The Nose Knows

Goal: Teach how to recognize and identify different smells, including propane.
Ages: Appropriate for all ages with adult supervision.

Must be supervised.

Material List:

4 disposable plastic containers
3 objects with identifiable odor (e.g., chocolate,
peppermint toothpaste, etc.)
Skunk cover scent OR deer repellent
Blindfold (optional)

What To Do:

1. Set up four opaque, disposable plastic containers with holes punched in the lid on a table.

2. In each of the containers, except one, place objects that emit familiar odors, such as chocolate, fruit, peppermint toothpaste, etc. (Note: Be sure to know about any food allergies.)

3. In the remaining container, place a few drops of skunk cover scent OR deer repellent, which can be found in any store’s hunting or garden section.

4. Explain to the kids that propane is naturally colorless and odorless, so propane companies add a chemical — mercaptan — to help you detect propane gas leaking into the air. This chemical resembles the odor of rotten eggs or a skunk.

5. In groups or individually, have each child close their eyes (or use a blindfold) to smell each “mysterious odor.” After they have tested each container, have them guess which one smells the most like propane.

6. Reward those who can correctly identify the smell of propane with small prizes.

Bringing It All Together:

Fire and Carbon Monoxide DetectorOnce again, remind the kids that in its natural form, propane is an invisible, odorless gas, but propane companies add a chemical with an unpleasant odor so that propane can be detected if it leaks. Make sure they can identify what this smells like (rotten eggs or a skunk).

Also point out that there are situations when this odor may become difficult to detect:
> If someone has a cold or allergies
> In old age, sense of smell becomes less sensitive
> Family members are asleep
> It is masked by a stronger scent, like cigarettes, smoke, or food
> The propane is located in an area that is not often visited (like a basement)

For these reasons, children should check to see if their parents have installed propane gas detectors in their homes. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are also a good idea.