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The soap question a while back reminded me of this.

The act of buying a yoga mat cleanser became an epic journey that culminated in the purchase of a random bottle from Whole Foods (the one by Gaiam).  I should start out by explaining that I have a thing about smells.  I do not wear perfume and whenever possible, I purchase the unscented versions of things.

I am not only bothered by smells, but I have a very acute sense of smell — it’s sort of the worst of both worlds — therefore, I can smell someone’s perfume, let’s say, on the other side of the room.  It’s like this: you expect someone standing next to  you to have the ability to poke you, but I can be nasally poked by people next to me or people many meters away.  So I can’t just move away slightly when a smell is bothering me.

You may have picked up on the fact that smells bother me a lot.

So, after yoga, I sometimes want to clean my mat.  But I can’t use the cleanser at the studio because that cleanser is under someone else’s smell domain.  Maybe this week, she feels like buying something lemon-scented.  And then next week, the yoga store is out of the lemon-scented variety and she picks up lavender.  But I don’t know this until I go to use it and I’m screwed by my smell expectations.  So I need to bring my own cleanser in order to have control over the smell situation.  Especially since I push my face into my mat pre-cobra.  Must have smell control.

So I started trying out cleansers.

The first one came from a yoga boutique.  The owner gave me a tangerine-scented yoga wipe as a sample.  I am usually good with citrus scents EXCEPT when they are on my skin.  I ask Josh to peel all clementines, for instance.  Though I can get lime on my hands.  But not lemon.  By the way, this all makes sense inside my head.

So the woman handed it to me and said, “when you open it, before you use it, wipe it all over your hands and face and then use it to clean the mat.  It will smell heavenly.”

It was as if she had just told me that she was going to feed me cricket-laced brownies.  She started nodding like a Bobble-head to counteract what must have been the look of horror crossing over my face.  So wipe my face and hands with something citrus-scented — GET IT ALL OVER MYSELF SO I SMELL LIKE IT AND HAVE TO LIVE WITH IT FOR HOURS — and then take my sweat-soaked wipe and use it to clean my mat?

After class, I gingerly opened the packet and took a sniff.  It was right on the line of usable — meaning, I could stomach the smell, though I didn’t love it.  I wiped it all over the mat and tossed it, and then washed my hands numerous times to get rid of the smell.  For the next class or so, I was distracted by the smell which still lingered on the mat, making it impossible to listen to the teacher’s instruction because I kept thinking, “I am standing on tangerine-scented oils I am standing on tangerine-scented oils I am standing on tangerine-scented oils.”

Which meant back to square one.

What I really wanted was a bleach-scented spray, but without the colour-draining properties of bleach.  And I didn’t want to use something like a Clorox-wipe on the mat because I wasn’t sure how it would affect the mat over time.  I spent two weeks picking up bottles of mat spray in various health food stores and yoga boutiques until I finally settled on the one sold at Whole Foods which smells a little citrus-y and a little ginger-y, and I’m okay with it as long as I don’t get it on my skin.  I can stand to inhale it during downward-facing dog.  And over time, I know it will grow on me until it is a scent I associate with yoga and actually find comforting instead of distracting.

Because the opposite is true too — certain smells bring me enormous comfort.  I love sleeping with a shirt that Josh wore that week if he ever goes out of town.  I can’t really borrow other people’s clothes — even clean clothes — because of detergent smells, BUT I never pre-wash anything my best friend or sister give me because I like it still smelling like their detergent (at least until I have to wash it post-wear) when I miss them.  I think grilled meat smells amazing (even if I never would put it in my mouth).  I love the smell of old books.  When I think about buildings, I often think about them in terms of their smell, because buildings and houses have smells just as much as each person has their own individual smell.  I am a fan of suntan lotion (though not make-up).  And the fishy scent of the Chesapeake Bay (it’s like Maryland’s vagina).  And when you go outside right after in snows and it smells like nothingness — like all the smells have been erased from the air.  And bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeach.  I am such a fan of bleach.  Children often comment that our house smells like a swimming pool when they come over for playdates.  I like to respond that our house smells like happiness and calm.

What are your best smells and worst smells?


1 Tiara { 10.09.12 at 10:37 am }

I LOVE the smell of coffee…but don’t drink it. I, too, love the smell of books, new & old. My dad has been gone for more than 6 years & sometimes, out of the blue, I can smell his cologne, even just sitting in my living room…I love that. I love the smell of wood burning, it simultaneously reminds me of camp fires in the summer & warm winter nights & I love that!!!

I hate the smell of flowers, especially carnations & lilies…

Great post!

2 JustHeather { 10.09.12 at 10:47 am }

Oh, that makes 2 of us! I too have a very good sniffer and have many issues with smell. Like you, I wish smells didn’t stick to my hands because I can smell them for ages and they usually hurt my nose. I don’t do perfume anymore and my deodorant is very very mild in smell. (Unfortunately I can’t get it here in Finland and have to stock up on it when I am in the US or someday, find something new.) And I hate smelly hand soaps!

At work, I’ve had to ask someone to remove their stinky xmas flower, as I could smell it half way across the building before I even saw it. I’ve also had to ask my boss to not use her nice smelling hand lotion because it was giving me a headache and she didn’t sit that close to me and has a room of her own. And don’t get me started about people on the bus or grocery lines (old alcohol, vomit, cigarettes, onions, Indian cuisine, etc). O.M.G. Some smells ought to be outlawed.

As for smells I love, citrus, vanilla, camp fires but never cigarettes, hubby’s shirt when he’s out of town and more recently my OWN baby’s smell (except for the puke part).

3 Jendeis { 10.09.12 at 11:32 am }

What about white vinegar in a spray bottle? Would that be bleach-y enough without being actual bleach?

4 Sharon { 10.09.12 at 11:33 am }

It’s so true what they say: one man’s meat is another man’s poison. I think there are some smells that are universally gross–and I saw this advisedly, having worked as a hospital nurse for several years–and others that are nearly universally good, while most scents are neither, just a matter of personal preference. (For example, you love the smell of bleach, and my husband hates the way it smells.)

Smells I love: the ocean, rain in the desert, wood burning, pipe smoke, coffee, vanilla, chocolate cake or brownies or bread baking, citrus, roses, babies’ clean heads.

Smells I hate: raw onions, cigarette smoke, stale breath, body odor, baby formula (I have yet to smell one that didn’t repulse me), anything rotten.

I feel for you. My normal sense of smell is not terribly acute, about average, I’d say, but I had super-Spidey-sense-smelling when I was pregnant, and it was just awful. I can’t imagine living with that level of sensitivity every day.

5 Ana { 10.09.12 at 11:42 am }

OK, you lost me a bit at “maryland’s vagina” (ewwwww, is that a thing that people say?), but i’m with you on the sensitive nose. I really feel assaulted some times & then it GETS IN MY NOSE and I can’t get rid of it. Love bleach, it smells clean & organized. Hate other cleaners (409 makes me gag, and husband INSISTS its the only thing that properly cleans the stove & counters). Am allergic or sensitive to most flowers and flowery smells, especially those disgusting stargazer lilies. The worst smell in the whole world is vomit. And I’ve got a little puker. I can deal with diaper explosions & being peed on, but I gag cleaning up vomit. All day & night I can smell it, I cannot get it off me. Oh and don’t get my started on bananas, I can smell them a mile away and taste them in a one part per million dilution (people try sneaking them into everything. And then insist they aren’t in there. You cannot fool me).
I LOVE the smell of citrus (I’ll gladly peel your lemons and clementines!) , vanilla, chocolate, coffee, nutmeg, ginger, basil. And garlic cooking on the stove (not raw garlic). My husband’s Old Spice deodorant, and my boys’ baby soap & shampoo.

6 Valery Valentina { 10.09.12 at 11:59 am }

but….why would you want to clean your yoga mat with something scented if you don’t like the scent? Doesn’t unscented soap remove any sweaty smells? (Have to admit it only occurred to me the even try to clean my yoga mat after we had outdoor lessons)

Our yoga teacher finishes class with a lavender scented towelshe puts over our face…..

7 Alexicographer { 10.09.12 at 12:22 pm }

Cannot. Stand. the. Smell. of. Bleach. I mean, if I have to use it for a purpose, I can cope (bitterly). But otherwise, ugh.

Otherwise, beyond obviously gross smells (rotten meat, cat poop) I’m pretty blasee and not terribly sensitive.

Yesterday, I set foot in an office building where my dad worked when I was a little kid, like, 4 decades ago. I recognized the smell of the place (let’s go with ‘vaguely musty’) immediately. It was weirdly pleasant (not inherently, but because of the memory).

8 lifeintheshwa { 10.09.12 at 12:24 pm }

I am your opposite – LOVE natural citrus oils and wear them, but pretty well everything in my house is deliberately unscented. No Parabens or Phalates to injest (might cause miscarriages and infertility, doncha know… SIGH). I LOVE the smell of white vinegar and use it to clean with, maybe some tea tree oil with it and water might be a nice combo? That’s what I’ve always used on my yoga mat. Definitely cheaper than the commercial sprays, that’s for sure.

9 Gail { 10.09.12 at 12:31 pm }

I do not like the smell of fish, although we enjoy eating fish at least once a week. After making it, my kitchen stinks for a whole day. I’ve often made cookies or brownies or something that smells wonderful after a fishy meal just to rid the house of the smell. I love the smell of pretty much any baked good including breads, cakes and pies. I also love the smell of burning leaves and wood fires and love it when my sweatshirt smells like that for days or weeks before I finally break down and wash it.

10 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 10.09.12 at 12:47 pm }

Wow. Bleach. But not tangerine. There is no way I am ever going to properly understand that.

But on the whole, although smells don’t bother me as much as they obviously bother you, I do like to appreciate them more than most people seem to. I also like to buy unscented everything but more so I am not so overpowered by a scent that I can’t smell other scents. Smell is great. So enriching. And useful! I couldn’t do my job as well without my sense of smell.

The Earl has a chronic nose thing going and can’t smell a lot of fairly obvious (to me) smells and I feel a bit sad for him.

11 Juanita { 10.09.12 at 12:50 pm }

Wow, it must be really awful and wonderful at the same time to live with such a sensitive nose. I do not have one of those, although with certain smells it seems to zoom in on. I HATE the smell of cigarette smoke and can smell that from a mile away (don’t try to light up in my house by hanging halfway out the window in the middle of the night – I’ll catch you out! I love the smell of food, but when I finished eating I do not want any food smell to stick to my hands – have to wash them immediately otherwise I keep on sniffing my hands to confirm whether it still smell of food.
I love the smell of freshly brewed coffee, of wet soil and the sea-breeze on a misty morning.

12 a { 10.09.12 at 1:49 pm }

I am somewhere in the middle in relation to smells. I don’t mind the smell of bleach…but I don’t like it to burn my sinuses. However, I do say this…buy yourself a few of your favorite yoga mats, and bleach them and replace them as needed. Because having them smell proper is just as much a part of being clean has having all the bacteria removed.

There are a few smells that make me gag instantaneously – the smell of tomato juice (and I LOVE tomatoes…just not tomato juice), vomit, air freshener of any sort, air freshener + poop, most scented candles…I could probably go on all day. The worst and most visceral, though, is the tomato juice.

13 Mud Hut Mama { 10.09.12 at 2:20 pm }

This post made me laugh. I can’t stand the smell of strong perfumes – they give me terrible headaches. I also can’t stand the smell added to gas so that you know if you left a burner on or the smell of bleach. I love the smell of coffee, cinnamon, and cooking fires.

14 Brid { 10.09.12 at 3:35 pm }

What about peppermint? I put a few drops of peppermint oil, or vanilla and citrus oils together in Jack’s bath, and it’s sooo nice!
For the mat, why don’t you try those salt crystal sprays… I use it instead of deodorant or antiperspirant and it totally works. If you spray it on the mat, it’ll kill smelly bacteria and won’t affect you when you’re face down!

15 Rae { 10.09.12 at 4:17 pm }

I also have a very sensitive nose. Perfumes and body sprays usually give me a headache. I learned in nursing school you shouldn’t wear any scented sprays or perfumes because you may trigger an asthma attack and are in people’s personal space. It bugs me so much when hospital employees are wearing perfume and leaving a pepe le pew like trail. But, it’s much better than the smells coming off many of my patients. You’d be surprised by how many people lack personal hygiene and have no idea just how bad they smell. I really feel bad for those people, especially the children who haven’t been taught any better.

Smells I love…lavender, but only if it smells like the plant and not some sweetened version. The smell coming out of the drier vent while it’s running. Baking bread and pink grapefruits.

16 Another Dreamer { 10.09.12 at 4:50 pm }

I use unscented soaps generally, but mostly because I have very sensitive skin and use hypo-allergenic soaps. Same thing with cleaners in my home, I pretty much make my own because I am very sensitive- both because of my skin and because of my asthma. For instance, I can’t use Pinesol because it gags me and triggers an asthma attack. I’m allergic to pine, so touching it raw breaks me out, the smell irritates me. Christmas is hard because I can’t be around a lot of evergreen trees actually.

I do have some homemade soap that works well, and I love the scent- honey suckle, mmm. My favorite scents are after it rains, lilac, lavender, vanilla, cinnamon, baking sweets (like white cake), and my son’s breath after he eats his puffs lol. I can not handle celery though, or mustard, not a fan of citrus scents (although I use lemon in my homemade cleaning solution)… there’s probably a lot more, but I can’t think of them.

For me, scents are heavily associated with memories too. Certain things act as triggers. I use lavender lotion on my loss remembrance tattoos every night, even though I have to use my special lotion on my hands because of my rash (remember, sensitive skin? I always have a rash on my hands. Ugh.) Anyway, it’s become a ritual. Not just the act of putting the lotion on, but the scent, the feel of that moment.

17 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.09.12 at 5:22 pm }

We have very difference senses of scents.

Dislike suntan lotion
Can’t stand old book smell. It smells like mold, which makes me, literally, sick.
Do like all citrus (except grapefruit).

However, I do like the clean smell of bleach. But if I can smell detergent, then it’s not good.

Don’t know how I feel about Maryland’s vagina.

P.S. My daughter is also very attuned to scents.

18 Stupid Stork { 10.09.12 at 5:46 pm }

It’s like Maryland’s vagina… I DIE.

I am jealous of your super-power smell! My allergies are so terrible that I usually don’t smell things unless it’s strong or I’m hopped up on hormones.

I can’t stand anything floral-smelling.. All my plug-ins/candles are ‘food’ scented (mostly apples, some vanilla, some pumpkin). I just think florals smell like funeral homes or old ladies. Or old ladies visiting funeral homes.

19 GeekChic { 10.09.12 at 9:43 pm }

I can’t smell 95% of the time due to nerve damage from cancer. When I can smell, I don’t know what I’m smelling most of the time. My husband and friends have finally gotten used to me asking “What’s that smell?” because I honestly don’t know – not because I think something smells “bad”.

This also drastically impacts my sense of taste obviously. People have learned to not ask me what things taste like (for example, I think raw apples and potatoes taste the same).

20 Dora { 10.09.12 at 10:37 pm }

Maryland’s vagina! I <3 you and your way with words.

Bleach, ick! Fresh cut grass, which most people seem to love, makes me nauseous. Maybe because I'm allergic. Love the smell of just about anything baking. Bread, cookies, chicken. Love the yeasty smell of bread rising. Vanilla, grapefruit, apples, BACON, chocolate, mint, cucumber. Hate lillies, gardenias, subway platforms in August.

BTW, Miss Sunshine is going through a fear of the bathtub lately. While she doesn't smell bad, she doesn't smell good either. 🙁 I miss that sweet smell.

21 TasIVFer { 10.09.12 at 10:43 pm }

I am sensitive to smells, so HATE strong perfumes and aftershaves.

I think they are rude.
They put me in a crabby mood.
Perhaps I have a bad attitude?

(Sorry – I couldn’t help but realise that rhymed, and as thinking about my step son’s disgusting, cheap, strong, violently smelling aftershave was making me violent I went with the rhyme to amuse myself. All better now! 🙂 )

22 lostintranslation { 10.10.12 at 4:00 pm }

Ha, you must think we Europeans are a filthy bunch, but… you clean your yoga mat…?! Most of the people at the yoga studio here use the mats from the center – I’ve never seen the owner or anyone else clean them. After a few tries I decided to bring my own mat because I did find them a bit dirty (…) However I’m the only one in class who brings her own mat. The thought never occurred to me to (spray) clean mine, but if I ever would, I’d want it to be non-scented. (and of course I will now pay extra attention to the smell of my mat during my next yoga class…).

I absolutely hate scented candles and shops that smell like them (and don’t care much for the stuff those shops are selling either).

I love the smell of Nivea suntan lotion – it makes me feel like I’m four again and I don’t have a care in the world…

I don’t like the smell of other people’s detergent on clothes I or my kids are wearing.

I love the smell of coffee, but not the taste.

There is one diaper rash cream here that smells of fish. Yuck.
Agree with one of the commenters above about the smell of formula. Still find it amazing the baby likes it… To me it smells like grass (but not in the good way of a freshly trimmed lawn).

I dislike the smell of most brands of baby wipes – way too perfumed.

I like the smell of mowed grass, the sea, rain, my sons’ skin, fresh bread.

But most of all, I like how certains smells/scents can bring back memories (like with the Nivea suntan lotion, but there are many more examples). The smell doesn’t even have to be particularly nice, but if I associate it with a positive event, then it’s a good smell.

23 Kacey { 10.10.12 at 11:40 pm }

Oh man. I know it’s terrible health wise, but I love bleach too. One of my very favorite smells.

24 Persnickety { 10.11.12 at 7:26 am }

Oh yes, citrus is a despised smell, particularly oranges. I can smell when someone has peeled an orange in a room. To be fair, at least part of my sensitivity in my unfortunate tendency to vomit when given oranges when dehydrated ( which sadly has occurred more than once). It makes for fun discussions at the hospital!

Love the smell of wet ( from dew) grass and dirt in the morning- it reminds me of sports fields and playing soccer on the weekends.

The smell of slightly decaying leaves and the whiff of bonfire that you get in the fall. I now live in the subtropics and I never get this smell unless I travel, and I never realized how lovely it is.

I love mild milky soaps, and every time I find one I like, they stop making it! The milk and honey thing is apparently not as popular as artificial fruit.

The ozoney smell you get at the base of a waterfall,

25 Ellen K. { 10.11.12 at 10:39 am }

I can’t stand cucumber-melon scents or perfumes containing musk. Or bleach. DH is an i.ndust.rial h.ygien.ist and is very much against using bleach in household cleaning. Even occasional cleaning. It is so bad for your respiratory system!

26 Blanche { 10.12.12 at 3:49 pm }

Worst? The smell of accumulated incontinence on a old person on a hot bus. Cigarette smoke (except, weirdly, on a beach mixed with the scent of coconut sunscreen). Stale fried food odors on clothing, especially when mixed with stale cigarette smoke. Lilies – especially the star gazer & Easter kinds. They were banned from my wedding.

Best? Bacon. Original scent Nivea lotion. Gardenia – but only the fresh from the flower kind, not the kind that’s artificially produced and almost exactly nothing like the original. My mom’s perfume on things she’s given me or made for LO. Chocolate chip cookies & yellow cake baking.

27 clare { 10.16.12 at 12:29 pm }

love – ginger, vanilla, citrus, woodchips, woodstove, rain, ocean

tolerate – computers and office people (except the guy next to me, his bo is driving me slowly insane)

hate – bleach 🙂 i laughed so hard when I read that this was a smell of comfort and calm. That said, I do like how my skin smells hours after swimming at the pool.. which is basically the same thing.. go figure.

glad i am not alone in worrying about how things smell.

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