Random Smelly Thoughts

It’s been a distracting week — New Mexico is on fire, including west and east of Santa Fe. We’re in for a rough ride until the wind dies down, and humidity levels in the single digits is not helping; it’s just so, so dry out there.  There’s a vague bonfire smell hanging over Santa Fe. It gets me in the eyes, all that particulate matter. I’m keeping my windows closed. I’m not in any danger downtown, but it’s terrible to see what’s happening out in the rural areas while they try to battle this. Anyway, take this mild-complaint post with a grain of salt, because I’m fine and safe and really not in a position to complain about anything.

The lilacs and the wisteria are in bloom, they’re everywhere here. I can smell them, but it’s the weirdest thing with my wonky nose, they have this scent overlay where they all smell fake, especially the lilacs. Like lilac-scented room spray, or one of those plug-in air fresheners, you know what I mean.  This hasn’t stopped me from sniffing lilacs several times a day on my walks, because I’m fascinated by it.  It’s lilac with an undertone of plastic, a hint of a “fresh” marine-type note (gag), and the merest whiff of ammonia, like this is all happening in a public restroom.  I’m sure that sounds unappetizing, and it is, but I can’t help but find it interesting that my warped perception of the smell is so consistent across multiple days as well as multiple species of lilac.

The other odd, recent smell-experience was when I got my hair cut last week. I generally keep it in a chin-length choppy bob, and my “styling” consists of going to bed with wet hair and then rearranging my bed-head as necessary before leaving the house in the morning.  Anyway, the gal who cuts my hair put some effort into actually styling it, adding some cute beachy waves with a curling iron.  It was looking fabulous, and then she finished it off with a quick blast of a glossing spray, which …. yikes.  It was one of those moments that reminded me of past fragrance nightmares, where the scent you hate the most is the one that’s going to be the most persistent.  It was the hair-care equivalent of a scrubber.

I don’t even think it smelled that bad objectively; kinda woodsy, musky, unisex, blah blah.  But it crawled up into my nasal passages and just died there and refused to leave.  It was laughably terrible.  I was going out that night and was all set to rock my cute hair, but nope, I had to come home and take a shower immediately, and throw everything I’d been wearing into the wash, and I still felt like I could smell it as this phantom scent for about 24 hours.

I cannot handle grooming products I hate the scent of, especially hair-care products. I can even conjure them in my imagination, there’s one super-common shampoo (Wella? Alberto VO5?) I absolutely loathe the smell of and I can’t even tell you why.  I think I’ve mentioned/admitted to this on here before, but I’m that weird lady you see surreptitiously unscrewing the caps on shampoo bottles and lotions in the store so I can take a whiff.  Sorry about that.  I promise I’m not sticking my fingers in there, and I screw the caps on back tightly.

Also, I bought some random dishwashing soap (for hand-washing my dishes) recently that I ended up tossing, I found it so repulsive, it was one of those “fresh” smells and I swear I could smell it on the dishes, no matter how carefully I rinsed them after, like every meal came with a garnish of soap.  And don’t even get me started on the laundry/detergent aisle at the store, I hold my breath to go in there.  I use Mrs. Meyer’s Lemon Verbena, which is apparently the only thing on earth I want my clothes to smell like.  When I can’t find it locally I’ve ordered it online.

Have you ever been instantly put off by a body-product or household-cleaner smell that is theoretically benign – not super-strong, or super-weird, or something else you could point to logically for your hatred?  Just a basic, innocuous smell that you can’t stand without knowing why?

  • ElizaC says:

    I agree. I want to choose my perfume and not have it fighting with laundry, soap or other scents. I’m sorry to hear about the fires. Here in Seattle, we have smoke issues in the summer. It is not fun and the fires are very far away from the city.

  • Musette says:

    omg, yes. SO. MUCH. HAIR. PRODUCT! yikes! There’s a hair masque that I had to dump and since I wanted to use the tub for a scrub I was making I had to bleach that dawg out – TWICE!
    I use Ajax dishwashing liquid for my daily sink dishes and I also use it for laundry, finishing off with white vinegar as a rinse agent (thanks, Portia). Fabuloso (the yellow one) for kitchen and bath and that’s it.

    I’ll bet that styling stuff ate your sinuses ALIVE!


  • Dina C. says:

    March, I completely, totally understand about overpowering hair product smells that must immediately be washed out or otherwise a migraine will ensue. Been there, done that so many times. Also wretched household cleaners. There was a Method one that I couldn’t use up fast enough! Love the Mrs. Meyers ones…basil, peony are two favorites. I hope your nasal system continues to readjust back to its rightful self. Then lilacs and wisteria will smell good again.

  • Maggiecat says:

    I am likewise the person sniffing shampoo (and detergent and fabric softener) in the aisles. And don’t get me started on those little scent beads for washing. My sister uses them, probably on the inaccurate assumption that they mask the smell of cigarette smoke. They. Do. Not. And, yuck!

  • Alityke says:

    I miss Revlon shampoos from the 70s & 80s. Smelt great & left hair soft & shiny.
    Clothes softeners & dryer sheets? Satan’s work! My next door neighbour NEVER pegs out her washing in the sunshine or wind, only her horses rugs & numnahs! Yep they “perfume” the air with laundry conditioner when they’re hung outside. Everything else seems to get washed & dried with the cheapest smelling detergents, softeners & dryer sheets. Makes me itch smelling it in the air!
    Styling products? Who styles hair that’s less than an inch long?

    • March says:

      That laundry-smell-from-the-dryer-vent fascinates me, I walk a lot in neighborhoods (here and before) and there are/were times I was pretty sure I was smelling it from, like, a house across the street. And I’d think, nothing should be able to do that. I think dryer sheets are the devil and a likely culprit, never smelled one I liked. I don’t have older “shampoo memories” except Herbal Essence which I liked very much but cannot bring up the smell in my memory, I think that was our household shampoo.

      • Musette says:

        OMG! I just conjured it for you! I LOVED Herbal Essence!

        I loved Breck, too, but mostly because it was such a chemical smell. Like Raid. Only for hair. Our neighbors’ entire house smelled like Breck and Aqua Net! I thought it was sublime!


  • cinnamon says:

    Outdoor smell that really gets me here is crepe myrtle bushes. Gorgeous. Gag-inducing? Aussie 3-minute Miracle (granted, I haven’t smelled it in years). It was fruit cocktail chemical sweet. When I use hair stuff it’s Aesop goo which smells gently herbal.

    • March says:

      That’s so funny, I can’t think of the crepe myrtle smell at all … oh wait I lie! We had a “scented” white one I chose deliberately to plant in my former life and it was lovely to walk underneath, sweet but diffuse. Hahaha I used to LOVE that Aussie smell but have not smelled it in years…

  • Tom says:

    I’m feeling you on the fires- they’re f@ing scary as hell.

    I’m very picky about cleaning products: I prefer washing clothes in things that leave no scent and never use dryer sheets. I like Myers for dishes as well.

    Hair care stuff- I bought and tossed something from Le Labo that worked well but smelled A W F U L. I get my hair mowed at a place on the corner that I’m convinced is a bookie joint on the side, or they own the block or something- never more than 2 stylists and $20 for a haircut? I never let them style it because A) they’re caught in the 80’s styling-wise and I’d like to think I am not, and 2) so are the styling products. And man do they reek! I always shower after a haircut anyway to get rid of the clipped hairs that never quite brush off and trim the strays that you get on a $20 haircut from a bookie joint. (Really, they’re pretty good: I’ve gotten worse at 5 times the price)

    • Tom says:

      I pretty much use pure whipped Shea butter as a hair dressing. No smell and keeps my bed head from being eraserhead. Kiehls does some good ones.

      Remember all those 70’s and 80’s shampoos that smelled of coconut? Oy vey..

    • March says:

      Hahaha I’ve been to that hair joint! Or its equivalent. I got my kids’ hair cut at those places. The gal who cuts my hair here just left our neighborhood barbershop last month for a new place, I remember going in there last summer after I’d moved here (I’d found her on Yelp) and thinking, hmmm this feels like a mistake but she’s really good and it was inexpensive. The shop has been there for decades and it’s where all the guys go for their precision fades or whatever it’s called (super precise, buzzed on the side, sometimes there’s a pattern shaved in.) Yeah the whole place smells like 1962 minus the cigarette smoke.

  • taxi says:

    I can’t bear even a whiff of Neutrogena’s Rain Bath.

    • March says:

      Ooooh, I’ll have to sniff it next time I see it lol, I remember it made a strong impression, and I don’t think it was a positive one…

  • Portia says:

    March, this strikes a chord.
    Recently we had this gorgeous Lily of the Valley soap at the kitchen sink. I wash all the fruit and veg before it gets cooked or eaten and then rinse in a half sink of water.
    Jin was spluttering and bitching one afternoon and he’d bitten into an apple with the taste and smell of the kitchen soap. I couldn’t smell or taste it AT ALL on the food. He made me rewash everything.
    So, you are not alone.
    Good luck in the fires.
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      Ha! I have 100% washed produce and then had to rewash it, especially apples? (My theory there is that the scent gets bound up in the wax they spray on them.) I suppose we’re just hypernosmic to some particular molecule in there and everyone’s different about what that molecule is. Fingers crossed the wind dies down later this week, and then so do the fires. I know you know all about those fires in your part of the world.

  • Shelley says:

    When you mentioned lilacs, I suddenly remembered sniffing the white lilacs my husband cut and made a nice little bouquet with, in a pretty cobalt blue vase! Strangely enough, they smell a little like mothballs! That’s weird!

    • March says:

      I wish I knew more about aromachemistry — there’s something weird about lilacs. I grew up with lilacs and I love the smell, but it seems really logical that they might have a whiff of mothball or plastic or ammonia? And fake lilac replicas amplify that.

  • Koyel says:

    Glossier You. It starts out smelling fine, but something about it crawls into my nose and starts ripping up my brain. A close friend got a new bottle and started wearing it; I had to ask her never to wear it when she knew she would see me again.

    Also, every dryer sheet ever. WHY. When I walk past a house and the air smells like dryer sheets, my insides curdle. Extra negative points when it’s my neighbor and the stench has filtered into my backyard.

    On another note, everything smells like bananas to me recently. Not even really that recently; maybe it’s been years. I think I’m either very sensitive to isoamyl acetate, or else I’m a bit wonky in the head.

    • Koyel says:

      Also, “cherry blossom”-scented hand soap–just a bizarrely common hand soap scent, it seems, for that goopy pink stuff.

      Also, most synthetic lilac scents smell like plastic to me.

      Ok I’ll stop here 🙂

      • March says:

        I’ve been thinking about this — I think synthetic lilac is one of the worst smells. Citrus is probably the least problematic for me.

      • March says:

        Oh, and cherry blossom — mostly they don’t even have that much of a smell (the blossoms IRL) so it seems like more of an excuse to make some sugary pink scent.

    • March says:

      I can totally see that about Glossier You — I liked it okay, but I can imagine it being a stealth scent that drives some people up a wall. I think that’s interesting about the banana smell, I’m trying to decide how I’d feel about it if it were me — would it be annoying or nice?

    • Alityke says:

      Glossier You the only perfume that has ever made me sneeze so badly I had to have a long soak in a none perfumed bath and scrub my hair several times with baby shampoo. Goodness know why but certainly some immunological response as first wear was fine, the second was the sneezathon

  • Tara C says:

    I am that person too, unscrewing all the cleaning products, grooming products, lotions, etc. to sniff before buying. The last time I went to a hairdresser she put some styling product on me that smelled pleasant at first, but then got overwhelming and I had to wash it off as soon as I got home. But the smell sticks in your nose!

    My lilac bush is very close to flowering and I’m very much looking forward to it. No lilacs in southern California but they are all over in Canada, they like a nice cold winter.

    • March says:

      I hope you enjoy your lilac! And yes, that slow burn with the hair product — that glossing spray went from “eh fine” to “holy cow” over a period of, say, 10 minutes, and it really did just stick in my nose in the most irritating way.

  • Pam says:

    I know exactly what you mean about cleaning products that offend. I can’t stand many of the liquid hand soaps. And if I wash my hands using one I hate, I can smell it forever. Shampoos and detergents likewise.

    • filomena813 says:

      Try Melaleucca from the tea tree. Supposedly their products are free of any offensive ingredients nor harm to the atmosphere. However, they are not cheap, but neither are supermarket products.

    • March says:

      Ugh the hand soap thing is DEFINITELY a thing … I think when it drives me craziest is in a restaurant bathroom? And you’ve just discovered it’s Bluebell Watermelon or something and you cannot get it off your hands, and here you are, trying to enjoy a meal.