It’s widely accepted that zombies make a constant, distinctive moaning sound which would make it difficult for them to Zombies Stinkattack using the element of surprise (see: The Nature of Zombie Verbalization), but even if they don’t make any noise at all, the smell of rotting flesh would be enough to announce their presence at a great distance.

No scent is more distinctive, or revolting than death. A tiny dead mouse under the stairs, or behind a wall is enough to putrefy an entire small home.  Zombies occupy dead, decaying human bodies, so imagine that stink multiplied by 100, or even 1,000!

As a general rule, zombies would be smelled well before they’re ever seen. As they approached, their stench would become so overwhelming that it could easily cause humans in the vicinity to become physically ill.

So the idea that a zombie could hide behind a tree, wall, or door without being detected is extremely unlikely. The possible exception is a freshly reanimated zombie. But the rot smell would begin as soon as six hours after death, and depending on the time of reanimation, this leaves a very small “stealth” window.

This notion also brings up an important question related to the zombie hunting style: can they sniff out prey? Even if they are physically able to access a sense of smell, it could be argued that because of their own strong odor zombies can’t smell anything. Which means that they would not use this sense when tracking humans.


  1. rotting zombies cant do anything, there is no circulation in their bodies, their spinal column is deteriorated, olfative system deteriorated just as their sight and hearing therefore they dont have balance to walk, i think there is no virus that can make them walk, just a supernatural phenomenon can make them do it

  2. So will be the green tea i buy in cans the same as the regular tea you’d buy to put inside your morning cup? I’ve been told is just normal green tea created to be cooler, but does it have any affect as far as not speeding up your metabolism as quick as normal hot green tea? 494311

  3. There’s something VERY important that’s being overlooked: What if the zombie olfactory system cannot detect the scents associated with decay?

    I know that’s a big statement to make, but take into consideration the long mistaken belief that some people metabolized asparagus in a way that removed the noxious chemicals associated with “asparagus pee” scent from their urine. It turned out that ALL humans produce urine with a pungent odor after eating asparagus– the shock was that a small segment of the human population COULDN’T detect the odor at all, so the claim that “their pee didn’t stink” was proven to be false. It did stink. They just couldn’t smell it.

    What if the zombie virus suppresses certain olfactory receptors in a similar fashion? Without being hampered by the strong smell of decay (which is made up of very specific compounds) a zombie could easily detect the scent of live humans who give off very different but equally pungent scents which are extremely identifiable to some non-human species (ask any deer hunter).

  4. Relying on smell alone could get you into trouble.

    Some research by the “Body Farm” indicates that the smell of a putrifying body is often only noticed within relative close proximity to the body. You may not smell a rotting zombie that is within 15 to 20 yards of you… especially is the wind is blowing from behind you.

  5. This in itself is a great thing to consider.

    However, If 1 zombie stunk as bad as implied, (and I have smelt cow carcasses) in a city scenario where there could be thousands or even tens of thousands of individuals all stinking, it would become nearly impossible to safelt determine if one individual or even group were stalking you, simply by smell alone. There would just be so much decay and rot in the air from all the other individuals that they would effectivly mask each other.

    Perhaps this is a survival or hunting tactic that they could have evolved in order to effectivly hunt in area’s where there populations would be greater, and prey more ikely to steer clear of the scent of decay.

    In an undead world everything stinks.

  6. Perhaps the microrganism(s) that are involved in the zombie disease are photosymthetic (give a whole new meaning to green zombies 😛

    Also, perhaps they (the microrganisms) perform distributed digestion (and chemosynthesis too perhaps), eating from everywhere in the body (just by touching etc), when they aren’t getting enough nutrition from external sources they diggest the body itself (that actually already happen in humans and many other species, when needing more nutrition than it is getting the body starts digesting itself up)

    These two theories seem to explain how zombies can live longer than if they were just rotting, the second one explains why they still do rot eventually, and the second one also covers how they can live underwater (as long as there is nutrients and stuff in the water)

  7. If this theory is under the assumption that the cause of the infection is a microbe of some sort (virus, bacterial, ect…) then wouldnt the infection need to be continuously circulated throughout the body to aid in reanimation/ambulation? This would mean that the heart would need to keep pumping. If the heart is still pumping, that means basal brain functioning, therefore respiration would most likely be present. They probably wouldnt have the ability to smell because that sense is controlled by the temporal lobe.

    Also, after a few weeks, dead bodies no longer smell…(think of finding an old dead squirrel in the woods). However, infection stinks. So, the combined stench of rotting flesh, and infection pus SHOULD be noticable.

  8. But of corse you have to remember that in a zombie revolution, the smell of rotting flesh would be constant and everwhere because zombies and dead people would be everywhere.

  9. One thing that always upsets me is the “headshot-only” idea. It really dosent make a whole lot of sense to me that a zombie who has no need to eat can survive ‘forever’. With no energy there can be no locomotion, ergo no real threat. Regardless of a virus/parasite the brain requires blood(oxygenated) to facilitate itself. If a zombie suffers a wound and bleeds out…it is dead. The way I see it the only reasonable zombie is one suffering from an enhanced and fastacting rabies virus. Still dependent on all human needs but extremely irritable w/ dulled senses and a alzheimers condition making recognition of pre-virus individuals impossible.

  10. Im new to this but because zombies have become reanimate again their senses would be pretty much dead also.. with the addition of the stench of rotting flesh giving away their position wouldn’t their hunting style be the typical movie hunting style.. where they just sprint at you

  11. One observed symptom of chronic wasting disease (CWD) which is spongiform encephalopathy in the deer family (similar to mad cow and Kruetzfield-Jakob in humans) is actually emitting the smell of rotting flesh.
    If you subscribe to the pathological prion theory of zombies then they could smell quite awful regardless of decay.

  12. perhaps their stench is so overwhelming that humans get desensitized at distance so they don’t realize it has gotten strong enough to mean the zombie is close, it would work as a smell sense jammer for humans

  13. What if zombies are like bats?

    think of it the moaning sound reverberating back to the source from a moving object may give the creatures a “daredevil” type 6th sense.

  14. how about if they need to breathe we can destroy there lungs and kill them

    • Zombies don’t need to breathe. The disease in the brain reanimates and moves the zombie itself. The Zombies origional bodily functions are dead. This is how zombies can walk around under water for days and reach up and grab boats carrying survivors on thier way to supposed safety.

  15. The sense of smell…there is one thing that is being overlooked. In order to smell, one needs to breathe. If zombies don’t breathe, they don’t smell; regardless of whether or not their odor is stronger than everything else.

    Ofcourse, if they do breathe, then nevermind this. The next question for this is, how do they moan if they don’t breathe? Do they just take a breath in order to moan or do they constantly breathe like humans? I would say they don’t breathe constantly, just take a breath in order to moan.


    • I think it’s premature to say zombies don’t smell because they don’t breathe. For starters, lack of biological necessity doesn’t preclude breathing. A previous comment mentioned the zombie moan, which is indeed a fair indicator that breathing may occur even if it is no longer strictly necessary for their survival. Also, consider that there are a great many biological entities that use scent but do not breathe (almost every species of fish, for example). The olfactory sense allows chemical analysis of the medium (air or water) around the organism. It is quite possible that zombies have the breath to moan because they are sampling their surroundings with scent, thus keeping their non-functioning lungs and airways full. It is almost a given at this point that zombies can distinguish each other from living humans. If we are not willing to ascribe a supernatural cause to this then we are almost forced to accept that the sense of smell is kept at pre-death levels or possibly even enhanced. I also do not think that respiration would necessarily stop with death; breathing is an autonomous function regulated unconsciously by lower portions of the brain. It is certainly in keeping with the tradition of low-level, “animalistic” brain function that a zombie could carry on breathing.

      • Actually, fish do breathe in their own way. If I remember correctly from HS biology class, the gills take oxygen directly from the water. Snakes use their tongue, so I’m not sure if they need to breathe to scent their prey.

        But what you say makes sense. Scenting the air would give them the lung capacity to moan, so long as they still have lungs. But here’s the thing, are these lower brain functions still working? Are the heart and lungs on the same lower level functions? As I’m not sure the heart keeps beating, depending of what kind of zombie we are talking about.

        It is very possible that whatever causes people to turn into zombies could very well enhance certain predator functions of the body, sight, sound, and smell.

        So assuming they can smell, what can we do to counter it? Aside from destroying the brain.

      • Saying that the zombies may not breathe is a strange concept as surely they would need to respire (on a cellular basis) to make energy to move even a small distance, let alone chase after a running human..

  16. I think Caitlin has a good point. If you’ve ever driven though cow country, the smell is pretty bad, but people who live in the area don’t seem to mind.

    Also, in regards to Zombies’ ability to smell prey:
    there’s a phenomenon (i don’t know what it’s called) in which the brain blocks out stimuli that remain constant over a period of time. For example, after wearing a watch for some time, you no longer feel it on your skin (or at least notice it). For the same reason, I imagine it’s hard for a human (or animal, or zombie) to recognize or even notice their own natural scent.

    Who knows? Maybe zombie brains can acclimate to the general stench of decay?

    • Jack – well said. The one comment I would make is that it doesn’t matter if Zombies get used to their own smell. They would still not be able to smell anyone else – their smell would block out all others because it’s stronger.

      Your cow country example is perfect to illustrate this point. You can’t smell the air freshener in the car, because the cow smell overpowers it as you drive by the ranch. Same concept.

      On your other point about not being able to tell when a zombie was close (again, using cow country as an example): There is a great difference in the smell from driving down the highway past cattle, and from standing in a barn filled with cows. The second example gives you a much stronger impression.

      Yes, I think great areas of terrain might smell like death, but if you opened the door to a locked bedroom you would know right away if a Zombie was in there or not.

  17. There was an Austrialian zombie flick released a few years ago that had great box art of a woman wearing a gas mask while holding a shotgun. I thought the idea to be brilliant because of the points you made in this blog post. It turns out, the infection was an airborne one, and she only wore the gas mask at the end of the movie. It was also a lame movie, but I digress.

    But your smell points are right on. During the initially invasion of the France, allied troops were handed gas masks which most happily discarded. Well, the bodies began to stink in the summer sun whereby gas masks became a valuable commodity. There were stories of low flying pilots actually puking in their planes because the smell was so bad.

    Also, I would believe the zombies would determine prey based on movement which means both humans and animals would be at risk.

    Anyways … awesome blog. Keep up the great work!

  18. Great point. Yes – if the entire world was covered with Zombies it would smell like death pretty much everywhere. BUT – the closer your were to a Zombie the more it would smell, right? So if you’re in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere (no Zombies around) you would have a strong warning that a horde of them was coming over the hill on the approaching breeze.

    Overall you make a good point.

    This doesn’t, however, take away from the fact that Zombies would not be able to smell humans. Which is – I think – the more interesting take away from this theory.

  19. This presents a good point, but if we are going on the theory that it would be a pandemic, would not the stench of decaying human flesh be everywhere? It is well known that humans acclimate to bad smells over time, perhaps one would not be so quick to sense a zombie approaching via smell if that same stench was constantly surrounding the individual or group of survivors.

    This does warrant further investigation though.

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