General Question

ninjacolin's avatar

What's with that "outside" smell that people get when they've been active outside?

Asked by ninjacolin (13848 points ) April 24th, 2009

Ever notice how when someone comes back from a bike ride, or raking the leaves, or whatever activity.. even if they aren’t sweaty.. they smell like “outside” or something?

What’s up with that? What is that smell exactly? It doesn’t seem to come from the person themselves.

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38 Answers

_bob's avatar

Sweat that has already dried?

chyna's avatar

I’ve noticed. And it’s more obvious on some people than others. I don’t think it is dried sweat. I notice it on certain co-workers when they have just walked across the street and back.

ninjacolin's avatar

hmm.. it might be a chemical reaction to our body juices. i wonder sometimes if it has to do with air pollution… it stays on your clothes too.. i wonder if i leave some clean clothes outside for a bit and then bring them in if they will pick up that smell without a human attached to it.

but yea, my first guess is that it has something to do with our sweat.. but it’s not the smell of our sweat itself.

MadParty's avatar

Sweat,B.O./ ETC

oratio's avatar

Interesting point. I have never thought about it, but you are right.

MissAusten's avatar

On adults, it isn’t always a pleasant smell. On kids though, it’s wonderful. I love the way my kids smell when they come in from playing. It varies depending on the time of the year, but I think fall and summer are my favorites. When they’ve been rolling around in leaf piles, I could just eat them. When they’ve spent the day at the beach and smell like sunscreen and give me salty kisses, I could eat them. It’s going to be sad when they hit puberty and smell like B.O.

arnbev959's avatar

I wish my sense of smell was good enough to pick this stuff up.

Blondesjon's avatar

Perhaps that is the way it smells outside. Did you ever think that you might smell like inside to an outside person, or did I just blow your mind?

buster's avatar

I think it might be your skin smelling a little cooked from u.v. rays.

tigran's avatar

maybe its the cotton smell after being exposed to the sun? and the hair smells sunny too.

jonsblond's avatar

I notice it on my dogs and it’s not very pleasant.

andrew's avatar

My guess is that it’s actually small particulates of earth and organic matter (like tree leaves) that get trapped in your clothing and hair when you go outside—after all, that’s what smell is, right?

chyna's avatar

@andrew But if that’s what the smell is, then why don’t I smell it when I go outside?

andrew's avatar

@chyna: Perhaps because it’s not in high enough quantities? You smell it on clothes that are line-dried outside, right?

chyna's avatar

@andrew I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t smelled line dryed clothes in years, so I don’t know.

Blondesjon's avatar

@andrew…That’s interesting. That got me to wondering if there is a distinct difference between a rural outside smell and an urban outside smell. If so what is the difference? Is one more unpleasant than the other? Does it matter where you hail from as to which you prefer?

sigh…another night with no sleep.

jessicar's avatar

In my family we always referred to that as smelling like your hot.

augustlan's avatar

I’ve never considered this before, but now that you mention it I can actually recall the smell clearly. I quite like the scent of ‘outside’ on my husband and kids. Hmm. Thanks for giving me yet one more thing to ponder!

annakins's avatar

I have been searching on the Internet for some clue as to what is going on with me. I can walk outside for less than a minute and the “outside” smell glues to me. This is with freshly washed hair and clothing. I’m not on any strange diet that might change the chemicals in my body or even breaking a sweat. I really don’t have a clue. I know it’s very unpleasant and my son even tells me I smell like a wet dog. Extra perfumes or body sprays do not seem to phase it. How does one get answers for smelling like a wet dog!?

am2kor's avatar

I am afraid that “outside” smell (on your skin and hair, in your clothes, on your animals, etc.) is the result of exposure to airborne particles that are NOT naturally occurring. For example, it may be due to any number of man made pollutants – from dibrom (mosquito control) to silver iodide (cloud seeding). Some have even suggested that the population is being “culled” by way of chemtrails. Whatever it is, it cannot be good :(

ag's avatar

I noticed this ever since I moved to the US (Texas) from South America. It must be a combination of pollution and airborne particles from trees, grass, etc. I do not think it is just pollution. The city I come from (Bogota) is even more polluted than the one I live in but that funny outdoor smell was not present at all.

WMVIII's avatar

I’ve lived in the same place for 10 years (US, Kentucky), and feel like this hasn’t been happening until about 5 years ago… Even if my mom goes out to check the mail and comes right back in the smell is overwhelming and gagging. Not to say that she has B.O. , but it is not a pleasant smell. It goes away I suppose after a half an hour or so. But it only happens in my family- I had a friend over and he said that he couldn’t smell anything while I was gagging. And it happens to everyone in my family (including me- sometimes I can smell it myself, but not as strong or over powering). I wonder if it’s the reaction between heat or U.V. rays and our bodies. Whatever it is- I don’t like it.

djmiller's avatar

I live in Arizona and used to be in the military- stationed in many middle east locations and have noticed this “outside” smell only in the U.S. And you can guarantee I and everyone else around me smelled like sweat nearly every day over there, but…it smelled like sweat- what i would describe as a mixture of ammonia(urine), chloride-like, salt, dissolved minerals, etc. However, as unappealing as this sounds, I agree it doesn’t really bother me too much, and relative to the “outside smell”, I’d take the sweat smell any day, hands down. Also, to further dispute the “outside smell” as being sweat(besides the fact it appears without sweat, which should be enough alone), is the fact that it doesn’t appear when people sweat from emotional(love, stress, fear).
Also, here in AZ I smell it all the time without ever sweating, especially on the outside of clothes that are made of polyester and other synthetics(nike athletic, underarmor).
I also don’t recall it happening before around 5 or so years ago either. This reinforces the idea that it is pollutive chemicals interacting with the chemicals im on your clothes or bodies, i.e. there is no pollution in afghanistan and it doesn’t happen while there is tons of it here. Also, the grass or tree theory has got to be wrong based on the fact that I’m often in places without a tree in sight and its just as strong as ever while when up north in the mountains(scarce pollution), i do not smell it. There are many variables and I’d like to see who uncovers this mystery…maybe we’ll see it on mythbusters…

imaginae's avatar

I know this smell very well. I remember it being particularly bad in the summers in Atlanta, GA. Since then I’ve moved to Portland, OR, and while I don’t smell it as much out here, some days it’s really bad. Like today. It’s windy, I went outside for 10 minutes, and now I smell it on me strong. Also, I first noticed this smell much longer than 5 years ago. I remember it even is a kid back in the 90’s, maybe even the 80’s. It’s hard to remember that far back. To me it smells like ozone or a wet dog.

Also, I have noticed a lot of people can’t smell it. My boyfriend is the only person who I’ve mentioned it to that can smell it as well. Weird. I hope it’s not toxic.

babybusa's avatar

I live in southern Sweden and I have noticed this smell, but only during the months where it is warm or starting to become warm again. Today, close to the end of march, we had good weather (sunny, but not extremely warm) and after I came inside I noticed a slight lingering of this scent for a few hours. It wouldn’t describe it as a bad scent but at this time of the year we still use jackets so I only noticed it on my hair.

jeremyc's avatar

I live in Middle Tennessee and I also have noticed this smell. My whole family has came to notice it over the last 2 or 3 years and it is causing us to want to move. We step outside sometimes not even for a minute and the moment you come back inside the smell is attached to our clothes and even on our skin. I look forward to discovering the cause of this.

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myrvgryphon's avatar

I’ve noticed this smell for a long time, since at least as far back as the late 80’s. A guy I worked with at the time would refer to it as the “sun smell”, he’d notice it after we’d come back inside the workplace after going out to lunch. I notice it on my wife and kids after they come inside after taking a walk or doing anything else outside for as little as a few minutes. I think of it as the smell of the “ozone”, but I have no scientific reason to call it that, it just seems appropriate.

dbass777's avatar

Well I hope you are all ready for the answer because here it is, after all of the guessing and conjecture. No it is not from man made pollutants used mosquito control or cloud seeding. It is not from UV rays or climate change (sorry global warming conspiracy theorists). It is not from plant particles either. It is from a checmical known as geosmin, which literally means “earth smell”. This smell of this chemical can range from sweet (freshly tilled soil) to a musty stench (think swamp water). It is a byproduct of bacteria in soil and blue green algae in water. It can be responsible for poor water taste in areas where it is prevalent in the ground water. Now that you know what it is you can find all of the info in the world on this. There is quite a bit of science on this checmical as well as the odor and taste effects.

ninjacolin's avatar

wow, you might’ve answered the question here @dbass777.
Do you have a few favorite links you could share?

augustlan's avatar

Hm, geosmin. Who knew? Welcome to Fluther @dbass777!

Canuckian's avatar

Ethylene Di-bromide. Not good for you. I would suggest wearing a mask while outside to help curb the toxic effects. Thanks and be well.

skunkymoo's avatar

Wrong, wrong, wrong, there are 2 different smells there, geosmin is a different smell alltogether.
The smell is Ozone yes the same smell from an old tube tv (static) or an Ozone generator, Ozone is produced when an electrical charge passes through Oxygen in the air.The Earth produces Ozone naturly with lightning high up in the Atmosphere, every 11 years the sun reaches peak activaty causing the Earths ozone to ionize, now in 2012 it is at its peak causing more ozone to be produced, that is what you can smell on people or even yourself. The smell has allways been there but now it is at a peak. Simple, the smell is amplified on nylon and polyester cloaths as they are polymer (plastic) based and the rays from the sun can actually cause Ozone to be collected more abundantly…United Kingdom

ninjacolin's avatar

Wow! Have any links to back that up, @skunkymoo?
ps. judging by your name, you sound very smelly so I trust you completely.

dgkdeck's avatar

It is ozone and it smells stronger when its cold out and when its raining

LauraK9's avatar

This is actually an organic compound called Geosmin. Human noses are extremely sensitive to it, but I’m guessing some more than others. I always smelled it on my younger siblings and myself especially; I find it disgusting.

Ozone is something else.

Gatopaz's avatar

I have noticed that it depends on the material I wear. cotton material smells that way if I go to the store and come back home without sweating.

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