Not fakin' the funk in the five boroughs
September 18, 2011 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a good defensive cologne to use to ward off the nasty smells I encounter in the New York City subway system? It has to be cheap and come in a small package that I can throw in my bag to be used when necessary.

Normally, I don't use cologne. I associate it with suburban gelheads and middle aged men who do not get out much and are trying too hard to be Sex-Ay. It's just not my thing, not part of my daily toilette.

Recent events have prompted a change of heart on this. I won't go into the gory details here but I will say this much: the NYC subways smell an awful lot worse than they did in the past. I have lived here nearly two decades and I can't remember the trains ever being this stanky. We could attribute this to many things -- cuts in the subway maintenance budget, depressed unemployed people who are neglecting basic hygiene, newly homeless people who aren't in a position to attend to basic hygiene. Whatever. In any event, I'd rather not endure another commute with the smell of someone else's unscrubbed unmentionables in my nostrils. Or on me, for that matter!

The solution I propose is to get myself a small bottle of cheap cologne to splash on my person when the funk hits the fan. It has to be cheap -- but not smell cheap -- and be available in a small package that I can carry in my bag. Nothing floral, fruity or citrus-y. Just a basic masculine scent that'll keep the stink away. The proposed budget is in the low double digits. Preferably under twenty. If it's good, up to thirty. It has to come in a small package, like one ounce or less.

As always, many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Putting cologne on yourself isn't likely to do the trick. I'd get a small thing of Vapo-rub and just put some under your nose if things get bad. That way YOU don't become the smelly person by dousing yourself in cologne and it'll be more effective anyway.
posted by alaijmw at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

It's not a cologne, but rubbing a little Vicks Vaporub under your nose is remarkably effective at stopping you smelling anything else.
posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 11:14 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Instead of splashing it on yourself and being That Guy who stinks up the car with cologne, what about dousing a handkerchief and holding it to your nose like a posh Victorian gentleman?
posted by elizardbits at 11:14 AM on September 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

to answer the actual question, though, I am fairly partial to Bulgari Black.
posted by elizardbits at 11:15 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about going to a department store or Sephora and asking for samples? That way you can smell a lot of different scents to see which one(s) you like the best, and then you get the little sample which is very easy to throw into a bag. Also, they are probably going to be fairly decent, so you won't have to worry about smelling cheap.

(Alternately, my mother is really sensitive to nasty smells and keeps menthol-scented kleenexes in her car for when she's driving to block out horrible things. She also keeps Vicks for rubbing under her nose as suggested above. I also like the scented handkerchief idea--holding anything directly to your nose is probably going to be a much more efficient smell blocker than just putting scent on yourself. You'll catch wafts of that, but you'll still get other smells along with it.)
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 11:18 AM on September 18, 2011

My personal solution for this problem is scented anti-bacterial gel (scent + getting rid of nasty subway germs!). Some of the ones at Bath and Body Works are strong (like, way too strong - don't use it right before you eat or your food will taste like the smell) and I'm sure you could find one non-girly scented.
posted by coupdefoudre at 11:23 AM on September 18, 2011

If your worry is that you'll carry the smell of the subway with you, consider carrying a travel-size fabric refresher like Febreze To Go. If its scent is too strong, you could try diluting it?
posted by desertface at 11:34 AM on September 18, 2011

Maybe some minty flavor of sugarless gum? Should help mask smells, alleviate nausea, good for breath and dental hygiene as well, and can easily be spit out once you get to work.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 11:37 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I definitely DON'T recommend spraying yourself IN the train car. But I like the handkerchief idea and I support the Sephora suggestion. They give all kinds of samples with little spritzers and everything. As for what to try, I personally like Gucci - Gucci Pour Homme. It kind of smells like the '70s - leather, amber, white pepper and ginger. Alternatively, Dolce & Gabanna - The One Gentleman is a really refreshing and modern scent. I can't think of any cheap cologne that actually smells nice, but my dad used to wear Canoe and didn't smell like a fist-pumping gel-head.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 11:42 AM on September 18, 2011

As someone who is allergic to cheap cologne and perfume, please please please do not spray yourself in the subway car, or right before entering the subway. It won't block out smells, it will add to the awfulness. I'll also recommend Vapo-rub under the nose, it's what's recommended when dealing with cadavers, and subway funk is nowhere near cadaver-level.
posted by blueskiesinside at 12:02 PM on September 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

Oh, please, please, please don't do this. If I were on that train, my day would be ruined. I dread riding public transport because of my fear of people applying perfume and cologne. The volatile compounds (the chemicals in freshly sprayed or applied cologne or perfume that smell the strongest) from ALL fragrances leave me nauseous, headachey, and leave me with an unpleasantly tickly throat for hours. Spraying fragrance or even opening bottles of fragrance in enclosed places like train cars is just plain cruel to people like me - and there are plenty of us out there.

The volatile compounds disappear quickly, which is why I'm not bothered (usually) by fragrance that people apply at home before they go out. The Vapo-rub thing is great for really, truly sickening smells - the people who have the misfortune of dealing with dead bodies on a regular basis don't leave home without it. Otherwise, try scenting a handkerchief, letting it air for a while, and then keeping it in a film canister or some other airtight container that you can open for a discreet sniff when you need to, or keep a sachet of dried rosemary and lavender (just tie some of the dried herbs in a knotted handkerchief or something).
posted by cilantro at 12:04 PM on September 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

I love the idea of getting some samples. Also, a nice scented bar of soap never even has to come out of it's package to do the trick, just hold it up to your nose. I knew a girl who used an actual lemon for this purpose, btw.

As for cologne, may I suggest the ubiquitous No. 4711. it's unisex, has been around forever as an aftershave/perfume and smells nice and fresh like lemons. It also wears off in about twenty minutes so it's not obnoxious (or you can just hold the bottle under your nose).
posted by marimeko at 12:06 PM on September 18, 2011

Thirding the opinion that you are about to become somone elses ask-me. That is, that you are trying to become a smell other people want to avoid. Vaporub or Tigerbalm if the smell's going to make you puke or something, otherwise, unless you are sitting or stepping in something, I can pretty much promise that the smell of your subway ride isn't sticking to you so that others can smell it, even if it may feel that way.
posted by Iteki at 12:21 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The two times I've thrown up in public have been due to someone smelling too strongly of cologne on public transportation. I personally love fragrance, but too strong and it can be even worse than many varieties of BO.

I've seen little bags of aromatherapy beads - you just sniff the bag. There might be one made for nausea, but if not, I like the eucalyptus cold-relief kind.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:58 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Use tiger balm under your nose (stronger than Vick's) and/or a strong mint to suck on (ie Altoids and the like). That's what kept me from vomiting on people when I was riding the train while pregnant (hightened sense of smell)
posted by cestmoi15 at 1:11 PM on September 18, 2011

I also advise a handkerchief with scent sprayed on it or a little cloth bag/sachet with some herbs and/or dried flowers (a modern pomander). Either one of those will work much better than dumping a bunch of cologne on yourself.

Do you like lavender? Do you have a Trader Joe's near you? They sell a box of little packets of dried lavender that are for use in the clothes dryer. One of those would work great. Oh joy! Amazon has them, too!
posted by deborah at 1:16 PM on September 18, 2011

If you really wanted to experiment with scents that don't get sprayed everywhere, you could buy a few imps of essential oils from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Instead of spraying it, you could put a few drops on your wrists and sniff them if you encounter subway stink. Plus, they smell good but the scent doesn't waft like it would if you spritzed yourself - it stays pretty close to the body.
posted by PussKillian at 1:28 PM on September 18, 2011

My husband inherited a bottle of CK IN2U from my former roommate, and it actually is a very good impromptu, light cologne for those times when you just need a little something. A small bottle of it fits within your budget, too.
posted by limeonaire at 2:17 PM on September 18, 2011

My first thought was rosewater, though you seem to be male. Rosewater is natural and AFAIK doesn't contain actual pollen or anything (i.e. not a chemical scent and unlikely to act as an airborne allergen). It's a very strong scent, and yet unobtrusive. It's extremely cheap compared to actual perfume or even essential oils. That said, it's not exactly masculine.
posted by Sara C. at 3:48 PM on September 18, 2011

Public transportation stank is the worst, especially in the summer. I'm horribly sensitive to smells and worry about layering over the existing funk so I use a Vicks vapor inhaler. It's awesome because no one has to smell it but me, and it's more discreet than announcing HEY SOMEBODY STINKS by spraying something into the air.

That said, I also carry a spray bottle of rosewater for that horrible oh-god-the-smell-is-following-me feeling. The scent fades quickly as fragrances go, but it's really calming which is great after a hectic commute. It's also pretty femme, so maybe orange blossom water would be more to your taste?

Hope this helps!

I can't wait until we all have our own personal climate/fragrance bubble.
posted by Space Kitty at 4:05 PM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab also carries scent lockets that hold a piece of fabric dabbed in the scent of your choice. If it fits your style, you could wear one around your neck and hold it up to your nose when the stench is unbearable.
posted by corey flood at 4:17 PM on September 18, 2011

I'm very glad I posted this; I sincerely did not know how offensive cologne could be in an enclosed subway car.

Thanks to all of you for speaking up and suggesting alternative solutions to this problem.

And thanks to everyone who participated in this post.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:41 PM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've done Carmex under the nose before, and it's worked wonders. That or Vicks/Tiger Balm should work as well. (However, the Tiger Balm will sting the skin under your nose, possibly. So, be aware of that.)

Last time I had to use Carmex when I was on a bus full of absurdly drunk Seattle Sounders FC supporters, coming back from celebrating a win against the mighty Portland Timbers, in Portland, Oregon. We had taken the same bus down. And, while we were in the match, that bus - which had inadequate bathroom facilities to begin with - sat in the hot sun and fermented the output that some 50 drunk Sounders fans had put into the bus on the way down. It was unpleasant, to say the least; it smelled like Hades himself crawled in and died in the back. Way worse than you'd find on the daily commute. However, Carmex under the nose made the trip back up tolerable.

(And thanks for the question; I'm packing the Carmex and Tiger Balm now, for next weekend is that same trip, but up to Vancouver. BC to watch the Sounders vs. the Whitecaps!)
posted by spinifex23 at 9:11 PM on September 18, 2011

If you like the smell of coffee, having a little jar of fresh roasted coffee beans to sniff might be a good choice. It tends to be a pretty strong/overpowering scent without being cloying at all.
posted by that girl at 2:17 AM on September 19, 2011

A small amount of vanilla extract on a handkerchief tucked in your sleeve is nice. I love the smell of ground cardamom; a tiny container of it would be very pleasant to me.
posted by theora55 at 2:17 PM on September 19, 2011

Normally, I don't use cologne. I associate it with suburban gelheads and middle aged men who do not get out much and are trying too hard to be Sex-Ay. It's just not my thing, not part of my daily toilette.

Your misconceptions about cologne aside, you could take a bath in it and it wouldn't help you with your problem. You won't be able to smell your own cologne minutes after applying it.

So yeah, looking at the alternatives mentioned is wise.
posted by justgary at 5:55 PM on September 19, 2011

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