Yuk, that smell is awful! How did you make such a stink?
October 19, 2009 12:26 PM   Subscribe

So there are dozens of posts on AskMeFi raising the question of how to mask or remove a bad smell. But I have the opposite dilemma: I wasnt to create a bad smell. Not something so abhorrent that people wretch, but a clearly noticeable odour that perhaps evokes decay or sickness or death. And before you start calling the police, it's for a Halloween show. Thoughts on how to disperse said smell (using a plug-in mister? Using a fan?) gladly accepted.
posted by skylar to Science & Nature (28 answers total)
Rotten eggs are cheap.

This creates essentially the same chemical, but in a much more concentrated form, and will send people running for cover.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:29 PM on October 19, 2009

Well, putrescine is the first thing that comes to mind, but I haven't the foggiest idea how to synthesize or acquire it. Looks like Fisher Scientific carries it, so you might be able to buy it from them. I don't know what the legality of purchasing it for non-institutional use is.

You may be able to find "stink bombs" which are (I think) hydrogen sulfide - it'll give you a horrible rotten eggs smell. Putrescine will smell more like a dead body decaying. Stink bombs come in glass capsules that you can throw or crush underfoot, but you could easily remove the liquid from them and collect it in a small dish.

Whatever you end up using, I think I would dilute it with water and put it in a small dish with a fan blowing over it to help it diffuse. Diluting it will prevent the smell from being too overpowering.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:36 PM on October 19, 2009

Can you find a durian in any of your local stores?

Asian grocers would be your best bet, if they're not sold in regular fruit & veg stores.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:38 PM on October 19, 2009

(you can also eat the durian afterwards!)
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:38 PM on October 19, 2009

Go buy some hamburger and leave it out at room temperature for a couple of days. It'll smell foul enough.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:40 PM on October 19, 2009

And before you start calling the police, it's for a Halloween show.

Just a suggestion that you think carefully about whether you want to do this. You don't say what kind of show you're doing, but Halloween is supposed to be fun and foul smells are not fun. Also, they can linger in a person's clothes and hair for quite a while afterwards which is the exact opposite of fun.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:41 PM on October 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

If you want your haunted house (or whatever) performance to be a success, I would recommend you run the risk of the odor being too pervasive to allow your guests (and your performers!) to have a good time; odor's a lot harder to control in a performance setting than lights and sound are.

Your best bet, then, is to find an area with extremely good ventilation, and set off stink bombs. The visual of the smoke will help guests avoid the smell after they've encountered it, and will help you judge your ability to control the odor in your performance setting.

Just remember, you should use a smell that's unpleasant, but not actually something like putrescine -- as if you actually present something to your audience that smells like decaying flesh, they'll stop enjoying themselves and want to bail immediately. Kind of like what would happen if you built a rollercoaster that actually went off the rails.
posted by davejay at 12:50 PM on October 19, 2009

a clearly noticeable odour that perhaps evokes decay or sickness or death

I have a perfume called "Funeral Home" that's the scent of smoke mixed with a sort of "overripe" floral. It isn't bad (I agree with those who think you should think twice about creating a bad smell) but it does convey that sort of atmosphere.

Maybe get a lot of day-old roses from a flower shop and just let them sit around? Maybe burn some incense, too.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2009

How's about this:
You can smell the fear!

I found it searching for fog scents -- they are smells you add to fog machines, so you will need to use a fog machine.

If fog doesn't go with whatever you are doing, they have other scent distribution methods.
posted by girlpublisher at 12:58 PM on October 19, 2009

Sorry to double post, but here is the link with a billion bizarre scent bags, that you can use the aforementioned distribution methods to distribute.

How do they know what dragon's blood smells like??
posted by girlpublisher at 1:01 PM on October 19, 2009

Oh hey, they still make that perfume.
posted by JoanArkham at 1:01 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would go to a sporting goods store and pick up some catfish bait. It won't take much, and it'll definitely smell like something died.
posted by sanka at 1:05 PM on October 19, 2009

People's noses and tolerance vary in sensitivity. What may be a mild odor to you would probably send me from the room as fast as I could run, dry-heaving all the way. Just something to keep in mind.
posted by moira at 1:09 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would be VERY careful if you are going to be intentionally dispersing a smell; not just from the "it could ruin a good time" factor, but also because you can never know what someone would be allergic to. If you dispersed something and someone ended up breaking out in hives or having to use up an epi-pen, they would no doubt be angry.

If you still want to disperse some scent, I'd at the VERY least post a warning outside the door; theaters who use smoke effects in shows have to do something similar, so you would probably need to post some kind of warning.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:16 PM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's possible to enjoy the dramatic experience of being "scared" largely because part of you still knows that, whatever you're experiencing, it can't really hurt you. You experience, not the genuine emotion of fear, but an enjoyable "ghost" of it, if you will.

I don't think there's any comparable way to know that the stench you're smelling doesn't actually smell bad.

So, what BrandonBlatcher said.
posted by bricoleur at 1:23 PM on October 19, 2009

Seconding catfish bait if you decide to go forward with your plan. It stinks really, really bad.
posted by tryniti at 1:23 PM on October 19, 2009

It's a cool idea, but what davejay and Empress Callipygos said. Also, some people actually will vomit in response to certain smells, and THEN you're going to have another really bad smell that you will NOT be in control of.

Smells are actually not used in a lot of show/settings, now that you mention it; not even at Disneyworld or other places that have mega-budgets and lots of clever stage managers on hire. The only place I've ever seen that used them is the Viking Museum in York, England, and I don't even know if they still do that. Incense or a fire smoke kind of smell might be the outside limit.
posted by jfwlucy at 1:26 PM on October 19, 2009

Fish sauce, as it is called, from an asian market, is cheap, liquid, and nasty
in almost any quantity.

No matter what you do, don't use a mister to disperse a liquid scent.
You want to disperse molecules, not droplets (which can stick, and remain
all evening).

A furnace filter can contain the stinkum, with air driven through it by a
centrifugal fan (like for a forced air heater). This will work two ways: the
people that are closest to the dispersal unit will get the scent first, and there
is a nonzero chance that they will start vomiting. The sound and scent of
people vomiting will trigger a chain reaction in groups larger than 10. It could
get a little slippery, so be careful, and plan for it.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:30 PM on October 19, 2009

Smells are actually not used in a lot of show/settings, now that you mention it; not even at Disneyworld

Actually, Disney uses smell effects in several different locations ... for example:

* On Main Street in Anaheim, chocolate smells are piped onto the street from the candy shop. At Christmas, this is changed to peppermint.
* "Heimlich's Chew Chew Train" in Disney's California adventure pipes various food smells at riders.
* The 3D show "It's Tough to be a Bug" has a stink bug character that "farts" at the audience; a stink is wafted at the audience.
* The Imagination! ride at EPCOT fires a stink at riders when an "experiment" goes wrong.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:36 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, 2nding Cool Papa Bell (though he forgot the most obvious smells to me - the many smells piped into "Soarin'" including orange, pine, etc), I just saw It's Tough to be a Bug on Saturday and the "bad" smell they used in that attraction immediately came to mind. It wasn't the kind of bad smell that would make people puke...it was musty and kind of unpleasant but not really foul. If you can find out what that one is, I bet Disney did a TON of research and experimentation beforehand to find a smell that was "bad" but not vomit/revulsion inducing.

I bet if you asked around on Disney forums (like the ones on miceage.com or mouseplanet.com for example) some know-it-all would pop up within about 20 minutes to tell you what the smell is and where you can buy something that smells like that.
posted by crinklebat at 1:53 PM on October 19, 2009

Butyric acid is a classic method.
posted by rhizome at 1:57 PM on October 19, 2009

Seconding the fish sauce.
posted by R. Mutt at 2:15 PM on October 19, 2009

Wow - what a terrifically imaginative bunch you are. It will take me a while to digest all of these.

I don't want to create a truly noxious smell so I would definitely go for something a little more subtle.

And I have to go with Cool Papa Bell and Crinklebat - I know that smells are used in shows because the smell of oranges on Soarin' and the Tough To Be A Bug smells are so memorable to me.
posted by skylar at 3:46 PM on October 19, 2009

Do you know anyone with a cat? A used litter box will give you the wafting aroma of yuck you desire. Just be sure to go for one with crap in it, not pee. Pee will be too ammonia-y.

I would use an slowly oscillating fan to blow the stink over a small area periodically. If you were good with electronics you could set up some kind of switch to only turn the fan on when someone walks by. That way the smell is not constantly getting dispersed everywhere.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:08 PM on October 19, 2009

Fetid durian smells like rotting flesh.

Better yet, a Titan arum (a.k.a. corpse flower) if you can get your hands on one. But you probably can't.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:41 PM on October 19, 2009

Cool Papa Bell, I stand corrected, thank you.
posted by jfwlucy at 6:49 PM on October 19, 2009

Thanks again to you all - I think girlpublisher had the answer. To those of you who warned against a smell so bad it might make people vomit, I did specifically say in my original post that I was not seeking a smell so bad that it will make people wretch. The kind of smell used on Disney attractions is more like it, so yes I will go on some fan forums - thanks Crinklebat,
posted by skylar at 2:57 AM on October 20, 2009

posted by bzbb at 7:53 AM on October 20, 2009

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