“The smell of iron upon contact with skin is ironically a type of human body odour,” explains Dietmar Glindemann. “That we are smelling the metal itself is actually an illusion.”
Many people notice a peculiar “metallic” smell when handling iron objects, such as tools, utensils, door handles, railings, firearms, coins, and other objects. But, iron untouched by human hand has a subtly different almost garlic like smell. Dietmar Glindemann of the University of Leipzig and his colleagues Andrea Dietrich at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Hans-Joachim Staerk and Peter Kuschk of the Leipzig Environmental Research Center, Germany, have used a sophisticated analytical process to sniff out the reason why. It transpires that the metallic smell of iron that has been touched is a kind of body odour rather than a smelly metal.
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For those worrying about other kinds of BO, chemists and microbiologists have an answer to why some people smell the way they do. The research reported in Reactive Reports might one day lead to a new type of deodorant for even the smelliest of pits.
If you’re interested in how armpit scents can affect other people here’s an article from my days freelancing for The Guardian that explains how “eau d’armpit” might be used to treat pre-menstrual syndrome.