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How do you describe a room smell?

Describing a room’s smell can be challenging because smells are complex and evoke different sensations in each person. However, there are some techniques you can use to vividly convey how a room smells.

Use Comparisons

One effective way to describe a smell is to compare it to something familiar. For example, you could say a room smells:

  • Sweet, like freshly baked cookies
  • Earthy, like a forest floor after rain
  • Acrid, like burnt plastic
  • Musky, like an antique store

Comparing the smell to foods, places, or objects that people already know helps paint a clear sensory picture in their minds.

Describe Intensity

In addition to describing the type of smell, you can characterize its intensity. Is it a faint smell you can barely notice? Or is it an overpowering smell that floods the entire room? Words like faint, delicate, strong, overwhelming, and pungent all convey the strength of the odor.

Use Texture/Weight

Texture and weight words that we associate with physical objects can also apply to smells:

  • A heavy musky perfume
  • A thin, wispy smoke
  • A rich, buttery baked good smell
  • A crisp, citrusy scent

These types of words give a sense of the smell’s physical presence and how it feels to inhale it.

Describe Where the Smell Originates

Identifying the source of the smell helps readers imagine it more fully. You could describe:

  • The tantalizing aroma wafting from the kitchen
  • The lingering odor of bleach coming from the bathroom
  • The overpowering stench seeping out of the trash can

Words like “wafting,” “lingering,” and “seeping” convey how the smell travels and fills the room.

Use Olfactory Words

In addition to descriptions, you can use words that specifically relate to the sense of smell:

  • The pungent, acrid smell assailed my nostrils.
  • I caught a whiff of curry drifting from the kitchen.
  • The room had a fragrance of fresh lilacs.

Words like “pungent,” “whiff,” “aroma,” and “fragrance” instantly convey that you’re describing an odor.

Use Similes and Metaphors

Similes and metaphors allow you to vividly compare the smell to something unrelated to engage the reader’s imagination. For example:

  • The kitchen smelled like a flower shop just before Valentine’s Day.
  • The smoky scent hung in the air like a dense fog.
  • The smell of gasoline overwhelmed me like a tidal wave.

Vivid similes and metaphors can help readers “picture” the smell.

Consider Context

The context heavily influences how you describe a smell. A bakery and a gym have very different smells. When describing a smell:

  • Consider the setting – a hospital smells very different from a coffee shop.
  • Figure out what might logically be producing the smell.
  • Decide if the smell is typical or unusual for the context.

This helps you pick descriptors that make sense and immersively convey the smell to readers.

Use Other Senses

Smell is closely tied to our other senses. Consider how the smell relates to taste, sight, touch, or sound:

  • The acrid smell of smoke burned my throat.
  • The sweet aroma of bread baking made my mouth water.
  • The pungent odor stung my eyes.

Describing how the smell interacts with other senses helps readers imagine the full experience.

Use Emotion

Smells are strongly tied to emotions and memory. Convey how the smell makes you feel or what it evokes:

  • The smell transported me back to childhood visits to my grandma’s house.
  • The acrid stench repulsed me.
  • The pine scent was soothing and calming.

Sharing the emotional impact gives readers insight into your subjective experience of the smell.

Be Succinct Yet Evocative

Use vivid, sensory language in your descriptions, but keep them concise. Short, potent descriptions convey smells most effectively. For example:

  • An acrid, choking smoke.
  • A sickly sweet medicinal smell.
  • The sharp tang of lemon.

Paint an olfactory picture for your reader without dragging on too long.


Describing smells effectively takes practice, but using comparisons, texture and weight words, olfactory terms, similes, and attention to other senses, emotions, and context can help. Vivid, succinct descriptions will allow readers to imagine smelling the room too. With a little creativity and these descriptive techniques, you can portray both pleasant and unpleasant aromas in a way that engages readers’ imaginations.