Scratch and sniff

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For the radio show, see Skratch 'N Sniff.

Scratch and sniff technology generally refers to stickers or cardboard items that have been treated with a fragrant coating. When scratched, the coating releases an odor that is normally related to the image displayed under the coating. The technology has been used on a variety of surfaces from stickers to compact discs. 3M invented the technology in 1965, using a process originally developed for carbonless copy paper called microencapsulation.[1]


Scratch-and-sniff stickers became popular in the late 1970s, and remained so through to the mid-1980s. In 1977, Creative Teaching Press produced some of the earliest scratch and sniff stickers. These stickers were mainly marketed to teachers as rewards for their students.[2]

For a time, scratch-and-sniff stickers were used to diagnose anosmia, although this practice later declined.

Utility companies have enclosed scratch and sniff cards in their bills to educate the public in recognizing the smell of a methane gas leak. In 1987, cards distributed by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company led to a rash of false alarms when the scents of cards in unopened envelopes were mistaken for real gas leaks.[3]


Scratch and sniff is created through the process of micro-encapsulation. The desired smell is surrounded by micro-capsules that break easily when gently rubbed. The rub to release action breaks the micro-encapsulated bubbles and releases the aroma. Because of the micro-encapsulation, the aroma can be preserved for extremely long periods of time.

While there were hundreds of companies that put out Scratch and Sniff stickers, the most well known are the originators Creative Teaching Press (CTP) (who later renamed them Sniffy's in 1980/1981), Trend Enterprise's Stinky Stickers line (which followed directly after CTP), Hallmark, Sandylion, Spindex, Gordy, and Mello Smello.

More recently the BBC reinvented Scratch and Sniff cards with a version that accompanied a new television series 'Filthy Cities'. Viewers were invited to use the aroma cards at home to experience the nasty smells of Medieval London and Revolutionary Paris as they were taken on a journey back in time to the 'filthy cities' of yesteryear. The four aromas included Sewage, 18th Century Tannery, Marie Antoinettes' Perfume and Pong de Paris. The fragrances and scratch and sniff cards were developed by The Aroma Company Europe in Oxfordshire using aroma touch to smell technology.

Scratch and sniff in popular culture[edit]

German scratch and sniff card from the film "Polyester"

Apart from the stickers, scratch and sniff surfaces are to be found on some objects in popular culture:

  • Gran Turismo 2 and FIFA 2001 featured a scratch and sniff disc.
  • Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail! featured a scratch and sniff card - the CyberSniff 2000 - which had nine different scents. The game would flash a coloured square with a number in it up at points during the game for the player to smell the corresponding square on the card.
  • The vinyl cover of Dandelion Gum, an album by Black Moth Super Rainbow, has a scratch and sniff surface.
  • The Player's Guide packaged with the 1995 Super NES video game EarthBound included six scratch and sniff cards. One contained a mystery scent; if the player guessed the smell and sent in the card to Nintendo, they would receive a prize. The scent turned out to be pizza.
  • The 1981 movie Polyester, directed, produced, and written by John Waters, was released featuring a gimmick called "Odorama", whereby viewers could smell what they saw on screen through scratch and sniff cards. The Odorama gimmick was also used for the 2009 Sydney Underground Film Festival screening of Water's 1972 cult classic Pink Flamingos. Several other movies had used this idea, such as Rugrats Go Wild and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, the latter you had to rub instead of scratch. In 2011 Midnight Movies reproduced Polyester 'Odorama' for the Edinburgh Film Festival using replica scratch and sniff cards with the original 10 aromas used in the 1981 movie.
  • Little Golden Books in the 1980s offered a series of scratch and sniff books called Little Golden Sniff It Books. Titles included What! No Spinach?: A Popeye Story, The Hedgehogs' Christmas Tree, Walt Disney's Donald Duck in Where's Grandma?, and The Mouse Family's New Home.
  • The band Mae released a limited edition CD during their US tour with a scratch and sniff surface. It was scented like the ocean and the crowd was encouraged to smell the discs during their song "The Ocean".
  • Katy Perry made her album Teenage Dream [Deluxe Edition] smell like cotton candy through scratch and sniff technology.
  • In the Pushing Daisies episode "The Smell of Success", olfactory scientist Napoleon LeNez has written a scratch and sniff book for using odours to bring success in the life of the reader. The protagonists investigate a murderous attempt to sabotage his book launch.
  • Goregrind band The County Medical Examiners's 2007 debut album, Olidous Operettas, had a scratch and sniff CD face that, according to vocalist/guitarist Dr. Fairbanks, "will smell like rotten meat".
  • Hustler Magazine's August 1977 issue had a Scratch 'n' Sniff centerfold.
  • London New Year Celebrations 2013[4][5][6][7]
  • DC Comics published a scratch-and-sniff-themed Annual issue of Harley Quinn in 2014.[8]
  • Marina and the Diamonds made a 6 vinyl disc pack for her album Froot that each contained a scratch and sniff surface on the sleeves.


  1. ^ Soniak, Matt. "How Does Scratch and Sniff Work?". Mental Floss. Retrieved June 29, 2016. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ AP (1987-09-06). "Noses Are Out of Joint Over Baltimore Smell - New York Times". Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  4. ^ "BBC News - London to 'taste' New Year's celebrations at fireworks display". 2013-12-31. Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  5. ^ The Huffington Post UK/PA (2013-12-31). "London New Years Eve 2013: Scratch 'N' Sniff 'Multi-Sensory' Fireworks Celebrations To Kick Off In The Capital". Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  6. ^ agencies 12:01AM GMT 31 Dec 2013 (2013-12-31). "New Year's Eve London revellers will 'taste and smell' fireworks party". Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  7. ^ Layton, Josh (2014-01-01). "New Year's Eve 2013: Celebrations from all over the world - the globe says goodbye to 2013 in style - Mirror Online". Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  8. ^ Harley Quinn Annual #1 (October 2014)

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