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Covid-19 Smell Testing

Guidance on screening and testing smell ability for individuals and organisations

Smell Training Self Test

Establish your baseline ability to smell before you start training. Click here to download the test.

Smell Training Diary Log

A handy diary to log your smell training, learn from it and record progress. Click here to download the diary.

Smell Training Using What You Have

Guidelines on how to smell train using things you have at home

Smell Training Using Essential Oils

Guidelines on how to smell train using essential oils

‘How to Smell Train At Home’ – Video

Watch Sarah McCartney guide you through how to smell train

Using What You Have At Home

A number of studies have been done in recent years which suggest that repeated short-term exposure to smells can potentially be of benefit to people who have been affected by olfactory loss or distortions, particularly for those who have lost their sense of smell as the result of a virus including the common cold and Covid-19.

Attempts have been made to categorise smells, in the same way that tastes have been classified as being sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Studies suggest you choose scents to represent the four smell categories of Flowery, Fruity, Spicy and Resinous. However, you can choose any smell you feel comfortable with, have available and enjoy.
What you need:
  • Different items from the home that provide a range of smells – try to select things that you know you found to be pleasant and/or have a connection with. Lemon and orange rind, nutmeg, clove, mint, eucalyptus, ground coffee, coconut and vanilla are all items you can use.
  • You can use the raw material (e.g smell directly from the pepper grinder, rip a sprig of fresh herbs) or you can use small bowls or jars (ramekins, clean glass spice or baby food jars are ideal)


  1. Place each item into a separate bowl/jar or just take the raw material into your hands
  2. Relax and slowly take short gentle sniffs (sometimes called bunny sniffs) – sniffing too hard, too quickly and too deeply is likely to result in you not being able to detect anything
  3. Repeat 2 or 3 more times, then rest for five minutes
  4. Move on to the next smell and repeat as above.
  5. Record your experience – any changes, what you notice etc in your SmellAbility Diary Log

Sarah McCartney Teaches Smell Training 

Sarah is an artisan perfumer and writer who founded the indie fragrance company, 4160Tuesdays, in 2011.  In 2019 she set up Scenthusiasmthe Slow Scent School, to help people explore the world of perfume and create their own scents.  Sarah has worked at multi-sensory events and with organisations to create fragrances which explore and enhance music, dance, workspaces, meditation and art. She is also a co-author of The Perfume Companion, and author of The Scent of Possibility.

  • Smell train at least twice every day, ideally morning and evening – some items can be sealed in the jar (such as nutmeg or coffee) and used again. Some you will need to refresh each day (lemon/orange rind)
  • Relax and inhale naturally
  • Don’t sniff too hard or for too long…10 seconds for each smell is enough
  • And try to stick with it. If you cannot smell anything at first then do not be disheartened. Everyone is different, and we’ve heard from people who have tried this process themselves and have experienced varying degrees of success. For some people it can take weeks or even longer before they detect anything, and some people may not get any benefit from it at all, but it is worth trying
  • In-between focused sessions, take note of the smells around you, try to experiment whenever you have chance to take a smell of something you come into contact with

Just remember that studies have shown that the sense of smell can change and improve, and that it can be trained and developed with exposure to odours, as expert perfumers will testify. Good luck!

Smell Training Q&A

Where can I buy the smells used in smell training?
You don’t have to buy oils to smell train – you can use items you have at home and follow the SmellAbility Toolbox guide above for Smell Training Using What You Have. However, if you prefer to have a dedicated set of scents, you can use essential oils, which come in a wide variety of aromas. They can be purchased online and from aromatherapy shops. Essential oils are suggested because they are a stable source of odour that can keep for weeks in sealed vials/jars. The oils themselves don’t have any sort of healing properties, but they do have shelf life that can be helpful in having pre-prepared resources.

Does it matter which smells I use?

Many of the smell training research studies have used the same four smells – lemon, rose, clove and eucalyptus. However there’s no evidence to say these are the ‘right’ smells to use. You could certainly start with these, and change them regularly – see the next question. Choosing smells that you are familiar with and have memories of is a good idea. You can also use your other senses to help and use every opportunity to smell train whenever you can – when you eat an orange, use your senses of touch and sight to help you to recall memories, when you go for a walk, enjoy the breeze and look at the detail of the flowers whilst you take a sniff. All of this will help your regular, more formal smell training.

Why change the smells?

One group of participants in the 2015 ‘Modified Olfactory Training’ study (see main page text) changed to a different set of four smells every twelve weeks. The study suggests that this can potentially enhance success rates (note that the study was focused on people with post-viral olfactory loss).