Haunting Phenomena: The Smell of Ghosts

Beyond visual sightings of apparitions or mysterious goo dripping from walls, one of the other signs of a haunting is the presence of an inexplicable – and sometimes unfortunate – smell.

The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena has a page devoted to this matter of “paranormal smells” on their website. According to their research, a smell could be considered paranormal if it has no identifiable or even possible source.

Something truly out of the ordinary.

Oftentimes, the ghostly smell will be reported as familiar – such as a type of perfume or cologne once worn by a deceased family member, especially if said perfume is no longer present in the home. Other reported smells have included flowers and cigar smoke (among other less pleasing scents, but we’ll get to that).

These smells may occur randomly, or you may find them in specific areas that may be more prone to paranormal activity.

Even those circumstances, however, don’t necessarily mean that any given smell is supernatural. But let’s take a look at the possibilities.

Demonic Smells

We’ll start with the worst type of otherworldly smell – that of demons.

A demonic smell is often described as terrible, something rotten or grotesque, perhaps like sulfur or even a corpse. Witnesses have reported the scent of feces, as well. Some say that people possessed by demons also give off this putrid smell.

But, usually, it’s the house that seems to have the most trouble.

2013 saw the story of a Romanian lawyer who had such a problem. His home, he claimed, had been invaded by “flatulent demons” who made various rooms smell, well, very bad. He also reported electronic disturbances, such as the television turning off and on, as well as manifestations of demons in the form of various animals.

A “black shadow” also reportedly jumped out of a possessed hair-dryer whenever they tried to use it.

He requested an exorcism, and although a total of four priests gave it a shot, it apparently failed. The house continued to smell of demons.

Even Ariana Grande has claimed that she once smelled demons. During an interview with Complex, also in 2013, she talked about an experience she had with a potential demon while visiting Stull Cemetery in Kansas.

She said they had smelled sulfur in the car, “the sign of a demon,” and after viewing photos she took at the time, she also saw “three super distinct faces in the picture…of textbook demons.”

I guess that sort of thing happens when you visit one of the gates of Hell.

How Do Ghosts Smell?

Do Ghosts Smell?
Image: Jordi Carrasco/Flickr via CC by 2.0

All of that said, not every paranormal smell, even a bad one, is a demon. Many cases of “ordinary” hauntings have involved inexplicable smells.

An investigation by Black Hills Paranormal highlights one such haunting. It was back in September 2008, when they were called in to check out the Lucky Nugget Casino in Deadwood, South Dakota.

They’d had reports there by staff of shadow people, odd sounds, and an unidentifiable smell of perfume.

As it turned out, that very same building had once been used as a brothel, and had a history of paranormal phenomena. To cut a long story short, one of the members of Black Hills Paranormal experienced the “phantom” perfume smell for himself, and even heard footsteps in the hallway. He was alone in that area of the building at the time.

Did he smell the scent of a ghost from the old days, wearing the same old perfume, who had chosen to hang around?

The Wet Dog

In April 2016, The Sun reported the odd story of a man who believed he caught the spirit of his dead dog on camera. He’d been taking random photos of his children in their kitchen, when he noticed the presence of “strange orbs” and the scent of “wet dog.”

Prior to this event, they had also noticed the same smell, as well as floating orbs, in their hallway, an area where their pet frequented when alive.

The man later returned to this kitchen to investigate further, calling out his dog’s name, Mutley, and taking more pictures. The orbs returned, but he also found something else in one of the photos – what he believed was the shape of his dog sitting on the floor.

Is it possible that this family not only experienced haunting ghost orbs but also a smell from the beyond? Is their dog still with them, even after death?

The Ghost that Smelled Like Fish

Wet dogs are one thing, but how about ghosts that smell like fish? The story of Laura Dickson involves a ghost she believes “stalks” her, and, according to the Mirror, gives off a “fishy odor” as a warning of bad things to come.

When she was younger, the alleged ghost had given off its fishy smell right before she learned that a relative had suffered a stroke. She believes this was the spirit preparing her for the bad news.

Throughout her life, Dickson claims that she would first sense a presence, then the smell. Is she being given warnings, in the form of an odd fish smell, from the other side?

A Psychic Connection

Psychic Smells
Image: clairewinterphotography/Flickr via CC by 2.0

Something else to consider is the possible existence of a unique psychic ability, called Clairolfaction (or, as I’ve also heard it called, Clairalience or Clairscent).

While most are probably familiar with clairvoyance (the ability to “see” the future), clairolfaction is the ability to, well, smell the other side, or to otherwise gain extrasensory psychic information from smells.

There are more than a few reports online of such an ability, including the one up there about the fish ghost.

Titanic Perfumes

For example, in 2012 the Paranormal Georgia Investigations group posted about an experience they had at the Georgia Aquarium while investigating a Titanic exhibit.

The exhibit included perfume bottles recovered from the wreckage, but there was something else in the room – one member of the group distinctly smelled the cologne of a man as he walked in front of them. But no one else was there.

Smelling Fate

In another case, this one shared in 2011 on the website True Ghost Tales, a user told the story of a woman who could “smell” when someone was soon to die. It would manifest in the form of a “fresh dirt” or earthy smell right when she woke up.

After this happened several times, she made the connection. Within a few days before a family member’s or friend’s death, she would wake up to that peculiar smell. It got to the point where she wanted the bizarre ability to “go away,” but it never did. Whenever it would happen, she could only wonder who was next.

Can smells seep over from the other side? Do ghosts themselves have an odor? Can some people predict the future via smell?

The idea raises yet another question: Can ghosts, being incorporeal and likely not giving off a physical scent, intentionally manifest familiar smells in order to reach out to the living? Smell is one of our strongest senses, after all, and can illicit a range of emotions. It’s also very much linked to memory. Perhaps ghosts give off these familiar scents to remind us that they’re still here…

What do you believe?


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  1. I been to Stull, Lived near it. Nothing scary about it. I am a firm believer of ghosts and the paranormal but I call BS on her Stull experience. I am a sensitive meaning I can feel and see ghosts and pick up on demonic activities and Stull cemetery is not evil. The cemetery been boarded up and closed to the public for decades. I pick up no energies there. But I lived in haunted houses. Me and my mom had experiences some shared. One was the smell of a corpse. When My dog died the smell of death would appear and disappear in rooms but it would be in one room at a time only. Also for a few months we will see his ghost walking the hall way but eventually went away. This was in addition to the human ghosts we had. too long of a story lol

  2. A strong smell from my closet smells like rubingachole and I have to leave the room when I sit for a minute the smell just Aper’s out of know ware that I have to leave my por pet bird behind

  3. Hi I open my balcony door and the smell is like a skunk let go and I heard something knock on my window 3 times each time 3 knocks and happen 2 times and I heard a voice while resting on my bed and couldn’t hear what the word was they said and they repeated it about 5 seconds later but couldn’t pick out what the word was and I heard something bang into something like there foot in the apartment and some other noises .anyone know what is going on here.

  4. My brother was redoing a house. Practically stripped down to the shell. Originally built from a kit by a man who I believe lived it his days there. I was there visiting him while he worked and noticed an odor. The house was empty.. I leaned over and smelled the wall studs, as the dry wall hadn’t been put up. My brother asked what I was doing. ” I smell that old man smell.” He then told me he’d been smelling the same and his wife didn’t believe him. He then told me the water would turn on at random and the radio would lose signal to static. He tried to rationalize it until he felt validation by me also smelling i the mystery odor. So he told Lucky, aka Lemule, that he would take care of his house and not to worry.. Once it was done, there were no more incidents.

    1. I was in my bedroom preparing for bed. My son was already in bed and presumed asleep in his room – his first night sleeping in his own room as a “big boy.” The hall light was kept on to encourage his security, but also aided my ability to clearly see down the hall and into the living room. I don’t recall hearing anything, but at one point looked through my open bedroom door, down the hall into the living room and saw my son come directly into view and make eye contact with me as if he were curious if I became aware he was out of bed and playing in the living room when he shouldn’t have been, then retreat just as quickly out of view.

      Going into disciplinarian mode, I marched out of my bedroom, straight down the hall and into the living room, fully expecting to see him there, or at least the tail end of him escaping and heading back to his bedroom. I was more than a bit taken aback when not only was he not anywhere to be seen, but I didn’t hear any shuffle of his feet or more importantly, the inevitable noise of him hastily getting back into bed in order to avoid a reprimand for being up past bedtime.

      Despite my shock of his lightening speed escape expressed by my furrowed eyebrows over my wide eyes, I kept marching without hesitation through the living room and straight into his room, flicking on the light and speaking in a stern voice with normal volume, “Come on. Get up. Time to go to bed in my room.” (I have a second bed which he uses in my bedroom and was directing him there so I could monitor him staying in bed for the night.) I was speaking directly to him as he was lying motionless in bed with eyes closed and noticed that his blanket did not reflect any disturbance that he jumped into bed only a second before.

      I waited patiently for a response and carefully examined his breathing expecting it to be rapid from darting into bed. It was not, and he never flinched, not even the slightest smirk of his lips to indicate he was caught but unable to bluff that he was asleep. But, he actually was fast asleep which made me realize the impossibility that it could have been he who I saw only six seconds prior goofing around in the living room.

      If there had been any doubt in my mind about seeing him in the first place, as in a mere shadow in my peripheral vision or misinterpreting reflected light from an outside source, I never would have been so careless about potentially interrupting his sleep by turning on the light and speaking at a normal level of volume. It wasn’t a shadow I saw. It was the actual body of my son and all of its distinct characteristics, including undeniable eye contact with me. I also am without any doubt convinced it couldn’t have been he since knowing he wouldn’t have been able to appear to be sleeping peacefully in such a brief lapse of time which I estimate to be about six seconds.

      Being a skeptic about anything paranormal, my first inclination is to consider I experienced a hallucination, though it further boggles my mind why the presence of my child, and nothing else in the home environment, was the only thing I hallucinated. Every other detail was intact, from the usual fixtures in the room to the temporary placement of some shipping boxes which I didn’t find time to move before the end of the day. I fail to understand, still assuming I experienced a hallucination, why nothing else was amiss, different, added, or omitted from the hallucination other than my son.

      In my search Online to attempt to find answers, I have come across beliefs in what I would view as doppelganger myth to suppositions about lucid dreaming, but feel strongly that each view lacks evidence. This may very well be an event that never is resolved with an answer, yet has had a profound and unsettling effect in my mind. I’m certain however that I can eliminate the possibility of another individual who is only strikingly similar to my child, gaining access to our home and then disappearing only six seconds later.

  5. I’m here because of a recent experience that I do not believe to be paranormal, but have to consider as such.
    Back up about six months, when I was making a return at my local Home Depot. I and the returns associate were the only ones present and I suddenly smelled sulfur and assumed she had flatulated, and of course without excusing herself. I took a few steps back away from her with a grimace on my face after I realized there wasn’t any other possible source. Can you imagine how that customer complaint went? I was so disturbed by this, I actually called and spoke to the manager and suggested his associates could try to reserve their gas for when customers are not around or at least pardon themselves.

    Now, the present. A few days ago I was making a return at the same store after they had remodeled the returns desk which meant I was at a different location versus the last visit. Again, it was only the associate (a female, but not the same one as before) and I, and suddenly I experienced the onset of that horrific smell of sulfur. I glanced around to confirm no one else was present, and as before, turned in all directions and determined the smell was not coming from elsewhere. I just assumed Home Depot has flatulent female employees and created sufficient distance between us while turning my back to her and shielding my nose with the back of my hand.

    I began to question, What are the odds that this would happen to me twice at the same store, but a different location in the store, with different associates, but while making a return? This made me recall a time, years ago, when I was standing by myself in the middle of a room, with no one else present in the room, and was suddenly overcome with the smell of sulfur. I responded by turning and leaning into all directions in an attempt to determine the source, but the smell was localized. There weren’t any observable sources, such as vents or windows. The business owner offered an explanation that it was an evil, angry spirit. I accepted that explanation given none other reasonable one at the time.

    It’s most likely the Home Depot females passed gas which smelled of sulfur, both times, in incidents six months apart. But, I have to consider the presence of an evil spirit, too, particularly because, come to think of it, neither of those female associates gave any indication of noticing the putrid smell, even if just to cover their own asses (no pun intended).

    1. I hope you are joking, lol. Otherwise, you should consider that not all farts are intentional so making a formal complaint to a manager when your sales person accidently farts near you is kind of a dick thing to do. If it smelled that bad they probably have a medical issue in which your self-centered insensitivity caused them great grief, especially when being called into the manager’s office to discuss their flatulence problem, followed by them having to deny it and hoping the manager believed them. I mean, what a predicament to have to deal with… self absorbed customers AND trying to defend oneself in a case of ‘whodunit?’ Based on your story, I have the strong suspicion that since the fart problem seems to follow you and you alone, you are the one with the demonic butthole and need to go have it checked out before you get anyone else fired.

  6. No strange aromas, but….I was brought up by my “parents”(really my grandparents) and on weekends I was taken to spend time with my “sister”(really my mother, all this was relayed many years later). Mum lived in a flat with a long hallway to a 90° angle that continued a short distance to the bathroom. That short distance also had the doorways to the two bedrooms. One morning while brushing my teeth(aged around 10 years old), I could see out of the corner of my eye, my “nephew”(brother) was watching me from around the corner of the hallway. Several times I turned around to tell him to stop mucking around only for him to duck back around the corner. Finally, I walked down the hall to have a go at him and as I walked past his bedroom door, I can see that he is sound asleep in bed. Mum was also still asleep and no one else was in the flat. There is no way he could have got from the hallway into his room without me seeing him. Still to this day, more than 40 years later, I still get chills thinking about it. Mum said she used to astral travel when lying in bed in that flat. Strange times. Spooked the crap out of me!

    Then there was the night a few years ago when I woke in the middle of the night, I like to sleep with the TV on, and silhouetted against the TV were two small figures! Closed my eyes, reopened them a few seconds later and they were gone. THAT got the old heartbeat going! Took a while to get back to sleep that night.

  7. Just bought a home in Newport Subdivision, Crosby TX. Its classed as “The Black Hope Cemetery” due to a previous cemetery being there and they removed everything to make it a subdivision. We knew what it was prior, but we thought since being 1 block in we wouldn’t have issues, because we wasn’t to far back or in the middle. Boy was we wrong lol. 2wks after we moved in, we have had something so unexplainable happen. We was playing kick ball (rainbow rubber ball) outside with the kids. The ball was mid flight, almost to go over the wooden fence, then poof gone right in front of our eyes. We searched the yard, nothing. Went out front to check around the fence, nothing. Checked the neighbors yards, nothing. The damn rainbow ball (which was highly visible) gone like a magic trick. Where it went to who knows.

    2 of my kids, in the same corner of the living room, will run away crying and screaming. The first kid said it was a man that scared her, the second kid, only being 1, was so scared she dropped what she was playing with and ran. Mind you the curtains on the window in that corner was blowing with no breeze.

    In the playroom my brother and oldest child seen a shadow figure. My brothers back was facing a fake tree and my daughter was looking at it. When she panicked he turned around to see what the issue was, he said it was a man wearing a hat sitting under the fake tree, he had no face but you could see the eye sockets. He said it stood up and kept getting taller and taller tell they ran from the room. My brother is 10….he was scared enough he didn’t go back in that room.

    Currently at night it feels like a child is trying to climb up on the bed. You also smell a very strong bad smell that has no source. We are getting the house blessed this weekend and we hope it helps.

  8. Oh my god!so i am happy i found somewere to share my story this just happen to me yesterday at work. I work a brea college in brea ky i just had came of my lunch break at. About1:30pm im a big girl i didnt want to walk up the.hill so i chose to take the short cut through the basement horrible idea as soon as i stepped 1 foot in the BASEMENT it. Smelled like DEATH×20 I NEVER smelled.something so bad in my life so walked looking around as if i would find a dead animal in the basement as i walked tawards the elevater i seen miss pat she is fairly older then me she was holding her nose as well i just walked about 200feet to reach the.elevater there is bathrooms down there i assure you it was NO bathroom smell it was death so me and pat was going up in the evevater we felt trapped with this horrible smell happily the elevator door opens to the smell of broccoli as that was the veggies for lunch i looked around for tk ASAP so she can check to make sure there was no rotting food in the BASEMENT 2 min later if that she sayes come with me so we can check it out im lile NAW it stanks so bad she took the elevator with clint i took the stairs as i didnt want to be trapped with the stench in the elevator we are now in the BASEMENT i see charles coming toward us i say charles do u smell that he says i dont smell ANYTHING now im starting to feel very scared my hairs stood up on the back of my NECK real quick i look at him like oh no tk come over here it smelled so bad down here just 2 min ago i walked my same path as i did wen i. Was getting of break there was ABSOLUTELY NO SMELL ANYMORE NO SMELL freaked me out i just had moved from ny in March and this was my first job since moving here. I never experienced anything in my LIFE like this the smell there was no way that that strong smell could have dissapired. That fast NO WAY POSSIBLE. I HAVE HERD STORY’S BUT IM THE TYPE OF PERSON. IF IT DOESINT HAPPEN TO ME ITS HARD TO BELIEVE BUT I BELIEVE I LOVE PARAMORMAL SHOWS WATCH THEM OFTEN i am SCARED to ever go back in that basement i truly BELIEVE BREA COLLEGE BASEMENT IS HAUNTED i want to see the video footage when i go back to work on sunday to see if anything unusual happen moments befor i walked through that basement door

  9. I’ve been told by a physician that women have a more highly developed sense of smell than men, so I wasn’t surprised when I discovered a gas leak and a plumbing issue before my husband. Our last house that we lived in for 15 years, I would occasionally smell stale cigarette smoke. This usually occurred before something in the house changed drastically. We’ve only live in our new home a year and four months and suddenly, out of nowhere I started smelling stale cigarette again. This time, my spouse smells it too. We live with my mother-in-law (she’s not a smoker) who is the previous owner of the house. When we told her about the odor, she said she and her deceased husband never smoked in the house and the owners before her weren’t smokers either. The smell of cigarette smoke has been so strong in the house at times, I’ve had to step outside. I’ve been to doctors that ruled out the usual physical problems: sinus and nasal issues, thyroid problems and even had brain scans to rule out tumors. We’ve even gone so far as having the duct work in the home cleaned and change in HVAC filter every other month. I can only conclude after ruling out physical issues with myself and with the house that it could be some type of paranormal phenomenon.