Why Does Natural Gas Smell Like Rotten Eggs?

19

MAY, 2016

If you are like me, when you smell rotten eggs you either think there is a gas leak or my brother has snuck into your house after eating crab cakes and broccoli the night before for dinner. So why does natural gas smell like rotten eggs? That is because natural gas is odorless, and to help detect leaks, and to warn people of a possible danger, the gas company adds a chemical called thiol. It is that chemical that gives the gas that distinctive odor. If you ever smell rotten eggs, there could possibly be a gas leak. Do not use a light switch, a phone, or any electrical device that could cause a spark. Instead, immediately leave the area and call your gas company from a safe location. Other signs of a gas leak could be a hissing or roaring sound, and/or an unusual area of dead vegetation, blowing dirt, or bubbling water.

If you are like me, when you smell rotten eggs you either think there is a gas leak or my brother has snuck into your house after eating crab cakes and broccoli the night before for dinner. So why does natural gas smell like rotten eggs? That is because natural gas is odorless, and to help detect leaks, and to warn people of a possible danger, the gas company adds a chemical called thiol. It is that chemical that gives the gas that distinctive odor. If you ever smell rotten eggs, there could possibly be a gas leak. Do not use a light switch, a phone, or any electrical device that could cause a spark. Instead, immediately leave the area and call your gas company from a safe location. Other signs of a gas leak could be a hissing or roaring sound, and/or an unusual area of dead vegetation, blowing dirt, or bubbling water.

Thiol is commonly referred to as mercaptan and was named in 1832 by everyone’s favorite Danish chemist, William Christopher Zeise. He was so awesome in his day, that he even has a salt named after him – Zeise’s salt. He was wildly popular until that girl with the yellow rain coat and umbrella from Morton’s took all the glory in the salt industry.

Besides utility companies’ need for mercaptan, there are other trades that use it. Industries use it for jet fuel, pharmaceuticals, and livestock feed additives. Mercaptan is less corrosive and less toxic than similar sulfur compounds found naturally in rotten eggs, onions, garlic, skunks, and, of course, bad breath. In other words, if something stinks, there is a high likelihood it has mercaptan in it.

For more information about natural gas visit: http://psc.mo.gov/CMSInternetData/ConsumerInformation/NaturalGas.pdf

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