The Scoop: Smell Dating pioneered a smell-oriented approach to matchmaking in 2016, and it’s become a hit. This unique dating service helps determine chemistry by having singles smell each other’s clothes. Many curious daters have flocked to this inventive way to get to know people, and Smell Dating’s experimental system has proven both effective and fun.

When I first started online dating, I thought I could gauge personal compatibility based solely on the online chat. I told myself I didn’t need to meet someone in person to recognize the quality of his thoughts. So, I stayed online instead of hazarding the real world and engaged in lengthy conversations with the guys I liked. Or thought I liked.

Then one fateful dinner date proved my online dating strategy was really very wrong.

My date and I had been chatting for over a month, so I felt like I knew just about everything about him. But I didn’t know what he smelled like. The moment we met in person, I was utterly repelled by the odor wafting off him. It was a potent mixture of cat hair, mothballs, and sweat. I wondered with dread how long I’d have to endure the stench before I could leave. That first date stunk in every sense of the word.

Smell Dating's logo

Smell Dating offers an inventive and intuitive way to find a match.

People are always telling singles to follow their hearts in the dating scene, but maybe they should be telling them to follow their noses. That’s the reasoning behind Smell Dating, the world’s first “mail odor” dating service.

Smell Dating is a dating company with a penchant for the experimental and off-kilter. Its founding principle is that smell is one of the most important factors in determining romantic compatibility, and the team has designed a scientifically sound way for singles to use their noses to find their heart’s desire.

Smell Dating’s singles make a first impression through the body odor on an unwashed T-shirt. The project’s participants only know what their noses can tell them. They don’t receive any bios or introductory letters, just a swatch of cloth.

At Smell Dating, singles have to rely on their sense of smell to lead them to an attractive date. This intriguing concept appeals to intellectually curious and adventurous daters across the U.S. The service originally launched in New York City in 2016, and it has made headlines with its outlandish yet compelling matching system.

An artist named Tega Brain came up with the idea for the Smell Dating project as a way of pushing people’s boundaries and challenging the dating scene’s status quo.

“Smell is devalued in many ways in our society,” she told us. “We try to mask that part of ourselves. People find it both interesting and disgusting, and that’s the sweet spot for us.”

Recognizing the Important Role Smell Plays in Attraction

I learned the hard way that my nose has veto power over who I date, and I can’t compromise on that. Smells aren’t merely superficial data — they speak to a person’s lifestyle. Someone who’s outdoorsy may smell faintly of leaves and suntan lotion, while someone who loves to cook may carry a smell of spices. These aromas convey subtle information cues that singles need to determine compatibility.

Scientists and psychologists have spent decades investigating the role smell plays in attraction. A 1995 study conducted at the University of Bern in Switzerland found that women preferred the smell of men who are genetically different from them. They may not have realized it, but their noses were drawn to partners with strong immune systems and diverse gene pools.

Smell Dating took this experiment’s methodology and introduced it into the broader dating scene. The process may make some people wrinkle their noses, but it’s been scientifically proven to work. First, participants receive a new, unscented cotton T-shirt to wear. They wear this shirt for three days and three nights and let it absorb their natural smell. They should not use any deodorant, cologne, or perfume during this time.

“At Smell Dating, we understand the metrics of compatibility are chemical; connection is a matter of intercourse not interface.” — Tega Brain, Founder of Smell Dating

Then the singles send the now-pungent shirt back to Smell Dating. The team cuts these shirts up into swatches to send to potential dates. Each participant receives 10 samples to sniff at their leisure. They can then identify the ones they’re interested in knowing more about, and Smell Dating will facilitate the exchange of contact information (either phone numbers or email addresses) between mutual matches.

You can get an intuitive sense about a person by smelling his or her T-shirt. Smell Dating does not provide any profile information (you don’t even know if the shirt belongs to a gal or a guy) but encourages singles to trust their noses to know who’s right. This kind of gut instinct is similar to swiping on a single photo, except that the olfactory introduction can be so much more personal and intimate.

“We actually are very decisive when interpreting smells,” Tega said. “We’re just not well-practiced.”

The System Challenges Daters to Go Beyond the Superficial

Some may turn up their noses at the idea of sniffing a T-shirt to determine compatibility, but the science backs up Smell Dating’s process. Humans possess a powerful sense of smell, research has proven that they can intuit information about a person’s lifestyle and genetic desirability through their noses.

Even if we’re not conscious of why, our olfactory senses can influence dating decisions and lead us toward partners who smell just right.

“Our sense of smell is beyond a doubt a tool of great precision,” Adam Jasper and Nadia Wagner noted in Cabinet Magazine. “Strange, then, that in the history of Western philosophy it should be so little discussed, and so often dismissed as subjective.”

“Smell has a reputation for being ambiguous,” Tega said. “But we’re actually able to discriminate smells very accurately. It’s a powerful way of knowing someone.”

Smell Dating has capitalized on this overlooked superpower and encouraged daters to see where their sense of smell can take them in the dating arena. The project’s sensational matching process has led to hundreds of conversations, dozens of dates, and a handful of relationships, and it has only just gotten started.

Many singles who are tired of making snap judgments based on visual cues have leapt at the chance to make snap judgments based on olfactory cues. In the coming years, the project’s collaborators are excited to continue exploring how smell influences dating decisions.

“A lot of people have responded positively to the Smell Dating process,” Tega told us. “It’s just really fun to help people open up and become more intuitive and less analytical.”

Smell Dating: A Research-Driven Project on the Scent for Love

I hadn’t realized my date’s personal hygiene (or lack thereof) would be a dealbreaker for me. Not until a guy opened his arms for a hug, and I cringed inside. Eventually, I had to clear the air and make my escape, but I still wasted weeks on a dead-end date because I trusted my head over my nose.

Sniffing out a compatible date can be a challenge for modern daters. They have so many options at their fingertips, but it can take a long time to make sense of the information dump and figure out which dates are truly compatible. Smell Dating has offered clarity in the dating scene by focusing on one simple yet salient question: Do you smell good?

In the last couple years, Smell Dating has developed a way to hit chemistry on the nose. This novel approach to dating is informed by years of scientific research and a healthy sense of humor, and it has given daters a lot to think about as they search for that special someone.

“You can tell a lot about a person’s lifestyle through smell,” Tega said. “There are a lot of different theories about how important smell is in attraction. You can see for yourself by trying Smell Dating.”