Hand Sanitizer Named “2020 Odor of the Year”

The sense of smell is more closely tied to memory than our other senses. Scents can evoke memories— good, bad, or long-forgotten. Following a year that most of us would like to forget—at least on some level—we thought it made sense to ask what scents people will forever associate with 2020.

Not surprisingly, in a year when people didn’t (and still don’t) leave home without hand sanitizer and a mask, hand sanitizer was overwhelmingly voted the 2020 Odor of the Year by 60% of consumers who responded to Aryballe’s online poll. Other top responses paid homage to the hobbies (sourdough bread, anyone?), hottest products on store shelves (you can never have too many sanitizing products—or toilet paper), and unpleasant comparisons (burning garbage) commonly associated with 2020:

  • Baked goods (11%)
  • Cleaning products (10%)
  • Dumpster fire (5%)
Odor signatures for four leading odors of 2020 captured with Aryballe’s silicon photonics-based sensors which show variation in biosensor response across the four odors.
If we look at the PCA for these odors, we see a clear clustering across the four samples, despite some overlap in the signatures for cleaning products and a dumpster fire, indicating good discrimination using Aryballe’s solution.

In the survey, 88% of consumers also reported that odor can negatively or positively impact their purchasing behavior, citing anecdotes ranging from rotten produce in a grocery store to overwhelming fragrance in a department store.

The good news is, the malodors are dissipating and hope is returning. Vaccine distribution has begun and the antiseptic odor once associated with lockdown may now be tied to health and a reconnection to those outside our quarantine bubbles.

Consumers are hopeful for a brighter and sweeter smelling 2021. Roughly 37% of survey respondents said they hope to associate the smell of freedom with the new year. While freedom takes on a different scent for individuals, the most popular with our survey respondents spoke to fresh air, flowers, fresh cut grass, running water, campfires, BBQs, sunscreen, and pine trees.

Our sincere hope is that those who responded—and everyone else—will get to enjoy the sweet smell of freedom in 2021 and that we leave the chaos and bad odors of 2020 behind us.