What makes line-dried laundry smell so good?

Fresh laundry – crisp cotton sheets on a washing line – is often cited as one of our all-time favourite smells. But what exactly makes line-dried fabric smell so good, and which fragrances can equally evoke the immediate comfort we long for…?

The only time I’ve ever been to Amsterdam, it wasn’t to gawp at canals and clogs and cheese (or even indulge in legal cannabis bars), but to visit its industrial district, and the secret centre where most of the world’s laundry detergents and fabric conditioners are made.

‘We basically create the smell of people’s babies,’ one of the technical perfumers told me, ‘and if we even change the scent of their washing powder a little bit, we get so many complaints.’ They produced many thousands of possible options to fragrance people’s washing – from caramel (popular in Brazil, apparently) to chic multi-layered, musky perfumes. But the most popular of all (and one of the most technically challenging to re-create)? That freshly line-dried smell.

So what is it, beyond your choice of washing powder, that makes fabric smell particularly pleasing if it’s been dried on a line (preferably in a flower meadow, and hung while wearing an Edwardian broderie anglaise gown just prior to picking apples in the orchard, in my dreams, but we work with what we have.)

In a scientific paper examining the ‘Chemical analysis and origin of the smell of line-dried laundry‘, atmospheric chemists have published their analysis of ‘line-dried towels at the molecular level’, now they’ve discovered the exact source of this so-specific smell. Using cotton towels from IKEA, they washed them three times, then dried them in three differing ways: inside the office, on the balcony under a plastic shade and on the balcony in the sun.

Percy Harland Fischer – Washing on the Line (1867-1944)

Extraordinarily, they found that ‘Line-drying uniquely produced a number of aldehydes and ketones,’ Sylvia Pugliese – the leading researcher – told the New York Times – which are ‘…organic molecules our noses might recognise from plants and perfumes. For example, after sunbathing, the towels emitted pentanal, found in cardamom, octanal, which produces citrusy aromas, and nonanal, which smells rose-like.’

Fascinating stuff, and it got me wondering which fragrances we could reach for that could also recreate that feeling of sunlit cleanliness and comfort, bottled…

A whoosh of silvery, sun-dappled airiness shot through with ginger, mint, and leafy green notes, softening to powdery florals, cushioned by warm skin-like musk and vetiver. One to spray when you need to be reminded of lazy sundays and lie-ins and snuggling up in bliss.

CLEAN Reserve Warm Cotton [Reserve Blend] £82 for 100ml eau de parfum
spacenk.com

BJORK_BERRIES_FJALLSO

Yearning for an eco-luxury house with a Swedish mountain lake view? (Uh yes, always.) Bright cotton and bracing air’s evoked with ambrette seeds, freesia, spring magnolia, and soft musk. You’ll be yodelling from first spritz.

Bjork & Berries FJÄLLSJÖ £85 for 50ml eau de parfum
eu.bjorkandberries.com

Who doesn’t want to be wrapped in a whisper of white fluffy towels and powdery peonies? Effortless and uncomplicated, sooth cares away with delicate freesia nuzzling fuzzy peach, gauzy ylang ylang, sheer rose, wisps of incense and a cloud of creamy froth.

Cacharel Noa, £15 for 30ml eau de toilette
superdrug.com


Mandarin swathed in powdered sandalwood shavings, violet suffused in a cool fig milk and tonka bean draped with the feeling of washing blowing in the breeze. Think muslin curtains framing a perfect view, the deliciously cool side of a pillow against a flushed cheek.

Van Cleef & Arpels Bois Blanc £130 for 75ml eau de parfum
selfridges.com

Think: deliciously smooth, Egyptian cotton (high thread count, obvs) boutique hotel sheets, just-showered skin and roasted coffee beans sitting atop a warm snuggle of back-lit amber and the sexy hay-like muskiness of the base. For dirty weekends (but in clean sheets.)

La Maison Hedonique Samedi À Paris £135 for 50ml eau de parfum
lamaisonhedonique

So, next time you bury your nose in a freshly dried, fluffy towel, slip into deliciously clean sheets that were dried in the sunshine or spray yourself with a fabulously ‘clean’ smelling fragrance – consider if you can pick up these ultra-nuanced notes with your nose. The more deeply we analyse smells – especially those ‘everyday scents’ we think we know so well – the greater our understanding and the better our sense of smell ultimately becomes. It’s a washing-day win-win…

By Suzy Nightingale

The hand soap revival (and five of our fragrant faves)

Bars of hand soap are having a massive revival right now – firstly because many of us are trying to find plastic free ways to live, and secondly, because of worldwide concerns over hand hygiene following the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak.

It’s also a great time to take a look back at the fascinating history of Colognes – and why we refer to fragrances as eau de toilette – scroll down for more…

We think bars of soap were well due a revival, anyway – they are an economical (they last way longer) and far more environmentally friendly way to wash, still recommended by the NHS as the best way to thoroughly clean your hands, and there are so many fabulously fragranced ones out there to choose from! Did you know many of your beloved perfumes have matching fragranced soaps, too?

 

 

Making handwashing a call to arms (well, hands), we love the retro style of this newly produced, limited edition soap. Available in twelve emblematic scents – you’re in for an olfactory surprise, as they’ll choose for you. Knowing Buly, each will be equally wonderful. The soda-free, pH-neutral soap is beautifully softening, and all profits are being donated to charity, which softened our hearts…

Buly 1803 Socially Conscious Savon Superfin, €15
buly1803.com

 

The stunning Floris soap design dates back to the 1800s, and we love using this for guest bathrooms or simply for enjoying ourselves, and the scent is an absolute classic, too. Lily of the valley with soft accents of jasmine, rose and tuberose atop base notes of powdery musk, triple-milled with shea butter for a satisfyingly creamy, long-lasting lather.

Floris Lily of the Valley Luxury Soaps £23 for 3
florislondon.com

 

Beautifully boxed (they make a great gift) these Penhaligon’s soaps are fragranced in honour of their matching fragrance – both dedicated to the Moon Goddess they are named for. Moonlit cool wafts of orange blossom, jasmine petals, fir balsam and soft rose make this a dreamy encounter every time you wash your hands.

Penhaligon’s Lunar Soaps £30 for 3
penhaligons.com

We absolutely love the Kukui perfume, and were thrilled when Connock London added a matching fragranced soap to their line. The signature Kukui scent – waxy gardenia, fresh bergamot, Moroccan rose, white jasmine and calla lily atop woody amber, deliciously chocolate-y vanilla absolute and tonka bean – is infused with the highly moisturising blend of Kukui oil and Shea Butter.

Connock London Kukui Oil Soap
connocklondon.co.uk

 

Yardley London‘s soap-purveying heritage goes all the way back to the reign of King Charles I, and a number of their heritage fragrances are available in perfectly formed hand soaps to scent your every day with. A perennial favourite is their lavender soap, also fragranced with neroli and clary sage, geranium, sandalwood and tonka bean.

Yardley London English Lavender Soap £5.33 for 3
yardleylondon.co.uk

With all of us washing our hands more frequently than ever, these wonderful soaps are a way to keep your hands beautifully moisturised and smelling fabulous – and more than that, to turn a hum-drum exercise into a fabulously fragrant ritual to enjoy.

Indeed, the very term Eau de Toilette stems from the historic practice of washing in one’s bedroom or boudoir (before the onset of en-suites and running water). The act of of draping a cloth signified the transformation of a humble table to a dressing table. The cloth was known as the toile, then toilette and, eventually, Eau de Toilette: the very scent of a boudoir’s ablutions. Home-made soaps would have been used, but the use of Colognes were extremely popular – used for centuries as another way to keep clean and sweet-smelling (true Colognes tend to be over 70% alcohol in volume, so more beneficial to wash yourself with than un-purified water, back then).

 

 

Traditionally made with a spirit infused with a variety of herbs, usually including rosemary, Colognes are named for the hometown of perfumer Giovanni Maria Farina and date back to 1709, and were originally drunk as medicinal health-giving tonics as well as being splashed all over the body. We have a whole section of the website dedicated to delving into such fascinating historical fragrant stories, with a page revealling why Napolean ordered 162 bottles of Cologne at a time   – why not saunter there now and have a scented meander?

By Suzy Nightingale