Saturday, October 29, 2005

Ready to revel in a sense of smellbeing? Never has the nose been so wooed, so wowed. And so won. Ah, the nose — with its 6 million olfactory receptor cells that recognize 10,000 different scents.

That’s probably a good thing, because there are at least 10,000 different scents to recognize in the cleaner aisle at the grocery store, where bleach, dishwashing liquid, bug bomb, fabric softeners and detergents smell like the veritable broom closet o’ our dreams.

There’s Fresh Meadow Clorox and Natural Spring Vanish. There’s Country Fresh Raid, Mountain Berry Windex, Cuddle Up Fresh Snuggle, Summer Citrus Mister Clean, Botanical Fusion All, Lemon Tilex, Pink Grapefruit Joy, Green Apple Palmolive, Tide Glacier, and Magnolia and Orange Blossom Downy — which potentially could trigger either a round of laundry or a walk down a church aisle.

And we haven’t even broached the subject of home fragrances — the air fresheners, room deodorizers, carpet fresheners, oils, gels, candles, plug-ins, fragrance theme discs, and assorted poofty-poofers that make even the most exacting mother-in-law believe she is in a tidy house.

Most telling are sales figures: Americans are giddy for smells. Annually, we spend $8.3 billion on scented candles and air fresheners alone, according to Unity Marketing, which tracks the industry. Translated with zeroes intact, that’s $8,300,000,000.

The figure is expected to reach $12.6 billion in four years.

Why, maybe the Department of Defense could get into the business, offering “Riding in a Tank” or “Ejecting Over Waikiki” fragrance combinations. Life does imitate art, though. One enterprising ad agency once offered its defense clients a scratch-and-sniff invitation smelling of cordite — the scent of explosives.

But now — drum roll, please — let us explore the humble beginnings of the most recognizable air-freshening brand on the face of our odoriferous planet: Glade.

It will be 50 years old next year, according to spokeswoman Petrell Ozbay of manufacturer S.C. Johnson, who shared the very earliest Glade records, which reveal the following:

“The development story of Glade can be traced back to 1951. When formulating Glade, Johnson chemists used discoveries made during the Korean War when various organic compounds were tested to eliminate hospital smells in planes ferrying wounded soldiers. It was one of these same compounds that Louis Sesso and Cliff Rood of our Development Department used in the formulation of Glade.”

Glade — as in forest glade — was picked over 200 other names to debut in 1956 during commercial breaks on “The Red Skelton Show” and “Robert Montgomery Presents,” advising Americans: “You’ll be glad you used Glade.” The original scents were blossom and evergreen.

Now there are 50.

Glade scents — all trademarked — include Angel Whispers, Baking With Grandma, Cafe Latte, Day at the Seashore, Elegant Evening, Island Ice, Mystery Garden, Clean Linen, Mom’s Apple Crisp and Dewberry Dreams among many in 11 product lines.

The aromatically challenged can take the company’s online “fragrance personality” quiz to determine whether they are “beachcomber or cherrypicker, gardener or mountaineer.”

Not to be outdone, Wizard — maker of Air Wick — also offers a “fragrance finder” to help folks make sense of scents, which include Mandarin and Green Tea, Fresh Water, Amber and Wild Rose, and Lotus Flower and Blue Orchid.

What is behind this huge deluge of smells? What compels Proctor & Gamble, for example, to produce Febreze Scentstories, an electronic five-fragrance disc that evokes “Relaxing in a Hammock” or “Making a Gingerbread House”?

Well, there’s that aforementioned $12.6 billion.

Meanwhile, there’s the science. In the past decade, researchers have developed exquisitely sensitive electronic noses, called e-noses, that break down the chemical components of odors from the sublime to the revolting, enabling odor specialists to synthesize every evocative scent imaginable.

Thus, we get Apple Martini, Chocolate Covered Cherries, Wedding Day, and Cucumber and Cantaloupe — just a waft of the myriad scents offered by Yankee Candle.

Combine that with new research from hospitals, universities, government agencies and the commercial sector that confirms that appealing fragrances reassure, amuse, intrigue, inspire and stimulate humans. The fuse was lit.

There are those who caution that all this scented domesticity spells indoor air pollution. Some consumer advocates and health experts claim that fragrance — be it warmed, burned, sprayed, sprinkled or mixed up with soap — is a potential source of toxins, volatile agents and allergens. The manufacturers beg to differ, both in and out of court.

Flummoxed, alarmed or perspiring at this juncture? Heavens. Go light that martini candle and check out the Web sites of the Consumer Product Safety Commission for recalls ( or the National Institutes of Health for household product safety analyses (https://householdproducts.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and the occasional smelly matter for The Washington Times’ national desk. Contact her at jharper@ or 202/636-3085.

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