Does stainless steel get rid of garlic smells?

Anyone fancy a quick food chemistry experiment to do whilst cooking dinner?

According to an old wives tale the best way to get rid of garlic smells on your hands is to rub them on stainless steel. You can even buy stainless steel ‘soap’ for that very purpose. This came up on twitter, the other day, and there was some speculation on the chemistry behind the phenomenon.


But before we get to the ‘how’ question maybe we should figure our if there is any truth in the anecdotes. Now for the experiment? Once your done please report results via the link at the bottom of the page.


A clove of garlic.

A knife.

A timer.

A wooden spoon and a stainless steel table spoon of about the same size.


1. Wash and dry your hands.

2. Cut the clove of garlic in half (don’t peel it, that way your fingers won’t pick up garlic smells when you hold it).

3. Rub the freshly cut surface on the palm of one hand for 10 seconds.

4. Rub the second piece of garlic on the palm of your other hand for 10 seconds (so ensuring an equally fresh and identical sized piece is used on each hand).

5. Rub one palm with the back of the stainless steel spoon and the other palm with the wooden spoon. Again for 10 seconds each. Make sure you remember which hand was rubbed with which spoon.

6.. Find a willing volunteer, ask them to close their eyes.

7. Hold a hand under their chin (thus keeping each hand  the same distance from the test subjects nose) and ask them to smell it. Then do the same with the other hand.

8. Ask them which hand smelt stronger of garlic.


Please report them here.


I’ll  get back to you with a conclusion when enough results are in. Then we can start working on whatever chemistry involved.

Originally posted at


  1. Interesting comment from Oliva Lenz over at

    I actually did some research on this topic in undergrad – the compound we identified as the smelly compound is diallyl disulfide (DADS) and we looked at the changes with contact with stainless steel via GC-MS. We noticed that after contact with stainless steel, we saw an increase in the cyclic DADS (which doesn’t smell like the original DADS), but we couldn’t duplicate the results when we used a pure synthetic DADS. By the time I left the project, we were unable to conclude if it was DADS or allicin (the DADS precursor) that was technically cyclizing, but did definitely see a growth of the cyclic peak after stainless steel contact via crushing the garlic cloves with a stainless steel mortar and pestle v. a ceramic m&p. There may be something in the whole clove that aids in degrading the smell compound, but I didn’t get to research it any further. There are some papers on the topic in the literature, but they are quite old and my prof and I had some questions with their experimental set up, so I’d take them with a grain a salt! Hopefully this helps a bit with your investigation 🙂

  2. Pingback: Garlic Challenge, the results show! » Chemistry Blog

  3. Edleia Santiago says:

    I learned this trick almost 30 years ago. But I noticed that the not every stainless steel spoon is created equal. Apparently the older the spoon, the better. My theory is not necessarily because the age, but because of the process to create the the stainless steel. The older the spoon, the darker it is. Not as shiny. It appears that the brilliance of the spoon takes away from the performance. Although I’m a chem tech, I have never studied the mechanism behind this, but somehow, I thought It was ionic.

    So, the reason it does not work for some people, is because of the quality of the object. And by the way, a knife is the worse object. No safe to begin with, and not anatomical. A spoon can be passed between your pink and ring fingers, with the bowled side out (cupped side toward your palm). Rub your fingers, and palm against the spoon. It does work.

    One weird way to choose a spoon is to taste. Put the spoon in your mouth, cup down towards your tongue. The stronger the “metallic” flavor, the better. NOT an old wife’s tale. Only as said before, not too many good studies have been done seriously on this issue.

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