Our nose is not just for resting our glasses on or decorating with a spot of shiny jewellery, there’s a lot of science stuff going on up there, and it’s definitely not to be sniffed at. Our noses are worthy of a bigger fuss than they perhaps receive.

There’s around 400 different types of olfactory receptors (the things which detect the chemical compounds that make up different smells), analysing each whiff, then sending the information to our brain. Once there, it decides if that particular smell is pleasant, repulsive, or simply neutral.

Professor Krishna Persaud is from the University of Manchester and an expert in biochemistry. He’s been studying the effect smells have on humans for more than 30 years. He said…….

“The way we perceive smell is really due to the pattern of information that’s generated by all the different sensors being interpreted by the brain in terms of a particular kind of smell. One smell is not one chemical, it’s very often a mix of many, many different chemicals.”

Our noses are worthy of a bigger fuss than they perhaps receive

So what smells do we like, or indeed those that leave us feeling a little queasy? VELO set out to survey 2,000 people within the UK in order to find out which scents win our hearts.

They asked people to choose from some of the most common scents in order to find out which smell would come out on top, and which smell people would rather live without. Respondents were also analysed by age, gender and city to look at how those characteristics can influence reactions to different scents.

  • Freshly Baked Bread is the nation’s favourite scent
  • The UK missed the scent of a Sunday pub lunch and fried chips more than the smell of a family member over lockdown
  • Frying Bacon and Fish and Chips make the Top Five for Men in comparison to the Vanilla and Freshly Washed Clothes for Women
  • Best foodie scents, cleaning scents and worst scents revealed below
  • South Wales loves the smell of coffee


30% of the respondents say the smell of freshly baked bread is one of their favourite scents. That makes it more popular than the smell of sizzling bacon (21%) and even fresh flowers (19%). The smell of freshly baked bread is more popular for respondents aged 55+ (42%) compared to only 12% of 18-24-year olds surveyed who feel the same way.

Following closely behind the top spot is the smell of fresh coffee (27%). This is also the most picked choice of smells from respondents in these UK cities: Plymouth (35%), Sheffield (32%) and Leeds (31%). The third favourite scent in the UK is freshly cut grass – the first of the outdoor smells. Almost a quarter of people surveyed (24%) chose freshly mowed grass as one of their top outside smells. Interestingly, it is a greater favourite for those living in big UK cities; respondents in Brighton (35%), Liverpool (34%) and Nottingham (26%) all chose it as one of their top smells.

As you can see, we do like us a bit of coffee here in South Wales.


This category looked at some of the most common smells associated with spending time outdoors.

The summery scent of freshly cut grass came out as the overall favourite for outdoor smells (24%). Velo found that the smell of freshly cut grass is a smell our survey respondents missed more than the salty scent of the seaside (19%), a smoky BBQ (9%) and the smell of rain (8%).

It was also found that fresh outdoor smells, like cut grass, are more preferred by the women surveyed than the men (25% vs 22%).


As the overall favourite scent, the warm aroma of freshly baked bread (30%) was, of course, found to be the overall favourite food smell. It beat frying bacon (21%) and even a Sunday roast (16%) to the top spot amongst respondents.

Freshly baked bread beats everything else to the top of the board in most regions around the country, however, in the North East, the smell of frying bacon came out on top (27%). In Wales (28%), Yorkshire and the Humber (29%), and the East Midlands (29%), the smell of fresh coffee sits firmly as the favourite foodie smell. Greater London enjoys the scent of vanilla the most (25%), and for Northern Ireland, the smell of chocolate (38%).


The clean, comforting smell of freshly washed clothes is the UK’s favourite cleaning scent (18%). The cities that are home to those who chose this smell as their favourite are Sheffield (30%), closely followed by Cardiff (27%) and finally, Belfast (26%).

The smell of freshly washed clothes beat relaxing scented candles (15%) and the smell of a newly deep-cleaned house (10%). It is also a more prevalent favourite with the women surveyed (27%) than with the men (16%).

Cleaning smells also emphasised generational differences. For the younger respondents (aged 25-34 year olds), shampoo is one of the most highly rated cleaning scents (11%), whereas furniture polish is a favourite for the over 55s surveyed (10%) only.


Unsurprisingly, 62% of those surveyed think that vomit is one of the worst smells of all, and the results of our analysis show that this smell is considered one of the worst by females primarily, compared to the male respondents (70% vs 54%). The smell of vomit is disliked more than sewage (59%), body odour (45%) and nappies (33%).

To see what other smells the UK consider to be the best and worst, and to see how your county compares to its neighbours, you can read the full analysis on the VELO blog now.