How Does Clean Laundry Smell?

smelling laundry

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We all want our laundry to look clean and smell clean. We want our homes to smell clean. But how does "clean" smell?

The Definition of Clean

If you look up the definition of clean, the first entry is: "free from dirt; unsoiled; unstained". Second is: "free from foreign or extraneous matter; pure. Third is: "free from pollution or pollutants". Keep reading and nowhere in the 31 definitions offered in Webster's Universal College Dictionary, do you see any mention of scent. However, scents are added to almost everything we use from cosmetics and personal care products to candles, cleaning products, hand soaps, laundry products, and air fresheners.

Some laundry detergents, like Procter and Gamble's Gain, base nearly all of their advertising on the popularity of their fragrances and have embraced the use of essential oils for new scents like Lavender & Calm Chamomile, Eucalyptus and Mindful Mint, and Orange and Energetic Grapefruit. The scents of the Gain product line have proven to be so popular with consumers in the United States that they have even carried over to P&G's Swiffer line of dusters and floor cleaning products.

Somewhere along the line, scents have become a component of "clean" even though the act of cleaning laundry or anything else is done to remove both soil and any odors. When washerwomen used homemade lye soap to clean clothes, they were trying to remove soil as well as odors from bodies and stains. Yet at the same time, they tucked bundles of dried lavender because they liked the scent into trunks to make clothes smell better.

The history of using fragrances spans many centuries. Egyptians used perfumed balms as part of religious ceremonies and myrrh and frankincense were used in many rituals. World explorations were launched to bring back scented exotic plants that could be used for both medicine and pleasure. As more of the world's regions were explored, it was found that all cultures used fragrance in healing, religious, and pleasure rituals. We still use it today in incense, candles, and oil diffusers.

Our Olfactory Sense of Clean

Our sense of smell is, perhaps, the most powerful of all five senses. A particular odor can invoke memories and emotions that have long been tucked away. Research has shown that there is an anatomical basis for this. The sense of smell is directly plugged into the human limbic system of the brain; the region where emotions and memories also reside. Fragrances can contribute to feelings of happiness, relaxation or stimulation as well as feelings of irritation, depression, and apathy. We also associate qualities to scents; cinnamon reminds us of baking and "home". That's why certain fragrance memories make clothes smell "clean", cosmetics "pretty", and households "well-kept."

For many of us, the smell of chlorine bleach or pine-scented disinfectant equates to clean. Scientists in research and development have zeroed in on scent clues to teach consumers the "smell of clean". The sale of scented cleaning and laundry products tell consumers that their efforts have been productive. If your laundry and home smell a certain way, then they are clean.

Every major company has research that shows that a pleasant fragrance is of top importance in the consumers’ mind when purchasing cleaning products. Furthermore, consumers frequently cite a pleasant fragrance as making the tasks of laundry and cleaning easier and more enjoyable. Detergent manufacturers have their research and development departments working on the formulas for new scents as well as how to make them linger on fabrics.

Just as ancient cultures used different scents, in today's world different scents appeal to different cultures. Procter & Gamble has partnered with Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation to develop specific scent profiles for Hispanic consumers.

Since scents evoke memories both good and bad, some fragrances have been found to induce positive moods, reduce stress, and even improve health. Even the workplace is studying the effectiveness of scent on work performance. Recent studies have shown that periodic administration of pleasant fragrances during certain tasks requiring focused attention improves performance.

But what if you have allergies and a sensitivity to scents? Does that mean that you can't have clean laundry or a clean home? Of course not, there are plenty of laundry detergents and natural cleaning products like baking soda and distilled white vinegar that will leave you with clean laundry without the addition of fragrances.

The Bottom Line

So, how does clean laundry smell? Clean laundry smells like the absence of offensive odors. It can also smell like your favorite detergent or fabric softener or chlorine bleach or any scent that reminds you of clean.