How Do Chemical Weapons Smell?

Learn How Chemical Weapons Smell (Without Sniffing Them)

The molecules used as chemical weapons are often small. Some have no odor, but others have a characteristic scent that warns of their presence.
The molecules used as chemical weapons are often small. Some have no odor, but others have a characteristic scent that warns of their presence. INDIGO MOLECULAR IMAGES / Getty Images

You may have a mental image of a chemical agent as some greenish vapor with a pungent, unpleasant smell. Are you surprised to learn most chemical agents are colorless and odorless? Many have characteristic odors, but some actually smell nice.

Many blister agents smell a bit like plants. Other agents may have pungent odors, yet most chemical weapons have no scent at all. Here's a list of some chemical agents and their...

bouquets:

  • Sulfur Mustard - includes mustard gas, usually odorless and colorless in pure form but yellowish-brown with an odor reminiscent of the mustard plant, garlic, or horseradish when used in warfare
  • Chlorine Gas - pale greenish gas with a suffocating, unpleasant odor, similar to chlorine bleach
  • 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate (QNB or NATO BZ or Iraqi Agent 15) - odorless incapacitating agent
  • Lewisite - WWI blister agent that smells strongly of geraniums
  • Phosgene Oxime - blister agent with an irritating smell, though somewhat of mown hay or cut green corn
  • Sarin - extremely toxic odorless nerve agent
  • VX - probably the most toxic nerve agent, odorless
  • Soman - nerve gas that smells like Vicks VapoRub or rotting fruit, depending on who you ask
  • Tabun - highly toxic nerve agent with a faint fruity smell, though odorless when pure
  • Zyklon B - hydrogen cyanide-containing blood agent, famous for its use in Nazi death camps, which has a bitter almond odor (not everyone has the ability to smell it, though)
  • Hydrogen Sulfide - blood agent that smells of rotten eggs
  • Adamsite or DM - odorless riot control agent that causes vomiting and sneezing
  • CS Gas - tear gas, odorless
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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How Do Chemical Weapons Smell?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-do-chemical-weapons-smell-604295. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, February 13). How Do Chemical Weapons Smell? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-do-chemical-weapons-smell-604295 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How Do Chemical Weapons Smell?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-do-chemical-weapons-smell-604295 (accessed November 19, 2017).