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Freshly cut grass, Vicks vapour rub and classroom chalk among most nostalgic smells

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The smell of sun cream, bubble gum and fish and chips have been unveiled on the list of 40 scents which trigger nostalgic childhood memories of school days, holidays and loved ones. The study of 2,000 adults also found freshly mown grass, candy floss and rain on hot tarmac set the senses harking back to years gone by.

Experts found a waft of lavender, peppermint and were most likely to spark memories of their grandma, while the smell of petrol, musty sheds and Old Spice were likely to prompt memories of granddad.

The research, commissioned by Disneyland Paris to mark the launch of its new attraction Ratatouille – The Adventure on 10th July, also found over half of Brits said the aromas of holiday destinations trigger lasting memories.

Additionally the results showed eight in ten of those polled said a whiff of a certain aroma instantly transports them back to a specific memory – over 70% said those memories were happy ones.

Sensory expert, Professor Barry Smith, who worked with Disneyland Paris said:

“More than any other sense, smell can evoke powerful, emotional memories. Whole scenes of people, places and things can be brought back to life by the mere hint of a long forgotten scent.

“The rooms in a friend’s house, a boat trip, the sound of a voice, can all be conjured up by smell’s power to reproduce the scenes for us.

“The top 40 scents show a wide array of things that awaken our senses and stay with us for the rest of our lives.

“They show the pleasure we take in experiencing smells and the powerful emotions they evoke.

“Happy memories from childhood are bound up with particular smells, and it is the sense of smell that will preserve our link to them.

“Whether it’s a seaside holiday, a visit to a fairground, or a sunny walk through a forest, suddenly smelling a particular scent can suddenly take us right back there, re-creating the whole sensory experience.

“Our strongest memories draw on our senses working together, so a multi-sensory experience, such as Ratatouille – The Adventure, that immerses us in a world of not just of sights, sounds and feels, but also smells, lays down vivid memories that can be re-experienced later.”

The influence of childhood memories on us as adults was clear with six in ten saying our early memories affect us powerfully as adults.

Results also showed the smell of chalk, pencil shavings and marker pens puts us right back in the classroom, while the smell of fresh leather has us harking back to slipping our feet into a brand new pair of school shoes.

While the alluring scent of Chanel perfume or a particular hairspray sparks visions of Mum or Grandma getting ready to go out.

Bonfire smoke, a mug of hot Bovril and the smell of a smoky log fire wrap us back in our cold winter nights growing up.

Certain smells really do stick – the over 55s were just as likely to associate the scent of candyfloss with fun childhood attractions as the under 25s were.


1. Freshly mown grass (summer days/school sports day)
2. Pencil shavings/case/stationery (school days)
3. Baby powder (having babies/when the kids were babies)
4. Vicks vapour rub (colds/illness)
5. Plasticine (school days)
6. Candyfloss (childhood, fairground)
7. Bonfires (Winter nights)
8. Sun cream (family holidays)
9. Fish and chips (Early holidays)
10. Old perfume (gran/mum)
11. Bubble gum (sweet shops)
12. Chalk (classrooms)
13. Talcum powder (baths as a child)
14. Pipe smoke (Granddad/older male relatives)
15. Garden shed (Granddad)
16. Chicken soup (being ill as a child)
17. Hairspray (Mum/gran getting ready)
18. Rain on tarmac (Summer holidays and school playground)
19. Doughnuts (Fairs/attractions)
20. Savlon/ Germolene (colds/illness)
21. Old Spice (Granddad/older male relatives)
22. Coal Tar soap (grandparents)
23. Log fire (winter nights)
24. Roses (grandma)
25. Petrol/engines (dad/ granddad)
26. Marker pens (School lessons)
27. Leather/shoes (new school shoes)
28. Lavender (Grandparents)
29. Muscle rub cream (playing sports)
30. Popcorn (summer)
31. Musty shed (Granddad)
32. Hair gel/brill cream/lynx etc. (boys as teenagers)
33. Bovril (bonfire nights/ cold winter nights)
34. Peppermint (Grandma)
35. Cinnamon (Early Christmases)
36. Chanel perfume (Mum)
37. Cocoa butter (Holidays/ mums)
38. Shower gel (sports team showers)
39. Tea tree oil (Childhood injuries)
40. Jasmine (Grandma)