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Ranimi23's avatar

How do you explain and call that special smell of a hospital?

Asked by Ranimi23 (1914points) August 25th, 2010

I mean, there is a special one you can smell only in hospitals. How you call that? Is it a medicine smell? Patients smell? Mix of everything?

A gas station has a special smell of fuel, but what is that smell in hospital? It is a mystory smell for me, very unique.

I thought about this question while visiting my grandmother this morning and I’ve heard in the elevator someone said she is allergic to the smell of hospitals which made me immediately think about the question and now I’m asking you. What do you think?

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28 Answers

MissA's avatar

It’s an attempt at sterile…but, with a hint of hospital food, people and all the other aromas.

Aethelwine's avatar

We spent the afternoon in the hospital yesterday (my daughter broke her arm). She mentioned that it smelled like a dentist office there. I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe it has something to do with everything being sterile?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

It is a combination of the sterilization, cleaners, cafeteria food, medications… etc. Not to mention that hospitals typically have an abundance of people that are unwell. People that are unwell are usually on medication of some sort. Medication makes waste smell unique, often potent. Illnesses can have the same effect.

lillycoyote's avatar

I’ve never noticed a people hospital smell but I have noticed a veterinary office/hospital smell and I’ve always wondered what that was.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I agree with everyone else about the sterilization. The different cleaners they use has a big effect on the hospital smell. Then you add in the food, medications, and sickness and you get the hospital smell. Of course this can vary a bit from one unit to the next. The ORs smell a lot more like the sterilization and less like everything else.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

Disinfectant. With a side order of vomit. It was one of the things I hated most while working in a hospital, and once my residency was over, I went strictly outpatient.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I call it “Yuck” ;)

Jude's avatar

Food, urine (depends which area you are in) and cleaner.

second_guessing's avatar

It’s the smell of fear!

JilltheTooth's avatar

@jonsblond ; She broke her arm?!?! I hope it wasn’t too serious and she’s OK. Give her an exra (gentle) hug from me…

downtide's avatar

I think most of it is the cleaning and disinfectant products they use.

GeorgeGee's avatar

It’s a mix of ether, alcohol and lysol.

shego's avatar

I’ve always thought that the cleaning people were trying to cover the smell of death.
The smell alone scares me.

Seek's avatar

MRSA, vomit, blood, and hydrogen peroxide-based cleaners.


Zyx's avatar

The smell at the dentists makes me want to kill myself quickly.
I don’t know what it is, but I want to declare a war against it.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I just spent the past two weeks traveling the Mid-West and photographing old folks in convalescent centers. @Seek_Kolinahr is absolutely right. The smell is a mixture of cleaners and puke/piss/shit and blood.

After about three days, I became very used to it.

Seek's avatar


I used to be a maid in a convalescent center. Literally the worst smell I have ever experienced—and I will never forget it—came from the end of the hall, where a 110 year old woman “lived” (if you can call it that) sitting upright in a recliner, attached to a feeding tube, with her jaw slack open and mouth-breathing 24 hours a day.

The combination of IV nutrients and rotting jaw…. shudder

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Yep, that’s it. And the halls are cluttered with drooling slumped wheelchair residents ready to take her place when she passes.

One of the centers I photographed was for younger folks who couldn’t function in society any longer. Half of them were looney and the other half babbling meth addicts. I swear one of them was the identical twin of Nicholas Cage… I actually thought it was him trying to develop a character. It was either not him, or he’s an extremely talented actor.

That center didn’t smell like cleanser puke. It smelled like smoke. They had special rooms set up all over the place called “Cardiovascular Lung Therapy Rooms”... They were smoking lounges, and they were always very small and packed to the ceiling. The door opens and smoke just billowed into the halls.

Seek's avatar

Mmm, therapy. * pukes *

janbb's avatar

Institution green

MeinTeil's avatar

Soylent Green?

janbb's avatar

Soylent Night?

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr If that ever happens to me, I want the plug to be pulled.

enlil's avatar

jonsblond and TheOnlyNeffie said it best. it will be different for different people. also the place is very clean, usually. the smell I call it. “sterility.” there used to be a deoderizer product call smell b gone, sold back in the 90’s. the regular variety had that same smell. like air and water, basically. I’ve been trying to find that spray for a couple of years now. It really worked. better than any other spray out there and was natural and environmentally freindly. came in a pump bottle.

john65pennington's avatar

Dieing people have a special smell. urine has a special smell. Lysol has a special smell. body gases have special smells.

Combining all the above smells together reminds me of a trip to a latrine in Tijuana, Mexico, i made seven years ago. i called it a bean burrito, without the burrito…...UnGodly!

jazmina88's avatar

disinfected death

augustlan's avatar

I can always smell that anesthesia gas (is it ether?) and rubber (latex?), too.
@jonsblond Hope your girl is doing well today!

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