It’s up there with freshly-baked bread and babies’ skin as one of life’s best smells. But what exactly makes rain smell so good?

rainYou might sometimes think you can ‘smell the rain’ before a storm arrives – you’re right, you can. As Scientific American explains, weather patterns can produce very distinctive scents which, to the sensitive human nose, can be both informative and comforting.

In essence (pardon the pun), the smell of rain can be attributed to three main elements: a mixture of plant oils, bacterial spores and ozone.

1. Ozone

According to Scientific American, one of the first odors you might notice before rain arrives is a “pungent zing in your nostrils,” or ozone, which “emanates from fertilizers and pollutants as well as natural sources.

An electrical charge—from lightning or a man-made source such as an electrical generator—splits atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen molecules into separate atoms. Some of these recombine into nitric oxide, and this in turn reacts with other atmospheric chemicals, occasionally producing a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms—ozone, or O3. (Most atmospheric oxygen is made up of two atoms—O2.) The scent of ozone heralds stormy weather because a thunderstorm’s downdrafts carry O3 from higher altitudes to nose level.

2. Petrichor potpourri

A combination of the Greek roots petra (stone) and ichor (the blood of gods in ancient myth), the term petrichor was coined by a pair of Australian mineralologists in 1964 to describe the smell that results “when airborne molecules from decomposing plant or animal matter become attached to mineral or clay surfaces.”

Smithsonian adds: “When a rainstorm comes after a drought, compounds from the oils—which accumulate over time in dry rocks and soil—are mixed and released into the air.” These oils are produced to inhibit seed germination, suggesting that plants likely produce them in response to scarce water supply during drought.

3. Damp earth

The wet, musty smell of earth you might notice after it rains is probably geosmin, a chemical produced by soil bacteria when they produce spores. When rain hits the ground, it sends the spores airborne, which then make their way to our noses via the moisture in the air.

“Because these bacteria thrive in wet conditions and produce spores during dry spells, the smell of geosmin is often most pronounced when it rains for the first time in a while, because the largest supply of spores has collected in the soil,” Smithsonian explains.


Science aside, it is also suggested that humans might be attracted to the smell of rain for its biological and evolutionary significance.

In observing Western Australia’s Pitjantjatjara people, Diana Young, an anthropologist at the University of Queensland, found that the Aboriginal community associated the smell of rain with green or new growth, fertility and the bringing of game like kangaroos and emus – food.

“[Young] calls this “cultural synesthesia”—the blending of different sensory experiences on a society-wide scale due to evolutionary history.”

The more romantic among us may also connect the smell of rain to pleasure or comfort: reading peacefully on the couch; listening to the meditative sound of drops on the roof from a cosy bed; splashing in puddles as a child.

And to think that you cursed at the dreary weather this morning…


Do you enjoy the smell of rain?  What feelings or memories does it evoke for you?


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  • Reply April 3, 2013

    Jones the Writer

    This could be a little strange but I find that rain makes me incredibly… well… amorous!
    Perhaps there’s a link to that and the link to the feeling of fertility?

    • Reply April 3, 2013

      the moonster

      Wow Jones the Writer! And here I was thinking I was some sort of sexual weirdo. Thank the Goddesses there’s more than one of me : }

  • Reply April 3, 2013


    I heard Sabrina Hahn, garden goddess say rain contains nutrients….

  • Reply April 6, 2013


    If you’re a bushie like me and used to drought it’s the most wonderful smell. Those heavy drops on hot dry earth are a promise and release. I was on the road heading for the Gold Coast once and had the window down to catch the salt air. Then it rained. I burst into tears at the smell of it. We’d been in a long long drought that had gone on forever and I was hundreds of kilometres from home but it rained on me and I cried.

    I run outside when I smell rain. It has great power over me. More power than anything else in the world. Nature’s gift.

  • Reply July 10, 2013


    I personally love the rain. As a kid in tassie we had a corrugated iron roof, and the sound of rain on the roof often lulled me into a cosy sleep 🙂 Also reminds me of camping trips when it was raining but we were safe in the tent with the rain pattering on it.

    Also for a great part of my life I have lived in QLD, where the afternoon tropical storms bring that smell and the spectacular sound and light shows. Good memories a-plenty there.

    ahhhh sweet rain (well when its not causing a flood, anyways)

  • Reply July 22, 2013


    I’ve never noticed any smell when it rains. Except on the road which is not a particularly nice smell. Hmmm …

  • Reply February 2, 2014


    I don’t like the smell of rain at all. It’s quite overpowering and not pleasant.

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