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30 of the Best Words to Describe Smell in Your Writing

30 of the Best Words to Describe Smell in Your Writing

As a writer, you’re expected to have a wider vocabulary than most to paint vivid pictures in the minds of your readers; however, it can be more difficult to find accurate words to describe smell than sight, touch, sound, or taste.

You may be tempted to use the following words to describe smell- delicious/good, or bad/awful- but surely you can paint a better picture than that. We’ve compiled a list of words to describe various smells/odors to help improve your writing.

Here are 30 of the best words to describe smell:


6 words to describe delicious food

When you write about delicious food, your choice of words should make mouths water! Here are 6 words to describe smell in this context:

Buttered is a good word to use, because foods such as popcorn, shrimp, and chicken drenched in butter tend to have that unmistakable buttery smell.
It is good to use as butter is a very common ingredient and its odor is known by everyone so it’ll be easy to portray this smell.
E.g. “The smells of buttery popcorn filled the kitchen as they prepared for family movie night.”


popcorn on clear glass bowl
Photo by Lisa Fotios under pexels license


Enticing is a good word to use for foods that smell great but you can’t see or recognize. It’s the kind of smell you’d detect from a restaurant preparing various meals, but you can’t pinpoint exactly what is being made.
E.g. “As she pulled up in the driveway, she was greeted by the enticing smell of her grandmother’s cooking, which for a brief moment brought her back to summers spent here on the estate.”


Garlic has a very powerful odor and when used in meals, it may overpower the flavor and smell of other ingredients.
It is good to use this to portray garlic based foods.
E.g. “As she dipped her bread into the butter, she couldn’t help but wonder if her garlicky breath would get in the way of a kiss goodnight.”


bread on brown surface

Photo by Dana Tentis under pexels license


Believe it or not, you can use this word to describe the smell of foods. For example, green herbs or vegetables that have a fresh, distinct odor.
E.g. “The salad smelled green and fresh as though the vegetables were freshly picked and washed.”


Savory foods are those that are very flavorful, often made with strong spices and bold ingredients.
This is a good word to use for stews, soups, and meat dishes that have flavorful and aromatic odors that are not sweet, and are more on the spicy or salty side.
E.g. “She struggled with veganism and fell victim to the savory smells of the very foods that led to her weight gain.”


The word smoky is used to describe foods that smell like smoke, but not in a bad way. This method of cooking is used to help preserve meat and adds a distinct flavor and aroma.
E.g. “As he sliced the sausage, he released the smoky aroma held within.”


sliced meat on brown wooden chopping board

Photo by Paola Vasquez under pexels license


6 words to describe smell of awful food

Stinky foods can ruin your appetite and can even upset your stomach. Let your readers know how bad it is with these 6 words to describe smell of awful food:

Food that is overcooked, or burnt, does not smell appetizing at all.
It is a good word to use to describe smell in your writing because everyone has had something burn on them before so the scent you are trying to portray will easily register in their minds.
E.g. “He didn’t know when he dozed off, but the smell of burnt rice jolted him off the sofa before the smoke alarm even went off”


barbeque on grill with sauce plate smoke

Photo by Artem Beliaikin under pexels license


The word fetid describes the unpleasant smell that is caused by the decaying of food. It is good to use in situations where food has gone bad and been left unattended for days.
E.g. “After a long weekend in jail, all Jake wanted was a hot shower and a long nap, but he was greeted by a fetid stench of his takeout from the Thai place across the street. “


A perfect word to describe the smell of food that makes you sick to your stomach is nauseating. These types of odors cause disgust and revulsion.
This does not necessarily mean the food tastes bad: it can also be used in a case where the person simply doesn’t like the smell of it or is allergic.
E.g. “I didn’t want to be impolite, so I told them I had already eaten. The truth is, that food smelled nauseating.”



Rancid is a word you can use to describe food that does not have a fresh or appetizing smell. Eating this type of food can cause food poisoning with symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea.
E.g. “The cheapskate manager encouraged his staff to reuse rancid oil, which is a major health violation. “


Raw simply means uncooked or undercooked. Certain raw foods, especially meat, can make people extremely sick.
Rawness is easy to detect based on appearance and flavor, but it can also be detected by the way the food smells.

flat lay photography of slice of meat on top of chopping board sprinkled with ground peppercorns
Photo by Lukas under pexels license

E.g. “The goat smelled so raw I felt like I was lying amongst a herd.”


Stale food has passed its expiry date. Some stale food will not have visual signs such as mold, and instead, give off an unpleasant smell that will turn you off from even tasting it.
E.g. “Trying not to cause a scene, she asked the waiter to return the stale food to the kitchen and demanded a refund.”


About the smell of a person’s perfume

People wear perfume to establish a signature scent and to help them smell good all day long.
Here are 6 words to describe smell of one’s perfume.

Not all perfumes are strong; some are meant to be light and delicate so as not to overpower or offend the noses of others.
Usually, these are female perfumes and one has to be in very close proximity to get a whiff.
E.g. “She had her suspicions for years and the faint smell of female perfume on his work clothes confirmed her worst fears. He was having an affair all those nights he said he was working late.”


woman wearing formal smelling perfume inside the mall

Photo by mentatdgt under pexels license


Feminine/masculine is a way to categorize perfumes by gender.
Feminine perfumes are generally lighter, have fruity or floral odor profiles, and are fresh and sweet. Colognes on the other hand are much deeper, having musky, leathery, or woody aromas.
E.g. “He had a lot of swagger and charm, and when he walked by his cologne made women weak in the knees.”


A fresh perfume is one that has a light odor and a pleasant smell. Usually, these are mildly sweet, refreshing, and have a clean smell such as citrus, flowers, aloe, greenery, or water.
These smells are more like when you just hop out of the shower rather than an artificial, overpowering, or unnatural scent.
E.g. “Though she was a bit of a tomboy, her fresh smelling perfume reminded him of her femininity.”



Intoxicating perfumes are those that you sort of get lost in because of how great they smell. This is good to use when describing someone’s crush or someone inspirational.
E.g. “As he hugged her, he found himself floating on a cloud of her intoxicating perfume and warmth.”


An overpowering perfume is one that smells too strong to be appreciated. Perhaps the person used too much, and it stops being beneficial.
E.g. “Perhaps he forgot to take a shower and is compensating for it with that overpowering cologne, but either way, I’m appalled. “


topless man in bathtub holding shower
Photo by John Ray Ebora under pexels license


The word unmistakable is pretty self-explanatory. When it comes to perfume, it is best used to describe one’s signature scent.
Meaning, you can smell it and immediately know if the person is near, or was in that area.
E.g. “The unmistakable scent of Michael’s cologne made me wonder what business he would have in my sister’s apartment. It seems to be everywhere.”


Words for a person’s bad smell

The world would be a much better place if everyone practiced good hygiene, but unfortunately, this is not so.
Here are 6 words to describe smell of these people:

The word fishy is used to describe something that smells like fish or seawater. There may be several reasons why someone smells fishy.
Perhaps the person is a fisherman or was cleaning fish. Perhaps a woman has not kept up with hygiene and/or has a vaginal infection.
Whatever the case may be, here’s what you can say:
E.g. “She abhorred his new job at the fish market because when he comes home the entire house smells fishy. But she sucks it up because it’s the only way to make ends meet at the moment. “


person slicing a fish for sushi on top of wooden chopping board

Photo by cottonbro under pexels license


Musty is a word you can use to describe something that has a stale, damp, or moldy smell. A good example is like an old wardrobe, or under a bed that hasn’t been cleaned.
E.g. “He knew his clothes were not properly dried, but he had no choice but to wear the musty clothes to school as his parents could not afford a new school uniform.”


Rank is a word you can use to describe something super stinky or has an unpleasant odor. This is a disgusting or offensive smell.
E.g. “The garbage had not been taken out for days so the kitchen had a rank smell.”



Sour is generally used to describe something that is no longer fresh, for example, milk that has gone bad or yogurt that was left out of the fridge.
It can also be used to describe unpleasant damp odors.
E.g. “Wearing damp clothes is never a good idea because at some point during the day you will start to smell sour.”


staff wearing a black uniform pinching her nose
Photo by buri on photo-ac


Skunks are known for producing some of the worst odors known to mankind. If you believe that the smell is so bad, you can use the word skunky for emphasis.
E.g. “The skunky smell of marijuana was like a bubble around him that scared everyone away.”


After a few hours at the gym, or taking a jog, the body will produce a lot of sweat that has a distinct odor.
Some people’s sweat may be mild, while others can be almost putrid depending on body mechanics and personal hygiene.
E.g. “She didn’t want to offend him, but his sweaty feet made intimacy impossible. “


6 words to describe an actual perfume

If the perfume is not being worn by someone, there are still words you can use to describe their scents.
Here are 6 words to describe smell of perfume:

It is very easy to tell the quality of perfume by how it smells. Without knowing the cost, cheap perfumes fade easily and sometimes have a sweeter than usual smell and are harsh.
E.g. “Her cheap perfume reminds me of my younger days in the red light district, barhopping with the boys and picking up women.”


Delicate is a good word to use to describe perfumes that smell feminine and aren’t overpowering. They are light and somewhat faint, yet have a lovely smell.
E.g. “Tracy isn’t a big fan of perfume, so she uses delicate smelling perfume oils to keep herself smelling good.”


coco chanel perfume lighted candles on the side hairpin earrings

Photo by lucas mendes on unsplash


An exotic smelling perfume is usually more on the expensive side and contains rare ingredients. The fragrance is typically striking and is unlike mass-produced perfumes.
E.g. “I was most intrigued by the exotic perfumes in the flea markets of Sri Lanka. It was unlike anything I had smelled before.”


Floral is used to describe perfumes made of flowers, or the essence of flowers. These can be sweet or very light and are more commonly used by women.
E.g. “She stocked her shop mainly with floral perfumes since her customers tend to like them more than others.”


bouquet of pink roses with aqua allegoria perfume on top

Photo by Valeria Boltneva under pexels license


Fruity perfumes on the other hand smell like fruit. They can smell like a wide variety of fruits, whether apple or mango, coconut or watermelon, and even citrusy fruits.
Though simple, it is one of the best words to describe smell as it is easily recognizable.
E.g. “Her fruity perfume matched her cheery personality and positive vibes.”


The word warm can be used for male or female perfumes. These are generally good quality perfumes that aren’t harsh and complement the person well, meaning it won’t overpower the natural body smell.
E.g. “He found a warm perfume that reminded him of being coddled by his mother. It was the perfect gift for his wife.”



When writing, you don’t have to use complicated words to describe smell. The whole point is making the reader relate to what you’ve written to create an effective scene.