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Distinctive smell in California particularly on clothes/fabrics/toys/enclosed areas

Question asked by Eric Tango on Oct 11, 2018

Hi Everyone,

I hope that someone could relate to this kind of smell. I know it's chemistry but it is a little hard to know what this smell actually is and what causes it to smell like this. So here we go...

 

I am a Filipino and have always been intrigued about this kind of smell that I am going to ask you about.

I have relatives who live in Los Angeles and every time they visit us in the Philippines, they always carry a very distinctive smell on their clothes specially those inside their luggages and boxes (we call it "Balikbayan Box").

I also have a cousin from San Francisco and when he comes back for a visit, he also brings the same exact distinctive smell on whatever he brings (clothes in the luggages, toys, towels and stuff).

I have another friend from New Jersey and when she visits, again has the same exact smell on their clothes and belongings.

The smell is so strong on clothing and fabrics and the smell stays on their room for days or even weeks.

Clark Air Base was previously a United States military facility, operated by the U.S. Air Force.

The offices in clark air base has the same exact smell since this are housed by Americans who travel from the US bringing their belongings from the US. This is because their clothes have been on the luggages for so long and when they land in the Philippines, they bring that distinct smell. I would suspect that the it is a similar smell of a military surplus shop. Are there any army reading here?

When I came to visit LA last year, I've noticed the same smell on stores (smell is stronger on stores with wooden walls) and a few houses. Even right at the Airport, I can get a good whiff of the smell.

To me it is a pleasant smell, it is sweet, a bit woody but sweet, very uplifting and so distinct that once you get a whiff you know for sure that it is from the USA (specially California).

I want to know exactly what this smell is called and what is causing this smell because to be honest I want my clothes to always smell like this and I don't need a perfume at all

Additional Notes to consider

  1. I would like to speculate that the smell comes out when the stuff is compressed and sealed for a long period of time and the clothing might be off-gassing so the smell could actually be caused by these gasses? But, a lot of factors can come into play here because these clothing have been washed with US water and have been exposed to Californian climate (particularly air and humidity) so the smell could be a combination of the air,water and off-gassing of fabrics.
  2. I would like to speculate that the smell is stronger on places in the US that are close to mountains/hills/fresher air or suburbs like California. When I went to Manhattan, New York, the smell is not present at all or maybe the smell is very very less.
  3. The smell is mostly present on enclosed areas like rooms, server rooms where there is controlled humidity/temperature, bus stations, basements
  4. This smell is not the same as the smell you get when you go to Thrift Stores where the smell is more like a very musty, Body-Odor, non-pleasant smell, or the sour mildewey smell of clothes left in the laundry or bacterial smell of clothes left damp for so long.
  5. It is not the smell of freshly laundered items or fabric softener, dryer sheets or new items or fabreeze, I can clearly distinguish. My sense of smell is very strong.

I hope that someone can actually relate to this smell and what is this smell and what causes the smell to smell so distinct that it is present across USA particularly California, because I have been researching on this for more than three decades already.

 

Thank you and If you have any questions, please let me know, I can elaborate more.

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