TikTokkers Think Gasoline Has Lost Its Smell, But Is There A Simpler Explanation?

Is this Yankee candles all over again?

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

smelling gas
Do not sniff gasoline, even if curious about its smell. Image credit: Comaniciu Dan/

People on TikTok have started to complain that they can no longer smell gasoline over the last few weeks.

The posts have been wildly popular, with a concerning number of people also confirming in the comments that they too can no longer smell gas, whether at the gas station or directly sniffing it from a bucket


People have posted suggestions about what the cause could be, ranging from mass delusion to theories that involve the government diluting gasoline. A lot of other users went to test for themselves, huffing gas like they're the cast of Always Sunny

One explanation is that gasoline smells less due to dilution with ethanol. Though some (incorrectly) claimed that this was a government conspiracy to raise gas prices, it is actually true that gasoline can contain added ethanol, at about 10 percent. Part of the reason is to make the fuel a higher octane, meaning that it is more resistant to detonation in the engine. Adding ethanol is cheaper than creating high octane gasoline.

Ethanol is often made from corn, making it an important source of income to the American corn industry, and thus politically important for presidential candidates to support its continued use.

The Biden administration recently set the 2022 levels of ethanol in gasoline, increasing it slightly compared to 2021, partly to help reduce gasoline prices following a rise in the price of oil, and to lower dependence on oil overall. It's possible some just have noses extremely sensitive to this change, but, of course, there may be a simpler explanation.

Yes, just as scented candles get worse reviews during waves of COVID-19, it's possible that people can't smell gasoline recently thanks to the effects of the virus. Though we don't have any data on whether this is actually the case, it's plausible given the data we have on scented candles thanks to Internet sleuth Kate Petrova.

Petrova decided to do some digging into the reviews of scented candles to see if there was any sort of pattern to the negative feedback – and wouldn't you know it, immediately there emerged a steady decline of reviews from the beginning of 2020.

Yes, we know, correlation doesn't equal causation. There's a chance people forced to stay at home decided they were absolutely sick of looking at candles all day or decided to take out some of their pent-up anger on candles rather than the people they are stuck at home with.

However, there does seem to be something in this. When Petrova compared reviews of scented candles to unscented candles, the drop-off in ratings was far steeper for scented candles.

When you look at the data from the start of 2020, the contrast is even starker.

Still not done sleuthing, Petrova decided to take into account reviews that specifically mention a lack of scent, and quantify the data. Since not enough people sit there writing full reviews of candles, she broadened it out to include the top five scented candles from four different brands.

As you can see from the data, it certainly looks like people are complaining about diminished scent in candles when they should really be booking a COVID-19 test, like a person who needs an eye test complaining about their HDTV being all fuzzy.

It's plausible that that is what is happening with gasoline, although there is no direct evidence at this point in time.


  • tag
  • smell,

  • ethanol,

  • gasoline,

  • covid-19,

  • TikTok,

  • weird and wonderful