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by Dara Winters on January 15, 2021

When stepping outside on a cold winter morning or on a snowy day, the air often has a particular smell that is difficult to put into words. What most people don’t realise is that there are a few factors that play a part in the smell of winter that range from physical factors and psychological factors.  


It’s not that there are less smells in winter, the odour particles move less. 

In warmer temperatures, odour particles are much more efficient in becoming air born compared to colder temperatures. This is exactly why a pile of rubbish will have a more unpleasant and potent smell in the heat compared to a cold day. It is also why food smells stronger after you’ve heated it up compared to when you’ve just taken it out the fridge. If you’ve not notices this, give it a test next time you heat up some cold food in the microwave! 


Hibernating receptors.  

We have receptors in our nose that are responsible for the detection of odours called olfactory receptors. During the colder months, our olfactory receptors bury themselves deep down in our noses to protect themselves from harsher environments, almost as if they were hibernating. This plays a part in why winter may have a more subtly pleasant smell compared to warmer weather as it is less able to detect more of the unpleasant smells in the air.  


Something called the trigeminal nerve. 

There is a nerve in the human body that gets stimulated when breathing in cold air called the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is responsible for the tingly sensations caused by spicy food and mint. This could be a reason as to why the smell of cold air is associated with “fresh” and “clean”. 



Everyone will have something specific that they associate with snow, whether it be a cup of hot chocolate, a log fire or Christmas trees. This will most likely have an impact on each person as they will essentially smell what they want to smell or what they associate winter time to be. In this instance you could say this is a classic example of mind over matter.  


It is safe to say that our noses are conditioned to work better in warmer temperatures. Next time you’re out for your daily winter stroll, take a big deep breath and remind yourself of why it smells so wonderful. 


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