Barbershop talc scent in the wild?
November 8, 2016 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Thrice now in the last two or three weeks, a scent just like that talcum powder you might have smelled at a barbershop has come wafting in through my bedroom window-- on the top floor of my nine story apartment building. Any ideas what it might be?

This is in Knoxville, Tennessee; I'd guess each time it lasted more than five minutes but less than ten. I'm not just at the top of my building, but at the far end of it (it's a long rectangle), and my window immediately faces the building's parking lot, although there are trees along the periphery of the lot, and beyond.

I have a hard time believing, given how intense the scent was and how long it endured, that it was a downstairs neighbor getting ready for work and the scent just happened to leave their apartment, move upward, and then back into mine. (This is a very quiet apartment building, and hardly anybody knows anybody else, so I don't know my downstairs neighbor at all, although I do believe the apartment to be occupied.)

Two times the scent happened maybe two hours before dawn, and one time it was more like 10 AM; that might've been the time I checked my living and dining rooms, and it was pervasive there as well (about 30 feet away, but with windows all on the same wall as the bedroom's). It was moderately cool and possibly cloudy/partly cloudy although not rainy each time.

Any ideas on what I might be smelling? I'm kind of hoping somebody will tell me there's a specific tree known for giving off this scent a few times a years, but I'm really interested in any lead that might point me to a conclusive answer…. TIA!
posted by kimota to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a shared ventilation system in the building? It might seem like it's coming from a window, but instead be wafting from adjacent units through the HVAC ductwork.

Talc itself is fairly benign and scentless. The barbershop variety I think of is the Clubman variety by Pinaud, and it's lightly fragranced to smell like citrus and rose and geraniums (citronellol, geraniol, etc.). Any number of plants produce those compounds, though I doubt they're growing in significant enough number to be detectable on the ninth floot, given the season.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:59 AM on November 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you or other residents have washers & dryers? Dryers vent to the out side. I am often pleasantly surprised by the smell of other peoples laundry drying as I walk my dog. Talc is actually a scent you can get, though tends to be more common in Spanish speaking countries.
posted by wwax at 8:02 AM on November 8, 2016 [11 favorites]

I thought I was occasionally smelling scented fabric softener wafting out of dryer vents in my neighborhood for years but it turned out to be something called a tea olive tree and there could be one near you in Knoxville. Here's a link to some random plant place. Some neighbors have one that's at least 25 feet tall.
posted by mareli at 9:23 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Compare the Maple Syrup Event a few years ago in NYC. You may want to watch the news to see if the smell is more widespread than just in your apartment.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:37 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

We do have some kind of shared ventilation system (something involving a column-of-apartments-based HVAC that somehow does time sharing on a majority-rule basis, such that even if most people have the heat on and one person has the A/C going, it still works for everybody, but I don't pretend to understand how); that said, I've had it off while keeping my windows open and haven't noticed any hint of air moving out of my vents. Also, the laundry room is maybe 50 yards down the central/shared hallway from me, but I haven't put much thought into where/how exactly it ventilates. I'm intrigued by the tea olive tree idea and will probably not have a chance to eyeball anything until tomorrow morning. I do know that when I lived on the west-facing side of the building that in the pre-dawn hours of spring, some trees in the neighborhood nearby would give off a super intense (if straight up floral) fragrance, so that's why I've been leaning in that direction so far, even though the scent is way different. Thanks for the ideas, everybody!
posted by kimota at 12:05 PM on November 8, 2016

I'll just leave this here.

These trees are def in the South.
posted by jbenben at 12:22 PM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

If it's the same thing as when I noticed something like this, it's Jasmine somewhere in the vicinity.
posted by rhizome at 1:07 PM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

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