Orchid smells bad is a worrying notion because this plant is one that would smell great, and suddenly, it emits a strong odor reminiscent of decaying meat. While many fragrant orchids and orchid flowers have sweet or vanilla-like scents, some species, such as the Bulbophylum phalaenopsis, emit a pungent smell.Orchid Smells Bad

Your orchid smells bad due to bacterial infections, pest infestation, and decomposition. Read on as our orchid experts take you through how you can eliminate this unpleasant smell.

Why Does The Orchid Smell Badly?

The orchid smells bad because of poor watering techniques, or due to their adaptation, having pest infestation, decomposition method, or bacterial infection. It can also be due to pollination, chemical exposure, or having been exposed to environmental stress, and lastly, decaying potting medium.

Orchids giving off a pungent smell indicate the presence of bacterial or fungal infection. It could also mean that the potting medium is decomposed and needs changing. Other possible reasons include; poor air circulation around the roots, a dirty environment, and genetic markup.Why Does Orchid Smell Badly

– Poor Watering Techniques

Overwatering or poor soil drainage can cause root rot and black rot, which emits a foul smell. Both diseases spread to the roots, but black rot starts on the leaves. Also, you may have noticed your orchid smelling like a decaying root.

When the pot has few drainage holes and watering is performed when the roots haven’t dried out, your orchid is bound to emit a pungent smell. One of the signs to look out for is the color. If the infected plant has brown or black roots, that’s a sign of root rot. On the other hand, black rot is typified by purplish leaves with yellow edges.

– Adaptations

Orchids adapt to various environments, including swamps and high-altitude regions. They adapt to survive in their natural surroundings. The roots absorb water and nutrient, while the pseudobulbs store water in drought periods.

The plant emits certain foul smells during adaptation to aid its survival and foster growth, and this way, it becomes part of it because it is where the plant adapted to grow. For example, a strong odor can help attract pollinating insects in low-light environments with ineffective visuals, so you will have a plant that is smelling so bad.

– Pest Infestation

Pests like gnats and aphids often interact with orchids, so these pests leave excrement or secretions on the orchids, resulting in putrid odors. The secretions are often sticky, indicating the presence of pest infestation.

The pests could come and stay in the soil, lay their eggs, and hatch them to larvae, and as they have infested the soil, you would feel like there’s a bad smell coming, and this can be the right reason why, if you observe closely and check the matter.

– Decomposition

Decaying root or dead matter in the potting mix can produce a foul smell. It usually happens with orchids that have never been reported, ever since you got it, and if some time has passed, and the roots keep on growing, you would see that some would start to die as others are growing or developing.

In short, the plant’s roots that have died, or the leaves that have degenerated would be the ones responsible.

– Bacterial Infections

As mentioned, not all orchids smell bad. However, a smelly one could indicate a bacterial infection. Bacterial or fungal infections, such as erwinia, brown spots and leaf spot, can lead to bad smells. These infections are typically characterized by their appearance, such as dark spots, leaf spots, and rotten flowers.

Erwinia bacteria is one of the stinkiest bacteria. This rapidly-spreading strain rots water-soaked leaves. It leaves yellow holes on the leaves undersides. Phalaenopsis orchids are the most prone to this bacteria, and they would easily start to smell just as they have gotten this infection.

On the other hand, brown spot is recognized by its leaf lesions that later turn black. Spraying more water on the leaf will increase the spread of the disease, and this would cause further smell as they develop in their number. Finally, leaf spot is a fungal disease. It is characterized by brown or black spots on the leaf’s undersides.Orchid Smells Bad

– Pollination

Many orchids have diverse pollination methods to attract pollinators, such as moths and beetles. One of the methods these orchids use to entice insects is scent. They produce two different smells as the day progresses since not all insects are attracted to the same scent.

It isn’t just the scent that matters alone, you must also consider how the timing is also an essential factor. During the day, when insects are most active, the orchid plant emits a natural fragrance. Then it produces a different smell at night to attract nocturnal pollinators, such as moths.

For instance, gnats and beetles are also attracted to unpleasant odors, and they would be attracted and feel welcomed in this case. Typically, this smell is reminiscent of a strong-smelling compound or decaying organic matter. In most cases, these smells don’t indicate a problem. However, you should make more observations to determine if the smell is normal.

– Chemical Exposure

Certain chemicals, such as pesticides and fungicides can cause orchids to produce a pungent smell. Sometimes, it isn’t just the chemical that’s utterly responsible. It’s the lack of proper ventilation that fuels the odor.

– Weak Airflow

Poor airflow, excess humidity, and extreme temperatures lead to the buildup of odors. They create a stagnant environment that doesn’t allow air purification. As mentioned, poor air circulation fuels bad smells because there is no proper oxygenation that is happening to reduce the smell, and so this is why it would stay and smell even more.

– Decaying Potting Medium

The odor may also come from the potting medium. A decomposing potting medium won’t allow for sufficient air circulation. In addition, it won’t allow the plant to obtain the necessary nutrients.

This could cause bacterial disease, which could produce a bad smell. A decaying potting medium usually smells sour, and so this is a good indication that the medium needs changing.

Sometimes, the stress of repotting in some periods can cause your orchid to smell bad. The smell typically subsides as the plant recovers.

What Are Ways to Stop Bad Smell in Orchids?

Ways to stop the bad smells in orchids, you must first identify the problem and then make necessary adjustments to address the issue. You can eliminate this bad smell by employing good watering practices, evaluating the potting mix, and making sure the environment is well-ventilated.Ways to Stop Bad Smell in Orchids

– Maintain Good Watering Practices

Make sure your orchid is properly watered. It means watering it at the right time and avoiding overwatering. Allow the top inch of the mix to dry out before watering. Also, drill enough holes at the pot’s bottom to promote aeration. This will force excess water out of the potting mix, and also to prevent the risk of having rotten roots that would release their bacterial smell.

– Check for Pests and Remove Them

Gnats and aphids emit odors. Inspect your orchid carefully to see if they are present. If found, handpick them or use pesticides to eliminate them. You can spray soapy water on your orchid. It’s effective against pest infestation. Put very few drops of liquid soap into a half gallon of water, then you may pour it into a spray bottle and carefully spray on the undersides of the leaves.

– Promote Air Ventilation

Good air circulation is paramount to orchids’ growth. Stagnant air breeds bad smells, affecting the quality of air in your surrounding. The location of your plant must be well-ventilated to remove any pungent smell, and now as oxygen is coming into the plant’s roots; in short, you won’t find pungent smelling medium or plant, in general.

– Repot Occasionally

Sometimes, the odor may emanate from the potting mix, especially if your orchid has never been repotted. It might be time to repot your plant if you notice any odor from the mix. Remove the orchid from the current pot, carefully wash the roots to eliminate decayed materials, and repot in a fresh orchid mix. You must also make sure that you would sterilize the pruning shear that you have, and cut the roots that have been dead or disfunctional.

– Odor Absorbers

Placing odor absorbers, such as activated charcoal or baking soda, near the orchid can help get rid of the bad smell. Baking soda is a neutralizing agent that can counteract the pungent smell of the orchid pot. Activated charcoal and baking soda can neutralize the smell over time, buy you should ensure that they don’t come in touch with the roots.

– Place your Plant Near Sunlight

Orchids bloom in bright, indirect light, which is also known as filtered light, as this plant is one that requires it. However, blooming isn’t the only reason you should keep your plant near sunlight. Providing your orchid with adequate indirect sunlight will help reduce stagnant odors.

– Remove Affected Roots

Root rot can cause a bad odor. Therefore, remove the affected roots with sharp and sterilized scissors. Repot in a new orchid with hard materials, such as perlite and sphagnum moss added. The blackened appearance is one way to know the root has developed rot.Affected Orchid Roots

– Keep the Environment Clean

Dirty surroundings can become a breeding ground for flies and insects that could contribute to pungent smells. Also, dead leaves, decayed matter, and fallen flowers can result in unpleasant odors. Keep the area around your plant clean at all times.

– Treat the Bacterial and Fungal Infection

Sometimes, treating the infection will make the unpleasant odor disappear. Recall that one of the indications of bacterial infection is a bad odor. There are home remedies or orchid care products that you can use.

Cinnamon is one of them. It has anti-fungal properties that can safeguard your orchid from fungus. It also smells good. After distancing the infected plant, sprinkle a little cinnamon over the areas you want to treat. Alternatively, you can dip the area in some cinnamon. Ensure the part has been moistened to help the powder adhere.

Isopropyl alcohol is another alternative household item. It’s a good sterilizing agent that can eradicate mealybugs on your orchid, which is why in the absence of isopropyl alcohol, you can try horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

They are as effective as isopropyl alcohol for mealybug infestation and bacterial infection. Simply dip a cotton swab in the alcohol and rub it on any part with mealybugs. Continue this treatment until you have removed all the visible insects.

Antiseptic mouthwash can also help remove bacterial infections in orchid plants. To use it, spray it on the affected area and allow it to sit for some minutes. Then knock over the plant for the remaining liquid to drain off.

You can spray this solution on your orchid once weekly to minimize insect infestations. Ensure to use the unflavored version, as the flavored type has additional additives that could harm your plant.


An orchid smells bad, and the unwelcome odor can be annoying if you don’t know the source. It’s best to identify the source and eliminate it early on so now, let us recap:

  • Not all orchid species produce fragrant blooms. Some give off bad smells due to natural processes or genetic markups.
  • Overwatering your orchid can cause bacterial and fungal infections. Only water your orchid when the top inch of the soil has dried out. Damp soils will result in root decay.
  • Good ventilation, repotting, good watering practices, and proper care will help alleviate smelly conditions and aid your orchid’s growth.
  • If bacterial or fungal infection is the root cause of the odor, remove the affected part and treat it with fungicide if necessary; otherwise, burn the plant.
  • Use the appropriate fungicide or pesticide with less volatile compounds for your orchid. It will reduce the bad odor. If you’re using such volatile compounds, ensure the area is properly ventilated.

Removing the pungent smell from your orchid is straightforward, and you don’t have to worry about your plant not blooming because most orchids naturally smell good as they produce a sweet vanilla fragrance.

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