Top 10 Bad Smelling Places in Public

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Top 10 Bad Smelling Places in Public | Know Your Facts

This Article is Updated on – 01/02/2024, Originally posted on – 23/01/2023

We’ve all encountered some pretty foul odors while out in public. But some places seem to take the cake when it comes to terrible smells. This article will count down the top 10 worst-smelling public places you may visit, from gross bathrooms to stinky subway stations.

1.0 Public Restrooms

Bad Smelling Places in Public
Public Restrooms

Public restrooms are notorious for having some of the worst smells you may encounter while out in public. The bad odors in public bathrooms can be attributed to several factors, including:

  • Poor ventilation: Many public restrooms lack proper ventilation systems or windows to allow fresh air to circulate. Without proper airflow, odors emitted from toilets and urinals can linger.
  • Lack of cleaning: Some public restrooms are not cleaned regularly or thoroughly enough. Bacteria, residues, and grime building up in toilets, floors, and countertops can cause foul smells.
  • Heavy use: high– High-traffic public bathrooms see many users coming in and out every day. The more people who use them, the more odors build up.
  • Bodily odors and gases: urine and feces emit unpleasant odors, of course. But other bodily odors and gaseous releases from users also get trapped inside.
  • Trash bins: public restroom trash bins containing disposed sanitary items, diapers, food, etc. can stink badly.

Some of the worst-smelling public restroom facilities include:

  • Portable toilets: Portable outdoor toilets are especially prone to bad smells from the above factors. The plastic construction traps odors.
  • Gas station bathrooms: These see heavy traffic from travelers and tend to be poorly ventilated. Roadside truck stop bathrooms are particularly infamous.
  • Neglected restrooms: public bathrooms that are not regularly cleaned and maintained often smell terrible. You may encounter these at some parks, highway rest stops, etc.

So the next time you have to use a public restroom, be prepared to encounter some unpleasant odors, especially in facilities that appear dirty or neglected. Consider holding your breath, or at least limiting breathing through your nose!

2.0 New York City Subway System

Bad Smelling Places in Public
New York City Subway System

The New York City subway system transports over 5 million passengers on the average weekday. All those commuters crammed into underground train cars and stations create a distinct smell.

Some contributing factors to the infamous New York subway smell include:

  • Stale air: The air in subway stations and trains is not well-ventilated or circulated. The closed environment allows odors to build up and get trapped.
  • Body odors: With many riders packed together, especially during rush hours, human sweat and natural body odors get concentrated.
  • Garbage: trash left on platforms or trains decomposes and releases bad odors. Food scraps rotting, in particular, can stink.
  • Vermin: Rats are a notable issue on NYC subways. Their droppings and urine add to the stench, as can dead rodents.
  • Industrial odors: oils and chemicals used on the tracks and in machinery contribute to industrial odors.
  • Sewer smells: Some stations have connections with city sewer systems, allowing those scents to waft up.
  • Homeless presence: Unfortunately, homeless people sometimes sleep in stations and trains, which can add bodily odors.

Though not the most pleasant smell, to many New Yorkers, it’s the distinctive “essence of the city.” Nonetheless, travelers should be prepared for an onslaught on the olfactory senses when riding the subway!

3.0 Landfills

Bad Smelling Places in Public

Landfills are infamous for producing powerful, putrid smells due to the huge amounts of decomposing waste contained in them. The primary culprit behind the nauseating stench of landfills is the breakdown of organic matter by anaerobic bacteria, which thrive in oxygen-limited environments.

Some of the main odor-causing compounds emitted by landfills include:

  • Hydrogen sulfide: Produced during anaerobic decomposition, hydrogen sulfide has a strong rotten egg smell even at low concentrations. Landfill gas can contain over 300 ppm of this compound.
  • Ammonia – created when nitrogen-containing waste like food, paper, and yard trimmings breaks down. It has a very pungent, urine-like odor.
  • Mercaptans – Sulfur-containing organic compounds like dimethyl sulfide are released during waste decomposition. They have foul, rotten cabbage and skunk-like odors.
  • VOC (volatile organic compounds) substances like limonene and toluene vaporize from certain wastes, producing toxic and irritating smells.

In addition to smells from decomposition, other landfill odors come from:

  • Garbage collection trucks are unloading waste.
  • Diesel exhaust from heavy machinery
  • Uncovered trash piles
  • Leachate ponds

Some key ways landfill operators try to control odors include covering new trash daily with soil, spraying odor-masking fragrances, and flaring or oxidizing landfill gas. However, most landfills inevitably produce significant malodors that can spread for miles. The stench gets especially bad when the wind shifts to blow toward nearby neighborhoods.

4.0 Fish Markets

Bad Smelling Places in Public
Fish Markets

The smell of fresh, raw seafood hits you like a ton of bricks when you walk through the doors of a fish market or seafood processing facility. The pungent odors come from the fish itself, waste and byproducts, and chemicals used in processing.

Some specific sources of the smells include:

  • Fish flesh – Fresh fish has amino acids like cysteine and enzymes that break down into smelly compounds post-mortem. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna tend to have stronger scents.
  • Guts and blood – Fish guts, blood, and other tissues cleaned out during processing also emit powerful odors as they start decaying.
  • Cleaning fluids – The disinfecting agents and bleach used to clean fish contain chemicals that can smell quite harsh.
  • Packing materials – Ice and ammonia are commonly used to preserve fresh fish during transport and storage. Their odors concentrate inside fish markets.
  • Fish foods – The pet foods, fertilizers, and bait made from fish byproducts have an extremely fishy, oily smell.

While the smells may be overwhelming, they signify the freshness of the seafood. Fish markets are intentionally designed with good ventilation, open spaces, and low ceilings to allow odors to dissipate rather than concentrate. Many are located right on the waterfront to take advantage of the sea breezes.

5.0 Cabbage Processing Plants

Bad Smelling Places in Public
Cabbage Processing Plants

Cabbage processing facilities where sauerkraut and other fermented cabbage products are made have an infamously powerful and putrid smell. The stench comes from sulfur-containing gases released during the fermentation process.

The main odor culprits in sauerkraut production are:

  • Hydrogen sulfide – This poisonous gas with a rotten egg smell is a byproduct of the bacteria breaking down cabbage sugars into organic acids like lactic acid.
  • Methanethiol – Also known as methyl mercaptan, this gas has a strong rotten cabbage odor and is produced as sulfur amino acids in cabbage decompose.
  • Dimethyl sulfide – This highly volatile sulfur compound adds a distinct rotten vegetable scent during fermentation.

In addition to the foul-smelling gases, other sources of odors include:

  • The brine used to culture the cabbage
  • discharge pipes
  • storage tanks and clay fermentation vessels
  • waste cabbage trimmings and leaves

The smells at sauerkraut plants are so overpowering that many are located far from residential areas to avoid neighbor complaints. Passing winds can carry the reek for miles.

6.0 Pig Farms

Bad Smelling Places in Public
Pig Farms

The smell of pig waste is one of the most universally pungent and offensive odors out there. The high concentrations of pigs kept on industrial farm operations produce massive amounts of manure and urine that give off potent odors.

Some of the main substances in pig waste that produce the stench include:

  • Ammonia – Pig urine contains high levels of ammonia due to the breakdown of urea. Ammonia has a very strong, nose-burning smell.
  • Hydrogen sulfide – This toxic gas with a rotten egg odor is released as sulfur compounds in feces decompose.
  • Volatile fatty acids – Microbial digestion of pig waste produce acidic compounds like butyric acid that smell rancid.
  • Mercaptans & amines – These nitrogen and sulfur-containing organic compounds have extremely foul, pungent odors, even in small doses.

In addition, odors come from:

  • Manure lagoons are used to store and break down waste.
  • Barns and stalls where pigs live
  • Carcasses if mortality isn’t properly disposed
  • Feed mixes containing animal byproducts

Given the massive scale of industrial pig farms that house thousands of animals, the smells can carry for miles. People living nearby often can’t open windows or spend time outdoors due to the overpowering stench.

7.0 Polluted Beaches

Bad Smelling Places in Public
Polluted Beaches

Nothing ruins a beach day quite like the smell of rotten eggs wafting through the sea breeze. This distinct sulfur stench comes from hydrogen sulfide gas produced by decomposing organic matter.

Some common causes of foul odors at beaches include:

  • Algal blooms – When large algae populations rapidly grow and die off, their decomposition by bacteria releases hydrogen sulfide. This causes “red tide” events.
  • Sewage discharge – Untreated human waste entering the ocean from storm runoff or broken sewer pipes contains sulfur compounds that break down into smelly hydrogen sulfide.
  • Trash buildup – Heaps of seaweed, medical waste, and garbage dumped on shores also decompose anaerobically into hydrogen sulfide when buried in sand.
  • Industrial waste – Chemical contaminants like pesticides, fertilizers, and petrochemicals produce unpleasant odors.
  • Dead animals – Decaying fish, whales, and other marine animals contain sulfur amino acids that break down after death.
  • Low oxygen – Lack of oxygen in water further promotes anaerobic bacterial growth and hydrogen sulfide production.

Polluted beach smells range from an overwhelming rotten egg odor during algal blooms to more subtle but irritating smells on trash-strewn beaches.

8.0 Meat Processing Plants

Bad Smelling Places in Public
Meat Processing Plants

The sights and smells inside a meat processing plant are not for the faint-hearted. From slaughtering to butchering to packaging, the handling of raw animal carcasses and meat produces some nauseating odors.

Some specific sources of smell in meat plants include:

  • Blood – Fresh blood drained from slaughtered animals has an intensely metallic, ironic odor. Blood that pools and starts clotting smells even stronger.
  • Manure – Feces are removed from animal intestines during cleaning, adding a fecal odor throughout facilities.
  • Rendering – Rendered fat, bones, and skins are cooked down into products like tallow, adding oily, charred smells.
  • Carcass waste – Decaying blood, fat, bones, and meat trimmings smell putrid, especially in unrefrigerated areas.
  • Chemicals – The strong disinfecting chemicals used to sanitize tools and surfaces also have harsh smells.
  • Slaughter byproducts – Processing of innards like livers and kidneys for pet food creates its own set of pungent smells.

To control odors, facilities have ventilation systems, negative air pressure, and refrigerated areas. But when driving by a meat processing plant, you’ll still often get a whiff of the carnage within. The smells serve as an important reminder of the true price of our meat.

9.0 Garbage Collection Centers

Bad Smelling Places in Public
Garbage Collection Centers

Garbage collection sites and waste transfer stations where trash trucks unload their hauls can be ground zero for some horrendous smells. Rotting food, dirty diapers, and all manner of refuse get concentrated in these facilities before heading to landfills.

Some key sources of the stench at garbage dump sites include:

  • Food waste – Decomposing food scraps like meat, produce, and dairy emit a potpourri of rancid, sour, and sickly-sweet odors. Juices from garbage bags leak and mix.
  • Soiled items – Soiled baby diapers, greasy pizza boxes, and food-caked containers are cesspits of putrefaction.
  • Medical waste – Bandages, needles, and bodily fluids from the medical waste stream add foul odors of infection and iron.
  • Vermin droppings – Rats, seagulls, and other creatures that scavenge on trash piles leave their own funky, musty scents behind.
  • Chemicals – Industrial cleaning agents, paints, solvents, and other chemicals create noxious-smelling vapors.

Garbage facilities use misting systems, odor neutralizers, and air filters to help control smells. But when the wind blows the wrong way, residents downwind can get overwhelmed by the stench of urban waste.

For waste management workers, the smells are just part of the job. But they sure make the rest of us appreciate our weekly trash service!

10.0 Public Transport Vehicles

Bad Smelling Places in Public
Public Transport Vehicles

Riding public transportation like buses, trains, and subways brings you nose-to-nose with fellow commuters, allowing all their funky odors to intermingle in a closed space. Sweat, body odor, and bad breath concentrate inside transit vehicles.

Some specific sources of smells on buses, trains, etc. include:

  • Passengers – Body odor, bad breath, and passed gas from riders all get trapped and amplified inside enclosed cabins. Hot summer days make it worse.
  • Garbage – Trash left under seats or dumped in aisles contributes to food scraps, dirty diapers, and general gross smells.
  • Upholstery – The cloth seats and carpets absorb odors over time. Stains from food, leaky bags, etc make it worse.
  • Fuel & chemicals – Exhaust fumes or cleaning products can enter through ventilation while idling or at stations.
  • Pests – Bugs that make their way inside and die add musty, decaying odors.

While transit agencies try to stay on top of cleaning and maintenance, the crowds that pass through every day inevitably leave smells behind. Commuters just have to breathe through their mouths and get used to the funky “essence” of public transit.


The next time you’re out and about and catch a whiff of something foul, chances are you’re near one of these top 10 terrible-smelling public places. Landfills, sewage plants, and livestock operations are infamous for their nostril-assaulting stenches. But even places like public bathrooms, subways, and beaches can overwhelm your senses if the conditions are right. The smells serve as interesting reminders of our waste streams and natural processes of decay. But for those with sensitive noses, it may be wise to avoid these odiferous locations, or at least brace yourself and breathe through your mouth when passing by!


1. Why do public restrooms smell so bad?

Public restrooms tend to have poor ventilation, infrequent cleaning, heavy use, and accumulated bodily odors and gases that cause bad smells. Gas stations and portable toilet bathrooms are especially prone to being malodorous.

2. What makes the NYC subway smell?

The New York City subway system transports millions daily, leading to accumulated odors from riders’ sweat and body odor, garbage, rats and vermin, industrial chemicals, and sewer connections in poorly ventilated stations and train cars.

3. Where does the smell at landfills come from?

Landfills produce putrid odors largely from the anaerobic decomposition of organic wastes which releases compounds like hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, mercaptans, and VOCs into the air. Diesel exhaust and uncovered garbage also contribute to the smell.

4. Why do fish markets have such a strong fishy smell?

Fish markets smell strongly of the seafood itself, including fish flesh, guts, and blood from processing, cleaning chemicals, and packing materials like ice and ammonia used to preserve the fish. The smells signify freshness.


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