Feb 12 2010

Why Windex Smells So Good

Hi, my name is Wade, and I like the smell of Windex.  And fresh gasoline.  And paint.  Now, I know I’m not alone.  The highly chemical smells of these common products are love-it-or-hate-it, and I’ve had conversations with many a lover and hater alike.  The purpose of this post is to uncover why the harsh chemical smell can, for some of us, be so sweet and enticing.

When I smell gasoline my first thought is, “Ahhh, what sweet Potential Energy,” but that’s just the Physics and Chemistry influences talking.  What we’re really smelling are a plethora of hydrocarbons (compounds of hydrogen and carbon), both aliphatic (atoms often arranged in a chain) and aromatic (atoms arranged in a ring).  Aromatic hydrocarbons were originally named so because of their characteristically sweet odor.  The two major aromatic hydrocarbons in gasoline are benzene and toluene (methyl benzene).  According to Wikipedia:

In the 19th and early-20th centuries, benzene was used as an after-shave lotion because of its pleasant smell. Prior to the 1920s, benzene was frequently used as an industrial solvent, especially for degreasing metal. As its toxicity became obvious, benzene was supplanted by other solvents, especially toluene (methyl benzene), which has similar physical properties but is not as carcinogenic.

Another use for toluene is in the thinning of paints.  It’s added along with xylene (surprise, another aromatic hydrocarbon and benzene derivative) as a powerful solvent.  As this HowStuffWorks article explains about the purpose of solvents in paint:

…the solvent (a liquid) is designed to evaporate quickly, leaving only the pigment and its binder (the solids) behind on your walls.

And, would you know it, another common solvent used in paints is 2-butoxyethanol, the very source of the cleaning power and characteristic odor of Windex!  The other major ingredient of Windex is isopropyl alcohol (commonly referred to as rubbing alcohol), which also smells great to me…but I think that may just be my own childhood associations…

So in conclusion, while I may very well be weird, I am at least justified in my attraction to gas, paint, and Windex (that sounds so bad to say).  May you be vindicated as well, and spread the word through this article to as many people as you can!


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