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Martin, Engineer
Category: General
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Experience:  i'm 41 and i never stopped studying and experimenting
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I dont know whether or not this category will be the right

Resolved Question:

I don't know whether or not this category will be the right one, but I have an age-old question of general interest.
We all know that hangin laundry out side to dry in the sun and breezes is THE BEST and smells terrific for days afterward.
But what IS that smell? Is it just the smell of clean clothes, with all the artificial odours removed, or does the fresh air and sunshine actually impart something to the clothes? If so, what is that terrific fragrance?

Archie McLarty [email protected]
Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: General
Expert:  Martin replied 7 years ago.
Hello Archie, welcome to Just Answer.

The smell come from ozone (O3) oxidizing produced from ultraviolet ray of the sun and the water in the clothings. In other words, the material in even cleaner than it was when dry than after getting just out of the washing machine.

Ozone have different smell depending of it's concentration. This is also what you smell after rain or close by a waterfall or ocean wave. Ozone smell different at different concentration level, for example it start to smell bad at high level like in a photocopier machine (produced by the corona discharge component).

Edited by Martin on 3/24/2010 at 5:04 AM EST
Customer: replied 7 years ago.

Thanks, Martin.

Ozone sounds plausible. I've been getting a variety of answers from other search engines, ranging from "fabric softeners! Use our products!" to "depends on whether or not you live near a farm....". One mentioned geosmin, a natural essence in soil, and commonly tainting drinking water taken from surface supplies.

In your answer, is the ozone formed by UV action directly at the surface of the drying clothes? Why does the fragrance persist for several days on the clothes rather than just blowing away?

Either way, it's one of the great rewards of outdoor life!



Expert:  Martin replied 7 years ago.
The time it smell probably come from how porous are the material. Coton or wool should smell more longer than pure polyester.

Note that not just UV can create ozone, but also friction (like in ocean crashing waves). The laundry flapping in the wind can mimic this.

Also there is probably a bit of psycho-olfactive effect from not having any smell at all. For example air is 70% nitrogen and does not react with the 20% oxygen in it. If ozone react with the air nitrogen it could cause a different "air" smell coming from the fabric.

The olfactory sense is still not well known but i have a feeling than clean laundry and this phenomenon (link) is probably closely related.
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