The Two Odors of Iron when Touched or Pickled: (Skin) Carbonyl Compounds and Organophosphines


  • Financial support: NSF (USA), Directorate for Engineering, DMI#0329474 (part 1 of the article). UFZ Environmental Research Center (Germany), #UFZ-21/97 (part 2 of the article). Analysis of methylphosphinic acid by Eric Wils (TNO Prins Maurits Lab.).


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The smell of money and chemical weapons: The perplexing metallic odor from touching iron tools or coins (see picture) is a type of human body odor linked to the decomposition of skin peroxides. Fe2+ ion containing rust, drinking water, and blood all cause a similar metallic odor. Another “garlic” metallic odor, that of phosphorus-alloyed iron under acid attack, is caused by organophosphines, including C–P compounds which are monitored under the Chemical Weapons Convention.