What It Means When You Smell a Dead Person’s Perfume

  • By: Nathan Cherry
  • Time to read: 6 min.

I smell dead peooopleeee…

Have you ever been sitting comfortably in your living room, minding your own business, when suddenly your nose is greeted with the familiar fragrance of Shalimar, which your dearly departed grandmother used to wear? 

If so (or if you have experienced anything approaching this relatively specific anecdote), depending on your beliefs there are a number of different interpretations of what exactly might have happened. 

Smelling a dead person’s perfume could have a range of possible explanations. Perhaps the smell lingers on their clothing or objects they owned. Perhaps you smelled it off another person. Perhaps you’ve had a bout of phantosmia. Or perhaps you have clairolfaction, a psychic sense of smell. 

Who am I to discount any possibility? For this article, let’s take a walk on the (potentially) supernatural side of scent. 

The Mundane Explanation 

If you are a supernatural skeptic like myself, you might find it difficult to believe that spirits and phantasms move just behind the veil of vision in the world of living, redolent of Chanel No. 5 or Drakkar Noir

Of course, there’s no way of confirming that they don’t. But if you are not exactly sympathetic to the spiritual, there are some potential non-supernatural explanations as to why you smelled a dead person’s perfume. 

You Smelled It From a Passerby 

Perhaps the simplest potentiality is that you smelled the same perfume that the dead person in question wore in life radiating off of another person. 

That spectral whiff of Shalimar you caught on the wind? Perhaps somebody else was wearing it and you didn’t see them. It is, after all, one of the most famous, popular, and imitated perfumes of all time, especially for the older generations. 

However, if you’re sitting alone at home and not out and about, the idea that you smelled someone else’s perfume might not suffice. 

You Smelled It From Their Clothing or Objects They Owned

Perfume can be surprisingly resilient. 

When the vanity of Joséphine, Napoleon’s beloved first wife, was opened nearly seventy years after her death, the scent of violets (her favorite flowers), roses, and musk could still be vividly smelled. 

Perfume can last for an especially long time on fabric. If you’ve still got the deceased person in question’s particulars, then it’s very possible that the smell of their fragrance is lingering, even if they passed away long ago. 

But what if you didn’t smell it from someone passing by, and you don’t have anything that belonged to the deceased person? 

There are still some possible worldly explanations to consider. 

You’re Experiencing Phantosmia

I wrote a whole article about phantosmia, which you can check out here if you’re so inclined. 

The gist is this: phantosmia, also known as olfactory hallucination, is a condition which causes people to smell things that aren’t there. Usually, the scent that sufferers from phantosmia report smelling is unpleasant, such as rotting sewage or ammonia, but it’s not unheard of for people to smell perfume or pleasing aromas.

More often than not, phantosmia is brought on by more or less mundane conditions such as the common cold, allergies, sinus infections, or migraines and goes away fairly quickly. 

However, in more severe cases, phantosmia can be a sign of brain injury, epilepsy, neuroblastoma, or a stroke. 

If you’ve been experiencing any of the above symptoms and the phantom odor persists, it might be time to contact your physician for further guidance. 

You Experienced a Powerful Scent Memory

Scent and memory are inexorably linked. For many lovers of perfume, including myself, this becomes one of the greatest joys of being a perfume collector. Jean-Claude Ellena, a renowned master perfumer who has served as the architect of many fine fragrance, once wrote, “Perfume is a story in odor, sometimes a poetry in memory.” 

Scent encapsulates and crystallizes memories. I can smell Gucci’s Pour Homme II and instantly remember my college days – individual memories, yes, but also my moods and feelings. The scent of orange blossoms immediately draws me back to Spain, where I once lived, and Seville smothered in the radiant aroma of its thousands of orange trees in bloom. 

And the smell of Chanel’s No. 5 reminds me of my mother; it’s her signature scent, and has been since the 70s. I know that long after she’s gone, the smell of No. 5 will remind me of her. 

Memory, perfume, and emotion intertwine, often in surprising and unexpected ways. And the association goes both ways. While scent is a powerful olfactive trigger for emotion, emotion can also be a trigger for olfaction, especially if the dead person in question had a particular mental association with their smell in your mind. 

It’s not the most scientific explanation, of course, but it is possible that while reminiscing about the deceased person, your mind conjured up a kind of olfactory hallucination of its own design, allowing you to experience not only an abstract memory, but a sensory memory as well. 

Whether or not you believe that is, of course, up to you. But that makes a perfect segue into the next item on the order of business…

The Paranormal Explanation

I must reiterate that I am quite skeptical of the supernatural. While I certainly don’t discount it utterly (after all, there is no way to finally and absolutely disprove the existence of supernatural phenomena), neither do I believe in haunted houses or ghosts or demons, at least not in the way that they appear in the movies. Unfortunately, I fear that the world is a lot less interesting (in a way) than all that. 

Nevertheless, you shouldn’t let my opinion color yours. There are those who have an ardent belief in the notion of clairolfaction or clairalience, a heightened, psychically attuned sense of smell. 


In the same family as clairvoyance (the psychic ability to see the future), clairaugustance (a psychic sense of smell), claircognizance (“clear knowing”), clairaudience (psychic hearing), and clairsentience (psychic awareness), clairolfaction refers to a psychic sense of smell. 

When you’re clairolfactive, you sense smells not with the use of your physical nose, but with your heightened senses. 

According to this interpretation, smelling the perfume of someone who has passed on is like getting checked up on by the spirit of that person, a kind of spiritual embrace. Perhaps the energy of that person still remains and is reawakened from time to time, or perhaps the actual spirit of the departed person comes to visit. 

Many people claim to be clairolfactive, including my own mother, so it is possible that there is something behind the idea. If you often smell the scent of a deceased person’s perfume, or if you smell phantom scents, there’s a possibility that you might have clairolfaction yourself. 

The Final Word

Whether you believe in paranormal phenomena or are a bit of a skeptic like myself, there’s a range of different possibilities for why you might have smelled a dead person’s perfume.

Smelling a dead person’s perfume might have a simple explanation. You might still have some clothing or possessions of the person, smelled the perfume from someone else, experiencing phantosmia or a particularly strong scent memory. It’s also possible that you have clairolfaction – a psychic sense of smell, if you believe in it.