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The 10 Worst Odours in the World

Posted on 18th October 2017

At Parsons, we’re experts at dealing with odour abatement in many situations. From water treatment plants, poultry processing, and municipal sack waste, our experience is quite extensive and sets us apart as the best in the field for delivering the best solutions. During our years operating, we’ve come across some rather unpleasant smells (to say the least!). Read on to find out more about the ten worst odours in the world, in no particular order.


Hydrogen Sulphide

A relatively common chemical compound found in many natural occurrences, hydrogen sulphide is responsible for the foul rotten-egg smell you may find in places including geysers, natural hot springs, and swamps. It’s highly poisonous and flammable, making it a very dangerous compound in addition to the awful smell!

These hot springs might look beautiful, but the smell certainly isn’t!

Fact: Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, uses geothermal springs beneath the city to provide hot water. While the water is completely clean and safe, the smell of hydrogen sulphide still lingers.

Raw sewage

Unsurprisingly, sewage and faecal matter are ranked very highly as universally appalling odours that can be encountered. In addition to smelling awful due to bacteria breakdown, you can also get build ups known as ‘fatbergs’ in sewers. These congealed lumps of fat, sewage and improperly flushed items have been found in London’s sewers are said to smell unbelievably bad and are unfortunately becoming more common.


Corpse flower

While most flowers smell very pleasant, the corpse flower’s name gives a hint that this one may not be quite so agreeable. The huge corpse flower is native to western Sumatra, and the scent it emits is said to smell very strongly of rotting flesh, also giving it the name of carrion flower. The plant is extremely large and can be up to three meters in height.

Rotten flesh

Whether it’s roadkill or a bloated whale carcass that’s been baking in the sun, rotten and decaying flesh are rated as some of the worst possible smells you can encounter. In particular turtles, pigs, and humans are said to smell the worst when they start decomposing, largely due to the complex number of bacteria that live within the gut that help break down food and aid in digestion when alive.

Special mention: gangrenous flesh. When treating gangrene in hospitals, staff will often wear complete biohazard suits simply to stop the smell getting on their clothes or up their nose.


Thioacetone is regarded as one of the worst smelling compounds known to science. This organosulfur compound is known to induce vomiting, unconsciousness and nausea for up to a half-mile radius if exposed to air. As a result of this, thioacetone is regarded as a dangerous chemical simply due to its awful smell and the reactions it causes.

The spiky durian fruit, also known as the ‘king of fruits’, is one of the stinkiest fruits in the world.

Durian fruit

This south-east Asian fruit is a real ‘Marmite’ in the food world. To some, it smells sweet and musky, with a rich creamy and nutty flavour used in desserts and buns. But to others, this spiky fruit smells of rotten onions, sweaty socks, and turpentine.

Fact: The fruit is so pungent it’s banned on public transport in several south-east Asian countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore.

Vieux Boulogne cheese

Cheese isn’t renowned for its pleasant odour at the best of times, but the Vieux Boulogne has been repeatedly established as the smelliest cheese in the world. This unpasteurised, un-pressed cows cheese smells so bad due to it being washed in beer. The beer reacts with enzymes in the cheese to produce a highly pungent aroma.


Originating in Sweden, surströmming is fermented herring packed in brine. The fermentation of the fish creates hydrogen sulphide, propionic acid, butyric acid and acetic acid. Surströmming is banned on several airlines and was upheld as a legitimate reason for eviction in 1981 after a tenant spread the brine throughout an apartment stairway. The case was concluded by opening a tin in court and the jury deciding that such a smell did deserve eviction without notice.

Special mention – hákarl. This Icelandic dish is a fermented shark that has buried in sand and gravel for up to three months, before being dug up and hung for another five. It is said to smell intensely of fish and ammonia.


Zorillas, also known as striped polecats, closely resemble skunks with their black and white striped bodies, but are much smaller and part of the weasel family. Like skunks, they release a truly foul-smelling spray from their anal glands when in danger to ward off predators. They are argued as being much more odorous than skunks, with reports of their spray secretions smelled up to half a mile away!

Rotten food

Rotten food is a relatively common odour that we all come across from time to time. Some of the worst smelling rotten and spoiled food include potatoes, eggs, fish, and milk. Be sure to keep an eye on the contents of your fridge to avoid dealing with these stenches!

You can find rotten food being processed at anaerobic digestion plants these days, which help turn waste food into biofuels or electricity – although they do smell quite a bit!


Odour abatement is a difficult business, but luckily, we have years of experience and a highly skilled team ready to deal with any problems you’re facing. Parsons provide high-quality odour abatement solutions to many sectors, and we supply plant for rental or purchase depending on your circumstances. So no matter how pungent the odour you need to deal with, you can count on Parsons to help restore tranquility to your nose.

Find out more – speak to our team today:

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