Phantom "green" smells.
October 20, 2008 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Am I overly sensitive to a "green" chemical?

Whenever I wear a green colored shirt (no matter the shirt material), I always have a strong sensation of smelling burning plastic. I have even had to give away shirts because I couldn't stand to wear them any more due to the smell. Everyone around me seems immune to the smell. I assume either there is a specific chemical I'm overly sensitive to or some strange form of synesthesia. How can I find out what causes this?
posted by 1f2frfbf to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think that there's a single dye that all green shirts include.

Have you done a blind test? Wear a blindfold. Have a friend hand you different t-shirts to smell. See if you can identify the green one.
posted by Netzapper at 1:21 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I tried this once on a bet, in a blind test II correctly identified about 60% of the green shirts as green with no false positives (I didn't think any of the non-green shirts were green). Not an overwhelming number but better than a crap shoot.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:30 PM on October 20, 2008

This only happens with wearable textiles, or would you also have the same sensation sitting down at a restaurant with a green tablecloth?
posted by pmbuko at 2:00 PM on October 20, 2008

IANAD, but I'm intrigued. My guess would be that you have mild synethesia, and that when you see green for long periods of time, say when you are wearing it, you begin to feel like you smell burning plastic. The actual smells of the dyes then reach your nose, and your brain associate those real smells with your perceived smells. Hence, the moderate success in the blindfold test. This is a pure guess, I'm just throwing it out there. Anyone who knows anything can please prove me wrong.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:06 PM on October 20, 2008

We'd need more information about your blind test to determine whether the 60% is significant or not. My guess would be probably not, unless your sample size was quite large.
posted by electroboy at 2:08 PM on October 20, 2008

Well, that's a stumper. (Is there a prize for the least likely to be solved?)

I agree it's pretty unlikely they'd use the same green dye in all green shirts, but I suppose there could be one ingredient common to many of the green dyes. Do you react to any other green fabrics (lap robe, sheets) or is it just shirts. Have you tried snorting green fabrics at a fabric store?

Do you commonly buy shirts of the same brand or from the same store? Just in case they use similar dyes?

I happen to be allergic to one kind of sizing they use in new fabrics, which is why I mention the fabric store. If it goes away after it's been washed a few times, that would probably rule out sizing. Have you tried washing new green shirts a few times before you put them on? (When sizing bothers me, it makes my nose sting and I think it does have a plastic-y smell to it.)

I see you did the experiment with T shirts. Is is only T shirts that bother you or is it also dress shirts, or did you just have T shirts handy?

Are there other green fabrics in your environment, something in the house that doesn't bother you? What color are the office carpets?

I never heard of synesthesia taking the form of a smell, but I guess there's no reason it coudn't happen. It is a confusion of senses after all.

I don't have much here, but I'll throw in what I can think of. Maybe it will give someone else some ideas.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 2:33 PM on October 20, 2008

Oooh how intriguing! I agree with electroboy about the blind test. Inconclusive unless you had really a big test sample. Also, psychologically you obviously knew you would be trying to identify green shirts so that expectation could have had an effect on the test. Does other situations with green in it - for example a forest, a football field, pool table - have a similar effect?
posted by elendil71 at 2:33 PM on October 20, 2008

I see I am several posts behind while I was writing. I see several people have similar ideas. That's how it's supposed to work.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 2:40 PM on October 20, 2008

The dyes used in natural fabrics often share NO ingredients whatsoever with those used in, for example, nylon.
posted by luriete at 3:54 PM on October 20, 2008

Doubt it's related, but I went to school with someone who was allergic to the red coloring used in food products.
posted by niles at 7:06 PM on October 20, 2008

Response by poster: A bit more info: Yes, it happens with sheets, for instance I have a nylon blanket on my bed that I notice but not badly enough for it to be taken out of rotation, whereas I had some green cotton sheets that smelled so strongly I gave them away. The color green in general doesn't affect me, just green fabrics.

Granted the blind test wasn't that huge a sample, a guy can only have so many green shirts. I threw in all my green shirts, and several other shirts selected by my friends on the basis of similar texture, weight, etc. to my green shirts. There were about 20-odd shirts total. Like I said, I was able to identify about half the green shirts, but didn't identify any of the non-green shirts as green. They were all kinds of shirts: overshirts , t-shirts and sweatshirts.

I don't expect to find the answer to the problem, I'm just looking for guidance on how to start to find the issue. Doctors usually look at me like I've grown a third eyeball, and homeopaths tend to go off on tangents regarding my chi and other metaphysical things so I never get a straight answer from either side of the medical world. I'd just like to have a little more insight on things to ask doctors about.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:05 AM on October 21, 2008

Poking around, I found that anthraquinone is a common source for green textile dyes, and can cause various allergic reactions. It's found in aloe, rhubarb, and other things, so perhaps you can go sniff some of those and see if they cause a similar reaction in you. :) (IANABiologist; please don't laugh if I'm wildly oversimplifying or misunderstanding something here.)

Wikipedia page on anthraquinone...I'm sure there are many other sources for green in textiles, so who knows. More googling on green textile dyes might be useful, particularly from a library or other place with access to journal databases.
posted by wintersweet at 1:50 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

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