Smell, the most powerful of the senses

Since ancient times, humans have associated foul smells with disease and poisons across large parts of Europe, India and China. For centuries, people believed that a presence in the air of bad smells was caused by rotting organic matter and could be the cause of epidemics such as cholera and malaria (which literally translates to “bad air”).

While this theory, known as Miasma Theory, proved to be somewhat incorrect, the widely held belief did ultimately help to reduce the instance of death by disease by encouraging better hygiene standards that controlled malodour. Eventually, of course, the germ theory of disease was discovered. The innate distrust and disgust experienced by humans towards foul smells has remained, however, and persists as a strong warning sign of potential risk to our health.

The negative impact of malodour on cognition, human physiology and behaviour has been studied and established as universal. In addition to human health, malodour has implications on commerce and economy also. Cleanliness and malodour levels are crucial factors that influence customer preference, perception and brand reputation. Therefore, identifying and eliminating malodours, and maintaining an acceptable washroom is key, as consumer perceptions of facilities can impact businesses.

Spiralling population densities and an increase in shared facilities makes the need to create pleasant and clean smelling internal environments even more salient. Given the necessary bodily functions taking place on a regular basis in washrooms, these areas are often the biggest culprits when it comes to generating a poor impression of your business’ hygiene levels through foul odours.

47% of people believe that if the air smells, it contains a large amount of bacteria.

The offensive odours in washrooms and toilets are generally a mixture of odours from faeces, urine, drains, sewage and microbial growth. A total of 14 odourants have been detected and studied in urine samples, while methyl mercaptan, hydrogen sulphide and methanetiol cause the faecal smells akin to decomposing vegetables and rotten eggs. Aside from the smells caused by humans, poor ventilation, mould, mildew and bacterial build-up on walls, floors and in drains can also contribute to persistent malodour in the washroom. 

While smells are an unavoidable consequence of the ‘business’ that takes place in the washroom, there are simple solutions that business’ can adopt to improve the perception of odour in these spaces. Targeting with fresh fragrances or combating odours at the source by sanitising, are two of the key ways to ensure customers, visitors and employees are not put off by their experience in the washroom. 

Initial Hygiene’s range of stylish, anti-bacterial units can effectively target malodour in the washroom and provide a constant fresh fragrance to leave a positive and lasting impression. The AirFresh Fan emits a consistent fresh fragrance, the AirFresh Spray offers a more powerful burst of fragrance at controlled intervals and the CleanAir Sanitiser has been proven to kill 99.99% of airborne bacteria in the washroom. Speak with an Initial consultant today about how our solutions can improve your bottom line by:

  • Improving the level of hygiene in the washroom 
  • Reducing the risk of contamination, illness and absenteeism 
  • Enhancing the perception of odour 
  • Leaving a positive impression on your customers, visitors and employees.


Aksoydan, E., Hygiene Factors Influencing Customers’ Choice of Dining-out Units: Findings from a Study of University Academic staff, (2007), Journal of Food Safety, 27, I3, Pages 300–316. 

Bensafi, M., Rouby, C., Farget, V., Bertrand, B., Vigouroux, M. and Holley, A., Perceptual, affective, and cognitive judgments of odors: Pleasantness and handedness effects, (2003), Brain and Cognition, 51, 3, Pages 270–275. 

Hiroshi, S., Toru, H., Tamon, K., Yasushi, M and Yukihiko, N.., (2001), Analysis of malodorous volatile substances of human waste Feces and urine, Journal of Health Science, 47, 5, Pages 483-490 

Kanagachandran, K (2014), Malodour – Types, Origin, Implications & Prevention, Initial Hygiene Research