We’ve all got our fears.
Public speaking. Walking down a dark street. Swimming in deep water.
Me? Reptiles. Snakes, alligators, crocodiles. I don’t want to be within 100 miles of them. Retiring to Florida could be a problem.
But there is one fear I was not aware of.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “one of humanity’s deep social fears is that visitors will think their abodes stink to high heaven.”
And like many other parts of life over the past two years, COVID has made this worse.
“Covid has created a real smell-o-rama,” said Julia Merrill, consumer insights director at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) Inc., a supplier to consumer-product companies. “Before the pandemic, the home was pretty much a family space. With Covid, it’s become the hub of life.”
More time at home means more trash, especially food waste. Then there are all those living-room exercise workouts (guilty as charged). With fewer social occasions and more home offices, people also are showering less. Even couch potatoes are spending their days in stretchy yoga pants and other attire made with synthetic fabrics, which hold more odors than cotton and other natural fibers.
IFF’s consumer research found that 67% of American consumers have experienced “more malodor” in the pandemic, Ms. Merrill said. Within that group, 61% said they needed home-fragrance help.
Procter & Gamble Co. , maker of Febreze odor eliminators and Tide laundry detergent, said 74% of Americans are concerned about how their homes smell, according to recent research based on surveys and interviews with consumers.
So it should come as no surprise that sales of air fresheners were up 10% in 2021 compared with 2019, while candle sales were up nearly 30% in the same period, research firm IRI found.
There is a science behind “odor events,” in P&G parlance, said Lindsey Mithoefer, communications manager for P&G’s North America air care unit. Cooking, for instance, releases millions if not billions of odor molecules, which eventually nest in couches and drapes. The molecules can easily recirculate in a house after a rise in humidity or if odor-laden fabrics are disturbed.
Talk about a good excuse for not cooking.
Linda Rendle, the chief executive of Clorox Co., which makes Fresh Step cat litter, said people are especially angsty about their pets. She jokingly gives part of the credit for olfactory sensitivities to rival P&G.
“You know those noseblind commercials?” she said, referring to a 2014 campaign to promote Febreze. The premise: People think their homes smell fine, but others are overwhelmed by a stink that a homeowner has become immune to. “It’s terrifying for people,” Ms. Rendle said. “They’re like, ‘Can you smell the litter box?,’ ‘Do I not smell it?’ ”
Here’s one of those commercials:
IFF uses a more technical term for the phenomena: nose habituation. IFF’s Ms. Merrill compared it with a similar phenomenon involving sound. “If you go to a concert, when you arrive, it’s super loud,” she said. “But about a half-hour in, you can hear everybody.”
I guess I never stuck around long enough if something was that loud. I could never hear the person next to me, no matter how loud they spoke.
Whether it’s called nose blindness or nose habituation, one thing is clear.
I now have an urge now to go out and buy some Febreze and scented wipes.
And speaking of concerts, there can’t be a more appropriate song to end this post with:
*image from Being the Titus II Woman