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Smells that don't exist anymore, or are harder to find in real life
August 7, 2014 11:39 PM   Subscribe

Can you remember any smells from your past that are hard or impossible to come by nowadays? Possibly due to advancing technology, but doesn't need to be. I.E. now that active phone booths are a rarity, the smell of heavily weather-beaten phonebooks is a thing of the past. Or, the smell of older printing presses. Or perhaps fragrant plants that have since been banned for whatever reason. Just a few examples; I'd love to hear what smells people miss that are hard to find now. Thanks!
posted by ferdinandcc to Media & Arts (179 answers total) 137 users marked this as a favorite
 
The smell of the spirit duplicator test sheets from primary school.
posted by pompomtom at 11:42 PM on August 7 [89 favorites]


Sardo. It was a bath oil that was pretty much just perfumed mineral oil, but, boy, that scent takes me back to childhood. They don't make it anymore. Bah.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:58 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


High school print shop. Unventilated arc light plate burners, molten lead in the Linotype machine, ancient grease lathered into the Heidelberg windmill and the other platen presses, mineral spirits used to clean everything, ink everywhere. The whole miasma of all the high school shops mixing together.

It got to be I could tell which lessons were being taught just by the stink.
posted by Marky at 12:15 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


The particular kind of vinyl that wading pools and other kiddie pools (and sometimes beach balls) were made of. That sends me into paroxysms of nostalgia on the rare occasions I smell that in these modern days.

Camping in a canvas tent ! Ahhh! What a delicious scent!

And of course, what Pompopmtom mentioned: ditto ink
posted by wjm at 12:36 AM on August 8 [14 favorites]


Coal tar soap—you can get still get it, but it's a lot rarer. So you don't run across it in daily life. It used be very common.

Smoky pubs—in Ireland smoking's been banned in businesses, and pubs once had a very distinctive (strangely comforting) smell of smoke mixed with and alcohol and polished wood and leather seats, etc. No longer.

Window putty has quite a distinctive smell, but I haven't changed a broken window since the '90s. Because of double-glazing, windows almost never break anymore, and when they do you don't put glass back into a wooden frame yourself. It's not gone, I'm sure. Just on the wane.


It feels, writing this, that a lot of answers will be personal or regional. i.e. this thing doesn't exist anymore in this area, but it was common in my childhood. But it might still be very common in other countries/places!
posted by distorte at 12:40 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


The rubbery smell of photographic fixer when it was a common thing to develop your own film and prints.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:56 AM on August 8 [17 favorites]


Coal fires.
posted by Segundus at 12:58 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


When I was a kid (in rural Australia) everyone raked up their autumn leaves into a big pile and burned them before winter started in earnest. It's illegal now to do this. I remember that the slightly damp leaves would smoke and the town would be filled with the smell - it was the smell of winter and crisp, frosty, sunny days!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 1:13 AM on August 8 [41 favorites]


Emptied but not cleaned ashtrays. When I was growing up, everybody had ashtrays all over the place, and at our house it was one of my chores to empty ashtrays. It wasn't exactly a good smell, but not gross (not in those days). That smell is gone.

And of course the simple smell of cigarette smoke. It was everywhere. You used to go outside if you wanted a breath of fresh air.
posted by kestralwing at 1:17 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Oh and one more... pipe tobacco. My grandfather smoked a pipe, and for xmas I'd quite often buy him tobacco. I (as a primary-age school kid) would go to this special tobacco shop and they had all kinds of tobacco. I'd choose one and they'd wrap it up in a plastic pouch for me.

It's only writing this that I realise that they routinely sold me pipe tobacco as a 10-year-old! I *think* my mother would stand nearby... maybe that's why?
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 1:21 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo (the 1970s green one in the round-shouldered bottle, not what passes for such these days).
posted by sageleaf at 1:33 AM on August 8 [34 favorites]


Leaded gas.
Purple ditto machine fluid.
Whatever perfume my mom's lipstick was (note: this fragrance still exists, but is fleeting and hard to identify.)
The slightly sweet smell of dry cleaners in the 70's.
Library card catalogs.
Vanish toilet bowl crystals. (Vaguely wintergreen? They smelled like the white Necco candy hearts taste.)
Stick-ups. (Clean? Citrus-y?)
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:04 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


Cucumbers and right before it rained used to smell the same to me. Now I rarely smell that smell right before it rains and some store bought cucumbers don't smell at all. I will sometimes find one that has the right smell but it is very weak. When I was a kid, my dad would grow his own cucumbers. He would wait until I was in my room, go outside and pick a few, and come back in to slice them. I could smell them from my bedroom and would come flying out to eat half his plate before he was done slicing.
posted by myselfasme at 2:09 AM on August 8 [21 favorites]


The smell (and taste) of Carnation breakfast bars. They were out and about before breakfast "bars" were a huge thing, and we'd always get a few boxes before my Mom and my sister and I went on a road trip. They started making them again, but the recipe is not the same and they taste like sawdust mixed with tears now.
posted by mibo at 3:36 AM on August 8 [27 favorites]


Mothballs are increasingly rare. And so are blue urinal cakes.

Well, that's gross. Will have to think of something nice.
posted by smoke at 4:06 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


When I was growing up, tuna was cheap and tuna pies were sold in the freezer case along side chicken and beef. But the price of tuna went up, and no one makes tuna pies any longer. Pity; they were always my favorite kind, and I can still remember how they smelled when they were cooked.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:13 AM on August 8


The mixed smell of plastic, vinyl, cardboard, and electronics manufacturing odor that was briefly present when you opened the package for a new video game cartridge.
posted by Metafilter Username at 4:14 AM on August 8 [10 favorites]


Gap Grass perfume. I know they re-did some of the other scents, but Grass never seemed to make the cut (pun not intended, but I'll take it).
posted by picklesthezombie at 4:28 AM on August 8 [20 favorites]


Aqua Manda products, particularly the bath salts. That stuff was nice.

The town I grew up in opened a new supermarket when I was about 7 (making a total of one-and-a-half supermarkets.) There's a fresh, plasticky, plummy smell you sometimes get wafting round the edges of a newly-built supermarket. I've smelt it in UK as well - 'new shop smell' - but not for a long time. Smelling that again would be a proper Madeleine experience.

I think the smell of just before it rains is called petrichor - or is that the smell of afterwards?
posted by glasseyes at 4:50 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


One of the 1980s My Little Pony toy lines included little sidekicks called Bushwoolies that were pretty boring, but smelled really strongly like rubber or vinyl or whatever they were made out of. It wasn't exactly pleasant, but it was appealing. The ponies themselves had a different vinyl-ish smell, also appealing but not as distinctive.

There are also a lot of discontinued fragrances and cosmetics that would fit the bill. I have a couple long-gone Bath and Body Works scents that I no longer exactly like, but keep around for the nostalgia factor. And if Victoria's Secret ever brings back Tranquil Breezes, I will be over the moon. I will smell ridiculous, but I will be over the moon.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:50 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


The steel mills in Pittsburgh of yesteryear and all the associated smells are no longer. Yes I know there are mills still operating there but it isn't the same from decades ago.
posted by bellastarr at 4:56 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Fetish perfume.
Ditto the purple ditto ink.
The old scent of Pantene Pro V shampoo. They changed it 10+ years ago.
posted by catatethebird at 4:58 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Tobacco curing in barns. That was the smell of fall to me and my hometown was covered in tobacco farms. Not so much any more.
posted by teleri025 at 4:59 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


There was a shampoo called Outrageous in, oh, the early nineties. I miss that smell. I think it was made by Revlon.
posted by hought20 at 5:00 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


That smell when you opened the hood of your car (back in the day when one could still work on one's own car).

New cars don't have the same smell. Nor can you work on them.
posted by PlantGoddess at 5:05 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Ha, I just googled, and apparently you can buy it again!
posted by hought20 at 5:13 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Bus exhaust.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:18 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


The heavy aroma of chlorine in public swimming pools (I think they all use ozone or a lower dose of Cl these days).
I suppose hospitals have also changed disinfectant as well as the "hospital smell" is not as pronounced as it once was.
posted by guy72277 at 5:19 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


"Bus exhaust" reminds me that I hardly ever smell burning engine oil in exhaust gases today.
posted by guy72277 at 5:21 AM on August 8


The mosquito fogger driving down the street. Admit it, you ran behind the truck too.
posted by bellastarr at 5:38 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Industrial solvents that are no longer legal. Three-year-old me loved going with my dad to the garage, the gas station, or the farm supply store and huffing away.

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's Perfumes (2008) includes a section on some of the compounds that are no longer allowed in contemporary scent-making. If you're looking for specific chemical correspondences with odors, it's an interesting read.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 5:46 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


The smell of a classroom chalkboard. All we have now are whiteboards.
posted by kinetic at 5:49 AM on August 8 [25 favorites]


The gasoline smell you used to get in the garage. I always hated going into our garage because of that smell. I realized a few years back that I haven't smelled it in a long time.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:54 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


pompomtom: "The smell of the spirit duplicator test sheets from primary school."

PURPLES!!!!

I guess not only the smell, but the very *concept* of purples is bygone.
posted by notsnot at 5:57 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Other things:
Pennies. I mean, they still smell copper-ey, but my grandma's change purse *reeked* of the pennies she used to hand out as prizes for chores.

Smoky residences. Certain friends whose parents smoked, but not constantly, had a pleasant mustiness.

Cassette tape cases. Certain high-end tapes (I know for sure those put out by Capitol Records) had a certain smell to 'em.
posted by notsnot at 6:01 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


They used those ditto machines in my elementary school (in the 80s); I remember the classrooms always smelling of that purple ink, but I can't quite remember what it smelled like.
posted by thursdaystoo at 6:07 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Typewriters. The combination the oil and the ribbon ink are pretty distinctive, and definitely harder to find these days.
posted by Naib at 6:13 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


The smell of opening one of those old foil Polaroid cartridges. Sweet and chemical, plus the instant gratification rush that comes with knowing you're about to take some Polaroid pictures!
posted by kinsey at 6:14 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


Super Elastic Bubble Plastic was a weird "toy" substance you squoze from a tube and inflated with a straw into phantasmagorically striped balloons – this was before Minecraft, kids – and it gave off an eye-watering chemical stink.
posted by nicwolff at 6:22 AM on August 8 [54 favorites]


Burning leaves — it used to be the smell of autumn.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:38 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Burning lighter fluid on charcoal briquettes. I can smell it now. I know this is a smell you can still find but more and more people are either using gas grills or use a chimney starter and/or hardwood charcoal for grilling.

As others have said, cigarette smoke permeating everything. Every house, every restaurant, every store. Growing up in the 1970s it was just the way things smelled.
posted by bondcliff at 6:39 AM on August 8 [12 favorites]


The smell of the markers used on overhead transparencies. (Similarly, the smell of burning dust heated by the bulbs on poorly maintained overhead projectors.)
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 6:47 AM on August 8 [26 favorites]


The smell of freshly washed clothes that were hung on a line outside to dry and then brought in. Bonus if these were sheets and you got to go to bed shortly after they were brought in and put on. In theory this could still be done, but it's not practical/possible for many people.

The smell of school. I can't put my finger on what it was--maybe a combination of chalk, blackboards, old desks, paper, crayons, and what I've heard referred to as "the smell of learning"--but my earliest schools (we moved a lot) all smelled the same in a way that contemporary schools don't.

The smell of canned pickles/fruit is nowhere near as common as it once was (I loathed the smell of the brine when my mother was making beet pickles).
posted by Amy NM at 6:58 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


I grew up very near to the sewage treatment plants on the southwest side of Chicago. When the wind was blowing from a certain direction, well, it smelled. It wasn't a really bad smell, but it definitely wasn't something we looked forward to. They've apparently come a long way with smell abatement since then, since when I drive near the old hometown these days, it's never as bad as I remember.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:42 AM on August 8


Bars, even really high end bars, used to smell like bars -- the smell of gin on oak. Now they don't.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:43 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


German-specific (I think):
Youth hostel-, hospital-, kindergarten- or vacation camp- kitchen smell. Here I mean an unspeakable combination of cheap and aggressive cleaners and mass-cooked cheap and starchy foods. Heck, even their hot cocoa tasted and smelled icky, just as everything else. And always the whole building was permeated by the smell that emanated from the kitchen.

Chronologically, this belongs to the leaded gas and typewriter era. The kind of cleaners they used back then must be banned by now (the food hopefully too).
posted by Namlit at 7:45 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Oh and the smell of actual wood in woodworking shops. Now there's glues.
posted by Namlit at 7:45 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


- Chemistry lab smell
- Malt

Two very distinct, memory-inducing smells that still exist, but I don't have occasion to ever encounter them anymore unless I intentionally go looking.
posted by ctmf at 8:02 AM on August 8


The smell of mimeograph machines are intrinsically linked to my childhood memories and of course they have been long since replaced by copy machines.
posted by Julnyes at 8:20 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


The smell of perfume and cigarettes in a club. It always smelled like possibility to me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:26 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


The smell of leaded gas exhaust, especially from a high lap cam at idle. All that hot unburned hydrocarbon laced with lead. It a smell I strong associate with spending time with my father.

The burning paper, melted plastic, and ozone smell of print outs still warm from old laser printers. I had an original LaserJet and printing a dozen pages or more would fill the room with that smell.
posted by Mitheral at 8:45 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


A taste and a smell: the Gros Michel banana, a.k.a. what artificial banana flavoring is modeled after.
Our great-grandparents grew up eating not the Cavendish but the Gros Michel banana, a variety that everyone agreed was tastier. But starting in the early 1900s, banana plantations were invaded by a fungus called Panama disease and vanished one by one. Forest would be cleared for new banana fields, and healthy fruit would grow there for a while, but eventually succumb.

By 1960, the Gros Michel was essentially extinct and the banana industry nearly bankrupt. It was saved at the last minute by the Cavendish, a Chinese variety that had been considered something close to junk: inferior in taste, easy to bruise (and therefore hard to ship) and too small to appeal to consumers. But it did resist the blight. (source)
posted by theraflu at 8:59 AM on August 8 [26 favorites]


I wonder how many collective brain cells those of us of a certain age have lost to these industrial-type smells?! ;)

I know you can still get this, but Fels Naptha soap...takes me right back to high school art class, and washing up at the big, battered metal sink.

The weird particular smell of those old, ugly, darkish-green hanging file folders.
Black high school science class tables.
Nthing the leaded gas smell, and oil & whatever smells from old garages.
The leather interior of my grandparent's old diesel Benz...*siiigh*
The weird plasticky interior of my dad's Chevy Citation that he drove for work.
Old vinyl booths in bars or restaurants.
posted by cardinality at 9:03 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


> The mosquito fogger driving down the street

> The slightly sweet smell of dry cleaners in the 70's.

I love how half of these are probably really unhealthy chemicals.

Anyway, mine is that smell of grass and mulch that was all over suburbia when I grew up. May still be there, but with more children growing up in cities, and with the California drought making lawns less desirable (at least to me), it might not be a smell that my (hypothetical) children will smell.
posted by salvia at 9:03 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I love all these responses. Thanks, everyone! So many great scent memories people have.
posted by ferdinandcc at 9:27 AM on August 8


The rose-scented powder in those little round boxes that my grandmother had.
posted by annsunny at 9:37 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


as someone who's worked closely with chemicals and in various industries that depend on industrial solvents - I concur with the dry cleaning smell.

Tetrachloroethylene was the sweetish smell you are now missing, which is probably good because it's been variously suspected as a carcinogen/teratogen and newer dry cleaning processes are moving away from it. Also, tougher EPA standards on venting solvents to atmosphere (we deal with this under regulations at the pharmaceutical manufacturer I work at) have required dry cleaners to stop venting solvents to atmosphere. The older machines vented straight out the back of the building like a residential (air) clothes dryer!

... also way back in the early 90s before strict safety regulations and such, I remember working in a tool and die shop where we'd just bare-handed apply TCE (or MEK) straight onto our clothing from the bottle (while wearing said clothing) to remove grease stains, which were frequent hazards of walking onto the shop floor in one's nice business wear and bumping against a milling machine, etc...

something anyone who was in veterinary medicine or (possibly) sports in the 70s-80s might recall - the peculiarly burning/garlicky odor of DMSO being applied as an analgesic. My father (a Ph.D. biochem guy) warned me off that as soon as he learned of us using it on the horses at the farm I grew up on, since it is both a highly effective solvent and a rapid transdermal penetrant. Which means that anything it contacts along the way can and will be pulled along with it into the bloodstream o_O
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:40 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


... oh and speaking of MEK (methyl ethyl ketone) I used to use it lavishly in the bike shops back in the day to remove old dried out tubular glue and sealing compounds from bicycle rims. With the advent of carbon fiber and more stringent safety standards, yeah, not so much these days. Tubular glues and tapes have gotten much more efficient these days, as well as the cost of equipment being such that most racers will have their stuff glued by a pro shop now, which means you rarely have to remove the prior messy glue job full of lawn clippings / carpet fibers / dryer lint that the prior mechanic installed three or four beers in.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:44 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


I was a photographer just as digital cameras started getting good. Although I didn't process my own film, I went through a lot of it, and I miss the smell of can after can of 35mm cartridges. That smell still exists, but it's too expensive a fix now.

I sent my film out for precessing, and a freshly-opened box of new prints also had a very distinctive smell I can barely recall now.
posted by Devoidoid at 10:10 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


The pink powdered soap in elementary school bathrooms
Lemon Sun-In
The perforated vinyl seats in the back of a 1970s VW bug
The rubber soles of early-1980s sneakers
Candy cigarettes
Lip Smackers in the little sliding tin. Especially grape.
The original Simon. I don't know why (maybe the heat of the lights?), but it's a distinct smell memory for me.
Onionskin paper. And pretty much everything else involving typewriters.
posted by argonauta at 10:29 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


Jeyes' Fluid; that old coal tar and turpentine smell.
The molten tar/burning pipe flux smell made during the town gas/natural gas changeover in Scotland in the 1970s.
Old pasteboard bus tickets (had an exquisite flavour as a make-do chewing gum, too)
The creamy/cheesy burst you got when you pushed the lid down on a new milk bottle.
posted by scruss at 10:37 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Tacoma. It used to be constant, now it's just sometimes. Not that it's a smell that anyone misses.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:38 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


Those car air "fresheners" that were shaped like pine trees and dangled from your review mirror. The vanilla one was popular. Often used to cover up the smell of cigarette smoke.
posted by salvia at 11:09 AM on August 8


It's not a smell I miss, but the sickly sweet chemical smell of a person who recently had their hair permed. That smell could linger in a room for an hour after someone had left. Permed hair hasn't been popular for a while, so it's a rare experience these days.

Shavings from a pencil sharpener. Still possible, just less common.

The faint smell of a warm VHS tape fresh out of the VCR after the movie was over.
posted by castlebravo at 11:10 AM on August 8 [24 favorites]


I get pretty nostalgic for the smell of blueprint machines. The smell is mostly ammonia, but there's something else with it -- maybe just the warm paper scent off the prints.

I can't remember the last time I encountered a blueprint machine that was still in use.
posted by janell at 11:32 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


old school (not reintroduced) grape fanta
posted by j_curiouser at 11:43 AM on August 8


Strawberry Swirl Maybelline Kissing Potion lip gloss. English Leather cologne. Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil. (SPF 0, I’m pretty sure.)

Oh, and the crumbly eraser we used in drafting shop class.
posted by Stig at 11:56 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


The way Valley Drug at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Magnolia smelled. When they moved to the strip mall at Riverside and Laurel Canyon the smell didn't change. Now it's gone.

I don't remember the smell of ditto paper, but I remember its coolness.
posted by brujita at 12:02 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


TELEX TICKER TAPE!
posted by DarlingBri at 12:23 PM on August 8


Hardy Boys books.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:55 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


New Barbie smell. Almost all dolls used to have a strong vinyl smell when you first opened the package (late sixties-early seventies). They don't smell like that any more.

Sweet grass. We used to have sweet grass handkerchief boxes and now you can only buy sweet grass braids to smudge with instead of boxes and containers.

Sweet cedar wood. They used to make chests out of it and now they don't any more.

Milkweed latex. The milkweed is all gone. Also the monarch butterflies that used to feed on the milkweed.

There is one particular sweet, almost candy like, sickly smell that I sometimes very rarely get a hallucinogenic memory of. I crave this smell and sometimes when I think I almost smell it I will stop dead and just inhale carefully hoping I can smell it again. I even remember times when I smelt it, even though those times were probably just an neuronal anomaly, like once in my seventh grade classroom. I am pretty sure the smell is of some syrup medicine that I was given when I was three or four years old. When my kids were growing up and were prescribed syrup medicines I sniffed them all carefully and hopefully but none of them ever smelled even nearly right.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:32 PM on August 8 [12 favorites]


The newsprint and bubblegum smell of the wedge of gum in the back of trading cards.
Fresh-popped popcorn (different from the pre-buttered microwave kind).
The chalky bitterness of flea powder.
Turpentine was more commonly used than it is today.
Wood once smelled finished.
An artificial lemon-scent was added to a lot of household supplies.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:32 PM on August 8


Pyrotechnic smells Food & Beverage related Clothing & Hygiene related
posted by jeremias at 1:33 PM on August 8 [15 favorites]


Original Mister Bubble (at least in the 1970s)...it smelled heavenly. I recently bought some for my kid and the new smell is just awful.
posted by tristeza at 2:05 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


Planter's "Cheez Balls" in the can. Something about that combo stuck with me, especially if the can's been sitting in the back of your dad's car in the blazing heat and you open it anyway.

I miss Planters Cheez balls so much. I've had Utz, the Costco specials, every other Cheez ball and no one is as good.

Original Mister Bubble (at least in the 1970s)...it smelled heavenly. I recently bought some for my kid and the new smell is just awful.

Have I got good news for you!

Guerlain's "my Insolence" perfume smells EXACTLY like this, with hints of grape Pez.
Mmmmm, grape Pez.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:27 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


The wax machine at the newspaper office. My first year of college we still used hard-copy paste-ups to send to the printer, and to lay out the newspaper you had to physically paste the articles onto the pages. You'd put the paper through this smelly weird wax machine so it would stick to the printer's paper, arrange everything, and then glue it down. It smells a little like the wax they use at low-end salons to wax your legs, but not quite.
posted by Charity Garfein at 2:42 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


I remember the ghostly, almost mashed-potato scent of the old warm-steam vaporizer we had when I was a kid (which I only recently gave to Goodwill while cleaning out my father's house).

There was also the specific scent of the inexhaustible but faint perfume in the top of the My Little Pony Poof 'n Puff Perfume Palace.

Then there are shampoos you can't get anymore: the scent of Head & Shoulders conditioner, circa 2002—they've changed the formula, and I've long since thrown out the bottle an ex gave me—and the clean, silky, almost warm scent of St. Ives' Watermelon Plus shampoo. (It didn't smell like that stereotypical watermelon scent that's in so much of what's called watermelon, but rather like real watermelon extract, subtly sweet with a hint of bitterness.)

Similar to what notsnot mentions, the sweetly musty scent of much of my husband's CD collection, perfumed by years of people smoking and burning scented candles in small apartments, is irreproducible.

Similar to what MrMoonPie writes, and as I wrote back in 2008, cigarette smoke on a warm, humid evening is galvanizing. It's the smell of being out. I don't smell it as much anymore.

Then there was the scent of my husband's former 1995 Toyota Tercel—the specific scent of its exhaust, the scent of its interior... There aren't a lot of those left anymore (and that one finally gave up the ghost not long after we gave it away to a friend).

The two closets in my room when I was a kid had specific scents, too: One had the scent of all of our old photos and film stored in there, along with some developing materials, for years. The other had the leathery scent of dozens of stacked board games.

And yeah, fresh typewriter ribbons had their own scent, too.

It's so interesting, too, how since their divorce, each of my parents' houses has taken on its own unique scent. Each one smells like home in a different way.
posted by limeonaire at 2:46 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


There's a titanium smelter in Albany, Oregon, which used to produce a ...unique... scent. (I think it was titanium tetraflouride.) One of the newspapers started calling it the "Green Stench". Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality started clamping down, and they don't release it any more. (Good riddance!)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:51 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


The original Yves St. Laurent perfume Opium is one of my signature scents but was sadly reformulated at some point, to the fragrance's detriment. I purchased a fresh bottle of the perfume two years ago and the difference was stark. Luckily, I still have a giant bottle of the first generation scent, though it is almost depleted. The new version smells thin, chemical-like and cheap compared to the lush, rich and mesmerizing spiciness of the original. What a shame. I believe some of the essential ingredients at the heart of the original formula became restricted (or possibly too expensive or rare?) and were therefore replaced by lackluster substitutes. Thankfully I still have my Poison, Coco and Shalimar perfumes, which I am rationing in case those get ruined as well. If you ever get a chance to smell the original Opium seize it!
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 3:09 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Old CRT televisions warming up had a distinctive ozone and hot dust scent to them.

Many 1970s and 80s childrens toys had distinctive, memorable, pleasant, and probably toxic plastic scents to them.

Older cars (when new) had a much better (again, and quite possibly more toxic) new car smell to them than new ones do.

Cars also had a richer exhaust scent that could be not-unpleasant - oil and unburnt gas...
posted by stenseng at 3:33 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Tacoma. It used to be constant, now it's just sometimes. Not that it's a smell that anyone misses. Hah, yeah, don't think anyone is too sad that the Tacoma Aroma has diminished...
posted by stenseng at 3:48 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


He man toys- Stinkor, which, if I remember correctly, was a combination of vinyl and patchouli oil, and Hordak's Slime Pit, or more accurately, the scent of the cans of "ooze" that came with it, which were impossible to get out of the cracks and crevices of the action figures, and the carpet... (sorry mom)
posted by stenseng at 3:51 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


There is one particular sweet, almost candy like, sickly smell that I sometimes very rarely get a hallucinogenic memory of. I crave this smell and sometimes when I think I almost smell it I will stop dead and just inhale carefully hoping I can smell it again. I even remember times when I smelt it, even though those times were probably just an neuronal anomaly, like once in my seventh grade classroom. I am pretty sure the smell is of some syrup medicine that I was given when I was three or four years old. When my kids were growing up and were prescribed syrup medicines I sniffed them all carefully and hopefully but none of them ever smelled even nearly right.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:32 PM on August 8 [1 favorite +] [!]



There was a particular bubblegum pink flavored type of liquid antibiotic - amoxicillin I think - that I remember getting a few times as a kid in the 80s, which I don't think exists anymore... sounds similar to what you're describing...
posted by stenseng at 3:54 PM on August 8 [21 favorites]


There was a particular bubblegum pink flavored type of liquid antibiotic - amoxicillin I think...

UGH YES THIS. Also grape-flavored cough syrup with codeine.

source: had pneumonia in 3rd grade; circa 1977-78.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:07 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


Old Car Smell. I think someone mentioned it above. My dad's '57 Ford pickup still smells like that after decades of sitting in the sun unused. I still get at whiff of it at car shows. Takes me right back.

The bug spray in the hand-pumped cylindrical sprayer (like The Godfather used on his tomatoes). Gods know what was in that stuff.

Breakfast being cooked at my parent's house: some combination of Folger's coffee, bacon, eggs and hot cakes. (Not extinct smells but hard to find for me since it's only present on the rare occasion we're all home for the holidays.)

Mr. Beti says "grape Nehi, Blackjack Gum, municipal bug spray". [He says he remembers running through a cloud of it behind the spray trucks. I say maybe that explains what happened to all his hair.]

Such a great AskMe!
posted by Beti at 4:31 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


When I think of happy smells from when I was young, I always think of the smell from the cab of an old farm truck. Gasoline, old car, dust, the scent of those funky woven bench seat covers, leather, and the slightly sweet smell of dried cow shit.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:23 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


South Portland, Maine used to have a fish processing plant that produced a genuinely foul stench, a smell of deeply rotten fish, but worse, especially on a really damp day. Paper mills, like the one in Westbrook, Maine, on the other side of Portland, used to smell of rotten cabbage/ sulfur. And the sulfur changed the color of houses near the paper mills. The processing plant is long closed, and the paper mill cleans its air, so Yay for cleaner air.

The stuff they used to sprinkle on vomit in school. Added to the smell of the vomit itself, it was quite individual.

Teaberry gum

I like to add some leaves to my woodstove in the fall, just for that autumn smell of burning leaves. It really did create a lot of particulate pollution, but it's a wonderful smell.

My Mom's top dresser drawer. I think the smell is based on orris root, the fixative in some powders/ perfumes, but to me it's the smell of pressed hankies and white gloves, and nylon stockings that came in thin boxes.
posted by theora55 at 6:02 PM on August 8 [10 favorites]


Dewberry perfume oil or bubble bath from The Body Shop. They brought it back for a month or two and I bought ten bottles of bubble bath, knowing it would soon be gone again. This time maybe forever.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:49 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


The smell of real linoleum.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:19 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else get a headache while reading this ask? Maybe the strong association between scent & memory has overwhelmed my little brain ... So many scents, so many memories!

Old hockey/handlebar/electrical tape. Chatterton's compound... Gutta-percha, rosin and pine tar.

Burning oak leaves in the fall.

Papier mâché. And flour glue (wheat paste).

When we were young, we had a tickle trunk that smelled of endless possibilities. A chest full of magic - it smelled of lace and leather and silk and talc powdered dreams.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 7:26 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


> the smell of blueprint machines. The smell is mostly ammonia, but there's something else with it

Depending on the type of blueprint, there'd be a certain amount of cyanide too. Publishing ozalids stank and made your eyes burn.

Some from the machine shop: engineer's blue (supplanted by the Sharpie), coal tar cutting fluid (a wicked carcinogen; I worked for an old foreman who used to yell “Check yer balls, boys!” at the end of each shift), and quenching steel in sperm whale oil.
posted by scruss at 7:55 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


> the smell is of some syrup medicine

Was it blue? When I was little (1960s) I used to get a lot of colds and my mom gave me a sweet blue cough/cold syrup called Demazin which is still available in Australia, it seems. I remember it had a strong fake-fruit smell that I decided was plum, although the website says "peach/vanilla". I haven't seen it here in the US in years or smelled the Australian stuff, but that sounds pretty close to what I remember. Very distinctive, nothing else quite like it.
posted by Quietgal at 7:58 PM on August 8


My dad took lots of pictures, and almost always had the roll of film turned into slide magazines rather than having the pictures printed. He had an Argus 300 projector and a Knox 400 screen. I don't know if it was the projector or the screen or the magazines, but altogether they had a very distinctive smell that I associate with Saturday night family slide shows which was one of my very favorite things as a kid.
posted by marsha56 at 11:19 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Yet another vote for ditto ink. You know that scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High where the students all start sniffing the papers as they were being handed out? It's great because it's true - we all did that.

I took photography courses in school well before the days of digital cameras. The darkrooms had a very distinctive smell from all the different fluids you had to use to develop your film.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:29 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I visited the Soviet Union when I was in high school in 1990. One of the hotel rooms I stayed in had a very distinctive smell that I can still sort of remember. Every so often something triggers the memory very strongly. It must be a Russian/European cleaning product or laundry detergent or something, but it's something I run into only very rarely now. That I run into it at all is something of a small miracle.
posted by kostia at 1:37 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Nehi Grape soda. No, it is not the same now.
posted by plinth at 5:57 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Beti: "Old Car Smell. I think someone mentioned it above. My dad's '57 Ford pickup still smells like that after decades of sitting in the sun unused. I still get at whiff of it at car shows. Takes me right back."

I have been told that Old Car Smell is...rust.
posted by notsnot at 6:30 AM on August 9


The smell of ozone from 100 arcade game monitors, mixed with the aroma of cheap pizza.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:51 AM on August 9 [6 favorites]


The old Fountain Avenue landfill in Brooklyn. You could smell it for miles around, even after it closed.
posted by mirepoix at 1:37 PM on August 9


The smell of a freshly cracked VHS or cassette tape.
posted by Deodand at 7:15 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Bain de Soleil (for the San Tropez tan) suntan gel from the 70s/80s. Smells like lying on the beach.
posted by danabanana at 8:22 PM on August 9 [10 favorites]


Some things are still around, but I don't live near them any more.
-honeysuckle
-camellias
-Flex shampoo-We were a Navy family with four daughters. Mom bought cheap shampoo and conditioner in gallon jugs at the Exchange. Yellow was shampoo, pink was conditioner. (She bought toilet paper by the case, too, and milk 6 gallons at a time to keep in the freezer.) When my older sister came home from her first semester at college she brought her own personal bottle of Flex shampoo with her. I was enraptured by it.

My daughter told me once that she loved the smell of hospitals because of the smell of my hands when I came home from a late (nurse) shift and tucked her in. That would have been Betadine soap, not much used anymore.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:03 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Roneo, Roneo, wherefore art thou Roneo?
posted by Decani at 1:51 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


The delicious vinyl (or something) smell of those enormous cages of rubber balls in the supermarkets as a child.
posted by tapir-whorf at 11:29 AM on August 10 [7 favorites]


Japanese magazines used to have a very specific smell to them in the late 1990s/early 2000s that doesn't seem to exist any more. I can't explain it, but it was specific to Japanese magazines (as opposed to US ones).
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 11:39 AM on August 10


Mary Quant (I'm sure it was that brand) had essential oil-type perfumes. One was lotus (green), and one was strawberry (red). Very rich fragrances, in small, rectangular/vertical bottles (perhaps 5 cm tall). I have looked for these in vain. They were purchased in a natural food store in the early 1970s, where my mind goes to smell them again. They smelled like faith, joy, and honesty (each scent, that is).
posted by datawrangler at 11:56 AM on August 10


A couple intensely nostalgic smells for me: In fact, it's really a great question, an aspect for me of any time-travel fantasy. Yeah, I'd love to go back to NYC for just 24 hours in the 1950s, or the 1930s, and a big attraction would be discovering the contrast between that time's smells and our own.
posted by Rash at 2:50 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


I sometimes reminisce about the scent of movie projectors and slide projectors. They had this vaguely chemical smell, which would increase when in use, as the machine got hotter.
posted by oxisos at 9:18 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I want to say that along with Opium perfume, Calvin Klein's Obsession has also changed since the '80s, and not necessarily for the better. Not sure if the recipe's been altered to more modern tastes or if it's something else... I wonder if the heavier, musky scents that were popular during that era were using animal products that are no longer legal / ethical to use?
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:34 PM on August 10


Hard to believe it's a concicidence, but today Mental Floss published this listicle of "11 Smells That Are Slowly Disappearing".
posted by exogenous at 5:03 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


Cardboard cigar box smell. When I (born 1981) was in elementary school we'd occasionally be assigned projects or crafts in school or scouts that would begin "get a cigar box".

Now cigar boxes are a higher end thing, more often than back then made of wood and it's not as accepted to tell school kids "get a cigar box".
posted by Jahaza at 5:04 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


1970's health food stores. The old kinds that were run by hippies and didn't have much on hand - maybe some weird flours, a bin of organic carrots, vitamins, funky teas and maybe carob. They always smelled like some combination of B-vitamin tablet, brewer's yeast and a little dust. (I actually always associated this smell with my grade school best friend's house because her parents were vaguely hippie-ish and they did all their shopping at the one such store in town and the smell had permeated their cupboards.)

Health food stores today are much more exhaustive and the air circulation is also better so they don't smell of much of anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:25 AM on August 13 [16 favorites]


I can smell the Sun-In now! Reminds me of Love's Baby Soft (which I guess still exists but I never smell it anymore). *CAUTION* creepy ad!
posted by Saddy Dumpington at 8:49 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Just chiming in, Absorbine and Absorbine Jr are definitely still around - I use it to reduce the itchiness of bug bites. Absorbine is no good for athlete's foot, it's original use was as a muscle conditioner for horses. Even the stuff for human use, Absorbine Jr, is a hot-soak for sore muscles kind of thing.

Ionil-T Coal-tar shampoo, this stuff used to be everywhere, now it's super hard to find. It's one of the three scents that makes up the aroma I strongly associate with my Dad (the other two were English Leather cologne, and Skin Bracer aftershave).

The original smell of Muskol, before they dropped the DEET levels down to something that wouldn't melt plastic.

Seconding canvas tents, as someone mentioned above - Dad had canvas camping gear he took fishing each year, and it had a very specific smell you just don't get much anymore.

The smell of Wella Balsam shampoo.
posted by LN at 9:54 AM on August 13


The combination wax paper/lunchbag smell of the incredibly cheap terrible toilet paper in elementary school that was little folded brown sheets like tiny paper towels which came out of a tiny paper towel dispenser. It was the worst toilet paper the world has ever known, and I include the ancient japanese poopstick toilet paper in this assessment.
posted by elizardbits at 10:23 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]


Kostia,
Funny, the smell that for years took me back to my 1988 trip to Moscow was diesel fumes. Sadly, that's not a disappearing smell and it's only the association that has faded.
posted by rikschell at 10:26 AM on August 13


I *love* this AskMe! (Also YES to Grass perfume and Dewberry soap, mainstays of my high school years).

This is all making me think of the old Clean & Clear shampoo, which was part of that bizarre fad for clear products in the late '80s and early '90s. (Crystal Pepsi, anyone?) I think they hadn't yet figured out how to make shampoo-appropriate fragrances that were clear, too, since it smelled like a bizarre, slightly rotten combination of hot caraway seed and overripe watermelon. But by god it was clear. And I think if I smelled it now I would suddenly be 14 and cutting class to wander around with my crush (who turned out to be in the closet but that's another story altogether). Clean & Clear is still around, but I think it's an acne face wash brand now.
posted by speedlime at 11:09 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Magic the Gathering cards used to have a particular smell. You'd crack a pack, and there was a "new card smell." I'm not sure if they changed the printing method, or if they changed the packaging to be less air-tight, but the new packs don't smell the same or nearly as strongly.
posted by explosion at 1:51 PM on August 13


I had been thinking I didn't have an answer to this question, but I totally do. When I was a kid, I loved these little plastic-and-fabric build your own flower kits. Different petals, stamens, stems, etc. So fun. One kit I bought had scented stamens, and I have no idea what they were supposed to smell like, but it was very strong and sweet and I loved it.

Another one: school computer labs in the 1990s, with the old giant beige monitors. I don't know enough about computers to know why, but they smelled like Computer Lab. Now a modern computer lab smells like nothing at all.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:03 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]


I miss the way I smelled when I was young.
posted by srboisvert at 2:14 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


My grandfather's unique mix of Winstons, Schlitz, and bay rum aftershave wafting over a plate of Franco-American Spaghetti-Os.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:31 PM on August 13


The smell of an opened box of bandaids, back when they still came in metal containers. Those little black film canisters. A fresh plaster cast on a broken bone. A plastic pencil box filled with pencils. The vinyl smell of new binders. Rubbery gym balls (of dodgeball infamy).

Seconding: gunpowder roll caps, school milk cartons, cheap brown paper towels, burning leaves, Stinkor, bubblegum pink amoxicillin (though it still exists), the rich gasoline/car smells that old garages used to have, papier mâché, warm VHS tapes, etc.
posted by dephlogisticated at 2:46 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]


My grandmother used to take me with her to her beauty parlor (emphatically not a salon, but a beauty parlor) when she'd get her hair set. It (and she) smelled like cigarettes, soap, and old style hair products. While she got her hair done, I'd sit under one of the plastic dome hair dryers—they had their own scent, too.

That type of place just doesn't exist anymore. If my grandmother were still alive, she'd be 83, and all her friends (whose style she emulated) were six or seven years older than her.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:58 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Debbie Gibson Electric Youth perfume
Gainesburgers dog food patties (surely I'm not the only 1970s kid to taste one on a dare??)
posted by candyland at 4:11 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


Lipstick from the 60's. My grandma had a drawer full of them, those orangey colored lipsticks I was not allowed to touch. I would open that drawer in secret and that perfumey plastery type of smell would seep out. I'd inhale it and dream of big bouffant hairstyles, red manicured nails and a thin cigarette.

Once in a while I find an old lipstick in my bathroom and it vaguely smells like that. Reminds me of grandma and her musty drawers full of treasures.
posted by Karotz at 4:43 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


Ditto on the Ditto smells, and the Polaroid and film tin scents, and that chemical bubble stuff that came in the small tube with a straw taped to it. I'll raise you the smokey smell of an expended flash bulb cube and the oily smell of PCB-laden florescent light ballasts and the vinyl smell of a new Trapper-Keeper or plastic lunch box.

On a personal level, there were the cooking oil smells that gathered in the cinderblock stairwells of city-built high rises, and the melting tar smell of summer days, and the wet-brick smell of my public school on a rainy day. One of my grandmothers smelled of a powdery eau du toilette and mothballs, the other of L'air du Temps and Virginia Slims. My dad smelled like Kool Milds and yellowed books and Jovan musk.

What else? Maybe the scent of a just-opened 10 pack of NYC subway tokens, which I could swear smelled different than regular pocket change. The strong, oily smell of vintage subway trains, which was not unlike the smell of some mid-century cars and solid-state devices.

Also: I was born in the 80s, but a high-school teacher of mine brought in Gaines-Burgers once and dared us to try some. I did. It tasted like bad Play-Doh.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:06 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Phisohex might still be available by prescription or something, but I haven't seen it in decades. It used to be common in the 1960s, and kept all the kids in my family free nice and germ-free and apparently toxic during that era. It had a distinctive smell.
posted by gimonca at 8:35 PM on August 13


There was (maybe still is) a certain janitorial product or formula that they'd clean Greyhound buses and bus terminals with. A little acrid, a little unnerving, but not overwhelmingly so. It might still be around, but I haven't smelled it for a long time.
posted by gimonca at 8:41 PM on August 13


The "Aroma of Tacoma" - a strong sulfuric scent from the pulp and paper mills that as kids had my brother and I rolling up the windows (manually, of course) in the back of the family station wagon whenever we drove through Tacoma, WA.
posted by rube goldberg at 10:46 PM on August 13


Debbie Gibson Electric Youth perfume

While I haven't smelled either, my understanding is that Justin Bieber Someday is a similar scent.
posted by Shmuel510 at 3:05 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Two smells. Both the smoked and unsmoked smell of a $5 bag of bad mexican weed.
posted by 724A at 5:55 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Paper mill. I think they still smell like that, but there is some kind of control on the amount of odor released. But it used to be that every town that had a paper mill reeked everywhere of a singular sweet, fetid, smoky odor. It was not pleasant.

I've owned a lot of 60s and 70s VWs. It's a combination of vinyl, motor oil, and gasoline. That's a good one.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:50 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Wite-Out fluid in the little paint bottle. It's been almost universally replaced by "correction tape" spools that have no scent at all.
posted by tzikeh at 8:54 AM on August 14 [6 favorites]


I miss the (Kingston upon) Hull smell, which was the odd aroma of a tannery next to a cocoa processing plant. Depending how the wind was blowing you might get the sickly, bitter smell of rich lovely chocolate or the rancid smell of skin drying in the heat, sometimes a combination. I haven't been there for a while but the cocoa place closed, not sure about the tannery.
posted by pmcp at 9:05 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Love's Baby Soft.
Noxema on the nose.
Coconut tanning oil.

Maybe it's not that they don't exist anymore, but my opportunities for applying them daily don't exist anymore.
posted by vignettist at 9:20 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


When I was learning to use a Scanning Electron Microscope in the late eighties/early nineties, we used single sheets of Polaroid Land Film sort of like this, which had a little pink plastic thing that we had to smear across the photo to coat it. That goop smelled wonderful.

Found it!
posted by blurker at 10:11 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Wax packs of baseball cards with rock hard sticks of gum in them. The anticipation of opening a fresh pack heightened all the senses.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 10:21 AM on August 14 [3 favorites]


* School clay in art class
* Calamine lotion fresh from the bottle on a cotton ball, applied on chicken pox
* Kaopectate. It was white and had a chalky, pleasant smell
* That bar of greyish, grainy school soap
* a brand new high school yearbook
* a beach ball before inflating it
* that sticky plastic you'd put onto a straw and blow into balloons. Smelled sooo good
* Elmer's school paste in a jar. The one kids were "always eating"
* Play-doh. I think it still smells the same
posted by vivzan at 1:03 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


The laminating machine in my elementary school had a very distinct smell--sort of warm rubbery with a little bit floral scent. That and the warmness of a freshly laminated sheet was heavenly.

My Little Pony dolls, and Monchichi dolls that had a similar scent. And the baby powder-ish scent of my Poochie doll. Do Strawberry Shortcake dolls still come with a scent?

Rubber cement. Nowadays it doesn't have quite the same smell that we used to inhale and get dizzy on.
posted by Fuego at 1:23 PM on August 14


Whatever they were using to wash the plastic drinking cups at the Edinburgh hospital I spent some time in as a small child.

New Dunlop gym shoes of the black canvas/elasticated tongue sort.
posted by aesop at 4:46 PM on August 14


The smell of the oil refineries that used to be along the northern end of the New Jersey turnpike in the 50s and 60s. There was a stretch you went through, inescapable with the windows open or closed, that smelled like rotten eggs 24/7/365.
posted by beagle at 5:31 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Window putty has quite a distinctive smell

Yeah, the window putty had a really nice distinctive tang. This also reminds me that construction drywall plaster has been gradually moving towards more odourless compounds over the last many years.

When I dismantled one of the first generation of cheap pocket calculators back in the 1970's, I was hit by a sharp spicy plastic scent which smelled like the future. Since then I've smelled some circuits which were vaguely similar, but not quite the same.


The Night Circus has a really intriguing scene where an artist demonstrates a small museum of evocative lost scents.
posted by ovvl at 6:11 PM on August 14


Tacoma. It used to be constant, now it's just sometimes. Not that it's a smell that anyone misses.
Yeah, nobody misses that (Tacoma, WA used to have a paper mill right by the freeway and it staaaank when you went by). I loved the yeasty-malty smell from the old Rainier Brewery, you could smell that from the freeway as well.
posted by drinkyclown at 7:28 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


The pulpy/inky smell of old well-read Marvel comics back in the mid-sixties. I'd snuffle up that smell and get an endorphin rush.
posted by Agave at 9:50 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Filmstrip projectors.

Perms.

My parents' wooden record cabinet (I honestly don't know if they still have it, or the records).

Apple Kool-Aid.

My grandmother's house.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:36 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


My grandmother's house.

Yeah, I didn't mention it because it's just so specific and indescribable, but both my grandmothers' houses had extremely distinctive smells that I'm sure I could recognize long after I've forgotten the names of everyone I've ever loved. It's hard-coded, deep and ingrained. I couldn't describe it for a million bucks but I also couldn't ever forget it.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:31 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


so I've been going through stacks and stacks of old safety data sheets to scan them for archival at our work, and among the more esoteric organic solvents and reagents, a couple characteristic chemical scents came to mind that I am not sure anyone touched on, but from working in the chemical / pharma industry for over 2 decades, I know they're both now highly regulated, if not banned outright:

naphtha as in old-school mothballs. Highly toxic to pets, as well as carcinogenic.

creosote aka "coal tar". Highly carcinogenic. Damn that stuff used to be EVERYWHERE as a wood preservative. One of the farmers up the road paid me $50 to paint his fence with the stuff one summer. One of the signature memories of my youth was walking barefoot along the RR trax behind my friend's house in town. The ties would be glistening in the heat, weeping creosote and we'd come home with our feet black from it. I'm not sure they even treat telephone poles with it anymore.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:39 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


At my grandparents' house, there was a bottle of cologne shaped like a marlin (swordfish). I've looked it up before, apparently it was an Avon product. But the smell of that cologne is something I always remember from visits to my grandparents.

A couple people have mentioned Polaroid film. I'm thinking specifically of a camera my Dad had in the early 70s. When you took a picture you pulled the film sheet out with a tab, then you had to wait a few minutes before pulling off the top layer to reveal the image.
posted by dnash at 8:51 AM on August 15


Last year, I remodeled my kitchen and put in butcher block counters. I bought a mineral oil and beeswax mix to finish the counters and the scent of my grandma's old farmhouse that filled the kitchen as I worked it into the wood hit me so hard I almost cried.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:31 PM on August 15 [3 favorites]


Burlap.
Wet varnish.
posted by jet_silver at 3:41 PM on August 15


There are a lot here that I agree with, paper mills and cheap school paper towels especially.

1970's health food stores. The old kinds that were run by hippies and didn't have much on hand - maybe some weird flours, a bin of organic carrots, vitamins, funky teas and maybe carob.

Oh geez, this, the carob smell most of all, along with the slightly old kefir smell. There are still a few old school coops around, and they still smell mostly the same, and have mostly the same products for sale.

I'd add: those terrible scratch and sniff stickers (especially the fake skunk smell), and the old lady smell. Older women don't use the same kinds of powders and perfumes that they used to, and they don't smell the same as a result.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:47 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


A couple of people mentioned Linoleum... an interesting story: in the mid 1980s I worked for a flooring contractor and we had the contract to install flooring in the restoration of a historic building that required actual linoleum -- not vinyl. The linoleum had to be sourced from Europe as no one in the US made it anymore.

Odors are extremely powerful memory triggers. Take a walk in a residential neighborhood while dinner is being cooked for a fantastic experience sometime. Try an old or ethnic part of town for an even more amazing experience. You will want to knock on people's doors and ask what they are cooking. (But I have never been brave enough to do so.)

For me, Linseed oil, Shellac, pipe tobacco, old car engines.
posted by old_man_in_the_cave at 3:36 PM on August 16


I would go to the hairdresser's (and yes, it was called "the beauty parlor") with my mom and/or grandma. There would be the smell of perms, White Rain hairspray and Dippity-Do styling gel - the pink and blue stuff in the big tubs. So few women get perms or wear their hair set-and-styled in the same way now.

When I was little, my mom would clean with this ammonia-smelling stuff called "Top Job." I still remember the nose-searing smell.

And OMG yes, ditto paper!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:10 PM on August 16


Old CRT televisions warming up had a distinctive ozone and hot dust scent to them.

And old vacuum tube radios from the 30's and 40's. The tubes, wax-coated capacitors and fabric-insulated wiring would put off a nice aroma once the set heated up. Yes, I am ancient.
posted by Snerd at 5:14 PM on August 16 [3 favorites]


Charmkins. My Dad's 1980's office: whiteboard markers, perforated & striped computer paper, cigarette smoke and instant coffee. The barren patch on the bottom field at school where the yearly Guy Fawkes bonfire was. The hint of cloves on a newly opened jar of stewed apple. The sweet-smokey smell of the incinerator shed at school.

I have young children at school now, and the smell of cloakrooms (lunchboxes, apple cores, waste paper, poop from the bathrooms adjacent) is exactly the same as my scent-memories of the same cloakroom 30 years ago.
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:08 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the warm smell of my grandmother's hair when her hair had set and I was allowed to oh-so-gently take her curlers out. A privilege.
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:10 AM on August 17


Two-stroke engine exhaust.

(I always wondered what was so special about the Saint Tropez tan.)
posted by ambient2 at 7:08 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


Koosh balls. A not-entirely-pleasant rubbery scent that would come off on your hands after you'd played with one for a while.
posted by evil otto at 2:55 PM on August 17 [9 favorites]


Also, the scent of the hallway outside my grandparents' kitchen. A mix of coffee and the cleaning products and toiletries they stored in their hall closet. Every once in a while, I'll catch a whiff of this in a corner store or bodega, and the nostalgia pangs will be overwhelming.
posted by evil otto at 3:35 PM on August 17


I got a salon perm during a hangover, which escalated it to the worst hangover I've ever had. Bleaurgh.

Old-school molecular biology labs had so many solvents that nobody handles outside fume hoods any more - the fruity sweetness of chloroform, the chemical sweetness of xylene, the pungently medicinal note of phenol, the sugary banana of butanol.

The vinegar-and-plastic smell of freshly fixed x-ray film.

Beta-mercaptan, which you could smell all over the lab even if it was opened in the fume hood. Surely nobody uses it anymore? Our building was evacuated once when someone dropped a bottle.
posted by gingerest at 8:06 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


There was an issue of National Geographic on perfumes where they managed to dig up and replicate the recipes of both Napoleon's and Cleopatra's perfumes...in scratch-n-sniff form.

and omg scratch-n-sniff stickers! gasoline! skunk! tire! cherry!

ahh...2nding Clairol Herbal Essence...so natural, like Pine-sol with more chemicals.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:40 PM on August 17


The smell of my dad's Design markers, before the ad industry went totally digital, and I stopped doing graffiti in my black books, and elsewhere.
posted by bashos_frog at 11:14 PM on August 17


Clove cigarettes being smoked, usually outside a music venue or a suburban Denny's.

The hallways of my all-girls Catholic high school: books, chalk, candles, a whiff of backyard roses on a teacher's desk.
posted by corey flood at 12:23 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


The back seat of the family Oldsmobile smelt like warm leather with hints of gasoline, grandma's 4711 cologne, and vomit.

High school smelled like Dewberry & CK Obsession; elementary school like off-gassing carpets, tempera paint, and those terrible hard pink erasers that are no good at erasing.
posted by emeiji at 8:46 PM on August 18


My grandfather's house's particular smell, which was a combination of corn pollen (he was a farmer) and the cigars that he smoked, plus some slightly medicinal smell that may have been some topical ointment that he and/or my late grandmother used. Nothing else quite like it; you could still blindfold me and take me back in time and I'd instantly recognize it and expect to hear Hee Haw coming on the TV.

The dorm I lived in for three of my four years of college, which had what was my last real back-to-school smell. Torn down.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:53 PM on August 18


This question was asked on August 7.

This Mental Floss article, entitled "11 Smells That Are Slowly Disappearing", was posted on August 11, and every single item on the list is mentioned in this thread.

Coincidence, or psychic phenomena?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 1:45 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Even more crazy, on August 11, exogenous posted the following in this very thread:
Hard to believe it's a concicidence, but today Mental Floss published this listicle of "11 Smells That Are Slowly Disappearing".
Spooky!
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:46 AM on August 20


Sassafrass used to flavor most rootbeers and make tea, with its raw leaves smelling like fruit loops. As a kid on nature walks, we used to munch on these but being a suspected carcinogen kinda put the kibosh on that.
posted by rubster at 10:30 PM on August 20


There's a particular smell that those 4x7 mass-market paperbacks used to have that I will always associate with my junior high Star Trek and Star Wars novel obsession. Newsprint, smudgy ink, and whatever cheap noxious glue they used to bind the whole thing together. I'd buy one, read the whole thing in one sitting, and my fingers would be all smudged.

I think you can still find this smell if you look for it, but nowadays in my experience, even if you still buy paper books, most of those cheap mass-market editions have been phased out in favor of the slightly larger and better quality trade paperbacks, which don't have the same smell.
posted by Sara C. at 9:09 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


When I was very little, we lived diagonally across the road from a beer-making factory. Sometimes when the wind was right, I'd get this very strong umami fragrance that I could almost taste. Overbearing but not entirely unpleasant.

Body Shop once had this perfume called Cotton White, which I loved. It smelled fresh and clean and made me really happy for some reason. I can still remember very strongly how it smelled. I still have a last bottle of it, but of course the oils have deteriorated and it smells like a tacky imitation of what it once was.
posted by Alnedra at 11:58 PM on August 22


Sweeping compound.
posted by cookie-k at 12:03 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Old perfumed talcum powder that my mom had forever. Breck cream rinse and Johnson's baby shampoo from the 1960s. The smell of each layer of Jello gelatin 1-2-3. The smell of liquid starch on laundry as you ironed it.
posted by Mittenz at 8:23 PM on August 23


The smell of sweat, apples, and cheese sandwiches and those vinyl backpacks on the bus at the end of school excursions (schoolreisjes) in the Netherlands during the 1970s.
posted by monospace at 12:52 AM on August 27


Old, stale ice encrusted-freezer boxes inside refrigerators. You'd smell this while defrosting, before freezers were frost-free.
posted by Rash at 8:07 PM on September 1


Whitewash. A kinda paint Aunt Polly used to make me use on that 'ol fence.
posted by NoemaSlur at 12:33 AM on September 7


Liquid White Out... still being sold but it's been many years since I've actually seen (and smelled) it being used. The few folks I know who're still using white out are using the rollers instead of the liquid.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:27 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Kresodip, a livestock product for treating mange, rain rot, etc was formulated with creosote. Chew-stop and penta were used to treat wood as a preservative. I loved the smell of the creosote products, along with that of Absorbine. Both remind me of horses, but Absorbine also reminded me of my grandmother, who rubbed her rheumatic knees with it.

Also missing is the smell of sulfa-powder. You could buy it for treating cuts in livestock.

Tyrone, PA had the most ghastly smelling paper mill. The Lewiston, ID paper mill stinks, but nothing like the PA mill used to.

Does the Hershey chocolate factory still reek as badly as it used to? The smell of cocoa roasting could turn anyone off chocolate.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:55 PM on September 8


Freshly-opened Mossman.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:55 PM on September 9


And of course the simple smell of cigarette smoke. It was everywhere. You used to go outside if you wanted a breath of fresh air.

I once had a conversation with an 80+ year old volunteer at the historical society I was working with about the smell / soundscapes of the Washington, D.C. of the past that movies and books couldn't or typically didn't capture. The main item, to his mind, was the nearly ubiquitous smell of stale cigarette smoke.

We now have a smoking ban in place, so it really is gone as a smell in public spaces.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:22 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


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