Why do some people find the smell of gasoline pleasant?
April 29, 2006 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Why do some people find the smell of gasoline pleasant?
posted by jeremias to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I kind of like the smell, I think it's not so much that it's plesant but that it's cool. The smell makes us think about gasoline and all the stuff you can do with it, like burn stuff, or make cars go fast, that sort of thing.
posted by delmoi at 2:49 PM on April 29, 2006

Isn't this an impossible question to answer? There is no why.

I love the smell of gasoline, and so does my wife. Sometimes, if the smell is especially strong, we look at each other and say, "Mmm...cyclobutanes." It's a couple thing.

On the other hand, she likes the smell of skunk (seriously), and I can't stand it. I love the smell of curry, and she loathes it. How is the answer to this question going to be any different than "why do some people find the smell of brocolli pleasant?"
posted by jdroth at 2:54 PM on April 29, 2006

To me it smells sweet.
posted by Ken McE at 3:27 PM on April 29, 2006

I can't answer why, but if it's just disbelief that some people do... I've always liked the smell of gasoline. Diesel, too.

As far as I know, it's just the smell itself, not the association with cars. I wouldn't want to BATHE in the stuff, but in limited amounts, it's quite nice.
posted by Malor at 3:50 PM on April 29, 2006

Garage by Comme des Garçons (2004). My guess is it's some combination of psychology, chemistry (aldehyde has something to do with both gasoline and perfume), and lack of brain cells, err.. I mean, maybe they're getting something of a buzz, and associate that good feeling with 'good smell'?
posted by unmake at 3:54 PM on April 29, 2006

i've always liked it... i figured it's because it's an inhalant. I like the smell of rubber cement too.
posted by MadamM at 3:58 PM on April 29, 2006

Actually, DK made a men's cologne featuring fuel resin some years ago. It wasn't for everyone (as evidenced by its discontinuation), but it still has its fans...
posted by j-dawg at 4:05 PM on April 29, 2006

For me, I'm sure it's a childhood association. My father was a crew chief for a Top Fuel dragster when I was a wee tyke, and some of my first memories are from the drag strip.

However, gasoline has smelled horrible since they took out the lead. Good ol' 100-octane leaded premium was the best smell evar, next to nitromethane.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:05 PM on April 29, 2006

Do you mean actual gasoline, or exhaust fumes? Because while I loathe the smell of gasoline, I adore the smell of exhaust fumes. Being stuck behind a bus in traffic....mmmmm.

About 10 years ago I got a drop or two of gasoline on my skirt while pumping gas, and I got sent home from work because the smell was making everyone in the office sick. I got some gasoline on me earlier today when I was throwing a rototiller in the back of a jeep, and it's still nauseating me. I've washed my clothes twice and I can still smell it....guh.
posted by iconomy at 4:06 PM on April 29, 2006

Not sure why.

Theory: I think it's linked to childhood memories. I like the smell of gasoline, and when I smell it I remember going on car trips. On a related note, I don't huff exhaust fumes or anything, but the smell of certain trucks idling makes me think about going on camping trips in the summer. I also link the smell of chlorine to the swimming pool we had when I was growing up. Another summer memory. These are all horrible smells that don't bother me.
posted by Hildago at 4:07 PM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Jet fuel at the airport = going to France!
posted by ParisParamus at 4:16 PM on April 29, 2006

What crash and Hildago said.

Most people I know who find the smell of chemical fumes pleasant usually associate it with memories of a father or grandfather or other relative. Same as making an old recipe of your mom's does.

My grandfather was a carpenter and a farmer, so I positively adore the smells of cowshit, turpentine, mineral spirits, and sawdust. Open up a can of poly around me and suddenly I'm five years old again and "helping" him in his shop. I still have (and use) the miniature carpenter's toolbox he made for me when I was six.

I like gas too, but only when it's on my hands mixed with the smell of grass clippings. Then I think of my dad, and I realize that I'm a man now. It is, to me, the smell of honesty. That woodstain-and-poly smell is the smell of art.
posted by middleclasstool at 4:16 PM on April 29, 2006

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory!"

Tastes vary. (Or sniffs.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:21 PM on April 29, 2006

I'm sure it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that it gets you intoxicated. :) I mean, c'mon, the stuff makes you high.
posted by smallerdemon at 4:22 PM on April 29, 2006

Perhaps it would be a useful line of enquiry to look into research on glue-sniffing, since I imagine it's the same petroleum / aromatics effects.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:25 PM on April 29, 2006

I don't think it's associative; at least it definitely isn't for me. I don't drive, nor do I particularly like cars. I've just always found the smell really pleasant in a physical, visceral sort of way (as opposed to, for example, the smell of subways, which I like for its evocative qualities, rather than its body). Nobody in my family was an automotive enthusiast, either. FWIW, tho, my, my older brother and my younger sister all like the smell.

There are plenty of trades and hobbies that come with their own set of idiosyncratic smells, none quite so popular as gasoline. Therefore, I don't think it can be fully explained by evocation and reference.
posted by ori at 4:35 PM on April 29, 2006

I like the smell of gas a lot. I even remember having a gasoline scratch and sniff sticker.

I think the memory I associate it with is being at the lake with my parents and their friends, watching my dad gas up his motorcycle.

Or maybe I just like it because I like it.

I also LOVE the smell of skunks...in passing. I think skunk smell = country, outdoors, road trips.
posted by Bud Dickman at 4:44 PM on April 29, 2006

BTW, I hate the smell of exhaust...bus fumes, argh. Even though my memories of buses - trips to camp, etc. - are all pleasant. Hmm.
posted by Bud Dickman at 4:46 PM on April 29, 2006

Fascinating, j-dawg.

Reminds me of Montag in "F°451" telling Clarisse he thinks of the smell as a kind of perfume.
posted by Rash at 4:51 PM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: My WAG is that, much like taste, different people smell differently. I know that might seem painfully obvious to some, but it is likely the case.

To wit: When I was in High School we did a test in biology class. We were all given different strips of colored paper (much like litmus strips) and told to taste them and write down what each color tasted like. The answers were typically sweet, salty, bitter, or nothing. Then the teacher put up a matrix on the board and said "All right, who tasted the sweet on the blue strip?". I was amazed that I was one of the only few who did. He went through all the colors and there was no consensus on what any one color tasted like.

The gist of the experiment was that we can't all pick up on all chemicals in what we taste. The strips had been treated with two specific chemicals that were mutually exclusive to a particular gene. So, if you had the correct gene you would taste blue as sweet, but if you had a different it would be bitter or taste like nothing.

This is why some people like really strong cheeses and others find that they taste like feet. You aren't tasting the same thing. Those who like it really are tasting something good and those who don't are really tasting something unpleasant. It is different than someone finding unpleasant tastes appealing and others finding them, well, unpleasant.

So, like taste, I would assume some people get a strong "chemical" taste to gasoline while others (who can't detect those scents) are exposed only to a more pleasant sweet smell, for example.

Now, that isn't the same thing as finding that the smell of gas brings back pleasant memories. You can smell something that doesn't smell particularly good, but reminds you of something nice and still think the smell is "pleasant". An example might be the smell of manure for people who spent great summers on a farm.

But for those who truly like the smell of gas may just be only smelling the components that really are quite pleasant. I don't think it is something that you can have a standard comparison between different individuals. It's not apples to apples.
posted by qwip at 5:04 PM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

It's definitely not an associative thing for me - I have no particular interest in cars, boats, or other gas-using things, and I can't think of any memories that involve gasoline. However, I really love the smell of gasoline. Things like rubber cement, most solvents, etc... they all appeal to me. [I don't think it's because they smell 'sweet' to me either - they smell very chemical to me, not at all sweet. It's just a chemical smell that's somehow appealing.] Like MadamM and unmake, I've always figured it was because they're inhalants. Perhaps if I tried them I'd be particularly susceptible.
posted by ubersturm at 5:58 PM on April 29, 2006

Speaking of smells and cognition, I have a friend who gets herself in a meditative state, sniffs lemon oil, and then uses the lemon oil scent later, when she's stressed out, and it totally calms her. I had not heard of that application of aromatherapy before, but it makes total scientific sense.
posted by mecran01 at 8:07 PM on April 29, 2006

I love the smell of Diesel. But I've always assumed that part of that is childhood memories I have of my both my father and grandfather, who both worked road construction and always smelled of it when they got home.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:08 AM on April 30, 2006

Open up a can of poly around me and suddenly I'm five years old again and "helping" him in his shop.

Yeah, same for me with carburetor cleaner and other solvents and things that you generally would find nasty.

I'm not saying I huff them or anything, but if I catch the scent lingering in the air it triggers those memories very easily.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:11 AM on April 30, 2006

Bud, you need a bottle of AutoScent.
Mmm... lilac!

posted by blueberry at 2:38 AM on April 30, 2006

I like the small of gasoline, AND I LOVE the smell of skunk. (I'm glad I'm not alone on the latter, judging from the few mentions of skunk love above.) And I can't stand the smell of lavender...which is considered a beautiful fragrance and made into sachets, soaps, etc.

And although smelling IS a mentally evocative human sense, I don't believe that my likes/dislikes are reinforced by pleasant associations. Why do I like skunk smell? Cause I just do. ...And if anything, the accompanying association of skunk was not a pleasant one: Me as a child in the car on a country road, sniffing out the window, and my parents explaining that someone "must have ran over and killed a skunk." (--sad!) Likewise, my only lavender associations were rather pleasant: My mom loved it, and wore the essence on her, and kept sachets of it in her dresser drawers
posted by applemeat at 7:29 AM on April 30, 2006

lilac is amazing smell. And clove cigarrettes? Ymmmm.
posted by applemeat at 7:31 AM on April 30, 2006

I remember being quite young and getting a noseful at the gas station and being unable to figure out why, exactly, I liked that smell.

No associations—not a car person, didn't grow up around car people. Just, bam, that smells interesting. I was very much aware of my own confusion at the time, because the smell certainly wasn't good, but I sure did like it.
posted by cortex at 9:13 AM on April 30, 2006

I'd disagree with the 'associative' answers here. I don't disagree it may be the case for some people, but I think it's more to do with it being a solvent smell. The same people tend to also like the smell of things like creosote, paint, glue, and paraffin, etc.
posted by wackybrit at 12:08 PM on April 30, 2006

applemeat, I am glad I am not the only one who hates the smell of lavender. And it's so popular these days, and people keep using it and thinking that everyone else MUST like it too... argh.

wackybrit, you might be right -- I always liked the smell of regular leaded gas, but rubber cement is a good smell too!
posted by litlnemo at 2:22 PM on April 30, 2006

another vote for a chemical reaction based on genetics. I almost gag at the smell of gasoline and have to be careful when filling the tank. Bizzarly when I taste mustard in anything It tastes to me like gasoline has been added to the food and again I react badly.

Then there is the question of the effect of sniffing gasoline which I know some kids here in the UK get addicted too, a bit like glue-sniffing.
posted by Wilder at 7:02 AM on May 1, 2006

I've always loved these chemical scents. Some have strong association (2-stroke engines = Fun-at-the-lake!). But I liked them as a kid, too. Funny though, today I can't stand the fumes, they choke me. That isn't the same as the scent.

But I'm very subject to associative pleasure. Creosote and horse manure take me back to my childhood. I have a sewing kit that belonged to my grandmother. She died about '93. I can still put my face inside the box and draw out the scent of the house she lived in when we gave her that very box, when I was a little kid (and she sold that house in the 80's).

As a child, I could identify the coats of the neighborhood kids by the scent (ie, smelled like their house).
posted by Goofyy at 9:01 AM on May 1, 2006

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