The Smell of Death: How Our Olfactory Senses Trigger Emotional Reactions

Joe MayBiohazard Cleanup, Death & Trauma Cleaning NY

Take a survey of our technicians’ descriptions of human decomposition odors, and each will have their own comparisons… but we all agree that you know it when you smell it. In this Thought Catalog article, 20 people describe the smell of death; their statements and language are graphic, but they do an excellent job explaining the characteristics—and the tenacity—of unpleasant odors, both within a physical space and in our memories.

Now, imagine experiencing those odors for weeks, months, or even years after a fatality or the discovery of a decomposing body. That is no way to remember a deceased loved one, and certainly no way to progress along the path of healing and recovery from your own trauma.

Nose-brain physiology and emotional trauma

Scent-detecting cells in the nose transmit information to the olfactory bulb, located in our forebrains. This organ has direct connections to the amygdala and hippocampus, two important sections of the brain that control our mood levels, emotions, and memories. Logistically, none of the other senses comes close to these brain organs, which may explain why there’s such a strong connection between smells, memories, and emotions.

Clinical psychologists have long reported that odors can trigger traumatic memories in patients with PTSD and C-PTSD. Survivors of domestic violence and assault, as well as witnesses to an actual suicide or homicide, certainly experience either type of trauma disorder. So do loved ones who discover an unattended death, or even untrained and ill-prepared friends who come to help clean up after a violent death or injury.

If a death scene isn’t properly cleaned, sanitized, and deodorized by skilled professionals, human decomposition smells will linger or even return after a period of time. These “phantom smells” easily re-traumatize family members or colleagues who still live or work on the premises.

The “I smell a rat” effect of cover-up fragrances

Sometimes, our sense of smell appeals directly to our intellect in causing us discomfort. Imagine you’re walking into a room, and you’re hit with that smell that falls somewhere between a flower market and a chemical spill. If you’re like us, you think, “somebody’s got something to hide.”

If you’re visiting someone’s home and you’re overcome with fabric freshener and scented candles, you might be inspired to look for a cat (or twelve). If you’re in a hotel or motel room, that heavy chemical fragrance might make you wonder if somebody died there; after all, it happens all the time. We know, because a large part of our business is cleaning up after suicides and other unattended deaths in hotel rooms… or coming in to eliminate the chemical and biological odors left behind after a less-experienced biohazard cleanup company failed in the course of their duties.

Air fresheners, scented fabric deodorizers, and powerfully-scented cleaning solutions don’t assure us we’re in a clean and sanitary room. They only remind us that it either was—or still is—dirty. And we don’t want to think about why. After a trauma at your own home, will these fragrances help or hinder your recovery?

We target and eliminate the source of odors

Our comprehensive checklist ensures that we isolate, clean, and decontaminate the source of offensive odors according to EPA, CDC, and OSHA regulations and recommendations. We use biodegradable, non-toxic solutions that effectively sanitize your property without leaving behind harmful chemicals or artificial fragrances.

We also neutralize other offensive odors and their sources. Please call us if you would like a quote on our mold, smoke, and chemical remediation services. Bio Recovery handles everything from methamphetamine residue to hoarding damage, and we stand by our work.

Don’t let unpleasant odors compromise your fond memories, or allow them to ruin the comfort and safety of your home. Our goal at Bio Recovery is to welcome you back to your own sanctuary of healing, from where we’ve removed all traces of the trauma—and any indication that you ever needed our services.