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The Six Worst Smells in the World

These smells are enough to send most of running in the opposite direction.

Each of us differs as to what we perceive as being the worst smells. While some of our smell preference may be innate others are learned by experience .When a group of Philadelphia scientists took on the task of developing a smell so bad it could be used for crowd control, they found great differences in how people perceived certain odors. This certainly makes their task of developing a universally repulsive odor somewhat of a challenge. Despite some individual differences, there are odors that are so bad that they meet most people criteria for extremely bad odors. Here are some of the worst smells in the world:

  1. Skunk odor

    This malodorous stench is widely regarded as one of the worst smells in the world, but even this potent smell has its own set of fans who find it to be “interesting”. In fact, there’s an entire group of skunk odor lovers out there who describe the odor of skunk as sweet perfume. Is there no accounting for taste?

  2. Decaying flesh

    This is a stench that most people find to be repulsive, maybe because it elicits thoughts of death. Many an investigator upon finding a dead and decaying body has been known to gag at the scene from the overwhelming odor. This particular odor can easily be classified as one of the world’s worst smells and you’re not going to have many people argue the point.

  3. Vomit

    This is another odor associated with the negative connotation of illness which may be why so many people find it to be offensive. It’s another pungent odor that can cause even a strong person to gag. Surprisingly, this gagging response to the smell of vomit could be adaptive. If someone within a group who vomits has eaten a bad piece of food, it would be adaptive that the other group members vomit to eliminate the toxin. Surprisingly enough, many people who abhor the smell of human vomit find animal vomit to be much less offensive.

  4. Feces and urine odor

    These are two odors that are commonly cited as being some of the worst smells in the world. Why does feces smell so badly? The bacteria that colonize feces are the real culprits. They break down the undigested food residue to create some very malodorous gases. The smell of feces can differ somewhat based on what foods you have eaten.

  5. Decaying food

    If you’ve ever opened a container left in the refrigerator for several weeks and opened the container, you’re familiar with this unappetizing stench. Again, we can blame the by products of bacteria on this one. Bacteria don’t seem to be very picky about what they choose to eat! Again, this can be classified as an adaptive response since it acts as a deterrent to eating food that could cause illness.

  6. Isonitriles

    You may not have smelled them, but they’ve been classified as the “world’s worst smell”. Persons who have been exposed to the smell of these chemicals have reportedly vomited at first whiff. The stench is so bad they’ve even been patented for use as nonlethal weapons. With a smell this potent and malodorous, it certainly makes it a challenge for those involved in their development and use.

You probably have your own list of what you consider to be the worst smells in the world, but chances are at least one of these repugnant smells made your list. It seems like, at least as far as smell goes, some things are universal.

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  1. Anne Lyken-Garner

    On November 23, 2007 at 7:45 am


    How horrible(not the article of course, it’s very well written). This list made me remember a dead body I saw when I was about 9. It was aweful,very very bad.

  2. Patchouli Hater

    On June 29, 2010 at 7:20 pm


    I don’t understand. Patchouli should have easily been grouped somewhere along the list with decaying flesh.

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