The Psychology of Odors
In restoration, it is important you understand how to overcome tumaceous situations. Mastering the ability to remove an effluvious or fetid concern will turn you into an instant hero.
What the world am I talking about?
I just wanted to make sure that I got your attention before I started talking about such a smelly topic: odor.
Odor elimination is probably one of the biggest challenges a restoration professional faces on a job. In part, this is because the definition of good and bad odor is so subjective. What might smell nice or pleasant to one person may smell offensive to another. To be able to successfully eliminate an unwanted odor, you need to understand how the nose and our brain processes odor.
The Scientific Processing of Odor
There is a nerve in the back of the nose called the olfactory. The olfactory epithelium has about 10 million little receptors that are sensitive to odor traveling through the air. When we inhale air containing odor molecules, they bind to these receptors in our nose which then relay a message to our brain.
The piriform cortex then works to identify the smell. The smell information is also sent to the thalamus which then transmits smell information to the hippocampus and amygdala, key brain regions controlling learning and memory. We then decide if that odor good or bad. This part has nothing to do with science and everything to do with emotion.
The Psychological of Processing Odor
The smell cells in the nose are linked to the limbic system which is among the oldest parts of the brain and governs our emotions, behavior, and long term memory. This is why certain smells trigger memories both pleasant and not so pleasant.
Whenever I smell a cigar, I am immediately transported back to 8 years old and I am sitting at the kitchen table playing cards with my Grandpa Norm. To this day, the smell of cigar smoke brings up feelings of security, happiness, feeling loved, and contentment. This is because of the memories I have associated with the odor molecules produced by a cigar.
For some, the smell of a cigar or cigar smoke is very offensive. The smell could make them feel sick to their stomach or give them a headache. Yep, smell can also have an effect on us physically.
To be able to be successful at eliminating odors, it is very important to understand and eliminate emotional triggers. Obviously you will not know what triggers your client has when you first meet them. However, with a little conversation and careful handling, you can not only figure them out you can help stop new ones from forming.
Step 1: Ask Them What Matters Most
When dealing with a house fire for instance, it is very important to find out what matters most to your client. Is it the wedding dress, the family photo album, or the child’s clay handprint that hangs on the kitchen wall?
Most people really only have a few things when it gets right down to it that really matter most to them and they feel they can’t live without. If you find out what those items are, it will tell you a lot about what matters emotionally to your client which, in turn, will give some insight on their emotions. You can use this information to create an emotional profile if you will that can help guide you through eliminating the “bad” odors for that person.
It is key to gain their trust right away that you can remove unpleasant odors and save their items. If you take one of their five most precious possessions and remove the odor from that item right away at the beginning of the job, what to do you think that will do for them psychologically?
Step 2: Minimize Exposure
One of the most important things you can do when dealing with a fire situation, for example, is to limit your client’s visual exposure to their fire damaged house.
As soon as they see/smell the smoke-damaged living room, their thalamus sends a message to their hippocampus and amygdala which creates a memory for them that is associated with the smell and visual of their living room at that time.
The more they are exposed to the living room in that condition, the deeper this memory and corresponding odor becomes ingrained in their mind. Now, your chance of eliminating this odor for them is diminishing.
We try to eliminate this exposure by asking our clients to stay out of the structure until we have it completely clean and all damaged materials are removed.
Step 3: Be Compassionate & Understand Phantom Smell is Real
It can be easy to assume a client is “making it up” when they say an item or area smells and no one else can smell it. But be careful you don’t jump to this conclusion too quickly. I know there are those that just want a new couch or the carpets cleaned. However, phantom smell is real. It is also known as olfactory hallucination. Treat it as real and you have a chance to eliminate even phantom odors for your client.
It is very important that you and your team have the proper education and understanding of the science and psychology of odor removal.
Just remember, each effluvious or mephitic concern and every haustellum is different and has different emotions attached. So each situation needs to be treated individually.
Treat each one on an emotional level first followed by our already known cleaning procedures and you will enjoy success in Odor elimination.