The smell of paint

We’ve done up the guest loo. Replaced the basin and the pan, stuck some tiles down on the floor.

Oh, and we painted the walls as well. That was done yesterday and thus, the house smells of paint. You know about the smell of paint. It’s not a pleasant smell. Chemically. Painty.

Fortunately, Mrs 6000 has a “secret” “proven” way of getting rid of the smell of paint, which is backed up by many links on the internet.
You’ll therefore note that it’s not actually “secret” at all. Nor is it “proven” in any way, shape or form.

It involves chopping up several raw onions and leaving them in the room which has just been painted. The scientific theory behind this method goes (and here I quote):

I don’t know how it works, but it just does.

Well, fortunately I’m here and I’ve brought along Science to help with the nitty-gritty of the chemical processes involved.

Firstly, we need to look at the differences between a neutralising agent and a masking agent. It’s pretty straightforward, because these sensibly named agents either neutralise an odour or hide (mask) it behind another odour. Simples, ne?

Ideally, we need a neutralising agent here – some chemical that binds to the VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which cause the paint odour and thus render them less volatile and less odorous.

Onion fumes are not that. Onion fumes actually contain different VOCs – specifically including one called propanethiol S-oxide. Propanethiol S-oxide is the chemical in onions that make our eyes water. Propanethiol S-oxide will not bind to the VOCs from the paint fumes. Oh no. Propanethiol S-oxide will merely mask the paint odour by competing with it for the attention of our scent receptors in our noses.

Congratulations. Your house now smells of paint and onion. You’ve effectively doubled the number of unpleasant chemicals in your breathing environment.


If you’re going to use a masking agent, rather use something which at least smells nice. It’s not like you’re going to come home, notice that your house smells of paint and think:

I know, I’ll defaecate in the corner of the living room; there’s an idea which is sure to make the paint smell less obvious.

is it?

I can’t decide if the tears in my eyes this morning were from the sheer lack of science involved in the whole chopped raw onion thing or the propanethiol S-oxide widely circulating around my home.

This whole issue has been compounded by the fact that the said bathroom window faces south, so opening the window to ventilate the room merely allowed yesterday’s howling southeaster to come through said bathroom, pick up the combined paint and onion smell and distribute it liberally around the rest of the house.

My wife and I have been married for nearly 8 years now and we’ve done a lot of painting, so we’ve also “discussed” this onion idea on several occasions previously and I’ve had very little success (absolutely none, in fact) in getting her to stop it. Thus, yesterday evening, as she headed for the vegetable drawer, I sensibly kept my mouth closed and left her to it.

And then for the rest of the evening, I wished that I could do the same with my nose.

7 thoughts on “The smell of paint

  1. Whipped is what unmarried men say to married men who have developed half a clue how to make their own lives easier. It’s got nothing to do with being whipped, and everything to do with not making trouble for yourself unnecessarily!

  2. Hahahaha this made me laugh. You guys have the same dynamic as Mr C and I . Must be an English thing… As for the comments above, just LOL

  3. Gary > You very cleverly avoided using the word “surrender” there.

    Ronnie > I have no idea who Mr C is, but he’s anything like Mr T, then I’d probably want to keep him happy.

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