School Scents

School Scents

It is truly amazing to consider the role that scents play in our ability to recall the past. One whiff of a certain smell can transport us right back to our childhood as if it were yesterday. And when posters on Retroland were asked to name their favorite smells from their school days, they weren’t shy about voicing their opinions. Here are the five school scents that were most often mentioned.

5) Crayons – Whether it was the wax, or the paper the crayons were wrapped in, or a combination of the two, we’re not really sure – all we know is that a freshly opened crayon box smells divine.

4) Cafeterias – Love it or hate it, there is no denying that a school lunch room has a unique smell that lingers in the memory long after graduation. That strange mix of school-bought lunch trays and homemade tuna sandwiches combined to create something quite memorable, if not always lovable.

3) Glue/Paste – Whether it was simple paste, Elmers Glue, or everyone’s favorite booger-producing rubber cement, if two things needed to be affixed, it was almost a sure bet that some wonderful smells would accompany the process.

2) Ditto Paper – Kids today haven’t learned to love the smell of freshly mimeographed ditto paper in the morning, and it is their loss. This was a close contender for the number one spot. All hail the scent of printing chemicals!

1) Magic Markers – All those vivid colors, all those fruity flavors – we whiffed with reckless abandon and knocked many a magic marker out of commission prematurely as they tended to dry out quickly, leaving us with unfinished artwork, and a child-sized monkey on our back.

Did your favorite school scent fail to make our list? Tell us what we missed in our comments section.

12 Responses to “School Scents”

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  1. Wishnick59 says:

    New pack of Crayola Crayons
    Paper of the new marble notebook
    The leather attache school bag
    Hot lunch cooking
    White Paste

  2. soulblazer says:

    Okay, I will admit that my nose was colored more often then my construction paper but that same nose remembers the generic smell of aged books. In every library I’ve visited, I can always find that almost mildew, almost moldy aroma.

    Among memories of rotting wood pulp, I recall the wax used on both the gymnasium and hallway floors. Both fond and depressing memories go hand in hand in response to those diffused odors and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  3. Timothy1964 says:

    Construction paper
    Tempera paints
    Oil pastels
    New text books
    Science rooms
    The cafeteria
    The hallway near the home ec. rooms
    The school building itself (Most of the schools I’ve attended were built during the 1960s/early 1970s and always had a unique smell when you walked in the main entrance, very unlike older schools. I’ve always loved the smell of a new/modern school building!)
    Ok…I know that’s more than five. Just thought I’d add all my favorite school-related scents!!!

  4. Suellen says:

    1. That sickly sweetish smell as one enters the building.
    2. Ditto paper (loved that smell)
    3. The soap in the restrooms ( it was thin and amber colored)
    4.Wood polish (my school was old and everything was wooden)
    5. The hog barn across the road from the school.

  5. The smell in Crayolas is from stearic acid, which hardens the wax. And I love it, too.

    Suellen’s right: That high, thin smell of the school building, particular when it was summer school, is a powerful memory inducer for me. And I love Timothy’s list, particularly the cafeteria smell that told you what was being cooked for lunch: that odd ground beef + elbow macaroni + tomatoes casserole? tuna wiggle? the funny generic pizza? all good. :)

  6. PacManDreaming says:

    When I was a kid, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, no matter what school cafeteria you walked into, they all had the same smell. And every lunchbox smelled like peanut better and jelly sandwiches and ripe bananas.

    • Alison says:

      OMGoodness the smell of the lunchbox smelling like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and ripe bandannas is so true :0)

  7. Barb says:

    For me, the unforgettable smell is the “lost and found” box. I was entranced with the mixture of someone’s mom’s perfume, mixed with the foreign (to me) aroma of a parent’s cigar, pipe, or cigarette smoke, combined with a little freshly mown playground grass, maybe a faint hint of dog poop, wet wool mittens, smelly sneakers, all topped off with a week old egg salad or tuna salad and rotten apple! Ah, good memories!!

    • actifzo says:

      ditto paper
      rubber cement
      and my favorite: sanfords permanent markers (with the tan stripes). in kindergarten our teacher would mark out activity workbooks with one, and every single one of us would hold the book up to our nose and sniff. ahh….the memories.

  8. jimmy says:

    Have you all forgotten? The linseed oil applied to the black boards with an old chamois to clean the chalky residue left after a week or two of daily use resulted in an industrial, now nostalgic aromatic fragrance that permeated the entire three-room school house back in the 1950s and early 60s.

    This was usually done on Friday afternoons by the taller boys in the class who could reach the top of the boards. The teacher would bring out this old coffee can with the oil-soaked cloth to clean the boards after they had been erased. The girls would take the erasers outside to be clapped together to rid them of excess chalk.

    Upon returning the following Monday morning, especially in the winter time when the forced hot water heating had been on, the scent was totally unique,- oh how I long for those days that we thought would last forever…

  9. Michelle T says:

    1. New Crayolas
    2. Paste
    3. Graham Crackers
    4. Milk boxes
    5. Plastic smell from the inflatable Letter People.
    One wiff of a new box of Crayolas and school paste and I am 5 and getting ready to start kindergarten. I can distrinctly remember taking out my brand new school supplies 100 times before school started just to look at, smell and dream about what school was like. I was not disappointed as I loved kindergarten and everything about it.

  10. Lynn says:

    I LOVED scented magic markers.

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