Top 10 Worst Smells In The Hospital

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

There is nary a seasoned nurse who would dare show up for a shift without a nose saver, like a few Halls cough drops tucked away in the pocket.

Goodness knows there are all too many opportunities for icky smells to drift into a nurse’s workday.

Break out the peppermint oil and get a whiff of our top ten list of worst smells in the hospital!

10. Alcohol swabs

9. Benzoin tincture

8. Tube feeds

7. Cafeteria food

6. TPN

5. Code Brown

4. Bile

3. Vascular wounds

2. C. diff

1. GI bleeds

How did we do? Did we miss any? Share our own list in the comments section below. 

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. After a bad code brown and someone has decided to cover the odor with cinnamon air freshener spray. Can never eat cinnamon again.

  2. Pseudomonas growing anywhere. It’s good for nurses to use their nose as an assessment skill. These germs have unique odors: c diff, strep, yeast, pseudomonas. I wish there was a scratch and sniff for student nurses.

  3. Feet. Unwashed street person, when you take their shoes and socks off and the only thing you can do is coat the feet in shaving cream and tie the shoes in a plastic bag. BTW, alcohol swabs will get most nasty smells out of your nose.

  4. You’ve got to be kidding. Melena is about the worst smell you could imagine along with the various colors and textures of vomit and ulcerated legs.
    John Walker R.N.

  5. Death Breath !!! Well, actually patients who are not receiving proper oral care will often have (amongst other things) protein particles between teeth and gums. This results in those protein particles decomposing. The chemical which is produced is called putrescine (or tetramethylenediamine NH2(CH2)4NH2). This is perhaps one of the most foul smelling and repulsive scents known to man. Yes, this is the same organic compound which forms from breakdown of the protein structures in dead bodies, corpses, road kill, etc.
    Moreover, this presents an Infection Prevention and Control opportunity for conscientious caregivers. Proper and frequent oral hygiene is effective in the prevention of nosocomial pneumonias and other RTIs. This includes the flossing of interdental spaces to remove the trapped proteins, brushing with suds and rinsing thoroughly. All of this decreases the oral microbe population as well. Especially critical in those patients who are unable to engage in oral hygiene.
    PS – Don’t forget to wash your hands — frequently and thoroughly — for your sake and for your patient’s safety.


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