ultrafacts:After you’ve grasped an iron railing, a door handle…


After you’ve grasped an iron railing, a door handle or a piece of steel cutlery, your hand often gives off what seems to be a metallic odour. But Dietmar Glindemann of the University of Leipzig, Germany, and his co-workers say that you’re not smelling the metal at all.

They have found that the musty odour comes from chemical compounds in your skin, which are transformed in an instant by the touch of iron. They report the results in the international edition of Angewandte Chemie

Copper has a similar effect, accounting for the metallic smell created by handling coins made of copper alloys. “When a shopkeeper hands you a coin,” says Glindemann, “you’re smelling his body odour.”

The smelly reactions induced by these metals create “the sensory illusion that it is the ‘metal in itself’ that we smell right after touching it”, the researchers say. In other words, a ‘metallic’ smell is only deemed to be so by association.

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