The Sweet Smell of Success

Using scents to help enhance the home
Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Did you know the average human can recognize 10,000 scents? Have you ever considered how directly your sense of smell is connected to cueing your emotions? It’s for this reason, technically coined “associative learning,” that the fragrances around us can impact our mood and performance.

Consider the feelings that just thinking about freshly-laundered towels, pumpkin pie, a crackling campfire, the salty ocean or baby powder evoke in you. For many people these strong scents trigger distinct memories or evoke a sentiment that can linger for hours. The same is true for the strong scent of a clean home.
Smell is different from other senses because it is connected to the olfactory cortex, the part of the brain responsible for emotions and memory. In patients with dementia, schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s, medical experts can measure their sense of smell as one of the earliest indicators of change. As humans we tend to think of smell as one of our weaker senses, but the fact is it is far more connected to our performance than we might imagine.
Boosting Study Time with a Clean Home
A study shows that children who perform better at school almost always identify their homes with scents associated with clean. What is a “clean home” smell? That depends on what era you grew up in. During the 50s most people associated a clean home with a strong bleach scent. In the decades since then there has been a plethora of citrus and floral scented room freshening cleaners on the market. Generally speaking, when many people think of a clean smell, they think of Pine-Sol® cleaner.
The study of nearly 5,000 high school students, conducted by Dr. Alan Hirsch and the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, found top performing students (those with grade averages of A and B) overwhelmingly — 84 percent — used words like “lemony, minty or clean” to describe the smell of their childhood homes. More than one-third (34 percent) of lower performing students (average of C or below) associated negative smells — urine, fecal matter or mold — with their homes.
“A clean smelling home is just one component to the overall picture of how parents can provide a healthy and stimulating family environment, and help their children improve self-esteem and have a more positive learning experience,” said Charmaine Hussain, marketing manager for Pine-Sol® brand cleaners. “We are excited by this research, as it really shows that there is a higher order need for cleaning. It’s not just about a clean house — it’s about the powerful difference parents can make in the lives of their children.”
“What this study tells me is that there is a strong correlation between the memory of a clean-smelling home and academic success,” added Dr. Hirsch. “If you are in a home that has clean, pleasant aromas, it will promote success by enhancing harmony in the household.” According to Hirsch, the brain makes similar associations about the “smell” of other situations and experiences from your past, and the effect plays out in your mood in the present.
Rekindling a Positive Experience
“If you need a shift in your mood, consider shifting the aroma to something that reminds you of a past success,” said Hirsch. “The old adage ‘the sweet smell of success’ is actually quite poignant from a scientific standpoint.” For some it might be the smell of a clean home, for others it might be the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee, and for others still it might be the refreshing smells of the early morning dew that trigger confidence and feelings of productivity.
For parents who want their children to have lasting, warm memories of home, consider the aromas that greet your children after a long day of school, sports or after-school activities. The mood you set in your home now is creating a lifetime of positive associations. Getting that freshly-baked pumpkin bread in the oven can seem like much less of a sacrifice of time from this viewpoint. When seen from this larger perspective, activities like baking, cleaning and even tending the garden become generous acts that do much more for the family than perhaps we’ve considered in recent years. The aroma of a well-cared for home has much to do with feelings of success, harmony and happiness. To learn more, visit
Using Scents in Your Favor
Scents can influence your weight, sleep patterns and more. When we understand the memories we associate with certain scents we can learn how to use them in our favor to change our mindset and improve the quality of our daily lives. For instance, researchers have found the following to be true for many people:
Scent                                    Benefit and Suggested Use
Peppermint                        Energy; invigorates before a workout
Jasmine                             Calming; bedtime
Floral/Roses                      Lifts spirits; morning mood enhancer
Lemon/Citrus                    Clear thinking; positive outlook; for home and surroundings
Grapefruit                          Concentration booster and appetite suppressant
Coconut                             Happiness; relaxed summer parties and social gatherings
Spend a few minutes making a list of your favorite smells. You may surprise yourself with what you remember about what is most pleasing to you. Just creating a “happy smells” list is enough to elevate positive feelings for some people. And, when you know what aromatic triggers most relax and restore you, you’ll be equipped to “set the mood” in all the spaces where you spend your time.