How does stainless steel get rid of garlic smells?

Guest post from our two CREST summer students who are working on getting to the bottom of the garlic/stainless steel question.

Have you ever rubbed your hand against a stainless steel tap after using garlic and then wondered ‘Why am I actually doing this’? Does this nonsense actually work?

Humans are, and always have been followers. Followers of rules, regulations and trends. Therefore when we hear an old wives tale to remove the scent of garlic we are sure to conform. Whether it actually works or not is completely unknown. Is it just the placebo effect kicking in again?

This is what we wish to find out.

As a couple of teenage girls, both age 16, we are taking part in a 4 week summer workshop known as CREST. This will allow us to delve deeper into the science behind whether different materials remove the smell of garlic; with the help of two academic mentors who will guide us along the way- and if the answer is ‘yes’ then why is this so?

As ‘trendy’ 21st century teenagers we find it vital to keep up with the latest ideas, however to ensure that we are truly à la mode we need to guarantee that the chemistry behind our everyday tips and tools is actually useful.

Nobody wants to have friends round or go on a date stinking of bad breath like they haven’t had a wash in the past two weeks. So we are here to solve all of your odorous issues and put an end to fetid condiments.

Preparing the sample for GC-MS

To do this, we will complete a one month process using analytical methods to get to the bottom of this old wives tale. For starters, we are going to find out the components of garlic by using Gas chromatography and Mass spectrometry.This equipment will banish the confusion of the sciences behind this myth by separating out the components of garlic. This will help us to discover what is causing the stinky stench.


Our work horse for the month, the trusty mass spectrometer.

Lidl say “Wash your hands in our stainless steel soap and never stink again”! – but why?

Garlic is an added condiment in many of our everyday dishes due to its antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-fungal and tasty functions. However, when the garlic is crushed an allinase enzyme as well as the sulfur amino acid allicen is separated from the cell wall of each garlic clove. The breaking down of Allicen is a rapid process which releases a vast quantity of sulphurous compounds such as diallyl disulfide which then causes a ghastly smell.

On the other hand, stainless steel, an iron alloy, forms oxides in air and water. The sulphate compounds given off by garlic are highly attracted to the produced oxides therefore removing the negative smells from the garlic and transferring them onto the durable, non-corrosive stainless steel.

We hope that our investigation will prove that the sulphur within the garlic causes the bad aroma and sticks to the surface of variant materials such as steel and gold in different ways.

Fear not…. We will be back soon with updated information on how our investigation is going. But until then, stay clean of the garlic stench and stock up on stainless steel cutlery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *