When we smell something, it’s because our olfactory receptors have detected a gas, liquid, or solid with a smell and sent an electrical signal to the part of the brain that processes smell. If you have ever caught a whiff of natural gas while hiking or camping, you probably noticed that it smells like rotten eggs. This is because hydrogen sulfide (HS) is one of the primary chemical components in natural gas. Any time you smell sulfur in nature, it’s usually a sign that something has been disturbed and has the potential to become dangerous—like when you smell rotten eggs near streams, rivers, hot springs, or geothermal vents. we’ve put together this quick article explaining why we can detect odors from certain gases even if they are invisible to the human eye.
Is Smelling Gas Bad For You?
The short answer is – yes, smelling gas can be dangerous and even deadly. Gasoline contains toxic chemicals that are harmful to your health. When you smell gasoline, you breathe in these dangerous chemicals straight into your lungs. Over time, this can lead to serious health problems, including cancer and heart disease.
What Causes Natural Gas to Smell?
1. Rotten egg smell in Natural Gas
If you notice a strong smell of rotten eggs when you use your appliances, this could be an indication that there is too much sulfur in your gas. This can occur naturally in some regions due to the fossil fuel source of your gas or it may be a sign that there is a problem with the gas supply. If you smell rotten eggs and there are no noticeable issues with your appliances, you should contact your gas company to have them analyze the gas and check for leaks. If the smell is particularly strong, you may want to leave your home and stay somewhere else until the problem is fixed.
2. Mercaptan Smell in Natural Gas
If you smell a strong and unmistakable odor of rotten eggs, it could be due to what is called “mercaptan” in the gas. This is a chemical added to natural gas to give it a very distinct and unpleasant smell. The smell is so strong that it can be detected even at very low levels of mercaptan in the gas. If there is a very high level of mercaptan in your gas, it can be a danger to people with respiratory issues, such as asthma. If you smell rotten eggs and have respiratory issues, you should try to limit your exposure to the smell. You can also ask your doctor if you should leave your home. In most cases, though, the smell of rotten eggs is a harmless addition to the gas.
3. Burnt rubber smell in natural gas
If you smell a strong burnt rubber smell when you turn on your appliances, this could be an indication that there is too much butane in your gas. This usually occurs in the fall and winter months when the demand for gas is high and the pipes are less efficient. If the smell is particularly strong and persistent, you may want to contact your gas company to have them analyze the gas and check for leaks. If the smell is very strong and you have respiratory issues, you may want to leave your home until the problem is resolved.
4. Chemical Smells in Natural Gas
If you notice an unusual chemical smell, particularly a sweet or chemical-like smell, when you use your appliances, it could be an indication of a higher level of carbon monoxide in your gas. This could also be an indication that there is a problem with the gas supply. If the smell is particularly strong and you have respiratory issues, you should leave your home and contact your gas company. In some cases, you may want to consider calling 911 if there are other warning signs, such as headaches or dizziness, that are associated with carbon monoxide poisoning.
5. Unusually Dark or Foul-Smelling Fog
If you notice a dark or foul-smelling fog coming from your natural gas appliances, it could be an indication of a clog in your gas line. Usually, a clog will lead to a reduced flow of gas and an increase in pressure, which may cause the smell to be more noticeable. If you notice a dark or foul-smelling fog coming from your natural gas appliances, it could be an indication of a clog in your gas line. Usually, a clog will lead to a reduced flow of gas and an increase in pressure, which may cause the smell to be more noticeable. In some cases, a clog may lead to a break in the line, which could be a dangerous situation. If you notice a dark or foul-smelling fog coming from your natural gas appliances, you should contact your gas company to have them inspect the line.
How Does Natural Gas Smell?
- Natural gas, as with any other gas, has no odor. This means that it does not have any smell. It is odorless. When it is transformed into a liquid (for example, during transportation through pipes), it still does not have any smell. However, many gas companies add odor to natural gas so we can detect leaks more easily.
- Natural gas companies add mercaptan (a sulfur compound) to change its smell. The chemical formula of mercaptan is HSH. This explains why natural gas smells like rotten eggs. Many other companies add other chemicals (e.g., butane) that produce other scents.
- When natural gas leaks outside your house or building, it usually mixes with the air. The air molecules in the surrounding area absorb some of the odor. When you smell natural gas, you smell only a part of the odor added to it. You do not smell the pure gas.
How To Detect Natural Gas with Your Nose?
1. Monitor the Smell of Your Home
If you smell a strong chemical odor, you likely have a gas leak. If you smell a strong chemical smell and you don’t have any appliances or other appliances running that could be causing it, that’s a sign of a gas leak. Be sure to check the smell of your home on a regular basis and note if there are any sudden changes. You may not notice a gas leak right away, but a strong odor could be a sign that you need to take action right away. If you smell a gas leak, you should immediately turn off the source of the leak, evacuate the area, and call the gas company to report the leak. Do not try to turn off the gas yourself; you risk being harmed by the gas.
2. Use a Natural Gas Leak Detection Kit
If you suspect you have a gas leak, use a natural gas leak detection kit to identify where the leak is located. Natural gas leak detection kits are available at hardware stores, gas companies, and online. Natural gas leak detection kits are relatively inexpensive and come with all the tools you need to identify the location of the leak. For example, many kits include a carbon monoxide detector that can detect natural gas leaks as well. Once you’ve found the location of the leak, you can contact the gas company to make repairs.
3. Hire a Professional Gas Detector
If you have a very large leak or you aren’t sure where the leak is coming from, it may be best to hire a professional gas detector to find the source of the leak. Gas companies often have professional gas detectors on call, while contractors may also have natural gas leak detectors they can use to find the source of your leak. Natural gas leaks are often invisible, meaning they can come from underground or be inside walls or other places where they can be difficult to find. A professional gas detector can help you identify the source of your leak, as well as how much gas is leaking, so you can take action to repair the leak and avoid an explosion.
4. Install a Smart Carbon Monoxide Monitor
A carbon monoxide detector can also be used to detect natural gas leaks. While a carbon monoxide detector doesn’t specifically look for the presence of natural gas, it can still be used to identify potential gas leaks. When a carbon monoxide detector detects high levels of carbon monoxide in the air, it will sound an alarm, as well as send a notification to your phone. You can also set your carbon monoxide detector to send an alert when carbon monoxide levels are abnormally high. If your carbon monoxide detector sends you an alert and you smell a strong chemical odor, this could be a sign of a natural gas leak. Natural gas is odorless, so you can’t rely on your nose to detect it. But you can use your carbon monoxide detector to identify the source of the leak and report it to the gas company.
When we smell something, it’s because our olfactory receptors have detected a gas, liquid, or solid with a smell and sent an electrical signal to the part of the brain that processes smell. Be safe and keep your family safe by knowing what the signs of a gas leak are, so you can act quickly if you ever smell gas inside your home.