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Author: Subject: Do you know chemicals by their smell?
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[*] posted on 10-11-2020 at 01:28

I noticed some very nice unusual smell when prepared K[Sb(OH)6]. Also I noticed that type of smell second time when was working with antimony. I still don't know is it antimony compound itself or same organic impurity in the starting material which gives a byproduct with such smell.
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[*] posted on 10-11-2020 at 01:57

If the two occurrences of the smell are with completely different SB-compounds, then there is a good chance that it really is some Sb-compound. I myself have done quite a few experiments with SB, Sb2O3 and Sb2S3, but I never noticed a special smell. The only thing I smelled was the smell of rotten eggs, when experimenting with Sb2S3 and acids ;)

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[*] posted on 10-11-2020 at 03:23

I just used the same Sb2O3 from a pottery shop as a starting material for all my experiments with antimony so it is quite possible there is some impurity in it.

I have a packet of lichens in may laboratory, on a heater, this small quantity produces the dominant smell in my lab. It's amazing how strong this smell is - and it always smells in very low concentration (I have a jam bottle with 25% ammonia and lichens inside, but I couldn't feel ammonia smell when the bottle is closed, only the smell of lichens). It's similar to mushrooms, very-very pleasant.

[Edited on 10-11-2020 by teodor]

[Edited on 10-11-2020 by teodor]
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[*] posted on 10-11-2020 at 08:07

Wow, I continue to be impressed by your knowledge of chemistry. Kudos to you for becoming familiar with so many different chemicals in a safe manner. It will be a while before I'm comfortable working with many of those gases, but I'm sure I'll get there, and I can always start off with micro-quantities.

Btw, Hydrogen selenide looks particularly nasty and dangerous, based on the safety data sheets - much more so than H2S or HCN. But on the other hand, I read on the CDC website that our bodies quickly decompose it into elemental red selenium, so I'm not sure where exactly to place it on the list of deadly gases.

Btw, I noticed that HF was not on your list :)

Quote: Originally posted by woelen  
Quite a few chemicals I certainly recognize by smell:
- ammonia
- chlorine
- bromine
- nitrogen dioxide
- sulfur dioxide
- hydrogen sulfide
- phosphine
- acetone
- diethyl ether
- toluene

Some others are less distinct to me:
- HCl / HBr
- several organics
- CrO2Cl2
- PCl5 / POCl3 / PCl3
- CCl4 / CHCl=CCl2 / CCl2=CCl2 / CHCl3 / CH3CCl3

Some chemicals I never smelled, even though I made them in small quantities. I just did my utmost best to not get any exposure to them:
- H2Se
- H2Te
- AsCl3
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[*] posted on 10-11-2020 at 10:08

By smell, I can identify the following:
-NO2 (I've probably smelled far too much of this one)

And for organics:
-A handful of acetate esters
-A handful of primary and secondary alcohols
-Glacial acetic acid

That's more than half the organics I have. I have way more inorganic compounds than that, so if I recall something else I'll add it

[Edited on 10-11-2020 by itsallgoodjames]

[Edited on 10-11-2020 by itsallgoodjames]

Nuclear physics is neat. It's a shame it's so regulated...

Now that I think about it, that's probably a good thing. Still annoying though.
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[*] posted on 10-11-2020 at 22:22

Quote: Originally posted by teodor  
Iso-butyric acid leaves nice after-smell, I can easily recognise it now in some cookies. The smell is described as "vomit" but practically it is much more like parmesan. So, never believe in descriptions, sniff by yourself :). But after Cou described difference in isomers I am wondering, has n-butyric the same smell as iso-butyric?

[Edited on 10-11-2020 by teodor]

butyric acid is much more vile and biley.
isobutyric acid is more sour, vinegar-y

my youtube channel, organic chemistry videos:
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[*] posted on 11-11-2020 at 01:11

There are many chemicals but some have very distinct smells. Sotolon (Sotolone) is a lactone and an extremely powerful aroma compound, with the smell of fenugreek or curry at high concentrations and maple syrup, caramel, or burnt sugar at lower concentrations. However, some chemicals smell almost the same and the fumes are poisonous. I would strongly not recommend you to expose yourself to too many chemical fumes.
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[*] posted on 11-11-2020 at 08:36

Sotolone sounds tasty!
There was an accidental release of four kilo in a chemical factory which evaporated after coming in contact with a hot surface, and in the whole location of the cities cologne and düsseldorf it could be smelled :D
Soupy, maggi, lovage smell, that must have been heavenly tasty and appetizing!
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[*] posted on 15-11-2020 at 11:59

I too have a selection of esters which all smell pleasant and are pretty non toxic.
I have worked with both some mercaptans and pyridine.
2 mercaptoethanol is revolting and penetrating and minute amounts stink the place out.
Pyridine is just vile. Ammoniacal and nasty.
One reagent which I used at work to make buffers was Barbitone (Sodium diethylbarbiturate). A solid but it did have a faint pleasant smell and nice sweetish taste (In very small amounts).
Woelen says he has never smelled H2Se. I did synthesise some and took a cautious sniff. Bad move.
I really can't describe the smell because it paralysed my sense of smell almost instantly. A faint hint of H2S possibly before my nose switched off.
It took the best part of a day to recover my sense of smell. Very unpleasant and not to be recommended.

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[*] posted on 15-11-2020 at 13:44

Quote: Originally posted by karlos³  

In general, I often try to get a little whiff when working the first time with something, made it, or received it, just out of curiosity.
Of course only for harmless substances.

I too do this, I believe it is good to be familiar with the smell of something you are working with, you can tell either whether the reaction is working by either detecting new smell, or if the reaction is familiar, a familiar smell of the product.

As well you can detect if a spill has happened in your lab and if you should run and call Hazmat or venture in and clean it yourself.

[Edited on 15-11-2020 by Syn the Sizer]
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