You Smell Like Outside

For years my family and I have discussed the oddity of the “outside” smell. I just thought this was a common thing. You go outside (especially on a windy day) and you come in smelling like “outside”. It’s kind of a musty, doggy, rankness that permeates you and gets in your clothes. This is especially true for kids and pets. They can run around outside for a few minutes and come in stinkin up the place.

I’ve always been aware of this smell, but then I gained a fondness for convertibles. Now, I cannot “drop-the-top” without infiltrating myself with this wondrous odor. I can walk in the door after the drive home and my wife promptly says, “You’ve been riding with the top down, haven’t you.” I started to think that there has to be a remedy to this stinky outside business, so I googled it. What I found was a complete lack of information about this. Apparently not everyone is experiencing it. Either it’s not happening in their area or their sniffer is immune to it. I found a few people asking similar questions on Yahoo! Answers, but the replies were very tedious.

Example:

Q. What is in the air that makes your clothes smell like outside?
A. Nothing. That is just sweat.

WRONG. This is not a body-odor smell. Besides I can walk onto my porch in 70 degree weather and do nothing for 5 minutes and obtain this odor.

A. It is physically impossible for the air to “have a smell”.

WRONG. Air/Wind can carry any number of odors. Ever been downwind of a hog-farm?

WARNING sidebar comment coming, but this is a peeve of mine. If you answer someone’s question on Yahoo! Answers or any other Q and A site, know the answer! It seems like everyone and their dogs answers these questions and do not know the answers. The point of these sites is to provide answers, not to sound important by making uninformed guesses. Sorry, I digress…

So I think I may have found the answer or at least part of it. Geosmin. I ran across this in a completely unrelated search, but the more I read about it the more I think it is the culprit. Geosmin is an odorous chemical mostly found in dirt. No one knows for sure, but it is thought to be the by-product of certain bacterias. The interesting thing is that the human smeller is particularly sensitive to geosmin. Very, very miniscule, microscopic portions of it can still be detected by our human noses. Here is another interesting thing: it can smell good in some situations and putrid in others. For example, ever walk into a freshly tilled garden and smell the fresh tilled dirt? That’s geosmin. Ever “smell rain” in the air? That’s geosmin. Ever encounter a “stinky” mud-hole? That’s also geosmin. Ever get a dirty taste in your tap water? Yes, even that is geosmin. It is considered a water pollutant in many areas of the country. My granddad used to say, “The lake must’ve turned over” when the tap-water tasted bad, but it must’ve been excess geosmin seeping into the water supply.

Geosmin through a microscope

Geosmin through a microscope


So, geosmin is very very small and can be carried on the wind and in the air. It maintains a dirty, musty smell and can settle into your clothing, hair, and even skin when you are exposed to it. Some regions have higher geosmin content than others and some people are not as sensitive to it’s smell. Hence the reason not everyone on Google or Yahoo! Answers knew what the question was about. Now I’m not 100% sure about this, but it makes logical sense that the mystical “outside” smell that has attacked kids, pets, and owners of convertible vehicles with it’s foul presence is a concentration of geosmin.

The downside is how to prevent it. Unfortunately, repelling geosmin is not easy. Engineers have worked hard on it due to the issue of it polluting water supplies, so I don’t expect to find a remedy soon. So for now I guess we’re stuck with “smelling like outside”. I’ll stock up on some Axe body spray and stash it in my glove box I guess. But if I walk by and leave a swath of a musty smell in my trail, just know that it’s not body odor. It’s just geosmin… well… or maybe just good Mexican food. ;)

90 thoughts on “You Smell Like Outside

  1. Oh my goodness, SOMEONE ELSE KNOWS ABOUT OUTSIDE SMELL! My husband claims I’m crazy because apparently he can’t smell it… but today I’m totally DYING in outside smell! It seems worse when it’s humid outside. I have noticed it’s worse in places with open country (I live in Oklahoma) and I notice it less abroad and in big cities. GOODNESS I wish there was a cure to this!

  2. I hate the smell it’s so nasty I have been trying different things something that works a little for me is spraying febreze on all my clothe before going out. It helps a little.

  3. @ Kylie
    I’ve been drinking them and I unfortunately can’t say that have made me not smell, but I think that’s a small possibility that it may have reduced the smell a bit. I can’t assure anything. Today it was a nice day outside, fresh and a bit windy, so while running some errands I had the windows down on my truck, when I got home, my sister said I smelled like outside :/

  4. Oh and by the way, I just noticed my last post was exactly two months ago so I wanna say I’ve been drinking the pills for about 1 1/2 months

  5. Thank you for this information. I have been wondering about this for years!!! It drives me crazy. This was the only educated answer I could find on the topic!

  6. Thank you so much! My siblings would always come in smelling like this. I hate the smell but I know I smell like this as well. I smelled it on myself today and decided to see if I could get any info on it. Thank you for doing the research for me!

  7. ha! Perfect. best answer I’ve ever heard on the subject, and I’ll steal it :)
    I was working parking lot duty at church today and got in the van … fheeeew…
    My wife complains about outside smell all the time, I always just ignored it.
    But you’re right, some days it’s worse than others, and particuallarly on windy days, which bolsters your theory of traveling bacteria.
    Great…
    I’m going to get some bacterial spray, mist half my clothing and leave the other half dry.
    See if half stinks and half doesn’t… have to find a “neutral” smelling one though…
    Very Very interesting.

  8. I’ve noticed several online stating that “Outside makes me smell like Fish”
    And this makes sense, as Geosmin is what gives carp, Catfish, Ambulance Chasers, and other bottom dwellers their fishy smell.

  9. Hey julie I know yoit comment was in 2012 but I’ve noticed that when, its rainy there’s another smell besides our ordinary ” outside smell.” Where I live the snails start to appear soon after it rains, making it smell like a newly faul odder has arrived. ESPECIALLY when one steps on them XP. and how to avoid them, they are everywhere when it rains making it hard for ppl to enjoy a walk. So my answer to your mystery is snails! P.s my dog likes to knaw on them and roll into then after I bathe him do kind of consider it to be an objection to being clean.

  10. Oh I’m so glad to finally hear other people know about this. I’ve noticed it for years but people think I’m crazy. The worst part about it is that if you have the smell on you, more often than not, you can’t smell it. I sure wish I could find a cure. Thanks for posting about this subject.

  11. Thanks for the info. I know in my family we always say you smell like outside. I was sure people thought we were crazy but we knew what we meant. I hate to ruin a good shower from stepping outside for 5 minutes. I wonder did this happen over 100 years ago or is the chemicals and emissions of today affecting it. Some needs to make an outside repellent and make millions.

  12. My family thought I was crazy too…. except for my son and niece who both know what outside smells like and both hate it as much as I do…. During the winter and early Spring here (Tampa, Florida) my sister always opens up her windows to “air out” the house; I tried it once… and my house was smelling so much like outside that I almost became ill…. No more opening up windows….. Glad to know Im not the only one who says …”it smells like outside”. Good to know the name of it too (geosmin) Good post!

  13. So I am not alone with this horrible smell. I like to go outside and enjoy the fresh air but I hate the smell. We need a cure fast. Oh and I agree with the person who said it is more in the country, because I didn’t notice the smell until I moved to the Georgia. Never smell like that in NY, at a least as far as I remember.

  14. Wow! So glad to hear others have experienced this. My siblings and I always tell each other if we “smell like outside”, the way you tell someone they have food stuck on their teeth or their zipper is undone. We live in Houston, TX and the humidity makes it stronger I think because we visit Chicago and hardly experience it there. It happens quickly and is really frustrating. A trip from the house to the car will do it.

  15. Thanks for the article my daughter and myself are the only two in the family that can smell this . It had been driving me crazy i go for a walk and my hair smells like a wet dog and when I open the windows it comes in the house I hate it and its worse with wind but it wasn’t all the time only the last 2 years very frustrating

  16. yay im not the only one! except i dont call it the “outside smell.” i call it being wind blown. i loathe this smell! i also think it smells similar to how an orange peel smells when you have it all over your hands after peeling oranges. not very pleasant. i always have to carry a small bottle of perfume with me, nd sometimes, not even that does the trick. welp, at least theres a theory now of what i can blame the stench on

  17. Like so many others have posted, 1) I’m glad I’m not crazy in smelling it (as some people who I guess are immune to it have told me) and 2) The fact that it happens to others makes me feel a little less like an isolated vile creature.

    As a child, I used to enjoy sleeping on sheets that were just outside, fast forward a few decades and Yuck! Either something in me has changed or the atmosphere (more pollution etc) has changed. This past year or two is when I noticed it Super Strong and Gross and I can’t believe how quick it gets on my clothes, my walk to the car is 30 seconds, and I already have it. To me it smells very much like soggy dead earth worms mixed in with some fish. I thought maybe my laundry detergent, type of body soap, washing machine build up which is getting on my clothes, my own natural B.O./Body Chemistry, increased body heat due to anxiety, etc, but the outdoor air is definitely the culprit because I don’t smell like that at all in the house, and, only the outside of my clothes reek of it, if I smell the inside of my clothes, Nothing, just normal smelling. Since I’m sensitive to scents, I don’t really have the option of using sprays/perfumes etc, although the other day I was so desperate, I did use something and ended up making myself ill and others around me as well, cause I got a little too overzealous with it! Yes, if someone made some sort of spray product to combat such a smell without the use of strong perfumes, scents that would be great, I guess until then, I will have to experiment with how to lessen it–perhaps switching to powder laundry detergent will help somewhat since I’ve read the liquid stuff has animal fat in it which allows it to stick to clothing, perhaps that contributes somewhat?

    Frustrating….

  18. I don’t know about the dog but my kids always come in smelling like the “outside” and it’s always the same stinky smell that I can’t stand! I tell them too. ..I tell them they smell like the outside. I never thought to look it up until today. Google it rather… to see if anyone else knew what I was talking about bc my kids say they can’t smell it!

  19. What I wonder is if this is new? or has it been around for decades or centuries. I decided to dry a blanket outside like my mother used to do on the clothesline when I was younger. The Blanket smelled awful. I don’t recall that happening when I was young.

  20. I just stumbled across this while searching online. I too have smelled this horrible stench for years, to me, it is worse on sunny days and has a bit of a fishy smell to it. I never really worried or thought much about it, but recently I tried hanging some laundry outside to dry to save on electricity, large stuff like blankets and sheets.

    To my dismay, everything reeked of that musty/fish like smell, forcing me to rewash everything, totally negating any savings. Most searches were fruitless, this explanation makes the most sense to me, funny how some folk LOVE the scent of “freshness” from hanging their laundry out to dry…if my laundry smelled like this I’d be nauseous all day, every day!

  21. I remember this smell from when I grew up on the farm and then again when my children came into the house from playing in the yard. I don’t, however, remember noticing the smell of outdoors on myself until after menopause. Now, like others have said, I can’t be outside for more than 5 minutes and I need to take a shower again. Even my husband has told me that until recent years, I didn’t used to have the “outdoor” smell. Has anyone else noticed this change in their body?

  22. Yay, an answer! Our family has always said ” outdoor smell” when we would come back inside and laugh. Thank you.

  23. We live in Texas and using dry cleaning sheets have helped. The two that vie used are Woolite and Dryel. It’s expensive, but I don’t know what else to do.

  24. I am so glad other people have noticed this. I’ve never really been able to exactly describe what it smells like–kind of like sweat and dirt mixed together. And it gets into everything! I’ll have worn a pair of pants for a few hours and of course don’t want to immediately put it in the clothes hamper after only one wear. But that smell is there!! I might be able to get it out if I hang them up for a couple of days but sometimes that doesn’t even work and I’ll have to wash them.

    I’ve only started really noticing the smell the past few years. I thought maybe I was just oversensitive (because I’m obsessed with cleanliness) but there was clearly a difference in odor even between the clothes that I had just worn outside and dirty clothes that had been sitting in the hamper for days. What I do during the day if have a cardigan or jacket on that has that smell, once I go inside I pull it off and shake it out for about 30 seconds and sometimes that helps. If you don’t want to wash a perfectly clean shirt or pair of pants that has the smell, you can hang them up inside and maybe spray some febreze if the odor is really bad.

  25. Ah, I was just googling about this and found nothing but your post. Thank you for this! I am so glad to know that I am not the only one out there who can smell this. I’ve actually noticed this more on my hair. I have long, thick hair and most of the time I either wear it down or in a pony tail. I go outside for 4.9 seconds, I get indoors and sniff my hair, and there it is! It drives me absolutely crazy. Whether I showered or not the night before, this ‘outside’ smell always reeks up my hair. I live in Dubai at the moment, and I have noticed that this doesn’t happen as often in other areas in the world. Last month I was in Europe, and I have been to a bunch of countries with different climates and have not experienced this, ever. I have noticed that I do get some ‘outside’ smell when it is sunny (In Warsaw, Poland.) however when I sniff my hair, it is not that bad, and rather smells like grass and whatnot; it also quickly goes away when I get indoors. When it’s rainy, windy, or cold, I never seem to get this sort of smell on my hair. Instead, I get to smell the shampoo or conditioner I used after showering the night before with a bit of ‘cold’ to it. Haha, does that make sense? Any way, I really wanted to share my experience with this strange dilemma I’ll probably never be able to solve. It is really horrible to shower the night before, or the very same morning of the day you decide to go out, then as soon as you reach your destination, you smell like trash and like you’ve not washed your hair for weeks. Argh! ):

  26. The only thing that I’ve found that helps it is this spray. Used before going outside it can lessen the geosmin smell. Used after, it can sometimes remove the smell. Now, the spray itself has a bit of a weird smell but it doesn’t linger at all. I go between buildings a lot and it works for me: Static Guard Static Cling Spray.

  27. I live in Virginia and have noticed this phenomenon since I was a kid. It’s especially bad on hot, muggy days and is compounded in intensity when there has been recent yardwork done (eg lawn mowing, mulch spreading, etc) which adds credance to the Geosmin theory. Thanks for this post!

  28. Wow, this is completely different from my “outdoor smell” I was googling. I think I must not be able to detect geosmin well enough to find it unpleasant (yet). My outdoor smell has zero association with musty, dog, fish, sweat, heat, humidity, or displeasure.

    My outdoor smell is exclusively cool and dry and leaves and “fresh”. It is always associated with the “cold front” weather phenomenon, and makes me imagine clean air blowing down from the arctic through tall stony mountains of cool dry trees. It’s distinct from fern and injured clover/alfalfa, other outdoor smells I love. I smell it much less in southern states than northern states, and much less in spring and summer than fall and winter, and even then it only seems to make it to the suburbs a few days a year. When I smell it outside I throw open all the windows and hang up all the bedclothes, and have been able to trap it inside for up to two weeks. I also enjoy it with a glass of a low-oak white wine, because I accidentally discovered an astonishing synergy between the two odors.

    Now, if someone would tell me what THAT is, then I would be forever in your debt.

  29. Ken, To the best of my knowledge (just based on what I’ve read), geosmin is responsible for what you are describing as well. It seems to manifest itself in all kinds of ways. Some are pleasant; some aren’t. That nice smell of freshly tilled soil or the refreshing smell of rain is geosmin, but the sour mud-hole smell is also geosmin. I think it all depends on how it reacts with the other chemical compounds in the environment. Thanks for the insight!

  30. Ever since the “Government” banned the use of Phosphates in laundry detergent, because it was supposedly bad for the environment..! We now have to live with smelly clothes.

  31. Thank you! I am also the only one in my family that can smell that nasty wet dog and worm smell mix. I also smell it in my dryer. It is vented outside, but I assume that they are designed to let out, not in. The clothes don’t smell bad but i nearly throw up when putting clothes in the dryer. It’s nice to know I’m not crazy. :)

  32. I actually like that smell. Outside smells good! WAY better than air freshener or febreze. Outside is a nice natural scent-not fake and ridden with pthalates and other crap like air freshener.

  33. David you are the first Caucasian person I’ve heard speak of this “outside smell” I live in houston and I’ve only heard this from my Mexican friends. Your taking this to another level, you say 5 minutes in 70 degree weather and bam. Only thing I’ve noticed is the dog stinks after a quick walk, but that’s because they have fur and sweat. One day my friend was over and he said he doesn’t like to open windows because the smell from outside coming in. (He’s Mexican) I questioned him and he had said it was like wet dog. So I opened the windows for the remainder of the evening. After a couple of hours I asked him if he smelled anything and he said no, just regular air from outside, no musty doggy smell. It’s just a Mexican superstition I believe came from smelling body odor. When the weather is nice everybody sits outside bars and restaurants, smokers take numerous trips outside and come back in smelling like smoke, not funk. When put to the test I’ve never seen this proven.

  34. Jay, your type of experience has been part of the difficulty I’ve had researching this. It doesn’t seem to be everywhere and some people simply don’t seem to smell it. People who do not experience it chalk it up to sweat or body odor. The smell addressed here is not any type of body odor and It’s not superstition for sure. The condition seems particularly acute here in North Texas (rurally as well, so it’s not cigarettes from bars). Oddly enough, I took a mission trip to Haiti and though the air was full of all kinds of nasty odors, this musty odor was largely absent. I rode in the back of a truck for about two hours and my clothes never obtained that smell. However at home, a 5 minute trip to the store in my convertible has my clothes reeking with it. Just read all the comments here, it’s not in everyone’s heads.

  35. I’ve been trying to figure this out for years! I used to feel bad when my daughter would come in from a run and reek of that smell, I didn’t want to tell her how bad she smelled to me. She didn’t seem to be bothered by it. I thought it might be sweat + body chemistry or something. Then when I started walking the dog regularly I started to smell that awful odor on me too (esp. my hair) but it would go away after a while back in the house. I suspected then it might be environmental since I wasn’t really sweating much, and it didn’t smell at all like body odor, unless my chemistry had changed too, but I couldn’t imagine what in the environment would smell like that. I now live 2000+ miles from there (am in the Pacific NW) and have begun to notice it a lot lately here too. I was recently beginning to think it might be rotting vegetation, since my walks take me near damp and winter-dead flora, as they did when I was living in the previous location. Thank you, David, for the explanation. Very interesting. I’m also glad I’m not the only one who has experienced this! So many people look at you like you’re crazy. I only recently was able to get my husband to admit he can smell it on my hair after a walk. I look forward to researching this further.

  36. Thank you for your answer! Apparently no one else knows this smell. I live in Iowa (in the city, NOT by a farm lol) and i’ve known this smell as a child. That’s mainly the reason we would have to take a bath every time we came in because my mom couldn’t stand the smell. I must say it isn’t a pleasant smell at all. I had kind of thought it had to do with pollutants in the air, but i’ll have to do some research on geosmin. Thanks again!

  37. David, I believe I have an idea of what your talking about. Now I read through all the comments and I’m not sure if everybody’s referring to the same smell.

    Somewhere in comments on page 1 you made a reference to polyester carrying the smell more. Yes polyester stinks after just wearing it outside even if you don’t break a sweat. If thats what your talking about then yes, I do smell that and I want to say everybody does. That”s a strong, foul smell, it’d be hard to believe some people can’t smell that.

    So I’ve got an idea, I’m gonna take a polyester shirt and some gym shorts, leave them outside on my balcony for a day. I think you and everybody else that reads this comment should try the same thing. If they stink then it is something in the air outside. If not then it’s something from body causing them to smell bad.

    No?

  38. I am so glad someone else has noticed this. I started noticing this at an early age with my pet dogs and then as I got older, on people. I can smell it on myself when I have been outside gardening or working in the yard. I can even walk to the mailbox and back and get that smell. I am wondering if we are so used to being inside and around perfumes and other fragrances that we are becoming more sensitive to it. I am not a very outdoorsy kind of person, so it might effect me more than those who do a lot of outdoor activities.

  39. Looked around for awhile on google, trying to find out more about this smell I suspected was bacteria coming off the grass or sewage that’s been plaguing me for awhile now. At first I thought it was just the stink of garbage, and sometimes dead animals, but recently I’ve been able to distinct some of the scent from freshly cut grass from it. Finally found this post after googling for awhile. Then I googled geosmin. Found a statement that says it can upset the stomache, which does happen to me when this “stink” is heavy. I sure hope it’s really geosmin in my case, wouldn’t want it to be something more serious. Thanks for this article; glad I found it.

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