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rebbel's avatar

What odor comes closest to that of the smell of death?

Asked by rebbel (31507points) July 5th, 2010

I was just putting the garbage in the container (down in the apartment building) when i thought of this question that has always intrigued me.
What does death smell like?
We always hear from people who have smelled a deceased person that i is a very distinctive odor, one that once smelled you will never forget.
But what comes closest,that you know of, to that actual smell?

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39 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Rotting pork.

kenmc's avatar

Yeah, I’d agree with @dpworkin.

rebbel's avatar

I guess what i smelled today was pretty close then.
In the garbage were some rotting pieces of cat food.
It must be a very foul smell, i guess.
Thanks @dp and @boots.

dpworkin's avatar

That’s not really precise, but it does capture some of the sickeningly sweet overtone.

Aethelwine's avatar

I’ve never smelled a dead person, but I did get to smell dead animal over the weekend while four wheeling around the ranch my husband works at. It is hard to describe, but it does hit you like the smell of a skunk. It’s something you don’t forget.

ucme's avatar

Mickey Rooney’s boxers?

syz's avatar

The Body Farm at the University of Tennessee has done some really fascinating research on decomposition. Many of the odors associated with decomp can now be created in a lab and have amazingly appropriate names like putrecine and cadaverine.

janbb's avatar

Dead bird or dead squirrel undetected in the chimney or walls.

AmWiser's avatar

I have smelled death. And to me it smelled like nothing I have ever smelled before. I don’t think 2 months of garbage sitting in a 95 degree closed up room for 3 weeks would smell that bad.

Kraigmo's avatar

Patchouli oil combined with Valerian root.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I can’t imagine comparing anything to it. It’s a very distinctive odor.

anartist's avatar

Rotten cherries

perspicacious's avatar

I always thought black olives right out of the barrel were the worst.

faye's avatar

Wouldn’t some of it depend on what the person died of? Some cancers have a very distinctive odor.

charliecompany34's avatar

death i think smells medicinal. not like the smell of day-old roadkill, but in controlled environments like “hospice,” it’s like this smell of how it tastes when you have a head cold accompnaied by phlegm and regular cough drops.

combine the above odors with say, the smell of old wet rags that are still a little damp, coupled with slightly charred bleu cheese.

jca's avatar

a few times my cats have been put to sleep or killed and i would have the cat in a garbage bag to bury it or to take it to the vet for cremation. i would smell it and it is a very distinctive smell, unlike the smell of rotting garbage or rotting meat, in my opinion.

i would also let the other cats smell it, so that maybe they would know it was their buddy, and they would not wonder why she was not around any more.

YARNLADY's avatar

A chicken put in the oven to thaw out and then forgotten, after about a week.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I can’t remember. It was nothing spectacular.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Rotting meat and burnt gunpowder.

Blondesjon's avatar

Pull my finger.

Zyx's avatar

Let’s end this. There is no “smell of death” in either meaning of the word. Unless chlorine gas smells but I guess we’ll never know. Some deaths don’t smell at all while others smell like rotting meat because they are rotting meat.

@syz mentioned some of the odors involved and these do appear in other places as well.

dpworkin's avatar

So, we are not allowed to discuss it further? May I see your badge?

Zyx's avatar


So, you have a problem with contractions. I think “let us” is really more of a suggestion than a command. Besides: question, answer. You don’t want the process to stop? Yet you don’t seem to have anything else to add. Why so “log up ass”? (behaviour) And who the hell gave that evil goo (the post, geez) a great answer?

If you are a troll however, I should say I tip my hat to you.

Blondesjon's avatar

@dpworkin . . . yeah you f-f-fuckin’ t-t-troll . . .

dpworkin's avatar

@Zyx: bite me. I say that in the nicest possible way.

Zyx's avatar

No thanks, I had smelly old man for lunch.

Berserker's avatar

I’d say death smells like…wait, the dude above me is a cannibal? Erm.

john65pennington's avatar

I have smelled many dead bodies. i have removed many dead bodies. the best description i can give is like the freezer i bought really cheap and later discovered why. the owner had frozen chickens in the freezer. a storm had knocked out the electricity for about two weeks. he had forgotten about the chickens in the freezer. the thawing chickens blood creaped into the freezers insullation. the temperature rose to 95 degrees in his garage and the rest is history. i had the freezer taken to the junk pile.

anartist's avatar

@Blondesjon You are sort of right. Defecation is often a person’s last act.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Depends on the circumstances. In a morgue it smells of formaldehyde and disinfectants.

lillycoyote's avatar

Do you mean the smell of a decomposing human corpse? Is that what you mean by “the smell of death?” I’m just asking. I’ve luckily never smelled that smell but if people answer your thread and say “it smells like this” I would like to know that you and those people answering are on the same page as to what “the smell of death means.”

tranquilsea's avatar

My dog once rolled in something dead on the beach why do they do that? It brought back bad memories of finding dead things when I was a kid. There is nothing I can compare that smell to.

rebbel's avatar

Thanks for your answers!
Yes, i forgot to mention that i was questioning the smell of decomposing human corpses.

jazmina88's avatar

like at the old folks home?? of no body or brain function, zombies and creamed peas and spinach….
My aunt and uncle died at home… smells sad

dynamicduo's avatar

I’ve had the unpleasant experience of smelling actual death as well as rotted manure here on my farm. Let me tell you, the smell of a rotting corpse is hands down the worst smell I’ve ever encountered in my life, and the experience is made worse by seeing the visuals of squirmy maggots and falling apart was-animal. The only smell that has come close to that awfulness is the smell one gets when cleaning out a barn that hasn’t been cleaned for two or more years, which is quite a potent and offensive odour indeed. I have yet to smell human pre-death, but I can’t expect it would smell worse than a well rotting corpse.

YARNLADY's avatar

@dynamicduo I agree with you about the smells, having experienced them myself, but I have one quibble. The smell of a rotting corpse, the release of the gases from the tissue, is the smell of life, microbes, bacteria and fungi, not death.

dynamicduo's avatar

@YARNLADY This is true. I’ve come to appreciate the greater cycle of life and death by working on my farm. It’s so obvious how it all links in together, the animals eat the greens and poop on the lawn, which fertilizes the lawn and makes better greens. Once I get closer to opening up to the public I’ll be installing a composting toilet, not only to alleviate the burden on my septic system but to also reclaim the minerals that others would normally flush away.

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