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.


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. ;)

113 thoughts on “You Smell Like Outside

  1. I’m glad that mutants who percieve fresh nature air as offensive found a support community, congratulations. ;-) But I’m constantly surprised that nobody else arrives here looking to explain *enjoying* fresh air.

    Today is an unsually cool, dry, low-pollen day along the Baltimore-Washington corridor, and I’ve thrown open all my windows to get the wonderful perfume *in*. This has been the nicest summer here in my memory.

  2. Yes Ken, you’re right. Fresh nature air is wonderful.

    I was outside for a while today (Tampa, Florida) and it was gorgeous.

    The air smelled amazing.

    My skin did not.

    We “mutants” also enjoy the beautiful smell of the great outdoors.

    It’s what ends up coating our skin that we don’t like.

    The skin smell does not match the smell of air.

    You don’t have to be rude just because you don’t understand or don’t have a sensitive enough sense of smell to pick up on what we’re talking about.

  3. come on people we should not take offence to what ken says he has his opinion also i read that woman smell can smell more then men please look it up i have fought with my husband many times about this smell and can not even have my laundry hung out side in the air or my long hair it always smells gross i love the mountains but the air up in my mountains in ny state still makes my hair and clothes smell thanks everyone and ladies we are just more sensitive to smell

  4. Hey brotha, thanks for the 411. I have been working with Environmental Canada and my Municipality to recifying this wet dog/sheep pen smell issue everytime my family and I come in from outside. Just thought maybe we are JESUS’S sheep and we smell :-) ttt. On a more serious note as I research and ponder the issue I keep reminding myself that we need to keep our focus on his return and be ready. As JESUS told us in Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. NIV. Reality and probability is that JESUS is using these natural occuring events to fullfill his purpose and like our LORD JESUS CHRIST also stated in Matthew 24:38-42 as in the days of Noah, they knew nothing of what would happen until the flood came, so we need to watch and keep our focus on his return just as JESUS told us. Shalom and may the peace of JESUS CHRIST our LORD and Savior be with you ttt.

  5. Thanks for the comment Mark… and the advisory. I bet our glorified bodies will no longer be tainted with the outside smell. :)

  6. Thanks for the info. I kept wondering what that smell was, because every time I go outside for a walk on my brakes I come back smelling like rusted iron or something weird. and its only in the city I work.. its annoying!

  7. Yes! Thank you! This article is not bashing “fresh air”… Our hair, clothes, pets just collect the scent in a concentrated fashion. Everyone loves to jump in a pool, but no one likes to clean the filter. I have wondered about this smell for a while and only notice it on cool dry days, usually after spending time in the woods, but I don’t notice it on myself, only on others who have been outside in the cold air. If you don’t understand this, don’t be rude, it makes you look very small. Thanks for researching and sharing!

  8. hi jp i hate the out side air my husband told me for years i don’t smell anything when i would tell him my hair stinks when i go out side and i smell everyone else to i used to say it was not me and it wasen’t when i read this and other people i can not even hang my clothes out side to dry them i hate it it does not smell fresh why do people say that it smells gross

  9. LOL! “You smell like outside!” are my wife’s exact words every time! Excellent article. Thank you for the explanation. We live in Kissimmee, FL and my wife constantly complains about this. I personally don’t like it much either, but I guess I tolerate it a bit more since there is nothing you can do about it. I could have just taken a shower, go outside for a phone call and end up smelling like I need to take another shower. Sometimes I travel for work to other states and I have never experienced the odor you acquire in Central Florida from just stepping outside. So I know for a fact that it’s not just the “fresh air smell” that clings on to your clothes and this comes from someone who really enjoys the outdoors (hiking, camping, etc.) I think the only solution would be to move :(

  10. Awesome article! I also live in Florida and I can always tell when my husband drove home from work with the car windows open! I tell him he smells like ‘hot’. lol! You’re 100% right – it’s not sweat or even body odor- it’s just the hot outdoors/ dog who’s been outside fragrance. It’s so frustrating to feel self conscious when you walk into stores or restaurants after spending any length of time outside. Maybe I should just hand out copies of your Geosmin theory when I smell like ‘hot’ from now on. ;)

  11. OK, so why is it that my kids go outside, get covered in geosmin and end up smelling like wet dogs, but my sheets can hang on the clothesline in the very same air and come in smelling amazing? Is it a combination of geosmin and organic material?

  12. I lived in NY for many years and the air is actually fresh compared to Fl! You do not get this smell on you and your clothes from just walking outside for 5 minutes!! It really is kinda gross and not sure why its just Florida that you get this from!! I think David has a good point there!!

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