that people are going to come into my home and think it smells funky.  After all, I live in a 100 year old house with a dog.  And I think we’ve documented that I’m no June Cleaver.

My smell phobia is not new.  Remember the time I blamed Cecilia for wetting the bed except that she didn’t actually wet the bed?  Yeah.  I’m not proud of that.

I think it goes back to middle school.  A friend and I went to a coach’s house once and the place smelled horribly like dogs.  So much so that Liz and I kept staring at each other wondering who would break it to our coach that one of her dogs had obviously peed in the house.  Our coach seemed oblivious.  Gradually it dawned on us that her house must always smell this way.  Ever since then I’ve worried about becoming that person.

Here’s a good one:  Early in my fostering career I took care of a 5 year old and her 2 year old sister.  The five year old walked into my home and said, “Your house smells funny.”  And you know what?  It probably did to her.  Partly because she is African American and my home may have been one of the first non-African-American homes she had ever visited.  And sometimes homes just smell different from each other.  And that’s ok.  But of course at the time I had a little mini-freak-out in my head while smiling calmly at her and mentioning something about how sometimes dogs can make a house smell a little different.

Or how about this?  You know how bedrooms can smell funny after you’ve slept in them all night?  They just get musty or something.  I’m not quite sure what it is, but it bugs me to pieces.

Funny side story about bedroom-funk-smell:  Early in my short-lived career at Andersen Consulting I went out to Chicago for a week of training.  I met some great people there and we all decided to extend our stay in Chi-town by one night so that we could go out with a bang.  My new friend and I decided to share a hotel room, but she hooked up with a guy in our group instead.  They ended up sleeping in the adjoining room.  The next morning I knocked on their door to make sure she was up for her flight.  We end up rehashing the night and the guy finally excuses himself to go take a shower or something.  And my friend looks at me and says “Can you SMELL that?”  And I could.  Something about his natural (or perhaps alcohol-enhanced) sleep-smell was not attractive to either of us.  I knew right then and there that the relationship was doomed.

Here are my most recent smell traumas:

1. Something in the water.  There is something in the water here that makes drains, sponges, dishrags, etc smell weird.  It’s a bad mildewy smell that clings to your hands after using a contaminated sponge.  And it happens almost instantaneously!  I can buy a brand new sponge and it will smell funky in two days.  I tried switching to dishrags so that I can wash the rags in the laundry, but that still doesn’t always take care of the smell.  Thank goodness I have finally (I think!) found a solution.  First, I’ve been on a kick to take care of all the dishes every day (who AM I?).  Secondly, after rinsing out the sponge I either pour boiling water on it or I spray it with Clorox Bleach Spray.

For crying out loud, I'm writing a post about Clorox. I'm no longer approaching middle age, I've arrived. Sigh.

 2. Flush much?  Twice now after having foster kids I have come home to an unpleasant smell.  And each time I blame Cecilia.  And each time I have been wrong.  Because after investigating, I have discovered that a foster kid forgot to flush before leaving my home.  Solution:  Sunday afternoon is “clean the bathroom WITH the foster kid” time.  After all, these kids need to learn how to clean.  This way they learn a lesson and I don’t get blindsided with funk.

Foster care: changing lives one scrubbing at a time

3. Waiting for Cecilia to become incontinent.  I noticed a weird pee smell on Cecilia yesterday.  But I could not find a pee spot anywhere.  Not in the guest bathroom.  Not in the basement.  I finally located dampness under the dining table.  Fortunately this is a washable rug.  Cecilia seems to be pretty good about that.  And again I’m wondering whether it’s time to try pee pads…

Oh my word, after looking at all the dog pee posts, I’m sure you all think my house smells like dog pee.  I promise it doesn’t!  Or at least I don’t think it does.  Ok commenters, if you’ve ever been to my house please tell the truth: does my house smell like dog pee?  Or dog in general?  Not that I’m paranoid or anything…

This doesn’t count as a current smell-trauma, but it is one that crosses my mind: Basement Mold Smell.  I’m terrified of this one and all that it represents.  Which explains the dehumidifier and box fan running continuously in the basement.  I’ve had two contractors in the basement recently and both commented that my basement smelled really good for a basement. (Really? Gee, thanks!)  So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

With all my smell issues, I bet you’d think my house would be a shrine to Yankee Candle or Bath and Body Works. 

But it is not. 

Because a house that smells overwhelmingly of artificial scent puts me on guard.  I smell someone’s Plumeria-Crystal-Breeze-Cabana-Boy plug in and I have to wonder just what bubonic plague they are trying to hide from me.  Plus too much of that stuff makes it hard to breath.  I have a little plug in that I use sparingly (Pumpkin Pie in cold months, Lemon in warm).  And I do love my pine scented candle at Christmas.  But those are occasional things, not everyday occurrences.

Do you know what house smells I love best? 

Fresh breezes through open windows. 

Chicken baking in the oven

Something yummy in a crock pot. 

Or (possibly my favorite) chocolate chip cookies just ready to take from the oven.

Those are some real smells I can support.

Wow, I feel like I’ve bared my soul for you here.  Be gentle, readers.  Help me feel not so alone.  Do you also have smell issues?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2010 11:15 am

    haha… very informative post… like it…

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  2. March 31, 2010 11:34 am

    Hehe I agree, dogs are a bit messy and adds burden, we just have to look after them.

  3. March 31, 2010 12:28 pm

    I totally understand your smell paranoia. I live in an apartment building that, up until recently, was almost entirely populated with people over the age of 65 or 70. I’ve found that my neighbors are VERY fond of mothballs, boiled cabbage and the occasional cigarette. Combined, these add up to a powerful olfactory cocktail that I am on constant guard against. Happily, my westside neighbor is now a woman my age, who neither cooks, smokes or stores things in chemical bug repellents, so that has improved things.

    However, I’m always afraid that people are going walk into the apartment and find the scent of the space to be off-putting.

    • Juice permalink*
      March 31, 2010 12:52 pm

      Marisa, after reading your blog I assumed that your place would always smell yummy! Glad to know I’m not alone in my fear. 🙂

  4. Brooklyn_Friend permalink
    March 31, 2010 1:38 pm

    Juice – I have issues with scent-y things too! They give me headaches and I’m actually obnoxious enough to ask people if I can “unplug that thing” when I’m visiting their house. (I do like scented candles although I lean towards sweet instead of flowery smells)

    I’ve never tried this but I heard that having a pot of water simmering on the stove with cinnamon sticks is supposed to be nice. Personally, I’d rather be simmering vanilla pods….

    • Juice permalink*
      March 31, 2010 10:12 pm

      I’ve done the simmering cinnamon / cloves thing before. It does smell nice. Someone mentioned that you can throw orange peels in there too, but I haven’t tried that yet.

  5. Brooklyn_Friend permalink
    March 31, 2010 1:42 pm

    Ooh, forgot to add – I normally disinfect my sponge by sticking it in my microwave for a minute or two!

  6. March 31, 2010 2:12 pm

    Oh my gosh – the bedroom-sleeping-funk smell!! I hate that!! And it always seems to happen here when the seasons are changing because (I guess) the heater/ac aren’t running round the clock anymore and so you get this kind of stale/musty/icky smell. I HATE THAT SMELL. With a passion.

    And I didn’t there was anything more offputting than dog-in-the-house-smell, but then my son became a teenager and every morning when I walk into his room BAM it hits me. I don’t know if it’s dirty socks, musty towels, rotting food, or just teenage boy, but that is one funky odor. I don’t know how he stands it.

    I don’t mind a little bit of fragrance wafting through my house – I like clean scents, but my mom loves the perfumey, flowery, spicy scents – sometimes I can hardly stand being in her house with all her candles and scentsy pots, and plug ins going all at the same time.

    Obviously, I have smell-issues as well. Maybe we should form a club?!

  7. April 1, 2010 12:51 am

    Oh girl, I totally understand! I have a HUGE smell issue too! Sometimes I would be going to sleep and then wake up thinking I smell gas – the ones connected to the stove, silly.

    Anyhow, although you will not survive at my house because I have plug ins in every common area. I guess I’m so paranoid that my house will smell funky to others that I need that in! (Since I have two little kids and one still in diapers, I bet my house almost always smell like pee. Though I’m probably immune and thinks my house smell like freshly laundered clothes.) I like the fall scents like cinnamon apples or harvest spice… so if I have no guests… I’d secretly change them all out to the fall scents even in the summer. Sick.

    My one pet peeve is that I like my sheets to smell fresh and with a light scent of bleach. I’m so sick that every hotel I stay at, that’s the first thing I look(or smell) are the sheets and the towels. If they don’t smell like a light scent of bleach…. let’s say I don’t sleep as well. 😀

  8. d-lou permalink
    April 1, 2010 11:26 am

    I absotootly hate the smell of a musty washcloth. HATE.HATE.HATE. So…my go to item is a paper towel. I know I’m killing trees everywhere. But that one paper towel to do dishes with, wipes off the counters and the stove…does the dishes…wipes out the sink before bed. Then I throw it away. it.never.stinks.

  9. April 1, 2010 7:21 pm

    This post made me chuckle; very well done! I hate that musty slept-in-room smell, too. And with an elderly dog that is somewhat incontinent and who has stomach problems that result in worse things than pee getting in our carpet, well, I’m surprised our house isn’t in a state of perma-reek. (Probably would be if we didn’t run the carpet cleaner fairly often and lived in a place in which we couldn’t open the windows and air things out year-round.)

    I also hate mildew smell, especially in towels. 😛

    And sponges are the worst. Mythbusters said so. That said, we do use one at home, but I will not use the ones at work. Ick, ick, ick!!!

    • April 1, 2010 7:26 pm

      Oh, and I forgot, we too often find more than yellow gettin’ mellow in our bowl, with kids who sometimes forget to flush. I think I need to start your Sunday afternoon clean-the-bowl day with mine.

  10. debby permalink
    April 2, 2010 12:22 am

    What a funny topic, and so many people that have smell issues too. I’m afraid I’ve lost my sense of smell almost completely. Because on cold mornings, Sophie prefers to do something in the house rather than outside. And I usually don’t ever smell it. Yikes.

    I have never smelled the slept in bedroom smell, I don’t think.

    I hate ‘old people smell.’ I don’t know what it is. The dust of 50 years of accumulated junk?

    I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE perfume. It makes me sick to my stomach, and I am personally offended by people who continue to wear it. It makes me want to run away. I realize this sounds insane. That is how perfume makes me feel.

    • April 2, 2010 5:41 pm

      I don’t care much for perfume anymore, either. I don’t feel offended by it, but I just stopped wearing it in my mid-twenties…mainly because I was between perfumes and couldn’t find a new one I liked well enough to wear every day. Glad I did, because I ended up sharing an office with a coworker who had scent allergies. I do like using scented soaps and bath gels, but those don’t leave one reeking of scent.

  11. April 2, 2010 3:09 pm

    I have two large dogs and a 2 year old still in diapers so yes I am thinking about the house smells. I am glad we mostly have hard wood floors so the carpets don’t smell like dog. In regards to your sponge you could also try throwing it in the dishwasher when you run it and then letting it air dry completely.

    Vinegar is another way to get rid of smells.

  12. April 4, 2010 4:55 am

    Yeah, I think we may be twins. I, too, cannot stand funky smells. I’m very particular about the dishrag! We had a cat who was with us for 12 years. During her last year, she was peed throughout the house. After she passed, I had the carpets steamed cleaned. But now, even 4 years later, sometimes I think I can smell it and it totally wigs me out. I’ve called friends over and everything, no one can smell it except me. Only sometimes. It’s so weird.

  13. buckeye permalink
    April 5, 2010 12:18 pm

    rest assured, your house definitely does not smell! 😀


  1. Can You Smell That? Part Deux « all things juice

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