What does death smell like?(do not need answer fast)

Gross and morbid, I know. I also know there’s going to be a lot of sick jokes in response. I can live with that:cool:
But it is a (semi)serious question. In movies you often see the detectives come across a dead body and they gag and put their handkerchiefs over their face, or the phrase “smells like death” is used when describing something really rank. I’m sure we all remember Casey Anthony’s mother stating that her daughter’s car trunk smelled like death. Uh, how the hell does she know?
I know what rotting meat, as in beef, smells like. And while it’s fairly unpleasant, it doesn’t cause me to run out of the room and vomit. So I’m wondering if someone can accurately describe it. Is it comparable to anything? I think I’ve come across authors describe it as “sickly sweet” which seems counterintuitive. I picture it in my mind’s nose as reminiscent of dirty socks.

I have been at a few murder scenes where the body had been left for some time. It is truly gross, and unlike “rotting meat.” I’ve had a dead animal under my deck, it’s a bit similar but not as strong. I can’t really describe it, but it’s most foul. Not “sickly sweet.”

It can be described as sickly sweet, but only because it hits those tastebuds as much as the others. It’s also very musty, like an enclosed room. It hits the area way back in your sinuses but not with the same irritation as other smells that penetrate that far such as amonia or sulfur. But it lingers back there for days (or years if the experience included emotional trauma)

I’ll wager this was at least partly because the dead animal under your deck did not weigh 150-200 pounds. If you had a dead buck under your deck, I’m guessing that would be a whole lotta stank.

So is the pervasiveness due in large part to the fact that gases are escaping? Or just the fact that tissue is breaking down? Probably some of each.
Can anyone come up with something to compare it to? Skunk? Body odor? Onions? Petunias?

Also, both the names **Procrustus **and Slithy Tove are making me giggle in connection with this thread for some reason.

I think it’s much more due to the “breaking down” than simply escaping gas.

See Putrefaction

Yes, I was about to suggest putrefaction but Procrustus got here first with that.

If a small animal dies underneath your house, it will typically just dry out. But sometimes it will putrefy instead. When that happens, the body largely turns into a murky slimy black liquid with a stench that will drive out of your home and quite possibly out of your city, county, and state. I think it can be loosely compared to skunk odor. If you’ve driving out on a country road and pass by a dead rotting skunk laying nearby, it’s similar to that.

Even if you roll down all the windows, notice how long the scent remains in your car before it totally airs out. That stuff has staying power. And it’s definitely power-gag-inducing.

ETA: I lived in a trailer in a forest for several years. There were mice dying in my mouse traps, one or two every week. Usually their dead little mouse bodies just dessicated. But one died underneath my bathroom sink once and putrefied. After cleaning it up, I soaked the area in bleach for a few days to clear the stench.

I grew up on a ranch… My paw would just drag carcases out to a low corner of the property and let 'em rot. The stench could become incredibly strong.

In a sadder case, on very hot days, you can smell the stench of death at the Fort Rosecrans Cemetary, here in San Diego.

And, yeah, dead mice in the attic. Really, it’s pretty much the same “flavor.” It’s nasty, kind of cheese-y, and kind of rancid.

Look, go without bathing for a week, and then smell your armpits and legpits. Since that stench is caused largely by the decomposition of dead bacteria, it, too, is the stench of death. It’s somewhat similar, although b.o. seems “fruitier” in a way.

I got some bird repellant with cadaverine as the active ingredient. Buy some and check it out!

If there was a lot of blood loss there is this odd copper-y smell. Otherwise real fresh there is just the odor of the scene, around 12 hours a slight musty smell, much over that and the sickly sweet smell comes in. And after say a month its something you just can’t describe.

Once in a blue moon when I floss I notice the floss will smell like death after using it on a certain tooth that I had work done on a decade ago. I have no idea how to describe it, or if that is even the same smell that other people refer to. However on some instinctive level I associate that smell with death despite not having a lot of experience smelling dead animals.

I think I understand the odor you’re speaking of - holy cats I should, I’ve had enough dental drama- and it is indeed a rancid, sour, rotting smell (and taste). In fact, when my bf had an abcess I thought of asking him not to try and kiss me in the morning as his breath smelled like a rotting corpse (I did not say it). Kind of interesting that I’ve used the phrase myself and yet I’m posing this question. Maybe humans *do *have some inherent or subconscious sense that detects the smell of death? I can kind of see how the smell of a rotting tooth multiplied by the size of an entire body could drive one to retch.

Anyone think they’re comparable?

Cadaver*ine!? Sounds like a product in a fake SNL commercial. Please tell me you aren’t using this substance to clean those poor seals:p

They’re not comparable. They’re the *same exact *smell. The difference is between a couple grams of rotting nastiness versus a hundred-plus kilograms of rotting nastiness.

So take your tooth-stench and multiply by 100,000. The stench gets plenty thick enough to gag almost anyone smelling it for the first few dozen exposures.


Thanks, LSLGuy. Kind of surprised that no one else could come up with this. Not that I don’t appreciate everyone’s responses; I just mean that no one else made the correlation between rotten tooth=rotting flesh. This isn’t the first place where I’ve heard people say the smell is “indescribable” and it would seem that it is extremely, easily describable.

Let us now speak of puppies and kittens.

Skunk smell isn’t “indescribable”. But it is hard to relate how the smell isn’t so awful as such, but that the intensity is so overpowering.

Death smell is similar. A dead cat smells; a dead dog stinks; a dead human reeks; and a battlefield full of corpses is beyond comprehension, much less description.
Conversely, puppies and kittens smell much nicer while frolicking on a springtime afternoon. And more smell better than fewer. It’s a Good World we live in.

You’ve never had a dead mouse you couldn’t find in y uhour house? Never had a dead dog outdoors somewhere stink up blocks for a week or so?

Lucky you! But human is the same, just bigger.

When I worked for a street department years ago I was on road cleanup duty. There was a dead opossum in a ditch. I stabbed it with a pitchfork to pick it up.
Here Endeth The Lesson.

It sticks to your skin and sits in your nose and the back of your throat. I cut the head off a week old dead sea lion once and you could still smell death after a long shower and multiple time gargling Listerine.