20 smells that will zap you right back to the 1980s

Take a whiff of the decade.

Out of all our senses, smell is most closely linked to memory. At least, that is what the smarty-pants scientists say.

So, if you want to travel back in time, you need only to huff, whiff and sniff. The scent of a beauty product can summon the feelings of first dates. Perhaps you remember the smell of certain toys. And there are those trendy foods you haven't tasted in ages.

Let's go back in time like Marty McFly to remember some strong smells of the Eighties. These stuck out in our mind. Which smells do you associate with the 1980s?

1. Drakkar Noir


Those who dreamed of being Gordon Gecko liberally splashed this fragrance from Guy Laroche Paris in locker rooms. Citrusy and floral, Drakkar Noir was a Ferrari poster in a bottle, the odor of aspiring Yuppiedom. It launched in '82, and was the top-seller three years later.

2. Salon Selectives


The sweet, fruity scent lingered in your head like the catchy commercial jingle. 

Image: Helene Curtis

3. Burnt Hair in a Crimper


Flat hair was a no-no in the '80s. But careful with that crimper! Hold the Conair closed for too long, and you were left with the scent of singed hair. 

Image: Sears / wishbookweb.com

4. Renuzit


If your sister or daughter happened to burn her bangs on the crimper, you could simply pop open the Renuzit Adjustable. The egg-shaped plastic pots could be found on end tables in every apartment.

Image: The Drackett Co. / Gregg Koenig

5. Strawberry Shortcake Dolls


People were so concerned with the smell of their hair, the act of sniffing follicles turned into a popular toy. Launched at the dawn of the decade, Strawberry Shortcake (along with her raspberry and apricot pals) reeked of synthetic fruit and plastic.

Image: Kenner

6. Plastic Halloween Masks


The chemical odor of the plastic was just as strong as the cutting sensation from the sharp edges that dug into your face.

Image: alftv.com

7. Scratch 'N Sniff Stickers


A true academic motivator. Image work productivity if your boss gave you a "Scooper Dooper" chocolate ice cream sticker on a spreadsheet.

Image: liketotally80s.com

8. Chocolate Diet Drinks


Speaking of artificial chocolate smells, diet chocolate drinks were all the rage for the aerobics-crazed masses of '80s. Canfield's Diet Chocolate Fudge soda and Slim-Fast shakes were chocolate-ish, and that was close enough.

9. Sweaty Spandex


Look, it's gross, but it's the true. With all the Jazzercize, Jane Fonda tapes and hair metal bands, there was a lot of sweaty spandex going around.

Image: Sears / wishbookweb.com

10. Aqua Net Hairspray


It was not just for women. Not only did groups like Poison and Cinderella sport spandex, they went through can after can of Aqua Net.

Image: Aqua Net

11. Lip Smackers


The taste of so many, many first kisses, from Dr. Pepper to watermelon.

Image: Bonne Bell

12. Nair


Sorry for repeatedly bringing back the memory of burning hair.

Image: Nair

13. VCR Head Cleaner


Look, it was probably just simple rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover, but VCR Head Cleaner seemed like a magic potion for clearing up the picture on your Ghostbusters tape.

Image: Amazon

14. Warm video game cartridges


Cruddy pictures would sometimes plague your Ataris and Nintendos, too, at which point you would pull out the cartridge and blow the dust out of the inside. Holding the games up to your face, you would get hit with the smell of warm silicon circuit boards.

15. Dot Matrix Printer Paper


The dzzzzt-dzzzzzt-dzzzzt sound certainly still rings in our ears, but the zig-zagging stacks of dot-matrix paper had a distinctive scent, too.

16. Cinnamon dental products


First hitting grocery shelves in the late-1970s, Big Red blew up in the '80s thanks to its infectious jingle. ("So kiss a little longer…") Cinnamon flavors were all over the place in the toothpaste aisle, too, with Close-Up at the peak of its popularity.

Image: Wrigley

17. Big League Chew


Inspired by the wads stuffed in baseball players' cheeks, this shredded treat hit you with the scent of bubble gum or artificial grape when you ripped open a pouch. Like candy cigarettes, but for chewing tobacco.

Image: Wrigley

18. Microwave Popcorn


The miracle of nuking food took off in the early 1980s, mostly thanks to the new wonder of microwave popcorn. Pillsbury sold its bags in the frozen food section, with the TV dinners and whatnot. That warm butter odor… Mmm.

Image: Pillsbury

19. Cool Ranch Doritos


Introduced in 1986, Cool Ranch Doritos seemed like a radical idea. Now, ranch is everywhere, and overseas these chips are known as the "Cool American" flavor.

Image: Doritos

20. Oxy, Stridex and Noxzema


All that candy and junk food meant one thing — you had better stock up on your acne medicine. Oxy and Stridex pads could be found in most teenage medicine cabinets.

Image: Bayer

SEE MORE: 20 smells that will take you right back to the 1970s


Time for another dose of nose-talgia. READ MORE

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idkwut2use 47 months ago
Love scratch-n-sniffs, Lip Smackers,
Nair...nasty, messy, and ineffective. Dx
Surprised I don't recall 13-15.
My brother loved Big League Chew. Just like our dad's tobacco, lol. I'll never understand cinnamon candy--blech!!
But the last 3...mmm. Stridex was my best friend through high school and beyond. In my 30s somehow now, and the zits never ever diminish as promised no matter what you do...disgusting pointless things that have no right to endlessly show up uninvited...thank goodness for salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and concealer (though no shade is truly light enough for me...)
And love the crimped look, but with natural curls, the way I know the smell of burnt hair is from leaning too close to my candles. x3
RetroRestorer60 63 months ago
Goodness I wish Bonne Bell never sold out and Lip Smackers were the same as they were in the 70's into the 90s! Lip Smackers were HUGE and came in so many flavors and were even heavier back then making them feel like a million bucks. Lemon was my first then Red Raspberry, Cherry Chocolate, Rum & Raisin and Good and Plenty candy were some of my other favorite Smackers but I honestly loved them all. My friend Kathy and I would always go to Woolworths looking for the newest flavors. At least the Lip Lickers tin sliders came back and I have those to hold me over until someone brings back the original Bonne Bell Lip Smackers.
Amalthea RetroRestorer60 58 months ago
Which reminds me of the smell of Bonne Bell's 10-0-6 Lotion for cleaning your face. The smell was horrendous...but it worked wonders.
JasonDhaemers 67 months ago
Wow they nailed it on this one.
Lucyneenah19701 67 months ago
I didn't have a crimping iron, because I didn't like the crimped look. I used a curling iron.
I liked the scratch n sniff stickers.
I didn't notice chocolate drinks until 1992 when Tom Cruise drank Yoohoo in A Few Good Men. I went to the store and bought Yoohoo. It was great!
I used to take aerobics back in the 80's.
Nacho cheese Doritos are much better than cool ranch Doritos.
Amalthea Lucyneenah19701 58 months ago
If I wanted my hair "crimped", I just put my wet hair into a bunch of braids. Granted, I looked like Roseanna Roseannadanna...but it worked. LOL

I also used to do aerobics; I still have all of my Kathy Smith VHS tapes..somewhere...

Cool Ranch smells - and tastes - like barf. Thanks...but no thanks. I'll stick with my Nacho Cheese flavored.
RobCertSDSCascap 67 months ago
#4- "Renuzit, doooz-it!"
#14- Atari 2600 Berzerk. One of the most faithful ports of any arcade
game for that system!
I so agree. Yard Revenge, Pitfall, Defender always played for hours
Sheri 67 months ago
My cousin Tanya had a Strawberry Shortcake friend doll. I think it was Blueberry Baby?
daDoctah 67 months ago
I once came up with a list to help beginning time-travelers (like Jeffrey on "Voyagers", for example) recognize roughly what time they ended up in by the prevalent smells. For the 1920s I had macassar oil, the forties were burning electrical insulation, the sixties were home perm solution.

I had to dig a little to find the list because I didn't remember what I had for the eighties. It was neoprene. (?)
jholton30062 67 months ago
#8 - Made by the A. J. Canfield Company of Chicago, who also made 50/50 (kind of like Squirt, but better) and Mickey Melon (watermelon-flavored soda, with a picture of Mickey Rooney on the can).

#10 - Aqua Net had been around for years before the hair bands discovered it.

#13 - It was alcohol.

#16 - Dentyne was around for years before Big Red, and those of us who remember the '60's remember Adams' Cinnamint gum.

#17 - Big League Chew was invented by Jim Bouton, of "Ball Four" fame.
djw1120 67 months ago
I'm still waiting for "Smell-O-Vision to come out.
MarchLeeWarn 68 months ago
Some of the most persistent odors from my past, and most are pre-70s-are: the smell of fresh blue prints (my father was a civil engineer), fresh mimeograph paper (from school), eraser shavings (don't know if that is what it really was, but it was the stuff the school janitor dumped on vomit to clean it up), a freshly sharpened pencil, and cookies in the oven.
MrsPhilHarris 68 months ago
I used a vhs head cleaner last year on the VCR at our cabin. I think it is rubbing alcohol.
Soraya 68 months ago
Great list. I remember all of them, plus Noxema, Sea Breeze Astringent, Elmer's Rubber Cement, and the rented VHS box.
Dawn 68 months ago
Don't remember much of a smell to #13,14 & 15. But did love my Dr Pepper lip smacker
SheriHeffner Dawn 67 months ago
Anything Orange, Cherry, or Grape were my favorites.
Shadowdancer 68 months ago
Wow, memories. I still can't see men wanting to smell citrusy and floral.😊
Dicazi 68 months ago
Plastic Halloween masks were a thing in the 60s. I had one of Sylvester.
SheriHeffner Dicazi 67 months ago
I remember them also. They were too hot for me and I always had to take mine off until we got to a home. But in the 1970s was when I remember them.
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