Smell that smell?

By • Published: February 22nd, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When we were children clutching our first quarters, many of us whiffed a distinct, metallic scent.

In our teens, when coins were joined by car keys, the aroma became even more familiar.

But now the truth is revealed. And, as is so often the case with odors, the guilty are the last to know.

No need to make a stink about it. But you are the cause of the pungency in your pennies.

Never before has anyone identified the exact chemical cause of these familiar metallic odors, but researchers supported by the National Science Foundation have demonstrated that when humans describe the odor of iron, there are no iron atoms in the odors.

The odor we perceive as metallic is really a body odor produced when skin comes in contact with metals.

Apparently chemicals are released into the air after organic substances interact with the metallic objects. Even biological material in water flowing through a pipe can produce a metallic smell.

The study also found the metallic scent associated with blood occurs when blood… which contains iron… touches skin. The reaction releases a chemical called one-octen-three-one, which people can smell even in extremely low amounts.

Scientists suspect the “blood scent” helped early humans track prey or find wounded comrades.

Today, researchers hope learning about these chemical reactions will help identify problems in water supplies or find disease markers in perspiration or other body fluids.

As for the signature scent on your keys, don’t sweat it.